Yazd: making final decisions

After two comfortable hours of sleep in the bus station, I got a taxi to the guesthouse I had been recommended by some other traveller. I was immediately shown my bed, which was bliss. And then I got a huge breakfast and decided on having a walk around before it was too hot for that.

The first thing that I realised was that all the houses around were made of mud and straw. I had to love the combination. And the next thing that happened was a interesting exchange with the workers at the bread shop at the corner of the alley where the guesthouse was situated. They even invited me to come in and take a picture with them. Also, I checked the ovens and took pictures around and I wanted to ask if I could make bread with them, but it was way too hot inside with the ovens working and all my clothes on and I just couldn’t enjoy it longer than that. After such a happy event, I continued my walk to find out all the main area around was looking the same and making me feel like of I was in some kind of Aladdin movie. There were wind towers everywhere and the houses and walling kept me entertained during all the way, until I decided to visit the main mosque in the city.

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This town made of mud is lovely!

Once inside the mosque, and without having any prior idea about this, there was the longest qanat in the world, which is an underground structure for collecting water and bringing it to the surface. Such an amazing work of engineering and so old! I was very impressed. By the time I left it was not even midday and it was already over 40 degrees, I was really tired and I went to my refugee to take a huge nap. Actually, my biggest nap ever, at least so far. I woke up 5 hours later with that feeling of not knowing if it was daytime, nigh time or if I had been sleeping until next day. But I hadn’t. So I got ready and prepared to explore the city a bit more. It had been 47 degrees and the heat was still intense but I wanted to wander around and do some discoveries, such as a water mill with underground water conducts that were going all the way to other villages and cities.

The day ended up like that, with a very good feeling, with the impression that I could start connecting with his country, finally. The landscape around the city, the houses… It made me feel like I could stay there for a whole week without getting bored of walking around them. The only problem was the heat and I was okay with it, although I wish they could cover me in mud and straw as they do with the walls of the houses to keep them cool. In the hostel, I was feeling so comfy that I got to wear shorts for the first time in this country! I felt safe and okay with it and it was quite hot even at night so it was so relief and a bit of the taste of freedom.

Even though I had a very long nap the previous day, the next day I didn’t wake up as early as I was planning. But it was okay, as the tour I had in mind to take was in the afternoon. I had breakfast and went towards the small square where they do these tours to ask if it was possible to do it in that very afternoon. On the way, I took a small alley that was going straight to the square, it was 10.30 am and although there were loads of people around, just at that time there was no one in this alley. A car passed by and stopped at my side to ask me for some directions in Farsi. I am used to get by Iranian and most of the people that see me in the street and approach me, do it in Farsi because they mistake me. I immediately answered him with “sorry, I am sorry” and he realised I was a foreigner. He continued his way, but then stopped the car a few metres further up and got off the car. As the alley was very narrow, I had very limited space to keep my way and go to between the car and the wall through a very reduced space. In the meantime, he went to the front of his car and waited me there. I thought he was going to ask me again because he kept holding his phone on his hand, as if he was looking for directions. He wasn’t. He came straight to me to touch me and although it took me by surprise and I was scared, I aimed to punch him. He was too tall for me and all I could do was hit him in an arm and then run away from him, afraid of what he could do to me but still cursing and shouting at him and showing him my middle finger. I was proud I took the bull by the horns and took action even though I was afraid, because wanted to avoid the powerless and stupidity feeling I had in the last situation, but when I come to think about it, calmly… it could have got much worse than that. And I have no idea how “protected” I am when I take action to stop a man from doing anything.

I have learnt not to take decisions when the topic is hot. I know myself, I am a temperamental person and I tend to get carried away by my feelings. Most of the times, when the feelings are not positive, I haven’t got a positive result. But this time, this time wasn’t the first one and I had already decided to get out of Isfahan and also from Shiraz and started going North and speeding up to leave the country a bit earlier than planned. That was already decided. In my head, I had Kashan as the next step, a city quite close to Tehran with interesting traditional houses I wanted to visit. But, was it really worth it?

I like to think of myself as a powerful person. A woman with character, yes. Not afraid of anything, not afraid of taking on the world. I threw myself to the world and started a journey where I could have been scared at times, yes. But not by people. I have never been scared by people, all the opposite. I have given myself the pleasure of showing people how not dangerous the world is. I have found myself trusting people instantly, without asking why. I have come to realise that people is generally good and have a good heart.

