Heartwarming and weird stories from Iran
Iran is a weird place. You hear about the crazy hospitality of the people from other western travellers, but you really have to experience it to realize the true extent of it. It was the beginning of June, and we were slowly making our way towards Mashad and the Turkmen border through small roads and villages in the East. The last few days felt like a comedy show, so surreal that we were wondering if it was real or someone gave us some strange mushrooms without us noticing. Suffice to say, it was not the only strange period of our cycling/hitchhiking trip, and I will share a few more in this post, but this one I think earned the spotlight.
You always get surprised
We started that particular day off in a small village, where we found shelter the day before in front of a farmer’s house (more like shack), from some annoying kids who throw a rock at us while we were looking for a camp spot. After a long gravel road ride by the end of the day, we were hanging out with a big group of young guys in a park. They were extremely interested to get to know us, especially me (we figured they haven’t seen a woman dressed like this before – I think I had shorts and a t-shirt on –, and even the concept of an independent cycling woman blew their mind). Unfortunately it was not so easy, as they didn’t speak English at all, and the weed didn’t make it easier to understand each other. At one point they got out the cellphones and the photo session began. We took I don’t know how many pictures, which we have gotten used to by now, as many people stop their cars to ask for selfies every day (facebook is blocked and they have a strong Instagram culture).
As we left them, the real story started to shape up. First of all, one boy from the group stood out. He was this hyperactive guy who had a strong desire to give us things, including food, drugs, money and his necklace. Additionally, he regularly said ‘good morning, I love you, thank you’, mostly in that combination, of course regardless of the time of day. After following us for a couple of hours, always stopping and waiting for us with his car blasting music out, we said our final goodbye to him, as we were going to a friend’s house to sleep. He went back to his car and pulled out a whole dead chicken, which we had some trouble fitting on the bikes. 😀 All this was happening between two busy roads where they formed a tiny patch of land, where some local cyclist invited us to have a small picnic, just around dusk. At least now our host was one chicken richer, and we had a way of repaying his hospitality.
Followed by more crazy days
It’s hard to describe our feelings for the days ahead. We were riding through an area which is probably not the most popular choice for tourists; hence they barely see any white people around there. The amount of selfie requests and offerings increased considerably, to the point of young guys trying to snap pics or videos rolling past us on scooters, acting like paparazzi. Even the local police were like fanboys; we were just trying to have lunch under a tree but we couldn’t even have 5 minutes to ourselves when 3 police guys appeared and tried to tell us something on google translate which we didn’t quite get. And then just stood there, watching us eat and staring at us (this happened with other people too, on several occasions). Other times, they just wanted to provide escort and we played hide and seek for a few hours with them. It’s amazing how they disregard personal space here; I imagine they don’t even get the concept. We were joking with Alan that there should be a comedy show in Denmark where they put random Iranians on the streets and let them act as they do with the tourists here. In reality, some of their behaviour can, in some cases, earn them a lock-up in quite a few European countries.
One day I remember it got to a point where were literally trying to hide away during our breaks and failing miserably. It was the same day when a guy was begging us for an hour to go to his house for the night (what I started with in the previous post). Only if you experienced the last couple of days leading up to that can you imagine why we would decline so many of these requests. Even when we were camping in a public park the guard wouldn’t leave us alone and told us that animals would attack us (maybe he meant mice? I don’t know what else can lurk around in a city playground), and insisted to go to the guard room to sleep, while we were already preparing to go to bed around 10 in the evening. I imagine when we said no, they though we are crazy and not afraid of any danger. 😀
The first desert experience
Another notable turn of events was on the day we headed for our first desert experience near Kashan. A little heads-up here, I’m not telling stories in chronological order from our second Iranian month, just sharing the best encounters we had. This was after we started hitch-hiking from Tehran to the South (we wouldn’t had time to do it all on bikes, Iran is a huge country), and arrived near to our first point of interest, the Maranjab desert. The closest village was Aran va Bid Gol (gol means lake, because there is also a big salt lake there), and our driver we got in Qom was kind enough to make a detour for us, and deliver us straight to the city park (Did I mention how much we loved the parks in the country? It’s perfect for camping). We sat down on a bench to figure out how to approach getting out to the desert, since it was kind of impossible to get out there on foot.
Suddenly a young man came over, asked if we spoke Farsi, then handed over a phone (this is pretty common actually, so we were not that surprised by that), then a guy on the phone told us to wait there, he can help and he is coming in 5 minutes. True to his word he arrived soon, and in the course of an hour we were well fed, had a room to stay and a desert guide who would also drive us around the city, showing everything. He even managed to get us free entry to their famous underground city called Nushabad (it is really massive; do check it out if you happen to travel through Kashan). Abbas, his friend Mohsen (fledging tour guides who want to start a company and hostel together) and his family treated us with undying attention and care for a few days. He even taught me to read and write Farsi (thank you and your father so much for being patient with me!). J This is the true spirit of Iran.
On the other hand, it was hard for them to understand that they don’t have to take care of us every minute of the day, and we won’t die a horrible death if we stay out in the desert alone for one night. Eventually we managed to make them understand that we actually want these kind of experiences (one of the main reasons of travelling), but it was quite an awkward situation. It happens when overwhelming kindness meets with thinking of us as clueless lost tourists who have no idea what we are doing. It was not the last instance.
The police is nice (to tourists)
Not long after we started hitchhiking, we found ourselves in the backseat of a police car. Not that we did anything wrong, it’s just in Iran, even the police is helpful beyond belief. We were talking on the side of the highway with a car which stopped for us (after about 2 minutes of trying might I add), and struggling to explain that they don’t need to take us to the bus station, when our friends pulled over. Not being sure if we gonna get arrested or something good will come out of this, we looked at each other with uncertainty and a hint of worry in our eyes, as the policemen approached us after talking extensively with the other driver (in Farsi of course, so we had no clue about what was going on). Then with their very limited English vocabulary they told us that they wanted to help, and didn’t take no for an answer. Shrugging, the only thing we emphasized is the expression “majani”, meaning without money in Farsi, and hopped into the car.
They drove us for the better part of a quarter hour until the next toll booth, while we looked back and forth between them and each other with bewilderment and disbelief, still not sure about the outcome. When they parked the car and one of them started to stop cars for us, we were just sitting in the backseat giggling and facepalming at the same time. In the end though, we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes before an older guy with a big smile on his face urged us to get in. He even bought us ice-cream, and we got to our next destination in one long ride (if you’re a regular hitchhiker, you know this is usually luxury). So, here it was, we even hitchhiked with the police. 😀
Iran, we'll come back!
There are a lot more interesting stories of course, but I thought these were the funniest or most unexpected ones. We truly loved Iran and long to go back one day (there’s a lot more to discover), but I’m afraid we are a bit reluctant to do that until the current regime changes. Will see what the future holds. If you want to know about a particular area we went through (check our route map!), or have a question, feel free to hit me, either here in the comments below, or on facebook and Instagram. J And I know I am far behind, as we went to Iran from April to June and I am writing this in October, but Central Asia really took a toll on us and I really didn’t feel like writing for a while. But the travel stories should come more frequently now, as had some change of pace, but you can read about that way later on the blog. For fresh(er) stories, check out our instagram! 🙂