Tehran: Salom, Iran

The plane from lovely Kuala Lumpur airport to Tehran was quite interesting. I could start observing locals and, after a while, I started seeing some tourist heading to Tehran at the same time. Iranian people seemed to me extremely beautiful. Gorgeous manly men and women that were even more beautiful. Almond eyes, Persian faces… An attractive bunch of people. Something that relaxed me was to see most of the women without a scarf on their head and some even in short sleeves because I had been thinking all day about the protocol and my overalls.

Once in the plane, I could see how every foreigner was speaking to a Iranian quite friendly. I wasn’t because I had nobody else in my row, which I considered really good for an eight hours flight with night time until I had someone changing seats to my row. It happened to be some footballer, famous or not he showed me a few pictures of him and he was delighted to hear that I was from Spain and didn’t waste any time before saying Xavi Iniesta. The guy saw me writing stuff in my computer and organising pictures and he probably thought I was having Wi-Fi because I don’t know how many times he asked me if there was any Wi-Fi. I was quite surprised when the food kart came in and brought him a juice and a double vodka. But he was so nice that he offered some vodka for the fake Thai coke that AirAsia served me. I refused the free alcohol (how much a person change!) and we kept exchanging a few words now and then.

At my arrival to the airport, I quickly went to get my visa on arrival with all the documents on hand to try to get it done as fast as I could because it was already past midnight. The process was smooth and after paying the fee that I happened to carry exactly in Euros (luckily for me because all I carried was dollars and I hadn’t foreseen that the payment would have to be only in Euros) I was free to get a taxi to the hostel I had booked for the visa. Otherwise, I would have not booked anything because I had a lovely Iranian woman offering to host me.

It surprised me the seriousness of the taxis over the airport. No haggling, no scamming…just a fixed amount to be paid to any taxi driver wherever you were going in Tehran. No fuzz, no mess. What a contrast with the rest of Asia! The problem came when the driver didn’t really know where we were going. I had the address, the address in Farsi and the phone of the hostel and even after calling them himself, he took me somewhere else. I immediately realised and told him it was not Amir Kabir Hotel, but Amir Kabir Street where the hotel was. I had to explain it to him several times and another phone call after he took me to the correct place. And what a nice surprise to have the whole dorm room for myself despite how late it was!

The last days I had slept in two different airports and two different planes. It was about time to get a bed and to have the dorm for myself was like being in paradise. I slept and slept until I could not sleep anymore, 8am the next morning. And just a bit after a new roomie arrived, a lovely girl from Indonesia. We had a chat and then I couldn’t wait anymore to get breakfast and went to the rooftop to enjoy a simple breakkie with nice views to very brown mountains that I absolutely loved. There, I met a Tunisian guy that had been also travelling for a long while and was finishing his trip in Iran. We chatted a lot and although at the beginning we connected quite quickly because we had the same views about life back home after travelling, and similar stuff, we chatted about travelling around Iran, where he could give me some tips. The first ones were cool. Then he told me not to hitchhike (I wasn’t going to in this country, but I guessed he perceived my hippie style), and then continued saying to me not to say anybody I had a boyfriend. As I told him, well, I don’t have, so I won’t. He explained to me that it could be seen as being open, word that they were using here for sexual workers and similar stuff. As a Western woman with boyfriend, the most traditional people only could see that there was sex before marriage and therefore, you were open and therefore, certain things would be okay…I got it, I got, but let’s not be so radical. Then, I explained to him what I always do: I say I am engaged. Which eliminates a lot of questions and bad thoughts and also gives me some property (being me the object, sadly). I make it fun, anyways, I have had plenty of fiancés in India. This guy liked the strategy.

After the harsh words I have had to listen, I was ready to go out and worry about the first thing and more important thing: money. I had to change my dollars to rials because I had no money that I could use. So, I was about to get out of the hostel when I heard a few words that I didn’t like to say (especially coming from a man): “I don’t think you can go out like that”. And by “like that” he meant my super conservative over sized short sleeved T-shirt. Because I was already wearing a scarf and baggy-loose-Aladdin-long pants. I changed to the only long sleeve shirt I had and, resigned, made my way out. The atmosphere outside didn’t make it any better. The neighbourhood was basically full of shops with car parts, tires and car related stuff and full of men. Some of them, looking at me like a piece of meat. I felt a bit intimidated by the surroundings and I was looking at everybody with mistrust.