I feel this country is getting the worse out of me. It has made start distrusting everyone. Especially every man. It is also making me feel mostly bad. Why should I continue here? What do I have to show the world? Is it not the case that this trip is about me and entirely me? That I was going to move only following my feelings.

Anyways, and thoughts apart, I put up with it, with the feeling that at least I hit him and stood up. Then, once organising the tour I realised it was not going to happen and I visited some water reservoir where there hold some fighting but not just at that exact time. The guy at the entrance was trying to be very helpful and show me around, but he kept touching me to lead me because his English was just not good and I felt a bit violent after the incident earlier that  morning. He invited me to come back at 5pm and see the fighting and I felt inclined to leave and come back by then. Plus, he ensured me I didn’t have to pay the ticket again.

At my way back to the hostel, everything was okay until I had a couple of guys in a motorbike talking in Farsi to me. I just kept going my way, completely ignoring them. But they had to come back and keep saying something, so I answered clearly annoyed: No Farsi, no Farsi! And they were really really surprised and even kind of blushed when they realised I was a foreigner, as if they couldn’t believe it and then they left. I was happy to go back to the sanctuary that the hostel was by then.

Back to the hostel, I met these 3 girls travelling together from Sweden. They were living there, and they were Chinese, Iraqi and Iranian. I just asked them to join me in the day trip tour I wanted to do, as I needed people to make it and it seemed it was not going to happen and they just were happy to join! Great! Things calmed down and close to 5pm, I decided to go to enjoy this thing back to the water reservoir. I was expecting some kind of fighting but nothing like that. It was some training at the rhythm of a drum and a man singing at the same time. Some curious thing to see, enjoyable anyway!

And when I thought the day would be over because there was not much more to do, I found myself in a car with these three lovely girls in the hostel to go to the Silence Towers. Some towers built in the middle of nowhere to bring the dead bodies of the Zoroastrian people, this new religion I am learning about. The landscape over there was the coolest thing, it was deserted, surrounded by these light brown mountains and there was a settlement of mud houses at the feet of the mountains where the two silence towers were situated. On the top, we got to enjoy a beautiful Iranian sunset.

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Towers of silence

I got to find out that the problems I am facing here are kind of normal in this area and also, that precisely because I look like Iranian my situation is worse, because I don’t get the kind and respectful treatment that the foreigners get but the treatment the locals get. “My problem” is to look Iranian to them. If it is the case that I have a problem, because I honestly think I am not the problem and I have embraced the rules and the customs here.

The next day would be my last day in Yazd and my last day of proper tourism in Iran, probably. I had this tour with these girls and we had a great time visiting an old inhabited town made entirely of mud. They didn’t know that if you cook the mud in an oven it gets more resistant! The town was fantastic, offering great views as it was all empty and you could explore all the houses and even get to the rooftops.

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Kharanaq, unhabited mud town to explore!

The next thing we visited was a Zoroastrian temple on the top of a mountain and with the “eternal fire” (how eternal? because I have seen a few eternal fires). Anyways, it was cool to know a bit more of this people and to learn they are a minority totally integrated in the country with lots of similarities with the Muslim religion. It was interesting and we continued our visit to some other place where ice was built and kept inside a building with a vault and 3 metres width walls! Wow! Lastly, we visited a complex where the camels’ caravans were stopping while in the Silk Road. The day was tough, as it had been hot but really worth it.

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Where they were unloading the camels

At the back of the hostel, more bad news: I was trying to plan my getaway from Iran, starting off getting the f*ck out to Tehran, but my host there would not be there. She invited me to a nearby town where she would be at the North. I just didn’t feel like giving any more opportunities, as much as I love a local invitation and declined. The next step was Azerbaijan. Or at least that’s what I had in my head, because when I started looking at the online visa I realised I couldn’t get it. It was supposed to be an easy and straight forward process, but Ramadan is finishing and they are considering the next days as holidays, which adding up with the weekend in between meant that there were not 3 working days to process it any soon and I would have to be waiting for it almost for a week! I couldn’t stay in Iran for that long. And just 3 days later than that I had my flight to Baku anyways, so no, no way! I would have to make a new plan, again. But first things first: getting out of Yazd for a start!

