So I moved on with Ben and Lennard to the south.
The two have also met on their roadtrips. Ben travels with his Nissan Petrol to India / Asia and Lennard is traveling to South
Africa. Lennard, whose converted Toyota
Land Cruiser even provides a place for a second person, picked me up at Peyman and went off the wild ride. I was very excited
about the coming days and in hindsight I feel extremely happy to have the opportunity to experience the country with the offroad cars. It's another type of travel that I can experience here and a very good Company for
sure! Thank you both, Ben and Lennard, for the great experience and the
cool time together. See you soon!
The two have bought two walkie talkies to be able to communicate with each other during the trip and so our little convoy was making ist way through the mad traffic of Iran. Both cars are diesel engines, which unfortunately forced us to do some tricky things in Iran here and there. Diesel for passenger cars is very unusual in Iran and can only be obtained with certain licenses. So it was on us to look out for truck filling stations and to negotiate with drivers or the tanker to tank on their fuel card. We paid in cash, far away from CCTV. Of course we did not get the best price for it, but since the liter diesel only costs ~ 0.09 € we could also fill up for the double price for 5-8 €. Overall, energy is in this country, in which oil and gas bubbles everywhere, is very cheap and noone cares about it. My ecofriendly heart blew several times
In Kashan, Lennard and I visited an old clay fortress, whose courtyard today serves as a field. A good example of how touristic undeveloped some parts of Iran still are. So we ran through the fields to a gigantic clay cone, which is used as an enormous refrigerator. Afterwards, we visited some of the many historic houses of the city. Old palaces for the merchants and aristocrats like the Abbasian House. Especially with the sunset lights it was a great experience to stroll through the different floors, balconies, gardens and niches of the mansions. And then it came, the first night together in the car.
Ben arrived a bit later and crashed into a car behind him when he went backwards. No drama. Only the number plate of the Saipa ("pride" Iranian national vehicle) was bent and since we could not communicate with the lady, this ended without any great excitement. After a cozy dinner we moved a bit outside the city on a country road near a desert to open our night camp. Lennard's car can be rebuilt within a few movements and offers a 2m long and sufficiently wide bed for both of us. My summer sleeping bag was not designed for the cold nights, but the well-equipped Lennard supplied me with additional blankets.
Zur rechten Zeit am rechten Ort
Of course we wanted to take a short detour into the sand desert. Peyman and Mozhde from Tehran provided us with GPS coordinates to find a good place. 1.5 hours estimated. 1.5 days we spend there. First we visited one of the four major mausoleums of the Shias (Iranian main religion, only 4 other religions are tolerated alongside this in the country) and then we went to the desert "Maranjab". The ride on the prepared slope into the desert was already fun and exciting and not with every vehicle to master. Every few minutes we met trucks who carried salt. In the distance was a dried-out salt lake. The end of the "road" led to an ancient clay fortress (Maranjab) not far from the lake. A short look into it was already
enough, because the entrance fee seemed not worth it. Here in Iran tourists pay about ten times as much as the Iranians themselves. Usually around 200,000 rial (~ 5 €). But that is okay, I think sights / museums
etc. should be free for the locals. A small charge of tourists is okay.
Ben has “missed” a few laws and brought his camera drone in the country. With that we had so much fun. With the two off-road vehicles, we dared into the sand. Very careful and
thoughtful of course. It was an extraordinary experience for us. Some gigabytes were filmed and photographed. It was really cool! Lennard drove a round in the salt marsh of the lake and Ben and I had a lot of fun with the free camels. When we met again, the best thing just happened to us. Back on the road we saw 3 more off-road vehicles passing through the desert boards. For us, this meant to catch up and go behind them. After a few minutes the three stopped and we met an insane and friendly Iranian group. Six men from Tehran who spend a couple of days off-road here in the desert.
As hospitable as the Iranians are, they have invited us to their little desert camp. Spontaneously, we let it go and it was the best decision we could make. Across the dunes the experienced offroaders escorted us to their camp. In between we stayed stuck, then left the air almost completely out of the tires and were pulled out again. The guys had a beautiful little campside. Two tents in the middle of the sand dune, firewood was ready, and a bottle of vodka was passed on to the newly won friendship. The guys shared their whole food with us and until late at night, with breathtaking views of the stars, we discussed, laughed and celebrated our meeting. Ben showed me a few features of his camera and for the first time, I think, I realized how a digital camera actually works and what great stuff you can do with it. But to be honest, I forgot the half. It has been a great group that does not celebrates different than the Europeans. Only that draconian punishments for alcohol are on the agenda. But here in the nowhere we could do and leave what we want. And of course, the
guitarlele was also used again.
