Iran is thrilling. The people are extremely friendly, the mosques stunning and the culture varied
and not easy to understand. I don’t regret visiting it at all , moreover, I am so happy
to be able to learn more about the country.
Iranian women have a totally different status in society than the women in Turkey. They are confident, dressed prettily and made up. They drive cars, study and have jobs in public places.
I don’t get the feeling of being in a male dominated society. But despite everything, in the places I travelled through about 50% of the women still wear the black chador. Somehow all of them look the same to me.
As a westerner you might think there is suppression, but I have the feeling these women are happy.
Quite often they are curious, laugh and are really happy to see me.
Men are very open towards me. They are polite and respectful.
The Iranians are not only a happy and friendly folk, they are also educated. There is barely any rubbish strewn around, the roads are in really good condition, the people are neat and the homes always clean and tidy.
They are proud of their country, of their culture and their history. Islam has a very important role in their life.
The food is a bit stale. The cay is a lot milder than Turkish cay. The sweets far to sweet for my taste.
Family is very important. The oldest get a lot of attention. Uncle, aunt, grandson and many more family members frequently get together. Then they sit on the floor, eat, chat and spend time with each other. In conservative families the women don’t remove there scarves or their chadors and therefore expect that I do the same.
In the villages the flats normally have just two rooms. The facilities are the TV, the folded blankets
and matrasses which are piled up next to the oven. One room is heated, the other one stays cold.
The kitchen is normally integrated in one of the rooms.
When eating they put a plastic tablecloth on the carpet. To sleep they unroll the matrasses, some, even the grannies just lay on a carpet. Beds like we have are uncommon.
No one has privacy, no own room, not even your own cupboard.
If someone needs to go to bed earlier, he or she has to accept the noise around them. Consideration seems to be non existent.
I am treated with privilege everywhere. I am always served first, I always get the biggest portion.
I also get a lot of attention about how I am feeling. Sometimes even a bit to much and quite often I feel a bit embarrassed. I am not allowed to help. The guest should rest and feel comfortable.
The living room is heated way too much and I often have difficulties coping with the extreme heat.
If I want to sleep in the cold room they can’t understand why I would like to sleep there.
But I always do it and have therefore the room for myself.
The hospitality is very sincere and it impresses me again every day how welcome I am in the country.
I heard so often: Welcome to my country, welcome to my town, thank you for visiting my country.
Drivers are given fruits and hot tea, wave and hoot and call hello to me.
Sometimes I am feel like a star, because everyone are taking pictures of me. They ask a lot of questions, always the same, every single day. Not just the usual questions like which country, name, martial status and age.
No, they also ask: why are you not married, why don’t you have kids, do people in Germany have sex with girl-friend or boy-friend, my salary, the names of my family members, the relation between Iran and Germany, how much my pushbike or my camera cost and of course if I like Iran. And some weird questions like: who is the prettiest men in the room or who has got the prettiest name?
Esfahan is a modern city. Lively, lots of traffic and full of wonderful cultural treasures.
Pooyan, also a member of the helping foreign cyclist community, and his wealthy family accommodated me really nicely. I liked it so much that I stayed for 6 days, Carlos and Xavi, two Spanish cyclist, stayed there at the same time.
I had a lot to laugh about with the Spanish blokes and I had some really interesting conversations with the two sons about religion, politics, culture and values.
On the 21st of December Iranians celebrate the longest night of the year.
The three of us cyclist where invited to the family celebrations and it turned out to be a really nice party.
Around 30 people were invited. Nuts, fruits, dates, cakes and biscuits were the starter, rice,
noodles and soup came next. They read poems, they sang and we all danced to Persian music.
Even if it was a few days too early, it was my early Christmas eve.
I had a very interesting conversation with a 30 year old friend of the family.
He told me he has been dating a girl for more than 4 years. But they can only see each other 3 or 4 times a year. When they meet they see each other hidden, somewhere in a park.
They are both virgins and this is very important for him. They would like to get married, but he still needs to save money because she is expecting a car, a house and a lot of gold for the wedding.
Moreover her sister is not married yet and she is the older one of the two so it would be really hurtful
for her if the younger girl got married first.
His friend is already married, but he doesn’t have enough money yet to buy a house,
so they still live separately and everyone with their parents.
I had an interview with a journalist for a Iranian news agency and the photographer
took heaps of pictures of me somewhere in the city. It was quite fun to be in front of the camera
just once and not always behind it like I was used to for so many years while working for TV.
I tried to find a minor road to get to Yazd, but even the small roads are really busy in Iran.
Before I left, Pooyan translated my little profile in Farsi. I went to the mosque in a small town
and showed my letter to the locals.
They started talking to each other, called, people came and left and not 10 minutes later
I had to follow a guy and ended up staying with a big family again.
So I had a place to sleep and got some food. Questions and pictures were taken for granted.
I came more and more into the desert and luckily the traffic got less. In Varzaneh I was really lucky
and could join the Emam Hossein memorial festival. Hundreds of people sang, prayed, cried,
clapped their hands and some were a bit out of there head.