Shiraz and Persepolis as the highlight of Iran

My night bus from Isfahan was half empty therefore, quiet and quite comfortable. I managed to get some good sleep and arrived happily to Shiraz, where I haggled the price of the taxi until half of the initial price. Everything seemed to be great. Even if it was really early, the hostel let me check in early and I even joined the breakfast they serve. That went the extra mile because I wasn’t sure of being able to find something for breakfast that was not biscuits in some shop, due to the Ramadan.

With nice feelings and not much idea about what to do around the city but seeing Persepolis, which I already had arranged for next day, I decided to have a walk during the morning and take the heat of the afternoon to sleep and be lazy. First I came across some important shrine that was free to visit and I decided to get in. I was called by security and they pointed to some sign. I didn’t understand what was going on, I already had my scarf on. After 10 minutes I understood: I was getting in with a guide and also, she was bringing a special veil that everyone needs to get in and I didn’t have. She took me through security, where they search everything and more and scanned me. The security process was one of the most intense I had ever had. After, she put on me the veil. It was like a huge sheet that came to the top of my head, holding on there I still don’t know how and over my scarf, to cover everything because it was going until the feet. Basically only my face and my hands could be seen coming from a huge flowery sheet that I guess it would be flowery so it doesn’t come as serious as the black one for foreigners, but Muslim women were wearing black all over the place. I came in with the guide and she took me and three Swiss guys around, explaining things to us here and there. We actually weren’t allowed in the shrine because it’s forbidden for non-Muslim and we only could see from outside the room full of mirrors, to reflect all the energy and make bigger the light. I was dying inside to see the dome from the inside, but a picture of it had to do the job because I am not converting.

After that, I went back to wander around for a little bit longer until noon and then look for refuge from the heat. Somehow, I ended up in the bazaar and out of the sudden, I realised that there was a man following me ALL the time. I started stopping in absurd shops and I saw him checking on, stopping as well and even getting ahead of me and waiting for me. He even got to say to me a couple of things in Farsi. I couldn’t understand, obviously and I didn’t even want to have to talk to him. The situation got way much worse, because I started taking random turns in the bazaar to try to persuade him of whatever game he was playing but he kept appearing and kept finding, I have no idea how because I was turning whenever he was ahead of me and not looking. The situation kept going for about 15 or 20 minutes, when I started panicking for real and after taking several turns where it was impossible to follow me unless he was speeding up and running, I came across a courtyard in the middle of the lanes of the bazaar that I chose to hide for a bit. I waited there and I couldn’t stop checking every person that was passing by here, totally freaked out just thinking that any moment I would see his face again. As I wanted to put my mind of it while I was waiting long enough to make sure he wouldn’t be around the area on my way back to the hotel, I looked at my phone… What a moment to do so. I had received a text from Ali, Nader’s dad who was my host in Isfahan. He was just checking how I was. When I answered to him that I had successfully arrived to Shiraz, he asked me to come back there again and I modestly answered that I would see but I wanted to see other stuff in other cities of Iran as well and that would be a priority for me. Then I received a text that was enough for me (especially given the situation I was living) to make me think all the worse of what I had been suspecting and give me all the reasons in the world to mistrust him: “I want you”. There was no excuse, no confusion with the translation of the meaning, no mistake and nothing else to see for me. What a shitty situation. My instincts were right, it was me how I wanted them to be wrong.  I felt stupid, a bit intimidated for all that was going on and very powerless; with no strength to face anymore of this. All I wanted was to go back to my hostel and stay away from everything for a while and that’s all I could do, really.

After a couple of hours in the comfort zone that the dorm was providing me, I got to meet a French guy who I made a favour with my computer and also a Japanese girl that joined us for tea upstairs. We exchanged a lot of views of travelling and I was amazed by their travels. They had been on the road for years and made me very very keen on visiting Uzbekistan. Anyways, I also got to share with them some of my shit because we were talking about what is the worse experience that you had so far and no doubts I have had mine that very morning. Surprisingly, the Japanese girl also had had a really bad experience with a man in her night bus arriving to Shiraz the same morning.

