Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #7 – from Tehran to Isfahan
Our stay in Tehran
Our aims in Tehran were simple. Firstly, apply for the Turkmenistan visa, secondly, see the city and thirdly get the hell out of there. Tehran is huge, and huge in the kind of dirty, unwieldy and unmanageable sense. Traffic and noise, uncrossable streets and shouting people. We didn’t like it from the off.
The first day was marked by one of our now customary failures. We woke up early, really early. So early that I thought I must have done something wrong in a previous life. But despite our best efforts we had misjudged just how long it would take to get from the west of the city to the north (2 hours in case you were wondering) and we emerged from the depths of the underground with just enough time to look at our watches to confirm that the Turkmen embassy was set to close in about 30 seconds. Bugger!
The day was not a complete waste, however, as we had arranged to meet our friend Milad’s friend – Fatemeh. Together we visited Darband, a village in the foothills of the Mount Tochal and a kind of relaxation area for Tehranians wishing to escape the oppression of their claustrophobic city.
We followed this up with a trip to see the graffiti on the Den of Espionage or as you may know it the former US embassy. There is nothing like a little bit of misdirection to manipulate the masses and the Iranian authorities are experts in focusing attention away from the real enemy – which in my humble opinion are the authorities themselves.
The ‘Great Satan’ as the US is charming labelled is responsible for many evils in this world but it does all feel a little classless. Furthermore, the picture of a idealised Iranian solider stamping on the flags of the U.S, Israel and my own homeland Britain didn’t exactly make me feel welcome, I must admit.
The second day began even earlier. The sun had yet to rise and it was probably the first time in my life I had seen this hour having slept the night before :) This time we were determined not to miss the two hour window the embassy offered us. Oh, low level embassy workers, how I envy thee. Two hours work, get to be a bit pissy with everybody then spend the rest of the day swaning around, free as a bird. Fortunately ,this time we did arrive at the embassy in time and it was a strange one. We went to the little window favoured by these places and took the forms that would inevitably take a good 30 minutes deciphering. After completing them on a nearby wall we returned to the little hole of hope to find it was closed. So, we waited and waited and a crowd began to form around us. Open for 2 hours and within this time it was closed for 60 minutes. Laughable! When it did reopen, we pushed our way to the front and forced our heads inside. We had heard that it was possible to apply here and pick it up in Mashhad, Iran’s second city, so we tried our luck. The man readily accepted our proposal and told us we could pick it up in 7-10 days. And that was it, no confirmation slip, no number, no nothing. Ok then, we’ll see how it turns out.
Despite being exceptionally tired, we forced ourselves to try and take in a few more sights. We first headed to the Golestan Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and arguably Tehran’s finest attraction. The place had a serenely beautiful air and it definitely was worth the effort. We poked our heads into the central Bazaar and observed what we found out to be the Tehran stock exchange. Imagine the city of London, imagine Wall Street and then watch the video …
We spent the evening being honoured guests, as Fatemeh had invited us for dinner with her family. It was a lovely evening eating scrumptious homemade Ghormeh Sabzi learning Persian dance moves and talking politics.
The next day we, at last, gave ourselves the day off, woke up late and did very little :)
Hitchhike to Isfahan
Finding the edge of the city was an inevitable nightmare, involving a long stretch of walking the wrong way in the baking sun. We did get to see Khomeni’s tomb however, and our first hitchhike was with some policemen who took pity on us and drove us where we were actually intending to go. The whole time we were in the back of the police car we had our fingers crossed that they wouldn’t ask to see my passport (I was pretending I was Polish) in case they knew that British should be accompanied by a guide.
After escaping the attention of the bus that the policemen were directing us to go on, we managed to hitchhike out of the city limits with an off-duty policeman (we obviously didn’t know this when we got in the car) who turned out to be a really nice guy. We even got to check out another UNESCO site, Bagh-e Fin, a picturesque Persian garden dating back to the late 16th century.
In the final lift, which took us all the way to Esfahan, we broke a golden rule of hitchhiking. Shamefully we both fell asleep. Apparently I almost feel asleep on his shoulder. I’m not proud of it. Regardlessly, the guy who was driving us spoke very little English and took us to his restaurant and fed us up before eventually driving us to meet our new couchsurfing host Mohammed, but that’s the next story to be told.
written by: Jon