One day, a few years ago, I sat on the ground of a tea plantation in the mountains of Burma and refused to move. I cried and cried. My ex-boyfriend, Tom, reasonably tried to tell me that I was acting unreasonably. I sat there like a stroppy teenager. I was burnt out. I was exhausted from travelling, tired of meeting new people every day, tired of constantly packing my rucksack.
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.
Iranians love Chris de Burgh. This puzzles me. They also love Leonard Cohen, which puzzles me far less. There are many other things about Iran that confuse me, and it would take far more than the two months I have to understand this intriguing culture. Having been here for over a month, I am somewhat embarrassed by my previous preconceptions about the country. I shake my head in disbelief when I think back to the woman who crossed the border one month ago, the woman who thought she couldn’t talk to men, that she wouldn’t hear music anywhere, that friends were not allowed to socialise.
When Sara and I meet our Portuguese friend Karina, we all decide that it is about time to start hitchhiking around Iran. The biggest problem is explaining what hitchhiking actually is, as it’s unheard of here, and paid ride-share is a common way to travel. So when three tourists don’t want to pay, locals are shocked. Often people form a group around us, discussing amongst themselves how impossible it is. It is, however, completely possible, and we usually never have to wait more than a few minutes. The magic word is “salavaati”…it’s a religious charity word, and as soon as we say this, locals understand that we won’t pay!
Hitchhiking enables us to get to beautiful desert places, such as the Zoroastrian religion pilgrimage temple in Chak Chak, deep in the mountains.
I hitchhike with my friend, Sara, from Turkey to the Iran border.
The first Iranian we meet is a border guard, and possibly the most beautiful man Sara and I have ever seen. We look at each other and burst into fits of giggles. Since that day, Sara and I have been constantly commenting on how good looking Persian people are. The women, in particular, are stunning.
From the border we hitch a bus to Tabriz. Tabriz is crazy in the daytime…people, cars and men pulling carts of goods everywhere. Not at all like Turkey! The population here is Azeri (Iranian Azerbaijan), and not Persian. Their language is similar to Turkish (luckily for us). We are told that the government is trying to phase out their language by teaching only Farsi in schools. We learn that Iranian people are unbelievably helpful. If you ask an Iranian for directions, they will literally stop what they are doing and take you there themselves. Which is just as well, because simple things like changing money seem impossible without local help!