“Are you not scared???????…,Teheran, April 30th , 2012

Go with the flow is one of my principles on this world trip. I originally never planned to visit north America and I did, same accounts for South Korea and I did. Also I planned to work my way from Singapore back to Germany on land crossing Pakistan and Iran. Main reasons for not doing so is that Burma is not crossable on land, Pakistan is too much at the moment and the Philippines sucked me in too much. However I did plan to realise a visit to Iran. The day I booked the flight news started to be all around about nuclear programs, sanctions and Israel attacks on Iran soil – reality or “perception is the only truth”?

What do you know about Iran, what have you heard about it, what pictures come to your mind? Maybe old women in chador screaming “down with America”, Mullahs given speeches in front of thousand of men praying on Fridays or is maybe the motorbike guys driving into protesting young people two years ago as seen on Facebook and twitter? My experience especially from Lebanon and Syria told me it would be much nicer, maybe the opposite of my prejudice but at Kuala Lumpur airport a well travel experienced friend from Germany asked me on the phone:  “Are you not scared?”. I was but mainly for another reason. I have travelled to Israel before and was aware of possible rejection. What would happen at the airport.

Being the only non Persian on this full flight to Teheran did not make me feel better. Left and right of me young men asking “Why do you come to Iran? Why now? Are you not scared?” Funny enough the conversation with both was a rollercoaster of emotions. “Visit this place, fantastic, go there, its wonderful, you will be watched, don’t talk politics, call me if you need help, you will be fine…” Another clear indicator that I would visit a country of contradiction were the women. Beautiful as can be, long hair, tang tops, they waited till the very last minute, the very last second of the door opening until – partly with moaning sounds – put on their chador (full body cover except face) or at least the hijab (hair cover). Being the only foreigner I was the first through immigration. “Welcome to Iran” says the lady as she passes me my passport not asking anything and upon arrivial at the luggage belt, another lady also says “Welcome to Iran.” handing me a rose instead of rejection.

My friends from the place were right, the taxi driver trustworthy leading me away from my intended hotel to this almost apartment like place – with wifi. I loved it, I slept well, I watched Bayern – Real Madrid on TV, wonderful, only decent food seemed hard to find. I stayed with kebabs and half chickens for the first couple of days. Walking around south Teheran (big bazaar, Khomeini mosque and Golostan palace) I did not find it as dirty and polluted as I was told. It’s just another mega city with a typical separation of streets, one full of car part shops, the next dedicated to photography, clothing and so on.

Also my routing took shape, my first step would be a fixed price (50 Dollars) flight to Shiraz down south west. Here I met Chris, a young English man, on his way from London to Delhi by train. Nice conversations, a shisha along, long walks through town, visiting a castle and bazaars, football with locals, declined invitations to drugs and alcohol (they all have them but officially prohibited), accepted invitation to teahouses and talks on a lawn as well as cultural experiences at the “Hafez” (poet) grave followed by a typical kebab or chicken dinner. I warmed up in Iran. Chris also goes with the flow. He cancelled his booked tour and instead went with me to Persepolis, one of the most famous Persian sights at all. We decided to hire a driver, Morteza, and what a great day he provided to us. Not only did he take us all the way to Yazd, the next city, he also stopped at every place with visiting, may it be old ice house, cemeteries or the towers of death. On top he gave us great insights into Iran history and politics. Did you know that until the revolution in 1979 women in Iran could wear what they wanted? Did you know that it is the leaders (religious leaders) who run the show here and not the president?

In Yazd, Chris and I did the same as in Shiraz. Walking around and running into people and places. One place was the train station where we took photos and got quickly reminded that we are in a regime country with a strong police force. However, the young police men arresting us, was always friendly and upon releasing us after 20 minutes he was almost embarrassed about his arrest. With a fantastic view over town we discussed the contradictions we saw throughout the day, bazaars and rising apple stores, wonderful mosques and missing entertainment for young people, a oil rich nation but expensive gas prises (Iran has no refineries itself) and of course the matters of religion inspired by the water museum.

