IRAN, part 2

So, where were we in the last post? Oh, yes, Persepolis – one of the most famous tourist sites in Iran.


A little bit of historical facts – Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire. The earliest remains of Persepolis date from around 515 BCE, that is from the period of the reign of Darius the Great who ordered the construction of the site. The buildings at Persepolis are situated in an elevated terrace and they include several royal palaces, the treasury and its surroundings, and also two enormous ceremonial halls. UNESCO declared the citadel of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.


Now that you’ve witnessed this shameless copy/pasting from Wikipedia, if you’re interested in finding out more, you can do it on the Internet. There are pictures, stories, everything.

For our experience – it was hot. We visited all the sites, took some photos and soon we were ready to move on, hitchhiking to Yazd. As always, people gave us strange looks, they showed us the way to the terminal or to the taxi station but we didn’t give up. Soon, we stopped the truck which was supposed to take us half the way to Yazd, given that we’d understood each other well. Although we’d been spoiled and avoided trucks due to their lack of speed, we hopped on.

The polite driver instantly offered us with dried dates (everyone’s eating them in Iran), water, tea, grapes, and even with some medicines after he’d noticed we had runny noses. After few minutes, he pulled over, arranged our bags, pulled out a mattress, a blanket and a pillow and he prepared us some kind of a bed behind the driver’s and the passenger’s seat.


Just to make me feel more comfortable. Or because he wanted me to fall asleep so he could easily hit on Tanja. However, when he pulled out a wig and started combing his hair in a very feminine way, we realized that I was the one who was in a possible danger of being hit on.


We got off after 2-3 hours and continued with our mission. We saw a group of young men at the crossroads who were trying something similar, but they were only stopping the trucks, indicating with their thumbs the direction in which they were going. By the way, in Iran, the usual pose when hitchhiking is different from that in other countries – the thumb up has basically the same meaning as showing the middle finger in the western world. So you need to adjust. We were doing it successfully by holding the signs with the name of the place we wanted to go. While the guys were testing their luck with the trucks we were focusing on the cars. Three minutes afterwards, a car pulled over, with a father, a mother and their two little sons on the back seat, asking us to come in. We pointed at our bags, which would be difficult to squeeze in the back of the car, but the father got out of the car, crammed the trunk, which was already stuffed with things, with our bags, used a wire cable to assure that our rucksacks wouldn’t fall out from the running car. Wonder-maker!


The boys were playing with Maria Juana, and we were drinking tea. Yes, they had a vacuum flask, cups and sugar in the car. We communicated exclusively with the help of body gestures, but everyone kept on smiling through the whole ride. We stopped two times so they could show us some buildings and a certain tree, which was, if we got it correctly, 4000 years old.

By the evening we arrived to Yazd. Our new family left us 50 meters from the hostel recommended by Kiarash (you may remember him from Istanbul). We went inside and asked for a free room. The guy working as a receptionist looked familiar so I asked him was his name, by any chance, Balal. Because, Balal was the name of the guy whom I had sent a CS request a few days ago asking him if I could sleep on his couch once Tanja was gone, which was tomorrow. And of course – it was him. It’s a small world. Or at least Yazd is.

We got settled in the room, and when Balal’s shift was over, he took us to get a few drinks with 3-4 CouchSurfers who were currently surfing his couches, beds and floor. That’s what I call an active host. Besides, Balal was quite the opposite from other Iranians we had the opportunity to meet – he didn’t ask polite questions, he didn’t care whether you liked Iran or not, where you were from, where did you go to school, whether you were married or not. Above all, he had our sense of humor. The Iranians of his kind must have abandoned that area in the 7th century and moved few thousand kilometers northwestward and came to Croatia. It’s not that other Iranians don’t have a sense of humor, but they’re a bit reserved.

In the morning we took a stroll around Yazd, which is according to some, the oldest city in the world, founded nearly 3000 years ago, and it’s the center of the Zoroastrian culture. All buildings and the walls in the city are made of mud, clay, water and straw, which is typical of the places where the temperature is extremely high.


We also visited the Towers of Silence, the Zoroastrian sacred place where they would leave the dead ones so the vultures could eat them. They did it for their religious believes, but I’d say that they also did it for the ecological reasons – they didn’t want to bury them in order not to pollute the earth, or to burn them in order not to pollute the air. On the plus side, in that way they would also feed the hungry animals.