The next day, after enjoying an excellent breakfast, the Iranians took us on a trip through the dunes of the Maranjab. It is remarkable how much a car is capable of doing. Sure, a few of us were stuck, but with the help of all we went on quickly. I myself was allowed to drive with Ben's cart through the sand, especially when he flew with his drone behind us to shoot photos and videos. A brilliant and fun experience when you dive over the dunes, steep curves and really steep slopes slides down. My complete flashdrives are full of videos and pictures ... and none of them can show the amazing experience and landscape as good as it actually was.
At the wrong time in the wrong place
After a big farewell to the guys, we went to town Kashan again, had dinner and went to the outskirts to find a suitable sleeping place. At an intersection in the direction of the airport we parked and slowly prepared for the conversion. Around 20 minutes later, there was a knock at the window ... Soldiers armed with AK47 and two elderly gentlemen in civil clothing asked us to pack our documents and cameras without a lot of words and follow them on foot. The confusion, of course, was great. When we walked around the corner, we realized that we made a big mistake. We parked in the immediate vicinity of a secured military ground. That made us suspect. To our defense, I must say that the railing from the street, neither the usual "photography-forbidden signs" nor any other signs of an official building had been seen. Such a crap. The three of us were escorted (with heavily armed soldiers) to an office of the military base. All cameras were tampered with and our documents (passports, carnet de passage for the cars) got checked. Then we were interrogated for the first time and our story is of course adventurous. A gentleman was the only one who spoke English to us. He and the other army guys (partly we were surrounded by 5-6 soldiers) have always treated us with respect. They were polite and even apologized for the circumstances. We also tried to show tolerance, patience and understanding. They just have to do their job and we had nothing to fear ... at least that’s what we thought ...
Because then the whole thing took on more proportions. The first dramatic twist, so to speak. I should stay in the office and show the
gentlemen how they can look at all the pictures on mobile phones and cameras. ALL PICTURES! I have about 8.000 pictures on my 64GB memory card. Every single one was examined! From my Farewell Festival over Greece, Turkey and finally Iran. Ben and Lennard went out with a bunch of soldier to the cars, to check them again. And of course they found some stuff. Other cameras, laptops, memory cards, USB memory sticks, external batteries and even Ben's Polaroid photo book were confiscated and brought back to the office. But what caused the most trouble for all, was the camera drone. It is banned in Iran and is considered as spy tool. In addition, the investigators were able to conclude illegal activities during the review of the pictures. I will not talk about details here. Just google what is forbidden in Iran and we almost covered all of it.
Without handing us the passports, they asked us to wait in the cars. An armed soldier was set up as a guard beside the cars. About 20 minutes later, it tapped again. This time it was again our friend with two soldiers and two men in leather jackets. I alone
should follow them to the office. There were a few questions asked again and they kindly informed me that all our things (including passports and telephones) are handed over to the secret service. It escalated further. Only one copy of our documents and an address to which we should turn the next day we were able to strike out. So far, we had understood everything that
happened ... but now we were really upset, worried and insecure. With the help of a few passersby, we were able to find the right way, inform the German embassy, and slept around the corner of the police station to be there in the morning.
First of all, we had to wait for a translator. Hussein, a local tour guide, was coming and told us a lot about what we did not picture yet. And it was embarrassing to him and we realized how sorry he was about the whole thing. But now: escalation level 4! The region is the Iranian hub of nuclear research, and the area is in the highest level of safety. We actually could find a worse place to park the car! Then
we were interrogated individually. We even had to read our diaries to them. The other two of us were sitting in the parking lot, enjoying the morning sun, had breakfast and trying to make the matter more tolerable with black humor. The result of the day was that we still could not get our things back.
Everything, including passport, should be transported securely to the headquarters of the secret service for review and storage. We were not allowed to leave the city and in three days, when everything is okay, we get everything back.
After that the cars were searched again by the intelligence service, we prepared a list of all confiscated things. Then with a lot of discussion and begging we got one single cellphone back. But the passports, which they are not allowed to move even under Iranian law, remained in their custody. With the mobile phone, we were finally able to talk with the Embassy, who took our case but also asked for patience. We were really doing well. We were relatively free, so far everything has been done right and we also had sufficient cash. And then something unbelievable happend. We knew someone who knew someone who might be able to help. We explained the situation
and parked the cars under a tree for lunch (after asking a police officer for permission). We barely had had any sleep the last nights. I slept the longest and Lennard woke me up with the info that we go with Hussein, the translator of that morning to play some football. Yes why not! In the end I wasn’t playing football but some basketball with an Iranian. Hussein told us that our material was already back on its way to us. A call has probably moved the courier to repentance and we should get our things back immediately without further harassment. And indeed, a few hours later, the chief investigator stood upright on our cars, handing us everything completely and functionally. He apologized politely and even brought us some sweets!
