Shiraz, Persepolis and a negative couchsurf reference

Friday 30 October

I’ve been neglecting my duties of late and for this I hope you will forgive me.  This is due in part to recent world events, of which more anon, but aside from this and for reasons I know not, I have recently lost all my mirth.  I’ve been having a very interesting time in Iran, with its ups and downs, but for the most part, the next few entries will be more for photographs rather than any outrageous stories.  However I’m hoping a return to form is imminent and something devilish is just around the corner to satisfy your twisted needs.

A Shirazian (?)

A Shirazian (?)

I had a…mmm…unique time for my birthday in Shiraz, which is one of the must-see cities in the south of Iran.  It is known as the city of poets, literature, wine and flowers.  Before the revolution in 1979 (a very good year) there were some 300 wineries producing the goods here.  Now, it is rumoured to be in the thousands, as locals make small batches in secret.  You’ve got to jump through hoops to get it though and it’s crap.  Consume at own multiple risks.

One of the many bazaars

One of the many bazaars

I’ve spent most of my time in the city wandering around, camera in tow, getting helped across roads like an old lady.  Or man.  Like an old man.  You see Iranians are helpful to a fault, and even though I’m now a 36-year-old adult (debatable) male who I like to think is perfectly capable of tying his own shoelaces, nonetheless locals are almost in perpetual competition with each other as to how hospitable they can be.  It’s like a hospitolympics.  No wait.  Olymipitable.  Hang on I got this.  Hospitics.  Olyhostalics. Ahh fuck it – anyway there’s a slight downside too.

It is with great sadness and regret that I must report my first ever negative review on couch surfing.  I’ve been hosting and surfing for six years with an impeccable record, however I noticed with dismay my Shiraz host has put a blot against my good name.  I am now forever tarnished.  The reason?  Because I urinate standing up.

Technically this isn’t the only cause of my now defiled profile.  You see my host was clearly a believer in something called “ta’arof” or “Taarof”.  Now while not so widespread that you think everyone is trying to trick you, nonetheless it is a sneaky little play whereby a select few Iranians will appear to offer you something under the pretense that they don’t want something in return, but they actually do.  Or that they offer something nice – but it’s not that sincere.  Like when you’re bashing away on your X-box and you ask if your girlfriend needs a hand in the kitchen.  Anyway, woe betide you if you don’t acknowledge this.  Honking of car horns and scathing attacks in Farsi to name and shame a tight foreigner will result.  Or in my case, a negative reference on couch surfing.

So apparently I didn’t help him around the house enough, treated him as my servant, and that I’m “dirty and unhygienic” because I pissed standing up.  I assure you only one of these is true.  He’s thought it necessary to give me a negative review on my otherwise unblemished profile, while I lied through my teeth to give him a positive review, as I believe negative references should be left to only extreme cases – assault, theft, unwanted sexual advances, never having watched Star Wars and not liking Marmite.  A massive chip resides squarely on his shoulders.

His house was miles outside the city centre, he lied about how good his English was, his apartment was filthy, he concerned me with his homemade sex-chair (yes) and he cancelled my original length of stay – leaving me little choice but to frantically search for a last-minute host.  This might explain why I wasn’t able to help him “cook” the ramen noodles.

Furthermore, (as while I’ve tried not to labour the point I’m still seething) he’s been in touch with people who have already hosted me here, and advised against hosting me again.  This is of course against CS rules and etiquette, and merely a sign of insecurity and petty jealousy.  However these two ‘girlfriends’ are exactly that – friends – and they informed me as to the reasons behind said negative reference – something he didn’t divulge and justify on the site itself – which is where you’re supposed to do it.  In addition, he has been bombarding them with suggestive text messages in an attempt to score a date. When confronted, the gutless wonder did nothing to address me, but began to send aggressive and threatening messages to my aforementioned friends – much like – you may recall – his equally cowardly countryman regarding the ransomed laptop a month or so back.  Unable to talk to me mano a mano, these fucktards M.O is to accost my female friends with abuse and threats until I’ve no choice but to halt my justified line of attack.  Couchsurfing has since been informed and he is being investigated, however that little red mark against my name cannot be removed, so there’s a special place in hell reserved just for him.

