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.
“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.