I would recommended any traveller to Iran to make a lot of time for the Persian Gulf, on the south coast. It’s like a different country – the Bandari people are super laidback and the women wear bright colours (such a relief after the black dresscode everywhere else).
I hitchhike with my mate, Mahyar, to the island of Hormuz. Our Norwegian friends, Mats and Robert, have found the perfect spot. We are mostly undisturbed on a peaceful beach, and I can even swim in my bikini without fear of breaking a dresscode. There are about eight of us, lounging in the sun and swimming in the sea each day.
After a few days, we move to another island, Qeshm, exploring the mangrove forest and meeting the enthusiastic local people.
I hitchhike with Mats and Robert along the whole of the south coast. They are the perfect travel partners – they don’t stress when night comes and we don’t have a clue where to sleep. They are so considerate with my veganism that they mostly eat vegan too. And Mats has an incredible patience for everyone, even when we are told for the twentieth time in one day that ‘NO, hitchhiking is impossible. I’ll take you to the bus station’. We sleep on more beaches and meet more locals. Everyone wants photos with us and people give us tours of their towns.
We spend New Year’s Eve partying in the city of Bushehr with new friends, who meet us on the street, take us in, give us alcohol and take us night swimming.
We continue north, up the west of Iran. We get invited into family homes again. We stay with an Arabic family (Arab people make up approximately 2% of the population of Iran). They force us to try on Arabic clothes and one of the men of the family says to me, ‘Lisa, your way of life is not good for a woman’. This, of course, leads to a heated discussion about a woman’s role in life.
Hitchhiking is as eventful as ever. We get a lift with a truck driver who seems very excited and doesn’t look at the road as he drives. He suddenly reaches for a gas canister and lights it. We are confused…is he using it for heating? Is he going to make us tea? No, he needs the gas to light a drug on a small metal rod, which he then smokes. He tells us that the drug is called Terriak (probably spelt wrong!) Fear of crashing makes us leave the truck. Another truck driver is one of the happiest men in the world, and dances to Eye Of The Tiger in his seat!
Our last couple of days are spent in Kordestan, where much of the Kurdish population of Iran live. Again, this area is like a separate country. The scenery is more beautiful and the cities are more peaceful. Predictably, we are hosted by someone we meet in an internet cafe!
After two months in Iran, I am happy to leave. The restrictions on dresscode have worn me out. It’s also been exhausting, explaining the concept of hitchhiking and that ‘no, we do NOT want to take a bus or taxi!’ Also, travelling with Mats and Robert, I am treated differently to when I was travelling with Sara and Karina. Local men only address Mats and Robert, and this infuriates me!!
Having said that, I leave with some sadness. I had two amazing months here…I partied to Radiohead in Shiraz, lived in a cave in Meymand, hiked in a desert near Kerman, visited Iran’s alternative vegan scene in Mashhad, lived on beaches, sailed in speedboats, saw my first comet in a star-filled sky…I even saved a small shark from dying! I made firm friends who I now miss. I am grateful for the generosity of people who let me stay in their houses (especially Sarah and family in Tehran…thank you for the vegan meals and amazing company!) And, of course, I am grateful to everyone who let me travel across this huge country for free!
Mats, Robert and I are excited when we cross the border to Iraq, and we are told by the Iraqi border guards, ‘welcome to our country!’