The women worn white chadors that I hadn’t seen before.
I had an interview with the Government TV, but I have never found it on the internet,
who knows if they ever showed it. They offered food for everyone and after about an hour
everything was over.
I continued and not long after the town, I was by myself.
The desert around me and for the first time there was silence. I thought about a song which was one of my favourite childhood songs. In German it is a rhyme, so it sounds much better than in English.
I was really happy while I sang it: Fortune favours the brave …you don’t need money to be happy…..
I reached a house at sunset where I knocked on the door said salam and showed my letter.
They invited me in but looked at me a bit weirdly.
They asked me over and over again if I am a man or a woman.
I pulled off my beanie and showed my hair, but right away they told me to cover my hair again.
But at least they believed from then on that I am a female. Shortly after an English speaking girl came in and explained the incident. They just couldn’t imagine that I am a woman, because for them it was hard to believe that a girl would cycle by herself all the way from Germany to Iran.
In their imagination I couldn’t be a woman. The mother must have said to his son, why are you inviting this man into my house, and the son said a few times, but she is a woman.
It had already happened a few times that a man shook my hand and I greeted them and suddenly they were a bit embarrassed because different sexes don’t shake hands with each other. But I need to add that I am wearing a beanie and a hood instead of a scarf while I am cycling. No Iranian female is dressed like me so no wonder they think I am a boy. And somehow it also protects me and that’s why I keep it this way.
The lonely road ended soon and I was back on the main Hwy. One truck after the other passed me and it felt a bit like being on the Autobahn in Germany. I reached Nain, a beautiful city with stunning architecture.
It was Christmas Eve and already dark.
I saw a cyclist and to my big surprise it was Rafael, the Spanish guy I cycled with earlier in Turkey.
We were happy to see each other and we wished each other merry Christmas.
I was tired that day and we were both looking for a hotel room for ourself.
I wanted to be alone. I could control the temperature in my room, could go to bed when I wanted
and could get up when it suited me. I also didn’t want to hear any names of football
players or Heil Hitler anymore.
No, I wanted to have a rest. I also didn’t want to think about whether my behaviour
was appropriate or not and I didn’t want to grin all night just because I wasn’t able
to have a conversation. No, my Christmas Eve was just for me and that was really enjoyable.
We cycled off together as a team again. Sadly there was only one road going to Yazd and this was the Hwy.
It was terrible, noisy and really annoying. In Aqba I had my first opportunity to stay with Helal Ahmar. The Iranian Red Cross. They are based around every 80km on all big roads in the country. As a cyclist you are very welcome. They have showers, sometimes even beds and they feed you. But only men work there, that is why I am always the only woman there.
With Rafael it was now a bit harder to talk to men, but after a short while they normally also talked to me. But it is obviously a lot easier for me to talk to the women and on the other hand the ladies kept their distance from Rafael.
From the exciting town Meybod we cycled to Yazd.
The Silk Road Hotel offers free accommodation to every cyclist. The atmosphere is international.
I had conversations with people from all over the world, it was a real backpacker mekka.
Yazd is really beautiful. It has some sort of a 1001 night flair. Mud walls, colourful mosques, bazaars, little craft shops, splendid tombs and a labyrinth of small alleys are characterising the city.
I sat for hours in one of the mosques and watched the happenings.
In tombs I also have to were the chador which they provide at the entrance of each tomb.
Men and women have separate entrances. The smaller one is for the women,
the mosque centre for the men. Quite often they serve cay and sometimes even bread.
Frequently they asked questions and giggle while taking pictures of me.
A lot of women are crying at the tombs, some read the Koran and others sit together having
a chat and it looks a bit like a coffee party.
Personally I find the inner part of a mosque much warmer and well being than churches.
It is by far more cosy to sit on a floor having a cay instead of sitting on old uncomfortable
wooden benches and have to be silence.
Yazd was terrific and surely one of the highlights of Iran.
On the last day of the year we continued, but didn’t get far because in the town of Taft we noticed the preparations for a festival and didn’t want to miss it.
Once again it was about Emam Hossein, the Emam who is most important in Iran. Emam Hossein is there hero who died 1400 years ago in a tragedy.
Men sing, run and they are beating themself on their chest to the rhythm of the music. Moreover they carry a big wooden wheel in a circle around the fairground and some shouting bannerman run in front.
The women, all of them dressed in the black chador, are crying to the side of the event.
A commemoration full of emotions. Exciting and impressive, but also a bit scary at the same time.
We left Taft and reached the mountains and it started snowing again, reaching the next town dripping wet and cold, but no one invited us in, therefore we stayed in the cold mosque and ate Rafael’s emergency provisions and I used my gas for the first time since Athens, where I bought 2 brand new gas bottles to be on the safe side.
At 5.30 the night was over. Muezzin came in and called for the morning pray. It was so noisy that I had the feeling that the windows were shaking.
But compared to Turkey the sound pollution is a lot less. First they pray only three times instead of 5 and there speakers are only around the mosques not on every street corner.
