Mongolia Rally Diary – Iran

Iran was one of the highlights on the list of the 18 countries I was passing through last summer. My family and friends were skeptical to our decision to pass through a country which is often described as discriminatory and dangerous in the media – especially for women. Let me tell you, Iran from the outside is totally different from the Iran I met. Iranians are lovely and hospitable people, doing their best to please any visitor to show them the very best sides of their country and culture. Iran is short summarized fantastic!

Crossing the border over to Iran took us about two hours and 550 dollars. A big surprise, but it is an official fee for foreigners driving a diesel fueled car in Iran.  Anyway – after crossing Turkey, where the fuel is even more expensive than in Norway, we will not be ruined when we can fill up an 80 liter tank for about 30 Euros. The funny thing though, is that the pump managed to fill up 76 liters in our 80 liter tank, when we for sure had at least 12 liters left in the tank…..

Driving like a maniac in Italy is nothing compared to driving in Iran. They are on the world top of traffic accidents with 38 000 deaths yearly – and I got an idea of why already the first hour we drove in this country. If you are driving too slowly, people are passing you on the right side, on the left side – or almost in your side if that is what it takes to pass.

That said, as soon as people get out of their cars they are the so friendly. We drove into Maku when it started getting dark, and after driving around for some time without seeing any hotel we asked a man on the street. He signaled us to follow him – and he drove for about 15 minutes to show us the way to a hotel. As soon as we had parked safely he smiled and waved us goodbye.

After a good night´s sleep we were ready to get out into the car and sneak-eat some breakfast since it was Ramadan – but the hotel served breakfast and tea. We planned a quick walk in town to get a glimpse of Maku and change some money – and ended up using two hours to change money. We were sent from bank to bank. When we finally found the one who did currency exchange we had a nice chat with the English speaking man behind the counter – when he suddenly told us: “You don´t want to exchange money in the bank, the rate is better on the black market. Follow my friend!” Off course we wanted a better rate! One dollar gives us 12 000 rials in the bank, and 20 000 rials on the black market. After waiting a few minutes in the shop with our new friend, the bank man arrived to translate and helped us calculate and count so that everything was right. How many men does it take to exchange currency?

Arriving Teheran was kind of chaotic in the means of traffic, though pretty easy due to helpful people. I have a friend, who lives in Teheran, and she had booked a hotel for us and given me the directions to a place we could meet, and she would take us to the hotel. As we were randomly choosing an exit from the largest roundabout I`ve ever seen – after several rounds – a car pulled up on our side and shouted “you need any help? Where are you going?” We told him.  “Sana at, no problem – follow us!”  Then they backed the car back into the roundabout again in that crazy traffic rush, and they watched the traffic and stopped some cars so we could back as well – and we had yet another round before we followed them – taking the correct exit this time. After a long drive it was nice to relax and have some time to discover Teheran, starting out on a pizza restaurant close to where we stayed. With a menu in persian it is “point and be surprised”!

We had some wonderful days in Teheran with a local guiding us around town. We did off course go to the Grand bazaar, which is the largest market of its kind in the whole world! In total its many corridors are more than 10 kilometers in length, and you can buy whatever you need here. It is a busy place crowded with people, and you should watch your step not to be run over by the large wagons driven my man force through the narrow corridors to transport various goods into the bazaar. Men in all ages push and drag trolleys four time their own size – it is heavy work. People here are friendly, smiling and curious – and despite that we walked around for hours we have seen only a tiny part of the Grand bazaar. We had a stroll around town after a ride in a shared taxi, and on the tube on the way back home it was eager women trying to sell make-up and skin care products in the “only for women” carriage.

One evening we were invited to go with Serveh and some friends to the popular restaurant area Darband – which is also the start of the hiking trail into the mountain Tochal which towers over Teheran. It was a lot of people in the streets of Darband, in Ramadan everything is happening after sunset, and a lot of young people were there hanging out with friends. We had dinner in great company, with a view over the street from our balcony table. Vegetarian food in Iran…well, they eat a lot of meat! There are often a selection of salads, dips and bread though in most restaurants – and the Iranian rice is the best I have ever tasted. This rice mixed with a spoon of butter is just amazing!

The next evening we were invited to my friend´s home for a party. Getting the chance to stay with local people when visiting a country like Iran is very helpful in the means of getting to understand more of the people and the culture. I cannot imagine it would be any difficulties travelling here anyway, but you get an answer to all your questions – and you discover the Iran that is behind the mask that media creates. In the streets women are covered up in head scarf and the shirt or jacket is supposed to reach under the butt when in public. On the outside the strict regime set the rules, and people are intimidated to follow – or they will be punished. Luckily, I got a chance to see the Iran that the people actually live, the private life where women dress up for parties, where friends hang out having fun, where they eat, sing and have fun – where they have a life just like you and me.

Thanks to Serveh and all the new friends we made in Teheran – thanks for showing us the real Iran!

Have you ever been to Iran, or is it on your travel list?

About the Author Elin

I´m an Oslo based web publisher with passion for communication, travel and a green lifestyle. When I travel, I prefer to go slow, sustainable, and “live like a local”. Why slow? It is about challenging the cult of speed, and to enjoy the small things in life and to live in the present.

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