Shattering preconceptions

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
Trip End Nov 16, 2010

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Where I stayed
Combination of desert bushcamps, homestay, traditional hotels, and hostels

Flag of Iran  ,
Thursday, May 27, 2010

We had an amazing time in Iran, for both of us our favourite part of the trip so far. In so many ways all our preconceptions were shattered. We travelled from the North-West down a diagonal strip to the South-East spending time in Tabriz, Masuleh, Esfahan, Yazd and Shiraz, a few bushcamps in the desert, enjoying time by the Caspian Sea and wandering the ancient city of Persepolis. We have so many stories to tell it is hard to contain it in one blog and as usual photos speak a thousand words so make sure you check them out to see some of the amazing places we were lucky to be able to visit.

The first thing to remember while reading this blog is that the entire 17days we were in Iran I was wearing the hejab & chador as required by law. This was an interesting talking point, not only amongst ourselves on the bus, but also for the locals. The chador was the main problem for us Westerners, because the fabric was heavy (not lovely thin and breathable like the locals) and the cut was very bad as it was too narrow around our ankles so we had to walk like penguins at risk of tripping over (and any gutters to cross usually required a large stride so we spent half our time navigating around them). A few girls on the bus rebelled and as soon as away from the group (ie in cities) changed into more suitable tourist clothing like baggy trousers and long knee-length tops - this was at their own risk so I decided to stick with the legally acceptable but ridiculous dress. For the locals, the main problem was the hejab. Firstly they thought that we looked ridiculous, secondly they were so embarassed and apologetic that their government made us wear it when it is obviously not part of our custom. The only time we were allowed to take the chador & hejab off was inside our tent/hotel room, so it made for some very hot bus rides and bad hat hair. It was a pain in the arse if anything else!

One of the nicest things about Iran was the people. They are the most friendly people we have ever met, always coming to talk to you and invite you home for tea. We experienced this every day in every town, city or desert we were in. The first time was at the border crossing where we had to sit and wait for hours for them to process us. We were waiting in a big room with rows of chairs to sit on, and we were there early in the morning so had taken most of the seats before the hordes of Iranians got there on a pilgrimage to Syria. Eventually the boys realised they needed to give up their seats to the old women, and also learnt pretty quickly the Iranian habit of always refusing an offer a few times before accepting, even if they really do want it. This custom apparently is supposed to be an opportunity for poor people to seem hospitable but not actually having to commit to anything - eg offering to buy you dinner (which happened a lot) and you need to refuse the offer 3 times to give them an opportunity to back out. If after 3 times they are still insisting on paying for you (or giving you a free taxi ride, or taking you home to tea) then it is OK to accept; any earlier and you might put them in an awkward position as really they are just being polite but actually cant afford it! Anyway the boys learnt (from some stern looks) that they needed to offer the seat a few times before the old women would take them.

The old woman that had taken Jeff's seat next to me was so happy to be sitting next to me she couldnt stop smiling and holding my hand, showing me off to all her friends. She couldnt speak a word of English (nor I Farsi) but we had a basic enough conversation of pointing and smiling to work out that she was saying I didnt need to wear the hejab so conservatively. The funniest thing about it all was that because of our interaction a whole group of women surrounded us (noting the Iranian men kept their distance) and wanted to meet me, I felt like I was being hounded by paparazzi! After lots of hugs and kisses the woman had to leave but another one quite quickly took her place basically sitting in my lap.