I wanted to get into the country side, into the dessert and I simply picked a dessert village out of the Lonely planet as the next destination. Its about the journey, not the arrival they say. In this case it was both. We used a bus, then we hitched on a truck followed by a police car who invited us for tea and finally a young men not only took us to his final town but 30 minutes beyond, all the way to our accommodation. His music made the ride interesting too, volume up and listen………………..

hussein in car

This little oasis village called Garmeh hosts a wonderful little hotel by a French man and his Iranian wife. Everything is comfortable but kept in the old traditional style. The roof top is a wonderful place to chill and to talk. “Are you not scared?” I heard again, “does not the west tell you we are bad and dangerous?” they added. Tonight it was a young couple from Teheran, melancholically travelling in their own country before leaving for good. They got injured in the protest 2 years ago. That is when they lost all hope for democratic change and decided to immigrate to Australia still this year. They love Iran, they would love to stay, they have a good business but the lack of freedom, the sanctions and the lack of any perspectives makes them move. Most of their friends have already left. Its called a brain drain. The educated, the young, the wealthier once leave, the poor, the simple once stay and suffer. No, the government does not stop them leaving, for them it’s the troublemakers who leave. Short term thinking but for the moment it works. The next day the 4 of us took a nice day trip to a salt lake, a camel ride and into the dessert. Incredible Iran.

This is a sample of the music the hotel owner would play every night around 11pm.

Then Chris and I split for a couple of days. He had been to Esfehan already, me not. Quickly I understood why he stayed here 5 days. It’s a beautiful city, great mosques, a even greater Khomeini plaza and many bridges used as meeting points for sun set. Especially young people come here, listen to music on their smart phones, exchange illegally copied movies and games and flirt just as we would do. Except here the eyes count more than the neckline I suppose, smile.

Via Qom (THE Islamic melting pot from where the revolution was started in 1979) back to Teheran. Here Chris and I met an South Korean Canadian couple on their honeymoon (yes, strange, but it’s a longer trip leading to Italy) and the 4 of us (in total there was not many tourists at all, we estimated 300 in the whole country) explored north and central Teheran including the famous US embassy (now used my the militant islam revolution supporters and therefore still with lots of hate symbols), some parks and a dinner with one of the guys I met on the plane.

In terms of observation some interesting aspects. Hotel competition at its best, reception next to reception. A small Ikea store, fake of course but with a clear strategy – would be fantastic if Ikea came here to claim its rights. The same applies for the McDonalds photos (there is no McDonalds here ofcourse) and the “Kentucky house” which reminds you of ……., yes, KFC.

Politically also some nice once -- Did you know that the second biggest Jewish community outside of Israel lives in Iran? As much as the young and educated disagree with their government (increasingly also the older and less educated due to economical downturns (the sanctions “work”)) all of the Iranians stand behind their government when it come to confronting the arrogant USA, the aggressive Israel and the right to have nuclear power as so many other countries do. Messing with Iran from outside most likely helps the local government (unity) more than it does hurt. However, the internal frustration will lead to change, either through bloody efforts or long term draining.

Iran, what an amazing country, what amazing people and what a fantastic summery of my trip, it had it all. Hot sun and cold dessert, the most simple rooms as well as SAT TV / wifi hotels, transport from hitching to VIP sleeping chair busses, the most friendly people, interesting food, strange cultural issues (no alcohol, no parties, no nightlife but lots of plastic surgeons doing nose jobs) and another proof that clichés are true and prejudice are wrong. My next place on this world trip, Rom in Italy, would be my last place, certainly not as unknown or culturally different. I on my way home, my trip is getting to an end. Am I not scared????…………………………..

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  • Stephen says:

    I’m super jealous of this one. I’m gonna have to figure out a way to spend some time there someday soon.

    • frank4444 says:

      Yes, one day you should make to Iran but as an American its difficult to impossible for the time being. But I am jealous of parts of your trip as well. Let me know how you are doing.

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