Speaking of couch surfing, I intend to write an extensive post regarding this once mighty culture-exchange behemoth in the near future, because quite frankly, it’s gone shit.  Watch this space.

Back to Shiraz...the central mosque

Back to Shiraz…the central mosque

Where was I?  Ahhh yes, Shiraz.  jewel in the crown of southern Iran.  In fact jewel in all of Iran if you ask me.  It’s a beautiful place, with lovely gardens and green space (which I didn’t go in because the tourist-tax entry starts to add up), and the added bonus of one of Irans must-see sights within day-trip distance.  Persepolis.

Persepolis

Persepolis

Literally meaning “city of Persians”, Persepolis was the grandiose seat of a chap called Darius I, getting construction underway somewhere around 515 BC.  It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979 (a very good year), and while a lot is left to the imagination, there are still some fine examples of ancient architecture and rich decoration, as well as the now (in)famous Persepolis graffiti from later years.  It seems nobody respected ancient history in 1890 either.

You can look this guy up.  I hope he got in trouble

You can look this guy up. I hope he got in trouble

A former throne of the Achaemenid Empire, Persepolis was built to be the finest city on earth, reflected in the expense of its decadent reliefs and the gowns of the patrons who frequented it.  Raised on a giant stage, it sits crumbling into the desert dust, but still pulls in the tourist hoard every year.  It was beautiful to visit in late October, the crowds giving way to cooler climbs, and a brilliant Autumnal sun-set.  Well worth a visit.

Simply stunning

Simply stunning

But for me perhaps the highlight of my Shiraz visit was the Nasir Ol Molk mosque.  You know the one.  You’ve seen it a gazillion times on some crap site like Buzzfeed, banging on about how Iranian architecture is like dropping a tab of acid.  The thing is, they’re not far wrong.  Simply a wonderful sight to behold first thing in the morning.  Dazzlingly tripping the light fantastic – but once again – watch out for the stampede of tourists whose cameras are bigger than they are.

So I’m slowly catching up dearest readers.  I’ve only got six more entries to write before I’m on point.  I would like to take this opportunity to apologise in advance for how much shite I’m going to be spewing, but in the meantime please enjoy some pictures from my jaunt around this beautiful country.  You know it’s hard work writing comedy gold all the time, but I’ll do my best to get into a fight or have a drink thrown in my face before I leave.  I kinda miss it.  To be honest though, such is the safety, friendliness and hospitality of this country and its people, I think that would be almost impossible.

Apart from my Shiraz host.  He’s a dick.

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Turning 36 and cruising for chicks – Iranian style

Wednesday 28 October

Deep man

Deep man

“Dad, how did you meet mum?”

“Well son, it was like this; I yelled at her through the windows of a moving car while doing 40 mph in heavy traffic until she relented, pulled over and we could talk in front of her girlfriends and three lads I was with.”

So the story must go for much of the youth here.  Tonight, on the eve of my 36 birthday, I witnessed the dating game Iranian style.

With the hitch to India on a (hopefully) temporary hold due to time constraints and visa applications, I’ve decided to see the rest of the country via the comfort of long distance coaches.  And they only cost about a fiver.  This affords me the luxury of seeing more in the short time I have here, because I can travel overnight, arrive early in the morning and thus have a full day sightseeing without the necessity to pay for accommodation or pester people on couchsurfing.  I’m backdated with photographs and stories from recent excursions, and will cover them in due course.  Experiences have been coming thick and fast, and tonight was no exception.

I’m staying with Soroush, a 20-something student in the beautiful city of Shiraz.  Again pictures and tales to come, but I decided to make this entry about a unique phenomenon that I have never seen the like of.  How to pick up girls in Persia.

Dating in Iran is, to some extent, a risky game.  I’ve been reliably informed it’s borderline illegal.  Women of course must wear the traditional Chador or Hajib, covering themselves at all times – unless in the home – and even then more religious types will continue to do so.  Holding hands, kissing, or any contact in public is pretty much prohibited unless you’re married.  Unrelated men and women cannot be in a room alone together, and you’re not allowed book a hotel or private room without a marriage certificate.