But I finally got to change my dollars and after having money with me and having an old man telling me in a very warm way that he loved Spanish football and that I was beautiful with a true and warm smile, I started feeling better. After that, I waited in this square for Mary, the Iranian woman I was going to meet with to get some clothes and do stuff together. She was amazing! She took care so well of me. We took the metro together, help me with the bills because I couldn’t understand them, with the prices because of the same (Arabic numbers plus they have two currencies! How crazy). We hit the bazaar and she was asking everyone to make sure we were going where the clothes are. First place I saw something I liked, she was asking for the price and if I could try it on. I invited her inside the fitting room and we got to eat a couple of cherries and a peach without nobody knowing. She was amazing, I know I am not easy to go with to buy clothes and although in this situation all I was looking for was cheap clothes proper for the country, I can be a bit specific about what I want but she put up with everything and helped me to find cheap stuff and to choose appropriate things. Because, here it is something I don’t understand: the shops were having short sleeve T-shirts, tank tops and all kind of things that you actually cannot wear here. I even saw a shop with sexy-time night dresses! Anyways, I couldn’t be happier with my acquisitions and I even got a new beautiful scarf that no doubt was the star of all of them. To finish it up, I got an eyeliner because all women were looking extremely nice and using lots of makeup and I thought I would use a bit as well. I was missing this one out so much…

She was lovely and helped me out a lot when I was asked for my passport at the exit of the metro by some militars. Apparently there had been a bombing less than a week ago in Theran and 14 people had died, so things were a little shaken up and more controlled than usual. I felt so grateful that she was there with me!

The day continued in some park we were started taking selfies and doing silly things like two teenagers! I was surprised she had 38 years old and a daughter, actually. Then, we were seeing the birds in the park and we continued to take a metro to somewhere north in Tehran where I would have to decide to see a big tower that you could go up and enjoy the views of the city or a bridge. To go to the tower we needed to take a taxi after the metro and when I saw the huge traffic jam there was, I decided on the bridge. A super nice bridge that happened to had been managed during its construction by a 28 years old Iranian woman. Girl power!

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Mary and me

We finished it off with a sneaky ice cream we got in the park and then it was time to get back home to rest a bit and wait for the restaurant and places to open up and get some real food. That was the first day, intense, full of different emotions and I will stay with the positive feeling it ended up with and with the beautiful scarf I got.

For the next day, I had breakfast, checked out and got to get a SIM card because locals were insisting so much on it that it seemed necessary. I am always against getting a SIM card if I am not staying in a country for a long period and I am even more against having data on my phone because it keeps you from whatever is going on in the place you are to transport you somewhere where you are not. I am fine with it for short periods but I don’t like to have it all day, simply. But in this case the deal was too good to let it go. After that sorted, I went to visit the Golestan Palace. It was a magnificent palace with halls full of fine mirrors in a mixture of Persian and European architecture at times, with gifts from all over the world to Iran at an old time. At the very beginning of my visit, lost trying to find the restrooms, I managed to ask a man that kindly took me to the right place. Coincidentally, I met him again on my way out and we talked about the visit since he was working there and I had learnt previously that he was also a Master’s teacher in the university of Architecture teaching restoration. He then asked me if I wanted to visit some other museum and I asked him which one, because there are tons and tons of different museums in this city. He invited me to go with him to the glass museum and I felt curious and couldn’t refuse to be his guest, as he named me.

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Golestan Palace. Part of it. 

We went to the glass and ceramic museum and entered for free. Cooool. He seemed to be an important man. I didn’t find the museum especially impressive or interesting but he was fun and making jokes about which piece I like and okay, I will take it later as a souvenir for you. We found an artefact that he took the bother to explain me and I found particularly interesting. They were kind of bottles with the shape of the eye at the top of them. They happen to be used for collecting the tears of the wives of the sailors while they were gone from home. At their back, they would get this as a present and the wives would get presents from the sailors.