Straight after that, I met a New Zealander guy, Eugene, very cool and likeminded as well and after a very positive philosophical chat about life I felt extremely positive again and with the energy of giving the place another chance. Shiraz is well known for the hospitality of its people, or so I heard and I didn’t want hospitality but a walk and dinner without incidents was desirable. With renovated energies, I went out with the sunset with the idea of getting some food (I barely had eaten one or two fruits during the day) and checking the shrine I had seen that very morning to see how it was looking in the darkness with all the lights up. That was the plan and when I took one of the streets nearby to find a restaurant, I found a guy next to me all the time and I started being aware of his presence a bit too much. After 5 minutes I noticed he was keeping next to me all the time and by the time he talked to me in Farsi, I decided to take a more passive-aggressive approach than the morning and snapped at him: No Farsi, no understand! And I kept going my way to make him understand that I was not interested in stopping and chatting with him. He seemed very surprised I was not Persian and I thought that maybe that’s the problem. And then, I thought that the problem is not what I look but their problem.  I still had to eat and although I did feel like getting back to the hostel and I lost my appetite, I walked a bit more and ate something nice. And after, I decided that if my plan was to visit the shrine at night time, I should do it or otherwise the day would be reduced to the ugly stories and nothing worth it would have been happening. It seemed to me that this country wanted to take the worse of me out and I was still not willing to let it.

I visited the shrine and it was actually nice to see myself knowing how to act and how to put the long veil thing and almost how to wear it (still couldn’t completely control that). I told the security I had already been there in the morning and therefore, I didn’t need any guide to enter the complex. So I entered by myself and wandered a bit before enjoying the sights while sitting down and thinking that this approach to life would be probably also the approach that some societies some time ago had, where there was no technology to entertain and it was simply nice to come to a complex or a square to hang out, get fresh delicious water while it is hot outside and have a walk around in between all the atmosphere. And with such a nice thought, although I couldn’t help to feel sad and disappointed on the experience in this country so far, I went back to my hostel to get some sleep.

The next morning I had an early one to visit Persepolis. For the first time in probably my whole life, I was happy to have a tour to do this because I was unsure to do it on my own. After an early breakfast I was in the car on the way to Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire! I was quite excited about this one but I must say that after being architecturally disappointed by under-renovation beautiful mosques, this place overcame my expectations. I more than enjoyed the visit and even remember how I had seen some of this stuff in some books of the history of architecture. It was amazing to have all that in front of me and see the greatness of it. I took pictures and pictures despite being totally exposed to the strong sun and even went up the mountain, where the tomb of some king is to obtain better views of the whole thing together. The climb wasn’t particularly hard, it was short, but the scarf around and the intense heat made it feel like an endless sprint up the hill. There were details everywhere that surprised me a lot. Like the fact that they were already using steel connectors for keeping the massive rocks together, as there was no mortar although the size of the rocks was always changing. Also, the people working in the construction weren’t slaves as you could think and documents stating the payment for the work were found. And finally, the relieves showing unity through more than 30 different nationalities, the peaceful content of the details and the absence of war or threat through the whole thing impressed me very much. The empire had different foundations of what we are used to see.

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Persepolis. Egyptian Palace

After Persepolis, we also had the chance to visit Nekropolis and this part reminded me so much of the excavated caves in the stone that I saw once in Aurangabad, India… The scale, the rock, the shapes were completely different, of course. But the idea of the human being of excavating a rocky mountain to create a space impresses me very much, especially in these dimensions and at this time of history.

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Nekropolis

We got back to the hostel exhausted by the heat and all I felt I could do was to get some fruits and try to get rest under the air conditioning machine in the room. After a while, the French guy in the room offered to go to get some tea, as we was really thankful for borrowing my laptop for the last two days and I actually always enjoy to talk to one of these persons older than the average that are on the road, so I accepted gladly. We had a walk but it was quite early and nothing would be opened until 8 or 8.30pm so we couldn’t find anything but some sweets I smelled from the corner and ended up buying because they looked like “churros” cut in small pieces.  By the time it was 8.30pm, I went out again, alone, to find something to eat and also to have a walk around some park I had been recommended by the New Zealander guy. According to him, I was almost guaranteed to be approached by locals and have some fun. On the way there, I found a nice shrine, smaller than the one I visited the previous day, which I entered. It makes me curious how locals gather around every place in the city. I ended up arriving to the park. And just there, I had three nice little boys coming to me super excited to say hello to me with a broken English and Farsi words in between. Lovely, I couldn’t be happier. And just when I said goodbye to them to continue my way, I looked at the map at my phone and my phone was blocked, with a white screen and completely useless. I kept walking a bit and when I realised that I had to get back to the hostel, whose name I barely could pronounce and I had no more directions than what was in my phone I realised I should focus in finding the way back to make sure I was getting there at a decent time. Also, I didn’t want to stay without a phone in case something was happening and I needed to ask for help or something.

