Arrival in Iran
On November 30th, we hit the road to Iran, in a mini bus with Ajda and Raphaël, two German friends met in Van, Turkey. The driver is not happy to have our bikes on the bus. About 2 hours later, we arrive at the border. On a nearby mountain, we see the Turkish flag, on the mountain after, we see the iranian flag. The border is a gray place, where earth has given way to mud; and the metal, from barriers to barbed wire, reigns supreme. People seem a little crazy here, they shout from all sides. Children covered with mud run here and there, we do not know what country they are in, people put pullover on pullover, surely to pass them on the other side …
We are taken in a corridor where an officer takes our passports. Soon, he calls Mehdi. “Your name is iranian, are you Iranian? ” Mehdi replies that his father is Tunisian and his mother is Swiss; we expected it, everyone thinks he is Iranian when he tells his name. We will discover later that about 1/3 of Iranian men are called Mehdi … This explains that. The officer speaks to him in persian to check that he does not understand, then stamps his passport. After it’s of Ajda’s turn. The officer interrogates her for a long time, speaks to her in persian, does not believe her when she tells him that she is German, but ends up letting us all go by. Two hours after we arrived in the border, we take the same bus with a different driver, who patiently waited for us from the beginning, and drive cheerfully to Tabriz.
We thought that the adventures were over for the day, but once we arrived around Tabriz, the driver explained us that the bus terminus is here, next to a large expressway. We do not know what to do. Immediately, a dozen of Iranians arise to help us, they call 2 taxis, give them the address of our host, and it’s done! But it is not finished yet! After searching in all Tabriz for the right address, our driver runs out of gas. Mehdi, our host, ends up finding us by the road, and takes us home! We will learn later that the few watsapp that we had to send to contact him will have cost us 50 € … thank you free operator! We decide to cancel the subscription!
First days in Iran
After this immersion in Iran, we live 3 intense days in the family of Mehdi who welcomes us with open arms. He brings us to taste our first Iranian dishes: ash, a kind of soup with pasta, breakfast with cream and honey, savored with bread baked on stones, etc.
We visit the village of Kandovan, built in its special stones shaped like menhirs …
We hang out in the Tabriz bazaar, the largest in Iran and most of all, we stop in streets corners and wait. After 10 seconds for sure we will be approached by Iranians curious to know everything about us and ready to invite us on the spot at home! We have the honor to be invited to Mehdi’s aunt house who cooks for us some kind of beans, traditional aperitif of Iran, and meet the whole family … impressive! We end up eating ice cream outside at 3am! Iranians are never tired, and always surprising!
Watch our video here!
A resting volunteering experience
We then take the bus to Isfahan, to go volunteering in a guest house. We arrive in Varzaneh, village on the desert’s gateway, after a night in the bus. We meet Mohammad, the owner of the guest house, as well as other travelers from various nationalities. We spend a few days resting and appropriating the work that is asked: to advertise the guest house on internet, and especially on facebook … well, that is not our cup of tea, since this kind of sites are a lot of wasting time to us… but we do what we can, and the work seems to be paying off as Mohammad gets bookings. When we are a little rested, we take our bikes (empty!) To visit the desert, the citadel, the surroundings … we love to be in the nature after these weeks of city, and are all happy to walk in the desert; even if it is small, it is already impressive for us who have never seen it!
Watch our video here!
A mythical and mystical place of the ancient Persia
After 8 days in Varzaneh, we start to get bored and are happy to get back on the bus, to make an express visit of Shiraz, the mythical city of Persia. Another night bus and we arrive in the early morning to Shiraz. We are hailed by all taxi drivers who want to take us to the center but we want to take a bus. The drivers lower and lower their prices until they want to take us for free. Mehdi explains that the problem is not the price but rather that they do not listen to our needs since from the beginning we tell them that we are looking for a bus. They end up understanding and tell us where the terminal is.