Crazy... just crazy. But finally we could move on, with some delay and precious time loss of course. I continued with Lennard, while Ben, who has more time pressure as he is expected at the Pakistan border, takes a direct route. So we said farewell, but if luck is with us, we might meet him again.
Shoosh & Shoostar
Iran has a lot to offer. The land of 4 seasons has a very diverse nature and, of course, enormous cultural treasures to offer. The former Persian empire stretched far beyond today's national borders, but the main cities and many monumental buildings are still within Iran. Thanks to my Iranian friends, we do not continue our journey as many in Esfahan, but are driving close to the Iraqi border to Shoosh and Shooshtar. In Shoosh is the ancient city of Susa, which is believed to be the longest inhabited city in the world. Of course, the city has seen some empires come and go and the mix, which is located on the former urban area (now Archaeological Site) is truly bizarre. A medieval castle stands next to the ruins of a Roman palace, which is located in the front yard of ancient Persian residential and commercial building. It was okay, but it didn’t made us too excited.
Because in fact we were looking for a special ancient temple. A clay pyramid. As we couldn’t remember the name it took us a while to make some locals lead us to Choga Zanbil. And there it is. Half carved in rock, half expanded from sun-dried mud bricks. An enormous building in a beautiful landscape. We arrived just before sunset and the artificial light, coupled with the colors of the setting sun, provided a fantastic scenery. After Choga Zanbil, we drove towards the small town of Shooshtar.
There we looked for a cozy sleeping place in the middle of fields, near a river. In the morning the farmers greeted us kindly and gave us "Nan", the typical flat bread, that they eat everywhere. We spent the morning at the main attraction of the city. In the third century, cunning Persian engineers made use of the hydroelectric power and built a canal system in a valley in which 46 different mills or other mechanical devices form a hydraulic masterpiece. It is very interesting to explore the function of the watercourses. But it is not just the purpose that makes this place interesting. Many of the canals flow from the mills back into the riverbed. This makes this facility seem like a city that is strewn with waterfalls. A picture like Tolkien painted it in middle earth.
Persepolis | Shiraz
Then it was time move on. The distances in Iran are gigantic. It is a huge country. 1-2 times a day the police pulled us out. Sometimes we were too fast ... sometimes they were only interested in and another time it was a
person control. But the policemen were always on our side. They were
enthusiastic about tourists and, of course, the steering wheel on the wrong
side. So it happened many times, that the police gave us their supper (fruit). And we did not always have to pay highway tolls. We could easily pass with friendly nods. Even on the motorways, the hospitality of the Iranians is exceptional.
We arranged another meeting with Ben in Persepolis (The City of the Persians). Persepolis is probably the most famous historical sight in Iran. Headquarters of the Godking Xerxes and Ataxerxes. Here, the first account of universal human rights was found. The original is in the Louvre in Paris. Women's rights, labor rights, were fixed by the rulers for the first time. Unfortunately, those got lost by the conquest of the Arabs. In the huge archeological area there are restored remains of palaces, ritual towns, graves and power symbols. Next to it, there’s the metropolis of Shiraz, another former capital of the empire, with magnificent buildings, especially religious ones.
I was particularly impressed by another mausoleum of one of the brothers of an Emam, as well as the tomb of the famous Persian poet Hafez. At the mausoleum, we had to wait for non-Muslims to meet with an emissary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A friendly gentleman who led us through the sacred grounds. Only with his company were we allowed to enter and shoot photos. And it was free for us. The Persians have really put a lot of effort, time and money into the construction of their buildings and they are very impressive. Of course I also learned a lot about the history of the Persian empire, their religion and Iran.
Random people come up to talk to us everyday on the streets. Curiosity, interest and friendliness are great qualities of the Iranians. And the best thing is, they mean it honestly and are not as touristic-spoiled as the "friends" in other countries, which in the end want to sell you something or even worse, lure you into really lousy tourist traps. No, they seriously invite you to lunch with their family, want to make real friendships and ask questions about your country and the people. After a certain amount of time, this can become exhausting. They are very keen to convey a good image of their country ... and they do it with great success! Once, we were in a conversation with a gentleman and he recommended us a few places of his city, there came a half-timbered teenager and wanted to strike very cool with us and pushing photos. He was immediately chastised by the gentleman and taught him manners and that’s not the way to deal with strangers, he should show respect. Well, it ended in a fistfight between the two (about 20 men intervened), but basically he meant well. Probably even both.