It wasnt long into the trip that we realised how open and friendly the people were, literally stopping you in the street to talk to you and offer tea at the least (dinner and accommodation at the most). Interestingly women only ever approached when I was on my own or in a group of girls, and men never approached when it was girls only. The usual conversation went along the lines of welcome to my country, where are you from, why do you come here, what do you think of Iran, what job do you do, and how much do you earn. With the women-only conversations instead of the job/income question was are you married, for how long, and do you have children. With anyone (men or women) under the age of 25 was the "what do you think of the hejab" question followed by a good conversation about how much they hate it and their government and wish for the freedoms of our societies. I had one lovely afternoon when Jeff had gone on a hike with some of the group leaving me with the truck to set up the tent and have a rest for the afternoon. He was gone for almost 4 hours and I still wasnt half-way through putting up the tent when he got back! I had been interrupted a couple of times by young women coming to talk and taking me to join their picnic. This generation of educated young people sound really passionate about changing Iran and moving forward, I will be very interested to follow their progress in the future and hope they can make a difference.

I mentioned being invited to picnics. Talk about having a picnic. This is all the Iranians seem to do, it was amazing really to see families set up pretty much everywhere and anywhere even on the medium strip! They have picnic after picnic and always with their big extended families, and drinking lots of tea (with loads of sugar). Cant blame them though when they have such beautiful landscapes to play with.

Yes beautiful landscapes! We were shocked that Iran is not just one big desert. We were really expecting it to be hot and dusty and dry the entire time. But that only really came in the southern part of the country. In the north it is beautiful mountains - we bushcamped one night in the mountains bordering Azerbaijan and had some amazing views - and lush green terraced valleys it reminded me of somewhere in SE Asia, we were so surprised. One town we stayed in was built into the mountainside and every evening a mist would come up the valley with some light rainfall, like a rainforest.

To top of the beautiful landscapes were some really beautiful cities, all really different from each other, and Esfahan being one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. The Persian culture from ancient times to now really knows about beauty, and how to take the time to sit back and appreciate it (ie take a cup of tea as often as possible). Even the bazaars were amazingly beautiful with decorated domed ceilings and caravanserais. Being one to appreciate beauty, Iran was a place I spent a lot of money on souvenirs, including our most expensive ever purchase, a Persian carpet.

One thing I also learnt to appreciate was soft-serve ice cream and smoothies. The Iranians really love their smoothies and we had some great ones, aswell as at least 2 soft-serve per day whenever possible! Even some good combinations that sound gross but are actually really nice, eg carrot juice with soft-serve. We basically ate their version of a burger (strips of meat rather than a patty), kebab (Iranian kebabs, NOT Turkish kebabs which we were sick of), aubergine curry (aka eggplant), falafels and lots of tea (with toffee instead of sugar). Tried some camel meat (a bit like beef) and Persian dates were a nice specialty too.

Apart from the Iranian aspect of the trip, life on the bus is getting more interesting as 40 people are getting to know each other better. The camping side of things is now routine, cooking for 40 people (note my cookgroup is now in the 'Top 3' after an amazing curry night), setting up the tent, weeing behind a rock, sleeping on the ground, not showering for days at a time. The only thing that changes is the campsite - one day peaks of mountains and thunderstorms, the next in a desert blowing a gale, the next in a quarry wondering what time the bulldozers will be starting in the morning. What is not routine is the relationships that are developing on the truck, and give the rest of us something to talk about .... We have a few people that are now well-disliked and avoided as much as possible (not to mention the topic of most conversations as everyone seems to have a new bad experience with them every day), a few people that simply ignoring does the trick, and a few that we really get along well with. There has been one young couple break up which is very sad, but then perhaps some new ones forming which we are all speculating about (when I say "we all" I really just mean some of the girls, the boys are just interested in sport).

So the truck has gone on to Pakistan and we (along with 35 others that didnt get visas) have had to detour around on our own to meet the truck in India. Mixed feelings about that .... firstly if we had to go through Pakistan I would have to keep the chador & hejab on, and the trip would be by police escort the entire way with no sleep and not much food, and very hot weather. On the other hand we now have to fund some flights, and we cant claim the whole trip as 'overland'. Luckily for us we have friends in high places and this detour meant a week catching up with friends in Oman ...

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Kerry on

The photos and your expressions show how beautiful this part of the world is. Thanks



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