Amorous advances are therefore somewhat limited, but of course it still goes on.  Iranians just have to be resourceful and find a way around it – and this they do with aplomb.  Then of course there is the drinking culture.  There isn’t one.  Well there is, but it’s strictly hush-hush and carries a lot of risks.  If I dare so much as whisper my usual exploits at the bottom of bottles and I’m risking a lashing.  Anything is possible though, booze is available on a black market, but I’ve actually been enjoying my dry spell.  I pity the poor bootleggers who, if caught and depending on the severity of the infringement, potentially face a public hanging by a crane in a city square.  It’s a sobering thought, and  I’ve been sober a month.  This has brought with it new challenges, but more of that anon.

I digress with my slight tangent.  My usual approach to”picking up” has been to enter a local bar, talk to everyone in the place, get pissed up, and hope that somewhere along the line boozy charm has worked its magic.  Either that or accost them in the bathroom of a hostel until they relent.  Anyway the point is – I’ve never really hooked up with a girl when I’ve not been drunk. Without the  Dutch courage, I’ve got about as much chance of scoring with a girl as I do at growing a full beard.  And on the cusp of 36, this is degradingly emasculating.

So this was an eye-opener, and indeed I have no qualms in admitting I was extremely nervous.  I’ve never had “day game”, and here you must have “day game” at night.  How can I talk to a girl if I’m not fearlessly out of my gourd?  Don’t they need to be drunk as well?  Would that pissed-up charm shine through when I was stone cold sober?  What the fuck do I talk about? Where do you go to pass first base?  Do you nip off at break time to neck with Sarah-Jane behind the bike sheds?  And unless you’re in for the long haul and meeting the parents, what is the actually point?!  It reminds me of a conversation overheard circa 1990:

“Dude!  I touched her nipple!”

Over halfway in my thirties, and I’m feeling like a teenager.

Without my tried and trusted 24 bloody mary’s, I’m outside my comfort zone as we occupy a shopping mall.  As I’ve already found out, this is the bread and butter of scoping for chicks in Iran.  Teams of boys dressed to the nines skulk past jewelry concessions, shoe stores and toy shops.  There’s unspoken acknowledgment for every bro, more aftershave than a thirteen-year-old boys bedroom, and  enough hair gel to grease a whales vagina.  But in the end it matters naught due to a high percentage of mums.  Which is a relief for me as I scuffed around the polished tile floors contemplating just what line to use to a girl who is clearly in a mall to go shopping and not find herself getting surprisingly laid.

“Do you come for shoes here often?”

“Can I buy you a digital satellite receiver?”

“I’ve got the same toaster back at my apartment.”

Thankfully the boys cut their loses and it’s time for plan B.  Hitting the road.

The car is filled with experts, bar myself, and once again I’m out of my depth.  I feel like square peg in a round hole. Only one of my companions speaks decent English, but it doesn’t stop them all from enthusiastically using me as bait.  “YOU’RE PUSSY GRAVITY MAN!  YOU’RE PUSSY GRAVITY!”  We lurch into a dual-carriageway merry-go-round without the candy floss.

And so begins the lethal ballet. Bumper to bumper, it’s a school disco on wheels.  Vehicles aggressively vie for position next to cars filled with attractive girls with their windows down.  Those blessed with more flashy motors  clearly hold all the cards, burning rubber to battle into pole position much to the dismay of my “teammates”.  But I am apparently the ace up their sleeves.

And so they dangle me like a blond, white carrot.  We swerve dangerously close to a Peugeot, and Oman, a large, surprisingly red-haired Iranian leans out his window and belts Farsi in a fog-horn voice in the direction of the speeding car alongside.  The only words I can make out are “INGLISI! INGLISI!”  A grinning Oman forces me to the window.

Surprisingly, and much to my astonishment, it begins to work.

A car of four boys begins a dating dance with a car full of three girls down the highway.  We’re flirting at dangerous speeds with Oman laughing hysterically at my broken Farsi, thumping the roof of the car and jumping up and down like an excited ginger baboon.  Since I cannot write (or speak) this beautiful language, I will attempt my conversation in phonetics:

“Salam!  Bebaksheed, Farsi nemi do nam, Inglisi baladi?!”  (Hello, excuse me/I’m sorry I don’t understand Farsi, do you speak English?!)