I went back and I was completely unable to make my phone work. I couldn’t believe, it had less than 3 months!!!! Also, I was really annoyed because I had loads of information inside and not only that, but all the cool pictures I had taken in Persepolis were gone!! Nothing could work just for one day… And the funny thing is that I was out of the social picture because facebook doesn’t work in Iran, at least not without a VPN, which I only had in my phone. Everything was upside down… I went to sleep later than I what I wanted because I was trying to make things work. Then, I woke up early the next morning as I had planned to see the Pink Mosque very early; when they say that the lights are more spectacular. But in the middle of breakfast, while I was talking to the French man about what happened and he left me his phone to research about this, my phone started going crazy again and after a while, it started working. Holy f*ck! I run away to get my computer and recover the pictures while it was holding together. Then, I started getting all texts from people and things went back to normal, finally. Unfortunately, that kept me busy and I didn’t get to the mosque as early as I was expecting, but I must say it was still beautiful. I took my time there to relax, to breathe, to meditate and to enjoy the colours of the lights playing in the Persian carpets.

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Pink mosque

That was all the planning for the day besides packing. I was leaving that night and unfortunately, the French guy who was thinking to take the night bus to Yazd as well, would be probably changing his plans, so I had to do it alone. This is probably the first time that I do mind to do something alone. I wanted to avoid any other negative experience. Whatever it was going to happen, I had more or less decided by this stage that I wouldn’t be taking the flight I had on the 4th of July, as I had planned. It felt too much time in this country and although I am not running away from it just yet, I did decide to speed things up instead of chilling in the cities in search of “adventures” and simply head north as soon as possible to cross the border to Azerbaijan, my next destination. I am not throwing the towel just yet but I started making up my mind about things here.

The way to the station was tough and I regretted my decision of walking all the way there. But I had a good moment in the middle, when I stopped for food and I met a lovely woman with her son. They were speaking to me all the time, asking me lots of questions with the help of the translator on her phone. When her husband came, she introduced us and then she asked me for my phone. I gladly gave it to her. After that, I continued my way, a bit scared and a bit concerned about the night journey. But everything was fine. People went the extra mile, as usual, to help me finding the correct bus (I always had my doubts here, I am too used to the touts in bus stations at other countries and I always get suspicious) and once I got in to the bus, everything was smooth with the exception that the driver was crazy and was also playing crazy Arabic music all the way, so my slept was not really good but not totally horrible. We arrived to Yazd before I was expecting, it was past 5am and still dark, so I decided that my day could not start just yet and find a spot inside the bus station to sleep a little bit before anything. Two hours after I woke up and I was ready for it!

Isfahan: Days in “family”

After a dreadful night bus and not much sleep, I got to Isfahan at 5.30 am. Horrible timing. My host Nader was obviously sleeping, although he had kindly said to me that he didn’t mind at all an early arrival. I had his address pinned on a map but that was about it, as we agreed to talk in the morning once I was there. When I could wake him up by whatsapp and get the full address to make sure I had something to show to the taxi driver in case of not understanding each other, I was ready to take a taxi. I used the Iranian Uber and I suffered the harassment by a few taxi drivers around the station. I even got to get in the wrong car because he affirmed he was my taxi driver and to be honest, it is still difficult to me to read Farsi numbers (although I am learning them) especially at that time in the morning. After being in the wrong car once and almost get into another one, I got a call from my driver and more or less understood where he was. I didn’t hang up and I found the man talking on the phone, great! I could get there now.

