Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #6 – from Zanjan to Tehran

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Staying in Zanjan with a comedian

We stayed in Zanjan for three nights hosted by Ali, a stand-up comedian and an English teacher who had been quite successful in both fields and had published an English teaching DVD, where he used his own method, developed during his popular seminars in Tehran.

Being a natural showman, Ali was quite keen on participating in our Cultural Relay Project and on the first night we cooked and filmed the making of traditional English Yorkshire puddings. We were invited to do it at Ali’s friend’s house which was well-equipped both in cooking utensils and alcohol, which helped break the ice. Masoud had his own personal bar, stocked in wine, vodka and all different types of whiskey.

Drinking home-made wine in the Islamic Republic of IranDespite the prohibition in Iran, alcohol is widely available in the country if you know where to buy it and have enough money to pay for it. The amount of alcohol you have in your house is, in Iran, the indicator of your social status, so you can just about imagine how wealthy Masoud was.

If you want to hold a huge wet party in Iran, you should not only buy the alcohol but also the local policemen. Ali told us that the night before we arrived one of his friends had held a big birthday party for around 200 guests. With such a huge amount of people it would be difficult to keep it a secret, so a bribe of 2000 Euros had been paid for the police not to get involved.

After we woke up the next morning, Ali’s mum treated us to breakfast. Apart from your standard bread, cheese, jam, dates and pickles, there was a huge pot of oily soup. As we learnt later, it was karlepache which literally means ‘head and leg’ and consists of all parts of sheep’s heads and legs, including tongue, eyes, ears and brain. We were trying to be open minded about it and not think too much about what we were eating, but only after adding tons of lemon juice and bread, it was just about passable. I’m not surprised karlepache has been voted as one of the most disgusting dishes on Earth; it’s certainly not my idea of a tasty breakfast.

Being serenaded in Zanjan Bazaar

Coppersmith at workAfter food we went to the bazaar. Zanjan’s main market place is definitely an interesting one and that’s not only because of the merchandise you can buy there. Outside the main shopping area there are lots of artisans’ workshops where you can marvel at many traditional craftsmen at work. It was definitely worth having a sneaky peak at how bread or copperware are made.

In one of these shops there was also a traditional tea house where Iranian men were dealing jewellery. Some of the rings they had on sale were even worth 2000 Euros! After inviting us in, one of the men decided to burst into song in order to greet us!

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Coming back from the bazaar, Ali got a phone call. It was a couple of Couchsurfers that he had agreed to host. To our surprise they turned out to be Elias and Nadja, a Swiss couple that had been following our footsteps from Trabzon and had stayed with exactly the same hosts in Trabzon, Erzurum and Tabriz! We rushed back to the house and surprised them as soon as they arrived.

In the evening we made the second part of our Cultural Relay video in which Ali and his girlfriend Nikan showed us how to cook traditional Iranian dizi. It took quite a long while to cook, so waiting for the food we got quite drunk on home made wine and araq, and Jon imagined he was a seagull.

The hitchhiking race to Tehran

When it was time for us to leave Zanjan, together with Elias and Nadja we hit the road and decided to have a hitchhiking race. The rules were simple: whoever arrived first had to take a photo of a watch with a Tehran landmark in the background.

Time was ticking but we were lucky as the first car stopped for us and not for them. It was a young guy on his way to sell some products to a nearby hospital. He spoke a bit of English so we explained the rules of our race and he stepped harder on the gas pedal.

Hitchhiking to TehranOur second lift was a truck, which was a mistake as it meant travelling a lot slower than in a regular car. He dropped us off the the edge of Tehran from where we had to hitch into the place where we would be staying.

The first car that stopped turned out to be a private taxi with one passenger inside but when we explained we were not going to pay and the driver was just about to drive off, the passenger intervened and convinced the driver to take us anyway, as they were going in the same direction. The passenger was called Yahya and he was a young guy with relatively good English. We got out in the same place, as he had some business to do nearby, but first he wanted to make sure that we got to our destination safe and sound.

We weren’t going to Couchsurf in Tehran as our good Iranian friend, Milad, who we met in Trieste two years ago, had arranged for us to stay at his parents’ flat. There was nobody living there, so we had to collect the key from the neighbour, Mr. Ahmadi.

When we got out of the car, Yahya called Mr. Ahmadi and told us the latter had been very worried about us and had asked Yahya to call a taxi for us. It was only about a 20 minutes walk, but we were forced into a taxi and driven directly to the door. As we got out, a security guard came out to walk us to the flat. When we were inside, he showed us every single room turning on the lights and explained that we should put the food in the fridge and cook on the stove (like if that wasn’t obvious!). We then waited for a couple of hours to meet Mr. Ahmadi as he was out of the city. When he arrived we told him we wanted to go to a supermarket to buy some food, to which he replied that his daughter would drive us there. We objected as it was only 20 min on foot but he said she was already on her way. He also made it clear that my clothes weren’t suitable as I didn’t have any kind of tunic that would cover my bum, so he found a long piece of garment and told me to put it onto my jacket. His wife walked us downstairs and we met his daughter who drove us to and back from the supermarket. Over the next few days we were called a couple of times by Yahya who was also worrying about us and wanted to make sure everything was ok. This is only one example of how Persian people took care of us while we were travelling in Iran. It was lovely on their side to spend their time and effort, worrying about us and doing everything in their power to make our stay easy, but at times it was tiring and we felt like the children of overprotective parents. This, however, deserves a separate post to fully explain what we mean.

A few days later we got in touch with Elias and Nadja, and we were sad to find our that we lost the race by only 20 minutes! Damn you gods of hitchhiking, damn you!

written by: Ania


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