I can’t believe I’m leaning out of a car window shouting into another car window at 40 mph trying to pick up an Iranian girl.  But this is the way it’s done.  You’ve gotta adapt to survive.  Maybe it’s time I got an iPhone.

A couple of kilometres fly by as this caper continues.  You might wonder what’s happening around us.  Alphas in other cars are trying the same thing, tyres screeching, horns blaring, guys shouting.  A sure sign girls are not interested is the devastating gesture of the slow roll up of the window.  You’re either going to meet the love of your life or you’re getting scraped off the road.  And you’ve got to feel sympathy for the folk just trying to get home from work.  It’s utter madness, it’s incredibly dangerous, and it’s insanely good fun.  Who needs booze?

Again to my utter astonishment, my companions have negotiated a roadside rendezvous.  A few yards on and both cars have swung to the curbside, and I’m reluctantly being dragged out of the vehicle to talk to the girls behind, paraded like a show-and-tell.  Give me five pints and a tequila and I’d be polishing a silver tongue, but one non-alcoholic piss-in-a-can down and I can’t barely muster so much as a hello.  I retreat into my mortified shell.

It’s the girls and my companions that are driving the conversation, predominately about me and at my expense.  I’m something of an attraction.  Oman and friends are inquiring which one I want to marry.  They’re all very attractive, and in broken English the driver is asking if I like her.  The girl in the back is asking me to guess her age (25).  But the girl in the front passenger seat, well, she was something else entirely.

I’ve learned the Farsi for “you are very beautiful” but somehow my stuttering attempts wouldn’t do her justice, so I keep my mouth shut and just look sheepish.  As much as my friends and their driver are engaging in animated conversation trying to marry me off, passenger girl and I are doing some kind of dance of our own.  She’s taken my friends number, and promises to call me tomorrow night for my birthday.  The guys usher me back to our ride.  As reluctantly as I was to get out, so I am to get back in.  This shit works.

And so it begins again in earnest.  Apparently not content with that recent success, they’re buzzing for new quarry, demanding which cars occupants I want to go for next.  And it’s not just women in cars.  Any hapless girl on the street with a modicum of attractiveness is fair game – but for the most part, they’re loving it as much as we are.

“EEMA! EEMA! EEMA!”  (HERE! HERE! HERE!) becomes the battle cry as any lady in eye line takes the full frontal flak of horny Iranians, and our insane driver swings over in an attempt to grab attention.  It’s a wash/rinse/repeat game theory, with the plan being to get many girls numbers before the night is done.  It’s not good enough with just one, and the boys are clearly sensing blood with me as the unwilling (willing) bait.

But for all my bullshit and bravado, a fine line of arrogance and confidence that I cross regularly, in any given moment, I tend to lean towards monogamy.  I’m content with my highway hook up, because you can’t improve upon perfection.  Incredulous, they wonder how I can sit back and rest on my laurels when the intercourse Indy-500 is only on its second lap.

One final attempt with two girls on the sidewalk comes to nothing and we turn for home.  Tomorrow I move gingerly into my late thirties, facing my first sober and celibate birthday since 1999.  But as recent exploits, health scares and a bleeding of funds have shown; perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

Maybe I’m slowing down.  Maybe my racing days are finally over.  Maybe I’m getting old.

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Visas, cloud forests, thieving bastards and going back in time

Thursday 15 October

Tehran is a rather large city. I’ve been here about a week and I still can’t get my head around it. Not only that, but it’s filled to the brim with Iranians. There’s around 8 million of them, but they seem to take great pleasure insisting that there are much more. It’s a city with 24 rush hours, no rhyme or reason to the roads, and it takes several decades to cross from one side to the other. And don’t get me started on the underground. However clever you think you’ve been in your timing, you’ll always find the side of your face pressed up against a window and your nose in a sweaty armpit. There’s a riot every time a new train pulls in, and it’s crossed my mind to disguise myself in the Chador and a splash of lippy in order to gain access to the less crowded women only carriages. Such is the extent of the human traffic and chaos, you can pretty much only get one thing done in a day. This has proved particularly frustrating in applying for visas.