We took a few photos, hit a couple of vultures with a stone, and we headed back straight to the hostel. Tanja’s two-week visit was coming to an end. We went to the taxi holding hands, not paying attention to the strict Iranian tradition. It wouldn’t be so bad if we got locked up…

A quick kiss and a hug in the deep dark – see you soon, right?

Feeling a bit down I came back to Balal who, to comfort me, told me his story and his saying good-bye from a few weeks earlier – he had an Australian as a CS guest, and as it usually happens between Aussie guests and hosts, they took fancy to each other. Or better yet, they fell in love madly about each other and got married. Principally so she could stay a bit longer in Iran, but also because they could do it. You see an imam or ayatollah or whomever you need to see, you just say you would like to get married and that’s it. But, the marriage is valid only in Iran. Since Balal has two years of obligatory military service in front of him, he doesn’t need anything else. At the end, his sweetheart left him, and went travelling across India.

The same night I sent three CS requests – to Kerman (approx. 400 km eastward), to Bam (600km eastward) and to Zahedan (the last city before the border with Pakistan). And as it usually happens in Iran, I got responses in only a couple of hours, and all three of them were affirmative. I began thinking about my experience with the CS so far, and I realized that only twice I didn’t find a host in a city I was going to and mainly because I tend to send all the requests in the last moment. But, despite this policy, I had had a great deal of luck. Or whatever that was.

The following day I decided to head for Kerman. I asked Balal what was the price of the taxi that would get me out of the city so I could start with my hitchhiking, and what was the price of the bus that would take me all the way to Kerman. The prices were pretty much the same so, eventually, out of pure laziness, I decided to take the bus. The price: 4 Euros for 400 kilometers. Also, I didn’t feel like explaining to people what I really want to do.

I arrived to Kerman just before the twilight, called my host and it turned out that he couldn’t put me up for the night, but he had a friend who was able to do it. I tried to stop a taxi that would take me to the Liberty Square (every city in Iran has a Liberty Square and a Revolution Square), but instead a car pulls over and a man asked me where I was going and offered me a ride using a very bad English. I hopped in, we exchanged a few words, and smiling we said good-bye to each other. I thanked him for the ride, and he thanked me for an English lesson.

Without much difficulty I found Abolfazl (we’ll call him Abu), my CS host with whom I split the ridiculously low taxi bill which took us to his place where we found his three roommates and another CouchSurfer – an Irish who hadn’t been home for over three years, and who’s spending his free time teaching English in countries like Turkmenistan or Tajikistan. We exchanged stories, and our new roommates listened to us very attentively, they asked a bunch of questions saying that they would like to travel, just the way we do. The only obstacle to that is obligatory military service, but also the difficulties with getting the visa for almost all countries in the world.

The following day I woke up with only one goal in my head – and that was to find Miroslav Blažević, famous Croatian football coach. A couple of weeks before my departure I’d read online that at the time he was the coach of the club from Kerman, so I found his number (I know people) and the address of the stadium. His cell was off, and there was no one on the stadium. That didn’t stop me from finding my way to the grandstands, shout „Ćiro, you’re a legend!“ (something we did back in ’98 when we won the bronze on WC in France) and then I abandoned my position.


I spent a few minutes around the stadium doing nothing, actually, and then I headed for the bus station so I could go back to the center. There were three guys and I started talking to them. They were studying English so we easily found the common ground. They insisted on paying the bus ticket (approx. 30 eurocents) and my visiting their place and drinking a tea with them. I said no to the tea, but I agreed that they take me for sightseeing and buy me an ice cream.


The sightseeing turned out to be a quick stroll down the bazaar, a visit to a museum where we could see the old baths, and the observation of the passengers, which was, honestly, my favorite part. On my travels, I found people much more interesting that the buildings, pieces of art or historical facts. Is it just me?