Right after this museum, he offered me to go to the National museum. I had been advised that the museum was not really worth the ticket price and there was not much there but since I was with this super important man and he also could explain me stuff quite interesting I thought of giving it a go. On the way there, we had to cross some really busy street (it was busy but it wasn’t Saigon, or Delhi, for me it was not such big deal) and he decided to take my hand to help me crossing. He repeated this at the next crossing and then I started not liking the gesture, as much as it was to help me, because I don’t think it was right for this country. At the third time he tried the same, I avoided his hand. He realised and asked me why and started telling me that it was something very normal in Iran between friends and to show friendship and bla bla bla… I told him it didn’t feel right to me and in my country only couples do that and since I was engaged it was not right. He insisted but I had already made my mind. I hadn’t seen anybody holding hands and also, I didn’t want to hold hands with a man I had just met, plus, I didn’t know what kind of signs is this sending in this country or how it is perceived. But it is the most restrictive country I have ever been to, so… Not a chance

The museum was cool, the same procedure for the entrance happened: he exchanged a few words with someone and…happy days, doors are open! The museum was nothing special but there was a famous skull and leg almost totally conserved in salt because this miner had been trapped in the salt mine. In the way here and there, we exchanged emails to write each other and to practise his English. I was happy to, I like to receive random stuff from people all over the world. He also offered to take me to some other palace next day but that very night I would be on a bus to Isfahan, my next destination and would not be possible this time. But I will be back to Tehran, so who knows.

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Miner´s head, conserved in the salt

After the museum he accompanied me a little bit to my hotel to show me some cool buildings on the way and that I was thankful for, because due to some images of soldiers at the entrance tiles I would have never dared to take a picture or get in to snoop around. You have to be very careful here with military sensitive buildings. During the walk inside, he insisted very much on holding my hand for a while and then I started getting pissed off because I don’t like to repeat myself that many times… What a pain in the ass. I got off the situation the best I could, shook off his hands, said this new word I had just learnt for saying goodbye and God provides that we see each other soon and went back to my hotel. He was nice and had offered me to give me a lift to the bus station that night and everything but the hands things bothered me a bit too much, especially him insisting that much because I wasn’t sure what was behind it.

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Some cool buildings around

Back at the hostel I chilled a bit and waited for 8.30 pm, the time when fast is broken and all restaurants open. I have had an apricot and a plum during the day and hunger was real now. And after food, I hit the bus station. It was a mess, buses and people screaming everywhere. Only that I didn’t even know what they were screaming. I was caught by someone just on my way there and they helped me to get the bus ticket. I had my doubts about if they were touts, if they were doing the correct thing or simply scamming me and if the ticket I got was valid. They wanted me to get in the 10pm bus but I knew it would be too early and I would end up arriving in the middle of the night to Isfahan so I tried to negotiate a later bus. I only could get as late as 11pm although I was looking for the one around midnight. Anyways, I wanted the regular bus and not VIP because I was already over budget and I was worried about the money (cards don’t work here, you only can count on the cash you bring).

For the price of the ticket, I had my very serious doubts, but someone called me to put my backpack in the bus priory indicated and then I relaxed. They told me to wait half an hour more until 11.30pm and when I was chilling sitting down, I had the guy coming to me and giving me ANOTHER ticket. I didn’t understand. After a while, I had the guy from the beginning coming to me in a rush because it was almost 11pm, to get me in a different bus. WHAT? I indicated him with my best rushed signs that my backpack was actually already in another bus. He run to get the guy from that bus, they opened the compartment, took my bag and took me and my bag to this other bus. There, I got in and found that the front was where the women were sitting and also, it was completely full. I kept going until the back to see myself completely surrounded by men. I had something clear: I was not sitting down next to a man. If local women were not, I wasn’t. What I saw as an advantage, because that meant I would not have anybody else sitting next to me and therefore I would have two seats to lay down a bit the whole journey. I took my two seats and prepared myself for what would be a dreadful journey, because I didn’t get much sleep and one of the seats was broken and falling apart all the time, which resulted in an elbow bleeding. But it is not the first time a journey was leaving me injured (I just remember the worst possible journey I had in India and this one was looking just fine). And yes, I had to sleep with the scarf.

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