Here, dearest readers, is where it gets a little complicated. In order to better understand the current predicament I am in, I have decided, for your reading pleasure, to draw a visa flow chart.  And you’d better like it, because it’s taken me the best part of five hours to finish the damn thing.  Hopefully this will explain the multitude of hoop jumping I am having to endure as my time in Iran ticks away.  Have a click here:

visachart1

I’ve never done a flow chart and it’s a bit shit.  It was as confusing to write as it is to actually experience. Once I settled down though, I realised there’s nothing I can do about it, and I’ve just got to dance for them like a performing monkey and hope I can achieve a domino visa effect. So instead of wallowing in my own destructive impatience, I accept the kind offer from my wonderful couch-surf host to visit a cloud forest, some 5 hours outside the capital.

The cloud forest

The cloud forest

Long story short, a very nice (asexual) time was had by all, and to cap it all off, I’m granted permission to drive back home across Iran and though Tehran’s death roads. I thought Georgia and Armenia were bad, but these guys drive like they’re playing Rad Mobile.  About half way home and Hanieh drops an absolute bombshell on me. It isn’t 2015. We’re in 1394. I freak out in-front of a coffee shop while screaming at the car.

“WHAT IS THIS?! WHAT IS THIS MACHINE?!”

Apparently we’re using the Shamsi calendar, which means we’ve gone back in time. I’m not going to go into it because you’ve got Wikipedia, but I certainly can’t get my head around it. I make a promise to educate myself if we return home in one piece.

The long road home

The long road home

Which of course we do because I’m a driving bad-ass. And by bad-ass I mean excessively cautious. The feeling of elation in arriving safely home after successfully negotiating psycho Iranian drivers was quickly replaced by abject despair.

I’d left my net-book in a drawer back at the cottage.

I’d put it there for security.

Hanieh calls the host, who confirms he will check tomorrow and figure out a way to send it back. I breathe a sign of relief. This is until the following morning when he “can’t find it”. You know where this is going. We’re about to enter a bidding war for the safe return of my laptop, visa application documents and extensive pornography collection. He still “can’t find it” at around 1 million Rials. At 2 million Rials he’s beginning to get hazy flashbacks. At 3 million Rials he’s got it in his hands. Hanieh (bless her cotton socks) manages to get the arsehole back down to 2 million. It’s going to cost me 45 quid to get my own stuff back.

Before the robbery.  Hanieh and I in the cloud forest

Before the robbery. Hanieh and I in the cloud forest

A day later and we’re sitting round a mobile phone juggling computernapper, work colleague and driver /money drop-off man. This is after I’ve eaten a breakfast consisting of a burger and a coffee, for which Hanieh insists I’m clinically insane. For a fleeting moment I consider offering the reward as the price on this thieving bastards head, which I swear is the plot from Mel Gibson’s Ransom. It’s taking all of my willpower not to scream “GIVE ME BACK MY SON!”

Cosy Iranian village cottage and home of a thief

Cosy Iranian village cottage and home of a thief

Upon its return, I’ve taken his phone details, and for the past twenty-four hours I’ve been bamming him up with texts about how the police are involved, he’s going to lose his business (if he was in Scotland he’d lose more than that), he’s fucked with the wrong guy, and he’s generally a robbing scum bag. I’m deadly serious about following it up (or burning his house down), until he starts calling Hanieh. The cowardly bastard isn’t contacting me – in spite of me insisting this is between the two of us and nobody else – and he’s threatening Hanieh’s job unless I back off. The word ‘cunt’ doesn’t even come close.

And so this is the way it works here. As Hanieh and I were an unrelated male and female staying a night under the same roof, she (not me) could get into an awful lot of trouble. We’re the victims, but going to the police could cause her some serious problems. We do our best to get a straight story, but it’s no use. This astronomical cock womble has got us by the balls and he knows it. There’s no choice but to back off and let him get away with it. We weren’t the first, and we won’t be the last.

In defence of Iran and for all you media-brainwashed-armchair-haters I would like to point out that this could have happened anywhere and usually does as a result of my own incompetency.  However this time I don’t have booze to blame it on so I really am I total screw up.