I arrived to Nader’s home and he met me downstairs and got me to the apartment. His dad was already up and around, shirtless. I suppose I was impressed to see some flesh for the first time in the country. We sat down in the sofas and I tried to make some talk with some questions, but I was tired and conversation wasn’t fluid. After a few courtesy questions, I got to ask what had been wandering in my mind since I entered the door: Where do I sleep, is it in the couch? It was a simple question just to double check I was not sharing the bed with anybody, before creating any misunderstanding. He pointed out the empty room with a bed that I had seen from the beginning and then said he would sleep in this other room with the door closed, so I relaxed when I understood there was another room. After a while, we decided to get back to sleep and I got some real sleep, finally.

Once we woke up, we had something to eat and stayed home because it was already midday and too hot to do anything at all. Also, Nader had to study because he was in exam period for college. And after a while, his parents came in with food for everybody (they don’t practise Ramadan in this family, quite good for me), so we sat down on the table together and ate. Then, Nabiid appeared. Nabiid was Nader’s younger brother,he was still in High school. They were a lovely family and asked me about stuff and especially the dad was hilarious and managed his way in English very well. He joked about my first name and also about my last name because in Persian “lop” is something like cheek. Then, he remembered that that evening there was a funeral on the side of Nader’s mum and he asked me if I wanted to go. He said I look very Iranian and they would take me and it would be okay. I said to him I might look like but I don’t speak and I resolved that I could be dumb or they could just say that I am shy. I started believing all this while finding it hilarious because they were joking about everything but quite serious about taking me to the funeral. I didn’t mind at all, another different experience. Although funerals are not really something that appeals me that much, it started being curious about how they would behave there if they were laughing so much about it here.

Anyways, after food the whole family gathered in the sofa area in front of the TV and laughed and had a great time in general while drinking tea. It was very much like the Spanish siesta time, where out there is too hot to do anything and you stay at home until you have to get back to work. Before 5pm everyone left the house to get back to work. Nader and I stayed for a bit longer and then got ready to go to the main square in Isfahan. He had to get a book around there and he would show me around a bit. We got there and it was brilliant, the second biggest square in the world (the first one is in Beijing, where I was flying from just a few days ago). We sat down on the grass for a while until the sun was almost gone to have a walk around it because otherwise there was no cover from the sun. Then we got to see a bit of one of the mosques and sat down in front of it a chill.

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Kids enjoying the evening

We started talking about a lot of stuff and having a great time and then we started walking back home. There was only one thing I didn’t enjoy hearing and was that it is banned to ride bicycles for girls. Alone. Which meant that if I was riding with him it would probably be okay but I couldn’t do it alone. He was super nice to say that if he found another bike he would come with me so I don’t get in trouble. We were entertained talking and it wasn’t that hot so we made all the way home walking, it took us almost an hour. By the time we got home, everyone was there already and then I was invited to have a look to an energy class that was going on in the apartment of Nader’s sister, just three floors above from where we were. I thought it was a minor thing and I actually got to ask if I needed to put y scarf on or change because I was in short sleeve. They said it was fine and when I popped there, I saw a lot of women and also men and women were all covered up and I felt violent there just looking like that. They invited me to come in and have tea and cake and they got to clap when I got in. How embarrassing. Also, I couldn’t speak the language, so it was worse. When we finished tea and cake we left because the class had to start and we were not invited to the class. I couldn’t wait because I didn’t really want to stay, feeling that uncomfortable and not able to understand anything. When we got back, I actually thought we were at some other apartment because there were also people here! Nader’s mum had arrived from the funeral with part of the family of the deceased. We sat down and had more tea and the usual humour in the family started flourishing. The guests asked about me, obviously and then one of them started asking me questions in broken English in a hilarious way. He asked me about money, about my family here (here? No family here) and other stuff while the rest of the family was laughing at the situation. That’s how the day ended up. Full of situations, stories and stuff going on all the time. We went to sleep quite late and after a while, a got a text from Nader asking me if he could sleep in my bed. I just slept and avoid giving any answer because I didn’t want to get an awkward situation (more) but I went to sleep with a bitter flavour after such a great day. When I woke up the next day I read the full thing and 10 minutes after he had texted me saying that his brother was snoring a lot and he couldn’t sleep.