After going to the Internet café I found out that Keveen and Gina were in India, close to the Pakistani border, were they were volunteering in a farm on the bottom of the Himalaya. Keveen and Gina are two wonderful people who are running even more wonderful project KORAKOR, spreading love, travelling the world, and founding schools in small villages in the countries like Mexico and Guatemala. I’d met Gina two years ago on the south of France, and I’d stayed in touch with Keveen ever since. We’d mentioned their projects a number of times of my FB page, and in the last two years they’d received so many donations from Croatia that they decided that on their future IT’SKOOL project they will have a playground called Little Croatia.

Honestly, I felt a bit tired from the constant travelling from one place to another. I needed a break. A farm on the bottom of the Himalaya with some good people sounded like the perfect place to charge your batteries. Although I was sure there was no electricity there.

I took my rucksack, said good-bye to my hosts and headed straight for the bus station, to catch a bus for the east, to the Pakistani border. But, there were no tickets. Not until tomorrow. I didn’t feel like waiting up until tomorrow.

After a few minutes of negotiations, I bought the ticket to Bam, the city that had been completely destroyed in the earthquake in 2003. I sent a message to Ali, a CouchSurfer from Bam whom I had written a couple of days before, asking him about the transport to the east. At first he said that I could sleep at his place, but after a few moments he said that he also had to go toward the Pakistani border and that we could try to catch some bus togehter. What a coincidence, especially since I’d heard a bunch of stories about that area in Iran, so it was advisable to have someone local to accompany you.

I got out of bus at about 11 pm and I waited for Ali on a dusty road. I could see other people waiting for the bus on that place, so I felt at ease knowing that I was on the right place. I met a guy who only had a plastic bag with himself in which he kept leather cap that could be attached to the leather jacket he was wearing. He was going to Afghanistan. He hadn’t been in his homeland since he had left for Iran with his parents in search of a better life 13 years ago. He got an education in Iran and now he would like to return to Afghanistan. Since he didn’t have any documents, he planned to make some kind of a deal with the border officers. Through the whole time in which he was telling me his story he kept on smiling, looking pretty happy.

He reminded me of Alex, an Afghanistan pizza guy from Chiswick, where Tanja and I had spent two months during the summer. He grew fond of us, as if we were his children, he gave us tons of free pizzas, juices, everything. And he always had that huge grin on his face. We gave him the book Kindness of Strangers as a going-away present, since he was the very symbol of it. And then I met another man from Afghanistan, and I felt sorry that I didn’t have a book for him, too.

Ali came with one of his friends, and after he introduced me to him we could start catching our bus for Zahedan, the last city before the border. The buses passed every now and then, but they were either full or they weren’t going to Zahedan. Luckily, a bit later we found seats in an already full bus – the bus full of Baluchi’s, which aren’t very popular in Iran. This fact says enough about them – in 2003, when Iran was hit by a terrible earthquake, they took off with 90.000 tents belonging to the Red Cross which were for the injured ones in Bam.

Still, everything was perfectly okay until we stopped to take a leak. So, as I was in the middle of my business, I could hear a roar of laughter behind my back. I realized that there the usual way to do it was to crouch, and then you do what you had to do. When we got back into the bus, all the eyes were on me. Even my new friends suggested that I didn’t speak to anyone, and in one moment I even had to pretend that I was asleep just to get rid of them.

We were almost there, in Zehedan.

Taxi! Taxi! Taxi! A déjà vu from Teheran, only on Zahedan station. We got there before dawn so we decided to wait for it with a piece of untoasted toast bread and a jar of jam the guys carried in their rucksack. The best breakfast ever.

I said goodbye to my new friends and along with four other people I headed for border that was approximately 80 kilometers away. By the dawn we passed through 5 or 6 control points and we finally arrived to the border were there were already hundreds of local people pressed against each other waiting for the opening. Just the moment before the border was about to open, a man approached me speaking a few words of English and asking me to follow him. He took me inside through a side entrance and took me to the place where you had to show your passport, so that I could be the first to cross the border, and so that I didn’t have to wait for hours with the rest of the ordinary people. At the end, the man asked for something in return – a pen. I took care that nobody would see us I gave him my favorite purple pen. Fair trade.

I left Iran, and just before I crossed over to Pakistan, I sent my mum a message telling her that I had safely crossed the border and got on the bus for Quetta, first stop in Pakistan. I didn’t think that I was totally wrong while sending that message.

“There’s a problem. Visa.” – the officer at the counter said.