No booze and no girls allowed

No booze and no girls allowed

It’s times like this that I really miss my dad, but for all his superior policing knowledge, Iran is out of his jurisdiction. It’s also times like this that I (whisper it) miss the UK. If this had happened there, this douche would be in the cells faster than you could say “sexist patriarchal society”, and I would be free to have a wild night with Hanieh devoid of being under the watchful eye of the establishment. Oh and if she wasn’t dating anyone. Which she’s not allowed to do either. We moan and we complain when a package is a day late in the post or the neighbours are noisy upstairs, but we can kiss someone we love in the street and for the most part, the system works. In reality, and certainly when it comes to law; we don’t know we’re born.

With time against me and the visa process stalling, I decide to flee the capital and see as much of this beautiful country as I can. I’m pinning all my hopes on the Iran visa extension and one can only hope the scales of traveling justice will tip in my favour.  Everything is hanging in the balance.

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Hitchhike to India leg 45: Zanjan to Tehran

Monday 12 October

P1080324

Expect more hitch signs like this. Roham even provided me with a little arrow so I know which way is up

After due consideration (and owing in part to spending far too much time hanging out with good people here) I have decided to turn directly for Tehran. Hitching north was proving something of a difficulty. As yet I had no confirmed couch-surf host, it wasn’t a direct route, the weather was pretty bad, and from what I’d been told, while beautiful, the Caspian Sea coast was nothing I’d not seen before. I want desert. I want sun. I want Camels. The kind with humps.

Confident in an easy hitch, I rise late and thanking Roham once again for his family’s hospitality, I take a ride to the highway toll booth in hazy afternoon sun. My heart sinks as I realise the cab has pulled over right outside the traffic police building, a few hundred yards before the tolls. I’ve barely stepped out from the rear seat, when an officer has spotted me, and waves me over. From every door to the building, uniformed cops appear, baseball caps, white shirts, hand cuffs, batons. They help themselves to my two hitch signs.

“INDIA?!”

Much laugher.

“Tehran?!”

More laughter.

“Where are you from?!”

This is it. My luck has run out. I’m about to be deported.

Quite the contrary, about fifteen police crowd round while in broken English/Farsi I try to explain what I’m trying to do. My palm aches from all the handshakes, and I lose count of how many times I’m welcomed in Iran. They’re all still chuckling as I confidently stride towards the toll booth, although I’m escaping as subtly as I can before someone realises I’m not meant to be traveling alone.

All this time I’ve been apprehensive as to whether or not this little loophole would work. I was told that once over the border, as I’m hitchhiking, I’m likely to be stopped every now and again for rountine checks. But nobody “on the ground” actually knows I’m meant to be part of a tour. It’s only the powers that be and the border controls. And yet even they didn’t raise so much as an eyebrow when they realised my nationality. Perhaps the whole situation has completely changed and it has yet to filter through to the wider travel community. Who knows? All I know is that hitching here has been a breeze.

Today is no exception. Two more police on duty by the tolls are just as interested, and they’re helping me get a ride. They can’t understand that I’m not paying for it however, and it takes considerable repetion of the word “majjani” (no money) to convince them otherwise. Roham has taught me another useful phrase that has the guards in stitches when I repeat it. “Maraami” doesn’t really have an exact translation to English, but it roughly means “do it for a friend?” Or “help me without expecting something in return.” Four or five Iranians within earshot are laughing like hyenas. I didn’t realise I could be so funny. But still they just don’t believe I’ll get a ride for nothing. It’s impossible to explain I’ve come from Germany without paying a bean for travel.

Seconds later and I’m vindicated. I get exactly what I want. Mid 20’s guy, decent car, perfect English, all the way to Tehran. I wasn’t even trying. I was just idly rhyming off my Farsi stand-up routine to a couple of coppers, when I’m called over by this dude hanging out the driver window. The looks on the faces of the small, incredulous crowd at the toll booth was worth every penny I didn’t spend on getting to Tehran four hours later.

My luck doesn’t stop there. I receive a phone call from my couch-surf host who asks to talk to my driver. None of us can quite believe it when, considering the sheer size of Tehran (8 million odd people), my driver and couch-surf host live around the corner from each other. Talk about a small world. What are the chances of that happening? Well it happened, and four easy hours later I’m deposited into the care of my new (and outstandingly beautiful) couch-surf host, just as darkness falls. Door to door in less time than public transport. I’m almost sorry for how easy it’s been, because this story is shit.