Shortly after the call the prayers came. We tried to dry our clothes over night,
therefore they were lying everywhere on the floor and moreover the bikes were standing inside.
I was lying in the direction of Mecca, so the ladies prayed in my direction while I was
still lying in my sleeping bag. It was a bit embarrassing but no one seemed to be disturbed.
It was sunny again and leaving the snow covered mountains behind we cycled further into the desert.
Abarkuh was similar to Yazd, Meybod and Nain and really pretty to look at. A rich guy invited us home and the first time we heard some positive words about the leader of the country and bad thoughts about the enemies. His daughter was 15 and already had to wear the chador.
The following days I asked a few more people about their political attitude and to my surprise I had only positive opinions about the Government. I am not sure if they said it because of fear or because they really believe in it.
Khomeini and Khamenei are everywhere. On TV, on placards, on house fronts, in houses, mosques and shops you can see their faces.
Before I had the feeling that the whole nation is against the regime. Some said to me they want to leave the country, others are trying to improve the image of the country.
Therefore they ask questions about the relationship between Germany and Iran and also seriously request to tell all my friends how nice the Iranian people are. They want to get rid of their bad image.
We reached Pasargard, one of the ancient site shortly before Shiraz, after it started snowing again. In front of the entrance stands this obvious sign.
Pasargard itself didn’t impress me at all. There is not a lot left of the former impressive site. We managed to cycle as far as the next Helal Ahmar and stayed there over night. The next morning there was too much snow to continue. Lots of accidents happened already and it would have been too dangerous to cycle.
We took the bus to get to Shiraz. The 100km took the bus 9 hours. It was chaos on the road. Shiraz hadn’t had any snow for about 20 years and now already so much that they kept the schools closed for 2 days. Sadly, because of the bad weather we missed Persepolis.
We stayed with a family in Shiraz. Ahmed celebrated his 34. Birthday and his guest were 4 men, his two sons, Rafael and me. His wife escaped right before the guys came. I felt a bit awkward. It was a funny party even if it was a bit weird. Iranian men sometimes give the impression to be more feminine, and I thought I shouldn’t judge too early, but when the 5 guys started dancing I knew
I was at my first gay party.
I needed to extend my visa, because my first 30 days were over. The foreign police was packed with people of different nationalities. It was chaotic. I was served first again. They shouted at Pakistanis and Afghanis but they even walked with me to the different rooms where I had to collect some signatures.
All in all I had to go to 6 different people and had to collect at least 10 ticks to get the extension. Too bad I didn’t get another 30 days, just 21 days, but it didn’t really matter because I changed my plan anyway.
We didn’t stay long in Shiraz, because we didn’t really like the city. Besides some beautiful mosques there wasn’t a lot more to see. From Shiraz on the country changed. The people have darker skin, they wear more colourful clothes, the streets where a lot dirtier and the towns a lot poorer.
Nomads walked with their goats along the hills and some of them stayed in tents. The food got more tasty. But somehow it wasn’t the Iran anymore I had visited the last 4 weeks. It was different.
The temperatures were mild, but it rained. We passed Duzeh and headed to Jahrom. A wonderful road full of oasis, barren mountains, palm trees and small lakes.
In Jahrom we stayed 2 nights with Zarah and her family. She spoke English so I was able to ask a few questions about religion, politics, family and relationships.
Their house is tiny. It is just one room, the kitchen is integrated in the living room and through a door is a tiny corridor were the girls study.
Before the 2 sons left the house it must have been really tight. For me unthinkable. I pitched my tent that night for the first time since Turkey. Finally it was warm enough again. Half of the neighbourhood had a lot of fun sitting in my tent and taking pictures of themself.
Rafael’s visa was expiring soon, therefore he had to take the bus from Lar to Bandar Abbas.
He joined me to get to the Hwy to say good bye. A motorbike rider came close to us and started talking. But it was in a way different to other encounters.
I had the feeling there was something wrong with him. I cycled in the front and by the time Rafael and I were far apart he came to me and asked straight away for sex.
I said piss off, but he didn’t go. He came even closer with his motorbike and pushed me more and more off the road. I stopped, shouted at him and pushed him a bit.
Rafael was already with us and said to the guy piss off. So he left. We spoke about what to do and Rafael convinced me to go back with him to the town.
The guy followed us and now and then he disappeared but also appeared again. He observed us. There wasn’t a lot I could have done, without Rafael this guy would have followed me again and
on a remote spot would have attacked me.
So we took the bus together. I was annoyed and frustrated, but there was nothing I could have done and safety is most important. It wasn’t far to Bandar Abbas. A ugly town.
Two weeks earlier someone had called me on my phone to offer a place to stay in Bandar Abbas.
I have no idea where he got my number from but it didn’t really matter. We called him and could stay at his places for the night.
The other day we bought our ferry tickets to Sharjah in the United Arabian Emirates and spend the night on the boat.
Dubai was a culture shock. But more about this next time.