Montag, 9. September 2013

Day 71 to 76: Iran I - the North

 It was Friday (=Islamic weekend) when we reached the Meghri-pass leading to the Iranian border, plus we expected a few weeks of hardly bearable heat, so we spent one last night in Armenia on that pass. We used the opportunity of high speed internet to update the blog and the remote surrounding for a last shower next to the car. On saturday we cleaned Kalimero thoroughly, dressed up accordingly and spent the next 4 ½ hours at the border. People were nice and friendly, made some jokes about smuggling whiskey in our solar shower and were quite interested in our kitchen knives (Michi had to give first aid to one of them). Then finally we made it, we were in Iran! 

The first things we noticed: It was hot (strange, because in Armenia, 50km further north we did not feel to warm), the streets were much better than the last 4 weeks and we did not pay for Diesel or for using the freeway. People just waved us away with a „welcome to our country“ or „have a good trip“. 
We were briefed by insiders (Iranian „taroof“: endless discussions about paying, not paying, being invited, thanking but insisting on turning down, and so on and so on) and tried to get rid of our money anyways - we still had to practice on this one.
Katha still felt a bit anxious about showing to much skin or immoral western-style body shapes, but with every day the headscarve moved a bit further to the back.

Landscape at the Armenian - Iranian border

--> Refilling is fun in Iran
1500 Rials per liter. 1€ is 42000 Rials.
Checking the headscarve

Our first stop was Tabriz. We heard that „camping“ is possible in El Goli Park, so we tried to get there before it was dark (without success, thanks to the 4.5h border crossing). El Goli Park proved to be a main attraction for Tabrizians in the late evening, so we were lucky to get one of the last 1st-row-parking spots in the middle of a huge traffic jam.
Before we even found our parking spot and got off, two guys asked (as we were going to hear more often) „Were are you from? Welcome to Iran! Why did you come here?“
We met the again later and one of them turned out to be a biologist and spoke english very well. We went to a restaurant in the park and had some food together, when suddenly one by one 6 other guys arrived and joined us. It turned out (or was extremely obvious) that all of them were gay. We were startled - in Iran? How does that work out? How do you manage to live your lifes? They told their stories very openly and we had a great evening. 

Of note, homosexuality is a legal offense in Iran. While the shear act of kissing draws medieval punishments (whipping), intercourse or repeated violations are punished with death penalty. This in mind, we were very surprised to see these young people behaving like they did. Daily life and legal laws by Mullahs seem to be two different facts in Iran (as we should learn again soon).
We tried to learn first words of Farsi, but then were told that the northeastern part of Iran (the province Azarbajan) actually speaks a Turkish dialect.

Campers in El Goli Park

In front of the lake in El Goli Park with Joe.

Traffic jam at 11pm, people still arrive and look for parking lots

 As we went back „home“ to Kalimero, cars were parked in three rows on both sides of the street and still some were looking for a parking spot. Hundreds of Iranians came to have a picknick with their family and maybe build up a tent and spent the night here.
The park was very nice and offered toilets and several sinks for dishwashing, so we decided to leave Kalimero were he was and go to the center.

Tabriz has a very nice bazaar and the museum of an old mosque with the biggest roof of its time built in 1465 when Tabriz was the capital of Persia. The overall athmosphere of the city was nice and relaxed, we bought fruits and sat down in a busy pedestrian street, where Katha also bought a first set of Iran-compatible clothes. With the help of some female customers, she learned about saaks (armlings, covering only the forearms to carry under a short sleaved dress, very helpful at 40°C).

The very beautiful Bazaar in Tabriz - large halls with carpet merchants.
Islamic-law dressing, brought from Germany.

The Blue Mosque in Tabriz was destroyed several times by earthquakes

Right next to the bazaar we visited Nasser, the tourist informant of Tabriz, he spoke german and was very helpful in getting an insurance for Kalimero, changing money, buying a SIM card and having our first dizi (a stew, made of sheep-fat, chickpees, potato, tomato and oil, which is poured over minced bread and eaten with yoghurt and fresh mint leaves). It is a specialty of the province around Tabriz.
In the evening we met Joe (who had a Persian name, but introduced himself with the English version). He is an English teacher and told us about his life in Iran, life in Iran before the Revolution and his children going to USA for their PhD in Chemistry. while he was showing us around the beautiful park with its great pool in the middle. While Nasser was not openly unhappy with the current form of government (of course, as he was paid by them), Joe gave us insights about how his life was affected by the regime.

 To pick up our 2nd passports at the German embassy, we had to be in Teheran by the 22.8 (to our surprise the embassy offered this very kind service), so we went south first to see the Ali Sadre cave near Hamadan. The cave is the largest water filled cave of the world and visitors are moved around it in peddaling boats. For us, both the wonder of the nature and the wonder of the culture were equally interesting. Around the entrance of the cave, hundreds of families picknicked. Picknicking in Iran does not mean eating some sandwiches brought from home, they cooked rice with deliciously smelling sauces, potatos, eggs and of course kabab. They brought carpets to sit on and tents for the children to hold their naps. Near the cave you can rent small huts with beds and TV, you can buy toys and sweets and spent the whole day there. We did not see any other foreigners, most people were very curious but not all dared to speak to us.

The night we spent at a rest station next to the freeway, with a restaurant (we had delicious khoresht!) and a lot of tents of other people sleeping over. As we spent some days driving and we suffered a bit from the heat, we decided to skip Fort Alamut and go directly to Teheran to chill in the park a bit.

Race on the highway to Teheran

Truckers showing us their kitchen

Waiting for the next boat at Ali Sadre cave

Buying fruits next to Ali Sadre Cave


As our „base camp“ in Teheran, we wanted to find a place next to the metro and near the freeway coming from the west, so we picked Eram park with the Teheran zoo and a little theme park with rollercoasters in it. It was again a very relaxing pick, we parked beyond large trees, next to the picknick area and not far from a supermarket called Hypermarket (the logo suspiciously similar to Carrefour, and indeed from the same company).
In the evening we could whitness the same phenomenon like in El Goli park, thousands of people arriving between 9 and 10. But this time they did not come for picknick, but went to the little theme park. It was a Wednesday and as we went to bed, people still arrived looking for parking spots.
At four o'clock somebody pounded on our rear door - „exit, no sleep, exit“. No farsi, no discussion, so we replied „OK“, a bit surprised. We were sent away for the first time on this trip, and this exactly in Iran. At least the traffic was a bit more relaxed while we were driving to the next park 1km further. Our plan for the first day in Tehran was simple: get our passports from the Germany embassy, where Katha's brother had them sent. A quick (and surprisingly easy) task, so we still had time for some sightseeing.

At Eram Park
Drinking fruit juices looking at people passing by

a childhoods dream

Here as well, people arrive late and en mass

Azadi Tower

Historic photos displayed inside Azadi Tower

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