The next morning, he was visibly tired and we got a taxi with different destinations. He was going to the library and I was going to the main square to visit a few places over there. My morning was kind of getting ruined by thinking of what had (or hadn’t) happened and tried to make a fresh start when entering the mosque. I visited the place I had seen with him yesterday by myself, and I ventured myself to every corner. It was disappointing to see that, for the full price of the ticket, you mostly see scaffoldings and restricted areas everywhere. But the place was beautiful. As I wasn’t in any hurry and wanted to find some vibes coming from the place, I sat down quietly in a corner. A security guy came and asked me for the ticket and then welcomed me a few times, asked me where I was from and asked me for picture. I took one with my phone as well, why not. Then, another man came, joined the conversation and when I was about to leave the place, asked me if I wanted to see the roof. Of course I wanted to. I waited for him to be back a few minutes and then he took me to a locked door he had to open with a key and hid from everybody to this, we both came in and closed down the door behind us. Everything was dark and narrow and I had to use the flashlight in my phone. We took some stairs and then, there was another locked door and we continue to go up by narrower stairs until arriving at the top of the minaret. There, I had to walk in squat position all the time because nobody could see me there. It was fantastic and I got to enjoy great views of the square, the mosque’s courtyard and the dome. Such a privilege! We had to hide again to be able to get out without anybody noticing us and I thanked the man more than a few times.

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Naqsh-e Yahan Square from the top of the mosque

After that, I sat down in front of the mosque to take a break and see where I was going next. A guy came close to me; we started a conversation and invited me to have a espresso in his carpet shop, with no commitment to anything. I felt like it and we went to his shop, where we were chatting for a while. He had seen me the previous day with Nader but, although he wanted to talk to me, he didn’t because I was with someone else. This guy was also in the couchsurfing community and we were chatting about this as well. Then he offered to have lunch with him and maybe have a shisha or something like that, but I told him I really wanted to visit some palace nearby and he offered to go with me and then go for the shisha. It was cool and he was explaining me lots of cool stuff about the palace. We ended up going for the shisha to his place, which I didn’t expect but certainly didn’t mind. But it was then when I realised I should make myself clear and set up some limits, Nader had called me in between and told me there was lunch at his place and it was his favourite, so I told Nader I would be getting to his place in an hour or so because I wanted to finish off seeing stuff and then, I told this guy about this and about my fiancé. And it helped, and a lot. Because he obviously was thinking further up to what we were doing and with that he seemed to understand the situation. He told me about some long distance relationship he had had with an Australian girl that had been in Iran for a couple of months and how the body needs this and than and how human contact and hugs and ….lots of bullshit. I suppose he had to try. We had a nice chat, anyways and when I felt the time was right I told him I should go and went to Nader’s house to have lunch.

There, as Nader still had to study a bit, I was offered to go with his mum to her work. She owns a beauty salon and I thought it would be fun. Also fun because she actually can’t speak English. When we arrived there, there was chocolate and I made coffee. It seemed perfect. Not many clients came in during the evening and, although I was worried about the results of my visit because Iranian women use way too much makeup and overdo in their nails and eyebrows, it didn’t turn out very badly. I got my nails polished in red, then I got a few braids in my hair and after refusing they did my eyebrows, I finally had to let them because they were making me feel like a hairy manly truck driver with eyebrows and hair in my arms and no make up… The result was acceptable, though but I never understood why so much over do when you cannot show half of it in the street.

After a while, Naviid who was Nader’s brother came in and I found a bit odd that the helper of Nader’s mum immediately covered her hair. The dad came after a while and all together we decided to go for a walk around the river, mainly because I had previously said that I love bridges and I wanted to see the cool bridges here. Nader joined us after a while and we all visited Khajoo bridge, a 33 archs bridge that would be glorious to see when there is water in the river because it deviates the water and creates some shapes with the course of the river but still was amazing to visit. There were many different curiosities about it and I was delighted I was with them to explain me. I got to see some reflected lights in the exact location of the eyes of some tiger at the opposite shore. And I also got to check how the sounds are transported by the structure of the archs in the bridge. I could hear Nader whispers to a wall from the opposite wall of the arch!Then, we all took a taxi home and enjoyed a bit of omelette and tea and dates. If there is a huge discovery that I have made here is Iranian dates. I can’t stop eating them at all hours.