We didn’t book a hotel and are struggling to find a cheap one. Once we are settled, we feel the fatigue of the bus is catching us and we fall into a long nap. This shrinks again our time in Shiraz so we hurry up to go visiting during the afternoon (yes the trip is tiring too!). We are surprised to note that the majority of mosques have entrance fees, about 4 €, which is a huge amount of money for Persians, and quite a budget for us too. So we spend most of our time in the bazaar and the alleyways, then stumble upon the sacred tomb of Shah Cheragh. We have to wait for a tourists guide and after a quarter of an hour of waiting we hesitate to go our way. Fortunately life is well done and at the same time a nice lady arrives and apologizes for making us wait. She puts a chador on Alice’s head and leads us inside. The sun has just set and the twilight gives a particular hue to this immense mausoleum. The trumpets are playing because we are Thursday night, they honor Shah Cheragh. Our guide explains 1001 details and is so enthusiastic that we are captivated by the visit and the beauty of the place. We leave after an hour, the heart filled with kindness and recognition.
The next day, we go by taxi to Persepolis which is 1 hour from Shiraz. Yes it is a tourist place, but it’s worth it. These old stones testify of a grandiose civilization and past time. We meet a nice family who invites us to drink tea in the evening. We are covered with gifts and spend a very beautiful evening, to talk about our lives, the situation of the country, the human being…
Watch our video here!
Another volunteering experience, or, a glimpse of Iran by discussion
We feel refreshed when we take the bus the next morning to Najafabad, where another experience of volunteering awaits us. We arrive at night in this “small” city (more than 300 thousand inhabitants though) of Isfahan’s suburbs , after many bus connections. We meet Hajar, who runs a language coffee here. She created it a year ago, and allows locals to speak with strangers, in their native language, or simply in english. It is also an opportunity for the volunteers to understand a little better the Iranian culture and the inhabitants, and for the locals to have a glance on the outside, because the country’s policy does not always allow it. We meet a lot of nice people there, and we are surprised to find 5 other travelers like us, including a cyclist! Hajar tells us a lot about her country and how it works, and we understand a little better how the political situation is heavy for the inhabitants.
Cycling for example is forbidden for women. Thanks to some courageous women who have nevertheless taken the step, this act is now tolerated; but a policeman has the right to arrest a woman and amend her for that. Smoking and driving a motorcycle is “naturally” also forbidden for women. Yet Hajar does not want a revolution for her country. She thinks that if a revolution is too brutal, it will be done in the blood and the new person in power will commit, like all the others before, many mistakes at the beginning and will condemn many innocent people. Hajar believes rather in a “gentle revolution”, little by little breaking the rules and making them tolerated. Indeed, if everyone does it, it becomes difficult to maintain the ban. If we think about it, in France, legally women are not allowed to wear pants … but who today is concerned about this law? Similarly, in Iran, parables for TV are prohibited; but today everyone has it; what power can condemn something that everyone does? We liked Hajar’s vision and the way she makes this soft revolution happening. May the Persian people find the strength and the way to live free.
After 5 days in the café, a big sinusite for Alice and a lot of chatter for Mehdi, it’s time to meet with Léa and Camille who are in Iran for Christmas! It is in Isfahan that we meet up and we find them on the Immam’s square, after 4 months! What a joy to find friends in unknown land! They are accompanied by Ali, a friend from Tehran, who will be our guide throughout their journey.
We hang out in the bazaar and especially hang out together after so long. The next evening, we go to Yazd, a city in the desert, to spend Christmas. We visit a little and prepare a good meal for Christmas Eve. On the menu, no wine, but good pancakes with good béchamel. And for dessert, a traditional ice cream with cardamom, the famous biscuits of Yazd and a crepe stuffed with tahin (sesame paste) and date paste (our 2 favorite ingredients of the iranian breakfast!).
The next day, we leave in the afternoon in search of an old caravanserai in the desert, on the Silk Road. We struggle to find it but the scenery is beautiful. Finally, in the night, we discover it. We feel transported to another time and are thrilled to be able to visit this historic site in this soft and subdued atmosphere.
We then arrive in Varzaneh, back to square one, to visit the desert and collect our bikes that we had previously packed. Alice and Léa drive back to Tehran with Ali, while Mehdi and Camille (who was thirsty for some adventures in Iran) take the night bus. We meet together the next morning and go to visit this huge capital. We walk around the ancient Shah Palace and the next day we look for gifts in the Tehran bazaar.
Watch our video here!
We are already December the 28th, our visa expires on the next day, it’s time to take a taxi to the airport and say goodbye to our friends.
Once there, we are surprised because everything rolls like clockwork, and we are soon on the plane, on direction for new adventures, in Malaysia!