Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #11 – from Tabas to Mashhad

Jon hithhiking out of Tabas - header

Staying in Tabas and the great Nowruz let down

Another town and another couchsurfing disappointment. It had all started so interestingly. After piling in the car with our new host Ali and his workmates, and driving to what we thought would be his house, the sound of sirens and the familiar sinking feeling. Passports were handed over and they went off to make a call. One week away from the border, having passed through all the major tourist sites without problems and we get pulled over by overzealous cops in a pissy backwater. The calls worried us. Who did they need to call in order to look at a passport and give it back?

Time dragged. The police kept talking on their walky-talky.

And all of a sudden it’s over, the policeman welcoming me to town and we are back in the car. No harm done.

Ali, ‘our host’, shunted us off to his friend, making some excuses about having to organise something. Great! Then why accept us as guests? He made promises to meet us later for some Nowruz celebrations, involving jumping over fire but we weren’t holding our breathes. We tried to find the event but the police had closed the road from all sides, two hours driving around, trying to poke a hole in the net, all to no avail. We gave up, headed back to friend no.3’s where we ended up dancing, drinking a full bottle of vodka and I got dressed up as a mullah. A photo was also taken…

The day of mistakes on the hitchhike to Mashhad

Friend No.3 was a kindly fellow, and agreed to give us a ride down the road on the way to Mashhad.

Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #11 - from Tabas to Mashhad: Jon hitchhiking out of TabasThen we made the first of many mistakes that day. We got nervous, standing in the desert, all alone with the relentless sun. We convinced ourselves that we were on the wrong road, been dropped off in the wrong place and hopelessly lost. We crossed the road, hailed a truck and headed back to town. We tried an alternate route but it was deserted, not a truck, nor a car nor an ant to keep us company.

We saw a man snoozing in a truck and to our joy found out he was going to Mashhad. Two things stung when we drove past the exact same point on the baking hot desert road we had been standing beside three hours before.

Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #11 - from Tabas to Mashhad: Village in the desert

Village in the desert

One, what fools we were to have given up on this spot. Two, the truck was moving so slowly it was possible that our children’s children might be born, and die on this creaking excuse for transportation. We could have written homeric odes in the time it took us to travel between towns.

So, through the desert we rattled, inching across yellowish-brown desert and towards, then besides grey parched hills.

On the way our truck was stopped at an army checkpoint. The officers told us to get out and show our passports. We had nothing to hide, but the problems started when they asked us to show them our bags and my camera.

Hitchhiking in Iran: road stories #11 - from Tabas to Mashhad: Crashed plane and bus in the desertAs Ania rushed back to the truck to get her camera in order to show it to the soldiers, she had about 10 seconds to find the mullah photo and delete it as it would have meant lots of questions (since alcohol is prohibited in Iran) and a lot trouble for our Iranian friends. Proud of herself for thinking quickly and deleting the problematic photograph, she returned with the camera. When the officer turned it on, the photo on the right was the first picture he saw and immediately looked at us extremely puzzled.

What is it? – he asked

It’s the American army failed operation near Tabas – we rushed to explain, and were relieved when a sign of recognition showed on his face a moment later.

They let us go, wishing us a happy new year and saying “welcome to Iran”.

We wish we still had the picture though!

Back on the road and we were going somewhere, but that somewhere was nowhere fast. The truck gamely stuck to his task but with night approaching he was sagging at the wheel. His head was dropping and then jerking up as he struggled to keep himself awake.

‘Time to get out’ I pleaded to Ania.

After the third or fourth time of us shouting at him to get him back in the game she agreed.

It was dark but at least we were alive. I hope the same can be said for our determined friend.

About 50km from Mashhad and tired as hell we hit the road again hoping for a kind soul. He arrived in the shape of a well groomed gentleman on his way into Iran’s second biggest city. The journey finally came to end with his son asleep on Ania’s arm in the backseat as we stopped in front of our next host, Reza’s, house.

written by: Jon


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