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Bridge at night

The night went by with no more incidents and the next day was Friday, which is free for everybody. So we spent the day chilling at home and not doing much. Nader and Naviid taught me how to play Backgammon and although I suck we had a great time and not much more was done during the day. I was kind of expecting all day for Nader’s dad to take me to the dessert, as he had promised the day before but none of that happened. It wasn’t a big deal, I hadn’t insisted on it either because I wasn’t hugely fascinated by going to the dessert, but I was kind of counting on the plan for the day. When the night came in, Nader said goodbye and I actually didn’t understand but then he texted me and I understood that he was leaving and not coming back, I suppose for his exams, which were to start the following day. The rest of the family and me took a cab to go to some mountain where the air was fresh and temperatures were a bit cooler. We enjoyed a saffron ice cream and great views of the city and came back to the house to get some omelette as well. I like this Spanish time where we were eating a 12pm. What can I say.

I was thinking of taking a bit of the next morning for me, for getting ready and go to take a bus towards Shiraz but everything was changed when I woke up and Ali, Nader’s dad, the cool dad that had been to Thailand lots of times and wanted to travel the world (probably without family) offered to take me to some places close to his work and then I could get back, pack and go. That’s what I understood, but something different happened. We went first to some mosque with something they were calling shaking minarets. But it was early and they were not going to shake the minarets until an hour after. I am still quite unsure what was that about. Then we went to where he works and walk to the Jame Mosque, which he got me into as Iranian citizen (cheap ticket) and showed me a couple of things about the mosque before he was going back to work and leaving me there to explore it by myself. I had my doubts at the beginning about the plan but I enjoyed the mosque. It actually had the peaceful vibes I was looking for, as it is used for praying and not only visiting and also, it was beautiful architecturally. I enjoyed so much the vaults with different designs in brick, each of them different…

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Inside Jame Mosque

When I finished I texted Ali and he came to pick me up with a motorbike. It was okay to seat at the back of the motorbike but also, a woman cannot drive a motorbike, I learnt. We came back to his shop and at the time of closing, came back home to get lunch. There, I met his secretary and would find out and confirm that here it is okay and more than normal to have several boyfriends (and girlfriends in the case) and that you needed one for going to the cinema, one for going for dinner, one for sleeping…and then you get married with the one that has more money. Understood. I made clear that I only believe in having one boyfriend (I believe that one is enough hassle) and tried to made my point unsuccessfully.

During the way home and while waiting for the rest of the family, Ali actually came closer to me, also physically and I am not sure if it was something natural because I had been part of the family (and truly felt part of it at some times) or it wasn’t natural at all, because I have found myself mistrusting everyone. Anyways, we got there for lunch later than expected to take a bus anywhere, and definitely not what we had agreed. But he also had said the previous night I couldn’t leave without having beryni, the dish typical from Isfahan and there wasn’t any of that for lunch. But it was set I would be leaving this day because I felt like moving and also because my feelings were more and more mixed about everything. I also needed some space for me and being alone and make plans of my own; in general staying and trying for myself.

After lunch, Ali was going somewhere and he asked me if I wanted to join, but with the excuse that I had to pack I avoided that. I didn’t feel like being alone with him again. There was something that made me uncomfortable and although I felt bad for thinking like that of him, all I have with me is my instincts and always try to follow them (this is not right to say it here, but time would prove that I wasn’t wrong, unfortunately). So I stayed home with Naviid around and packed my shit and played backgammon with him. Ali came back, with another girl to host. She was a Chinese girl living in Manchester and the kind of girl that is bloody perfect at everything. We all gathered for tea, chatted around and went for carrot juice with saffron ice cream, because this girl loved it and it seemed like a great idea. During the way, she gathered all of Ali’s attention and I wondered if I had been wrong to push him away a bit because he seemed genuine with her as well, or he was kind of having “a strategy”. Then I thought I was going paranoid and I really had to leave whatever it was, just for my sanity.

So after the juice we came back, I hugged everyone and took a taxi to the bus station, where I had a late night bus to get to Shiraz, the city where they say the most beautiful women are. I took the bus with strange mixed feelings all over the place, thankful and paranoid. Overall, I was happy to keep going and get back to the road. But still unsettled about the country and all the feelings I have. It’s a rollercoaster.

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.