This post is to cover up about one full month in a fascinating place full of so many fascinating people, that it could impossibly live up to the experience we had.
Why didn’t we write earlier?
Well, firstly Internet is not on the strong side of Iran. Being slow, prone for disruptions and with many contents still blocked out by the government, being online is not really a joy here – working on the website neither. But that surely is no full excuse. Besides that we were rather lazy writing in the last weeks, as we were usually busy in the online times reading! Gathering information and suggestions, how to continue our journey, using Couchsurfing and writing mails to many of the amazing people we met. Besides that one of the nicest things in Iran, the crazy hospitality of people here, made it sometimes very, very tough to focus on our own stuff – like that website.
In my past Iran – experiences I already felt that at some point one can become just over – socialized and starts to feel suffocated by attention and friendliness. So this is why those lines are now written in a beautiful small guesthouse in the desert oasis town of Bam and not in one of the many homes we had been warmly invited to the last weeks.
Tehran – three times is charm?
I can’t say that I enjoyed my first two visits to Iran’s crowded, dirty and traffic mad capital five and three years ago. Consequently I created a probably horrendous picture in Maria’s imagination and in the minds of other travelers we met, who asked about my impression. And honestly, this time we even thought of skipping the city completely. If it wasn’t for my friends Mona and Rosa, who share a flat in an old house right in the center of Tehran. While we were very glad of being invited to their place and absolutely enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in their four walls, we would have never thought of staying as long as nine days there!!
Those nine days where interrupted by a few days in Iran’s norther coastal area, camping with our friends we met in Turkey and again in the Trans-Asia train – Paul and Anna – at a small lake, surrounded by lush green mountains and old, deep forests. This part of the country is such a stark contrast to every other square mile, that it comes as no surprise, that nearly every Iranian is in love with the lands of Gilan, Mazanderan and Golestan and the “jangal” there. While we absolutely enjoyed the beautiful nature and especially the silent nights at the camp fire, as a European one wouldn’t be too impressed without the knowledge that this place right now is indeed Iran and not Romania for example.
Being back in Tehran, we met a few more interesting people of the nearly non existing street music scene and Maria tried herself – against the recommendations of many people. In the end, with great success! People’s reactions where mostly amazing and our wallet could smile afterwards as well. Our departure from Tehran got in the end mostly delayed by a cold that caught first Maria, then myself. We clearly felt the winter approaching and quite honestly, started to be pretty sick (in two ways!) by the cold air, especially after sunset.
We looked forward to cycle again, be out in the nature and enjoy some silence. This time in Tehran surely didn’t make me fall in love, but it surely helped to exorcise the worst demons and find a few corners of charm here and there – mostly due to pretty cool people we were lucky enough to meet. Furthermore, we surely understood the perspective of many Iranians, who endure the craziness day in day out for having a decent cultural life around them and to be able to connect with open minded people – two advantages of this metropolis not many places in Iran can offer.
Khoozestan – “Angels in the wastelands”
It came as a pretty spontaneous idea to take the 18 hour Tehran – Andimeshk train, that brought us down to Iran’s south western lowlands, close to the border with Iraq. This idea came mostly from the desire for warmer nights, which should be provided for in this vast plain, that boast summer temperatures from 50 – 60 degrees in many days. Our idea was to cycle step by step first in direction Bandar Bushehr, than up to Shiraz. Checking the map and the temperatures that seemed like a pleasant and not to tough ride after such a long break from cycling. Besides that, it is a corner I have never been before and not many travelers set foot in. But quickly we had to realize that we cheered too soon.
The land stretching from pretty Dezful for hundreds of kilometers south and west to the Persian Gulf was a barren, muddy and absolutely featureless wasteland. Those words might sound harsh, but I quite honestly haven’t experienced a landscape that desolate before.
Granted, that impression might have been greatly boosted by the slowness of cycling and the fact that heavy, rare rainfalls turned dust into thick, sticky mud, but nonetheless – even in perfect conditions beauty is hard to find around there. Our experiences had highlights like sleeping in fallen down shelters full of trash, eating while standing, as the mud forbid us to sit down anywhere, completely messing ourselves and the bikes for days after being stuck in the mud till the wheels stopped turning and spending harsh hours and hours of cycling on a straight narrow roads till the roar of the truck engines became a continues buzz in our suffering ears. We ended going the last leg of the journey to Shiraz by bus without any grain of regret.
Why the hell is there still a subtle smile on our faces looking back to those days? That goes nearly solely on the account of the Khoozestanis, who turned out to be one of the most hospitable and friendly bunches you could find, even in a country with super high standards like Iran. We shall not give names here, as the list would be too long of people who helped us where ever they could, with shelter, delicious food and pure kindness. We wished the land would follow the people, it would turn into a green haven with blue rivers and flowers blooming!
While we looked for nature, which we were refused as described, it were the towns and cities that in the end carried some charm and provided some enjoyable days. We liked Dezful’s beautiful riverside, Shushtar was a pretty little rivertown as well and completely positively surprised we were by Ahvaz. In travel guides rendered as a get out as soon as possible place, we just got there to clean up after a serious rain soak and mud bath – but gladly stayed for three days. It is not that it is a pretty place by esthetic means, but the vibe on the street was just amazing! A ethical mix of Persian, Arabs, Kurds and Lors turned all the streets in alleys in the center into a wild, oriental market place. We enjoyed immensely to just roam the streets and observe that entertaining buzz. Even in the evenings the streets where busy till a certain time, with the help of some great young people Maria found a good spot for busking with amazing resonance.
Shiraz – poetry and a glorious past
…does not necessarily transfer to a glorious present. To bring it to the point, we quite honestly have to consider Shiraz a greatly overrated city. Nearly every single touristy itinerary includes Shiraz and Persepolis as a definite highlight. Our great highlight was to finally see the friends we met in the Trans Asia Express again and by a funny coincidence, Anna and Paul as well! But the traffic and smog didn’t carry much poetry for us. The glorious past might be manifested in a few specific landmarks around the city center, but quite honestly, the city as a whole did not feel too much different from the ordinary middle eastern metropolis. You could feel that there was an open mindedness in the people and many really showed off the famous Shirazi laziness – or in a positive way: a relaxed attitude towards life.
Shiraz still was a key piece of our journey so far as we made some major decisions there. The biggest one was definitely the carefully reasoned one to give up on biking. It was not just the Khoozestan experience, but rather a resume of our impressions to date, strongly influenced by the current season and the further directions of traveling. This step should be further discussed in a separate post.
Consequently, we went back to the thumb – well, in Iran rather to the waving hand to stop cars and after having decent deals for the bikes in place, we started off together with Anna and Paul to Esfahan.