Hitchhiking into Islamic state of Iran
January 1, 1970
by Ana Balažic
Oh no! Don’t go to Iran, there are protest there now, it is like war. That’s what we heard from our family and friends before we left the last city of Turkey, Dogubeyazit and started our way to Iran. We chose the northern border crossing, surrounded by beautiful mountain lands. We expected all good from Iran, we heard plenty of good stories from our fellow travelers and were really excited to finally experience the country on our own.
Iran is, with its regime one of the most Muslim oriented countries in the world. The country is not only ruled by a president but also by a more powerful religious supreme leader. There is much bad news connected to Iran, coming into our western media, like conflicts with the USA, Iraq, Israel or Saudi Arabia. And since people tend to connect the country with religion, violence, and terrorism, Iran is, in many eyes, dangerous.
But in reality Iran is pretty safe, people are really friendly, seeking freedom, therefore many house parties, Hitchhiking is easy once you get in the hand with it and couchsurfing is possible even if banned. You should keep in mind not to take too many pictures, especially not if there is any government staff around, not to show your hair if you are a woman, sometimes man and woman should sit in the separate parts of a vehicle.
First few days in Iran
Arriving at Iranian border started with a walk from a bus to the border police check up where everybody kind of pushed each other through that one detector door, shouting and struggling to get through the line first. It took us around 30 minutes to pass through. Everyone was wondering where our vehicle was and how are we ever going to get a ride to Tabriz, saying hitchhiking is not possible, but getting a first and second ride was easy.. it took us only a few minutes and even taxi drivers offered us a free ride. We arrived in Tabriz in late hours so we didn’t have the opportunity to look for a good cheap place to stay, but we had a couch-surfing friend already connected that helped us out with first few things to do, like getting a sim card, translating Persian numbers, getting to know good prices for groceries, meals, and cheap stays.
We didn’t stay in the city for too long, soon enough we started to hitchhike north.
Hitchhiking in Iran
Usually, in Iran, the best point to hitchhike from is called Terminal. Bus and metro terminals, as well as taxi stands, are close to each other, a bit outside the city, next to a junction. Usually is better to walk to a highway entrance, just after all the taxis so people don’t confuse, or think you got lost or anything. There are also private cars giving rides for money, which are called passenger drivers. Those look like just ordinary cars, but would still want to charge you money. Everybody will push into you so that’s when the board, explaining what you are doing comes in handy. We didn’t have it at first, so things sometimes got difficult to explain or understand. But eventually, we got one saying that we came to Iran by road, traveling with little money, if they could help us out in case they drive the same way. The board worked also on bus stations and Bandar Abbas port!
Somebody offered to pay a bus for us to Ardabil, so we ended up going there. We got a last minute couchsurfing reply from a guy in seventies and he hosted us the upcoming night. We explored Ardabil for half a day and took some rest so we could continue our way to the Caspian Sea.
When we arrived in Rasht we managed to hitchhike all the way to the other side of the town to the street where our next couchsurfing host lived. We were really happy to arrive at a wonderful brother that made us feel at home. Mostafa is a great musician and an interesting guy. It was the first time when we got to the real talk about situations in Iran at the time.
The upcoming day, there was a protest organized in the town. We heard that people were sometimes shot down with guns, the protest was aggressive and we were recommended not to go since people might think we are journalists. In Rasht, we also met Mostafa’s friend Sara who invited us to her home, showed us around the city and took as for a night trip to the Caspian Sea. We had a great time with them and really experienced a great side of Iranian culture. We even cooked together with some of her friends and play some music with her kids. From the conversations with Sara, I really felt the true emotions going through so many of Iranian people. We spoke about the issue of government and religion being connected and structure of people leading the country. Most people really disagreed with the system, having hope for change but hardly seeing any changes in the future.
Sara’s friend took us to a village, where we could see the multi-leveled market, where somebodies roof is somebody else’s garden or a restaurant. The site was called Masuleh.
Arriving in Tehran by a “passenger driver” car was a bit stressful, we had a misunderstanding with the driver, our explanation “no money” didn’t work out that well and he wanted a lot of money for the ride. We didn’t agree, we had a short conflict with many people standing around us, even police came to check it but left as soon as we showed them our translated text, saying what went wrong. The driver eventually wanted to steal my phone, we blocked his doors and after some discussion got the phone back.
My personal experience with Tehran had both positive and negative. Our host was a really nice relaxed guy, we met some nice locals wandering around the parks, jamming some nice music with them and drinking some tea. The downside of Tehran was that there is really a lot of people there, the city is very big and it takes really long to come from one side to another, even if there is a metro. Metro is not really expensive, however really packed and almost every stop the is somebody offering to sell you something. Many people own a car, so traffic is horrible and air really polluted. I can say that was one of most polluted cities I have ever been and I visited New Delhi last year. Walking from metro to our couchsurfing host was far, so we hitchhiked inside the city, which went pretty well because more people speak English. We also found this full vegan restaurant and owner was so happy we were there that he gave us plenty of goods to try.
We hitched a VIP bus to Kashan, got free food and accommodation offered. Kashan is a very religious and traditional town. The bazaar is beautiful, it is built like some kind of street tunnels and you can easily get lost in it. We also visited a beautiful Fin Garden.
Since we were a bit short on money we brought into the country we busked. But once we stopped playing and walked back home things got a bit complicated and we nearly got deported. You can read about that and many other adventures in Iran in my next post.