In the spring of 2006, there was a palpable anxiety among the dozen American men and women, who after many months of planning and preparations, found themselves on the Anatolian frontier of Turkey. As the iron gate dividing two countries swung open, the group made their way headlong into the gaze from a towering photo image of a man whose face and reputation had dominated the American news swirl since the late 1970’s. The sign said, Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Ayatollah Khomeini’s eyes seemed to follow them through that border gateway. It was hard not to imagine that image muttering under his breath… infidels…on motorcycles?
For MotoDiscovery , a company out of Texas that since 1981, has specialized in facilitating adventure travel for the motorcycle touring enthusiast, it was another in a long list of pioneering efforts to explore the world on two wheels. As the United States became deeper embroiled in a sectarian civil war in neighboring Iraq, it is understandable that the question of “timing” was asked by many, more than once. But that, nor the announcement of the threat of an avian “bird flu” epidemic, and a powerful earthquake in the region, both occurring just a week before tour departure, was not enough to shake the confidence of the participants and the MotoDiscovery team.
Skip Mascorro, MotoDiscovery founder, reflects back on that time as he, along with his Turkish collaborator and long time friend, Kaz Uzunoglu, prepare to return to Iran in 2016, exactly ten years after their first journey into the heart of the Persian empire. “We were prepared to drop the whole project in 2006 but were driven by the enthusiasm of the group and the knowledge that Iran enjoys a reputation for hospitality, says Mascorro. “Even with that awareness, nothing could have prepared us for how warm and genuine our reception was throughout the entire three weeks we were there. I still get chills thinking about it and ten years later we continue to receive thanks from all the riders on that inaugural Iran ride for having made it possible.”
The attention to modern Iran geopolitics can understandably overshadow the fact that this land, once known as Persia, is home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Antiquities abound throughout a country recognized for ancient contributions to the fields of art, science, architecture and literature. Persepolis, the impressive City of Persians, and the towering ornate tomb of Cyrus the Great, empire builder of near East, are examples of unparalleled remnants dating back to half millennia B.C. There are 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iran.
Today, Iran and the “neighborhood” is as unsettled as it was in 2006. But there is a hint that recent detente between Iran and the West centered on settling the question of Iranian nuclear proliferation and the softening of a crippling international sanctions that have progressively been imposed since the 1979 revolution, may produce positive results. Mascorro explains that MotoDiscovery is accustomed to traveling to places of controversy saying, “.. we took heat for riding in Iran back in 2006 from some whose political leanings were offended. I suspect we’ll get the same this time around. We’re not bothered. One of the rewards of this kind of travel is that your worldview expands; your universe becomes bigger. I’d like to think it is the same for those people we meet along the way. I believe we favorably touched the Iranian people as much as they did us. Riding in Iran certainly is more than just a motorcycling experience.”
The MotoDiscovery Iran motorcycle tour will be 21 days running October 12 through November 1, 2016, again beginning with a rendezvous in Istanbul. Flying to the eastern city of Van, Turkey a fresh fleet of BMW motorcycles will be prepositioned for entering into Iran. The unique motorcycling adventure will no doubt be effective at gathering attention and creating opportunities for the kind of people to people engagement that makes international travel so exciting. Early registration is required in order to allow sufficient time for obtaining visas. Lady participants will have to follow the law of hijab , wearing a headscarf and modest pant styles. Highlights include a multitude of archeological sights including the Persian wonder of Persepolis, the Caspian Sea, Tehran, Yazd, Tabriz. the wondrous city of Isfahan and Shiraz.