It’s been written in a thousand blog posts before, but I’ll do it again, since I’ve got a few messages from people, worrying about my long silence. The Iranians are the most welcoming people I’ve encountered so far. Western media gives you a one-sided view on the current situation of this country. When I started this journey, I didn’t know that I’d ever be here, and I probably didn’t even want to go. But, by bumping into a lot of travellers going the opposite direction, my expectations gradually grew so big, that I even became afraid of an inevitable disappointment. That disappointment never came.
The people themselves are very aware of that terrible image, and put much effort in trying to change it. “Excuse me for our government, we Iranians love foreigners, can you write about that?” In the three months that I stayed, I got warmly invited by all sorts of people. From the conservative people in village houses, where both genders live strictly separated, and food magically appears through doors – and likewise, dishes disappear – ,to progressive students in Tehran, with a much more western lifestyle than, let’s say in Istanbul. I’ve been in situations, where people were almost fighting to host me. ‘I saw him first’. Pulling on my arm. On the rare occasion that you don’t get invited, you can always go to the park. Picnicking locals provide you with dinner, and the park guard will make sure that your teacup is topped up in time, and you don’t run out of firewood.
Often I got asked how travelling in Europe would be for them. I’d answer them, embarrassed, that it probably would be a shock. People don’t stop you for a cup of tea, and if your desperately looking for a place to sleep, people don’t even let you camp in their huge gardens. Instead they will give directions to a hotel. Furthermore, first they have to break through the visa barrier. I’ve met quite a few Iranians who tried, armed with the pile of papers they need, to proof they won’t stay in Europe. Most of them got rejected. It’s terrible.
On cycling: because of the constant visa extension pressure, I was forced to take the main roads. And since those roads are rather busy, and Iranians have a ‘creative’ driving style, cycling wasn’t that pleasant. Three months is not enough to explore this huge country by bike. Besides, my knee wasn’t fully recovered yet. So leaving the bike in Tehran, and bussing around a bit, was the more appealing option. Because of the well-known sanction imposed on Iran, and the following recession, the currency took a never-ending dive. I’ve seen the Rial devalue 20 percent in a matter of hours. Life became very expensive for the Iranians, and very cheap for tourists. You can take a 14 hour train ride, bed included, for a few dollars.
To be honest, I’ve been a very bad tourist. I met a lot of really nice people, and became a sticky. Staying several weeks in Tehran, Esfahan, enjoying my lazy days, constantly cancelling destinations on my to-visit-list. The original plan, of going south slowly, take a ferry to the Emirates, apply for a new visa in Oman, and come back next spring, was a bit risky. The chance of not getting a new visa, after a three-month stay, is rather high. Flying would be the only escape. So instead, I started the bureaucratic battle to get my Uzbek and Turkmen visa. Everything went surprisingly smoothly.
I’d like to thank all the wonderful people who I’ve met during my stay. Especially Nooshin, my host in Tehran. We got along well, and she invited me to visit her family, in and around Ahwaz. After some days, I felt like a member of the family, filling my time being beaten at takhte nard, smoking ghalyun with the uncles, and above all, being fed with all kinds of delicacies, like never before. Behbahan nesfe jahan mostarabesh Isfahan!