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Zanjan, Rohan, Salt Men and Iranian toilets

Sunday 11 October

I’ve spent the last couple of days being shown around the wonderful town of Zanjan by my couch-surf host Roham and his friends. It’s been a joy. Ever apprehensive as to whether or not I’m on the same page as the people I stay with, sometimes it takes a little time to get to know where you stand and how you need to behave. Minutes after getting into a car to tour the city, my fears were allayed.

(Pointing to a building to our right) “this is our university.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s shit.”

I was among friends.

New buddies

New buddies

The rest of my time here continued in the same vein, meeting several of Roham’s cohorts, again ramping up the standard of hospitality. The only reason I decided to pay a visit originally was due to a find via my travel bible “Atlas Obscura.” I wanted to see the famous Zanjan “Salt Men”, human remains of salt mine workers over 3000 years old, almost perfectly preserved from being encased in salt for centuries. They were discovered by accident as late as 2005, in the Chehr Abad mine in the region. Unfortunately (and understandably) I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, but the most interesting example was of a 16-year-old boy who died when a tunnel collapsed. His clothes and tools were intact, with skin, fingernails and hair still visible. Creepy to some, fascinating to me, their discovery led to invaluable information about local ancestry. A visit is highly recommended.

The archaeological museum.  Last resting place of the Salt Men

The archaeological museum. Last resting place of the Salt Men

Toilets. Some of you maybe aware of the design of Eastern water closets, but some of you may not. I’ve experienced them on a few occasions, but up until now, I’ve always dodged their use for a number two. In Iran, you simply can’t get away from it. My heart sank when I first opened a cubicle door and saw the abomination before me, but there’s no getting away from it here. Do or die. I ask my new-found friends if anyone has a Western toilet and only one of them confirms that they do. I inform him that I’m coming round to his house to take a shit.

Put on the little shoes and go

Put on the little shoes and go

But practice makes perfect, and soon I’m getting the hang of it. It’s incredibly efficient, because nobody wants to stand in that position for any longer than necessary, and water use is kept at a minimum. But it’s just not the same. Going to the bog is a luxury. There’s nothing better than holding a loaf back, waiting for just the right moment, when you take the morning paper to the throne, lock the door, complete privacy and solitude, and destroy the jax with last nights booze poo. It’s an event. It’s a tradition. It’s a constitution. Iranian toilets take that away. Not to mention the smell. And you’ve got to wonder how the women cope?! Wearing all those layers, the Chadors long, flowing robes, their usual dignity stripped bare having to squat like a junkie getting cavity searched.  It’s bad enough trying to avoid your own togs when they’re wrapped round your ankles, and heaven help you if you’re having the same problems I was after drinking dodgy water in Yerevan.  Alas, I have to get used to it, but I guess it’s good training for India.

Zanjan by night

Zanjan by night

Zanjan itself is a lively town, with extremely friendly and approachable people. I was already becoming something of a celebrity. Strangers approach in the streets with hands outstretched for warm handshakes. “Welcome to Iran” is a common greeting. Food is regularly offered with no charge. Children stare wide-eyed at the gringo. Iranian girls gather close and giggle. Everyone asks where I’m from. Everyone is smiling.

Sunbeams over the city

Sunbeams over the city

Roham and friends show me the mosques, the bazaars, the view from the mountain, the museums and the shopping mall – which is where you go to “pick up.” I’m introduced to his English teacher, a lovely man who is beside himself when he learns that Glasgow was my home. He used to live there himself, and we spend an easy hour reminiscing. Roham helps me exchange money, fix my phone (more fingerprinting) and his family feed me like a king. Never a problem. Never a dull moment. I’ve already extended my stay longer than anticipated, but if it were up to him, I’d never leave.  There might be an Iranian/Scottish music collaboration that sees the light of day at some point.  Roham beams with delight every time I concede another day, but time here is short, and with regret, I must push on. Tomorrow I turn to the Caspian Sea coast, the town of Rasht, and with it, apparently the most beautiful girls in all Iran. Lord help me I’m never leaving.

Roham showing off

Roham showing off

Thank you Roham. It’s been a total blast. You, your friends and family are among the reasons why the rest of the world needs to change their mindset about this incredible country. Apart from your toilets. Sort that shit out.

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