After the sunset we climbed a stairway to one of the surrounding hills in Shiraz. From here you have a fantastic view over the city. Together with Ben, we drove into a kind of stone quarry on the outskirts of the city and could share some photos with Ben in the lights of the city and enjoy the last evening together. The next morning we visited another great attraction of the city. The "Pink Mosque". Between 9 and 11 o'clock the morning sun shines through the colorful windows into the mosque and leads to a very beautiful light. Unfortunately, we had to wait almost until 11 o'clock outside, since the country called a mourning day. A head of the church died the day before after a heart attack and so we had to wait for the ceremony which was held to his honor.
Lennard and I went on the long way south. The largest island of Iran "Queshm" is our goal. The island, which is shaped like a dolphin, is home to wonderful nature, and above all, warm temperatures. The way took us through oil and gas fields. One pumping station chased the next and pipelines pass through the country. Again and again, we could see immense meter-high flames where "non-recyclable" gases are burnt. It is sad to see how much energy just fades and the pollutes the atmosphere. Apart from that, we have passed magical mountain landscapes, small villages and huge plains.
Queshm is, like some other border areas of Iran, a free trade zone. Not all products / brands may be imported into Iran. And if so, then they charge ridiculously large taxes on it. A 80,000 € Mercedes will cost ~ 300,000 € in Iran in the end. There are, as mentioned, these free trade zones, in which mainly rich Iranians are based. To get to the island we had to do some paperwork before boarding the ferry. Feels almost like a border crossing, but here also the officials were very friendly and interested. I even could smoke in their office and we were served tea. On the ferry, we were, of course, again the highlight for the other travelers and a family adopted us for the duration of the crossing. What a nice experience!
On the island, Peyman and Mozhde helped us with useful GPS coordinates to see the highlights. So we went to the Chakhoo Valley at night. A nature park in the middle of the island. We arrived at night and decided to sleep there. And this sleeping place was phenomenal. We were the only ones around and it was almost full moon. So we decided to go through the canyon at night. A truly exciting experience to see the magic world of the canyon in the moonlight. And also back at the car, we had to force ourselves to go to bed and turn our eyes away from the unique scenery. For this we were able to rediscover it early in the morning and walk as the only visitors through the sandy canyon.
Afterwards we went to the coast, where we rented a boat for a tour through the mangrove forests. Of course we negotiated a good price and a small boy took us with him. He knew what he was doing and he was trying to show us dolphins. And in fact, we saw some. Well, not really good and clear, but some dolphins moved past us. The mangroves are harvested here mainly as food for camels. However the area is huge and it is a very special ecosystem to discover. After we enjoyed a bath in the Persian Gulf at the beach near some small islands, we went to the second big canyon of the island. Bathing here, also with nude upper body, was no problem at all. A few Iranian guys have not adhered to the common rules of morality, as well.
Later we visited the Star Valley, a canyon similar to Cappadocia but a lot smaller. And unfortunately also the main attraction of the island, which means that a small entrance was also required and a lot of Iranian tourists were there. Lennard and I have then drifted off the beaten track. And once again we became an attraction
ourselfes. In the short time, of course, I could not get used to the fact that the Iranians freak out when they discover a foreigner. We were regularly asked and
invited. Even while driving through a city, it can knock on the car dash and a smiling face asks you to spend the evening with him and his family in his house ... Just like that. Without having changed a word before. Just because of pure curiosity and
hospitality. I love the Persians! And the stored phone numbers now also need a good system to be able to properly allocate the many great people you know here.
Actually, in this report, I wanted to have a closer look at cultural peculiarities, my personal questions and teachings, but as you see, so much has happened that I wanted to write down. And there would be a lot to talk about on the topic of Persian cuisine and language. Not to mention politics... The article is by far the longest I've written so far! Is also clear, my trip has compared to the last months now almost reached light speed.
But you will soon hear from me! Then there comes the next part of my stay in Iran.
- The boys still had a buttslide from the Turkish mountains in the car, I used it to slide down the sand dunes. What a fun!
- In Kashan we were repeatedly recommended the same restaurant. ANAR. Rather a middle class restaurant but probably the address for tourists.
- Mojid, a student who helped us when we were traveling without documents and phone in Kashan, was nice and helpful, but also scary. He’s totally conservative. My favorite quotes: "I choose the president who does nothing else but what the religious
leader wants." & "I'm going to marry next year in February ... I'm already looking forward to the woman my mother chooses for me!"
- Sometimes when we pay, the receivers kiss the notes and hold them to their foreheads ... out of gratitude. Somehow cool!