Back to Tehran
In the beginning of March I woke up in Shiraz. I headed to the airport from where I flew back to Tehran. My plan was to catch a bus to Erbil in Iraq. However, I was not sure if this bus was even going. Let alone at what time the bus left and how long the journey would take.
After arriving at the West Bus Terminal in Tehran I found a bus company that regularly drives to Erbil. This was only the third company I asked so this was not bad. The ticket cost me the equivalent of about 25 euros. Although
I had to wait 5 hours until the next bus went I was relieved to know that I was going to get to my destination.
The bus to the border
The bus was the most luxurious one I had had during my travels in Iran. Every seat was equipped with a separate TV screen and a pair of headphones. I did not use this screen at all, because they only contain Iranian music and movies. The bus was equipped with great WiFi and an unlimited supply of water. The first leg of the journey would take me from Tehran to Piranshar close to the border. This was during the night time, so I managed to sleep through most of the trip.
The next morning I arrived in Piranshahr. The bus driver walked through the bus collecting passport. I was already holding at my passport when he arrived at my seat. He looked at my in confusion and asked; “To Iraq?”. I answered “yes” quite bluntly. He then took my passport, said “Why?” and then walked away while shaking his head. I suppose I was the first foreigner he ever drove into Iraq.
After changing busses and getting back my passport the trip continued. The actual border crossing is located high up in the Zagros mountain, which is one of the most stunning mountain ranges I have ever seen! The windows of the bus were dirty so I could not take a good photo, but here is one anyway.
Crossing the border to Iraq
After less than an hour we arrived at the border. I had read on the internet that EU-citizens can get a visa-on-arrival, but I was not sure about the cost. We all got out of the bus, but I left a small bag on the bus, which I will get back to later in this post. I entered the first building in order to officially exit Iran. The guard in the booth did not know what to do with my passport. He directed me to his superior and before long I had officially left Iran.
The Iraqi side of the border was more interesting. After leaving the first building and walking approximately 200 meters through no man’s land I arrived to the second building. Upon entering all eyes were focused on me. All the security guards wanted to see my passport. One even asked my permission to write down my name, because he wanted to add me on Facebook. I never got any request however:( Similar to on the Iranian side the Iraqi custom’s officer did not have to right stamp for my passport. I was once again directed to his supervisor. The supervisor asked me some questions and was surprised to hear that I wanted to go backpacking through Iraqi Kurdistan. I am definitely not the first one to do so, but probably one of the few to arrive by bus. He gave me the visa and send me on my way.
Officially in Iraqi Kurdistan
Once outside there were 50-something taxis waiting, but the bus was nowhere to be seen. I found some other people that were on the bus before, who invited me for, of course, tea. After about 45 minutes the bus arrived. Unfortunately, the smaller bag I mentioned earlier was no longer on the bus….
It took me more than 30 minutes and a lot of negotiating with the guards, but eventually I got my bag back. Everything was still in there except for some cookies. Luckily I was not the last the last one back at the bus and thus not that annoying tourist that kept everyone waiting by making a stupid mistake.
The rest of the journey went smooth and I met a very friendly Peshmerga soldier and his father on the bus, who taught me a lot about the current situation in northern Iraq. Despite this friendliness I kept reminding myself that I was in Iraq. However, I can confirm that throughout my entire stay in Iraqi Kurdistan I have never felt unsafe!
All in all the border crossing took about 2-2.5 hours and the visa I got for free.
The entire trip from Tehran to Erbil by bus took about 21 hours and I enjoyed it very much!