Tehran and leaving Iran

Wednesday 25 November

I’ve stayed on and off just under a month in Tehran, but had it not been for visa necessity, I probably wouldn’t have stayed more than a couple of days.  Consequently most of the time I’ve spent hiding in my very kind couch-surf hosts apartment while I wait for the powers that be to either grant or deny my entry into Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.  As much as I have loved being in Iran and seeing this beautiful country – I detest its capital city.

Traffic in Tehran.  Cross the street with balls of steel or hide behind a local

Traffic in Tehran. Cross the street with balls of steel or hide behind a local

Those that know me well will understand one major reason why.  I loath big cities.  I despise large groups of people in one place (even attending a concert is a struggle for me these days) and I abhor the rat-race in all its forms. Rich or poor, for better or for worse, I cannot abide this many people trying to make a living in one place.  It’s disgusting.

The major advantage of this is you're not pressed into some dudes armpit for an hour

The major advantage of this is you’re not pressed into some dudes armpit for an hour

I’ve done the touristy thing of course, but save from a few pocket highlights such as the mountain area of Darband, The Golestan Palace and photographing the bazaars, Tehran has little to offer me.  With a population of around 9 million in the city and a further 16 million wider-spread, you can understand why.  It’s a dense, claustrophobic, traffic-contested, noise infested, raucous, smog hole.  I would be interested to know how long I spent trapped underground making my way across town on the metro.  I’ll never get that time back.

The beautiful grounds of the Golestan palace

The beautiful grounds of the Golestan palace

I think that’s what really hammered the final nail into the coffin of Tehran.  At any time of day or night, there is no respite from the sheer amount of people stomping to their destinations, shoe-horned into carriages, jostling for position on the escalators.  Hanieh, my CS-host, has to get up at 5 am to make it into her work on time – such is the size of the window of clear roads, before all hell breaks loose and it’s taking an hour to travel what should take ten minutes.  It’s unforgiving, it’s stressful and it’s an environmental activists nightmare.  Of course comparisons can be drawn with regard to any major metropolis.  It’s quite simple – if you like big cities, Tehran is for you.  If you don’t – for the love of all that’s holy get out while you can.

Leaving the city at dawn.  The Milad tower - new symbol of Tehran

Leaving the city at dawn. The Milad tower – new symbol of Tehran

In its defence, the people are wonderful – but the same can be said for all over this amazing country.  Walking through the bustling bazaars in Tehran has been a highlight, smelling the smells of the silk road, bartering for goods, and my fingers aching from relentless handshakes, eyes blinded with smiles.  As I reflect back on my time here, I can see this interesting juxtaposition between wonderful hospitality, friendship and stunning scenery, versus draconian laws, paranoia and religious suppression.  Iranians are fighting to promote their country as safe, welcoming and tourist friendly but they’re facing an uphill struggle against a government that simply replaced a regime for another one.

The Tajrish Bazaar

The Tajrish Bazaar

Certain well-known websites are banned, the influences of the outside world regulated, and alcohol is prohibited, but available on the black market.  Getting caught bootlegging carries a heavy price.  Iranians in Tehran (and indeed the whole country) party hard in secret, and as I’ve already discovered, this can lead to dangerous excess.  Sex is forbidden unless married or engaged, and woe betide you if you’re caught doing that out-of-wedlock.  I’ve been making a running joke concerned I’ll get my hand cut off if I touch a girl in public.  So unless you have your own place, a trustworthy mate, the back of your car or your parents are out-of-town – give it up.  You need a marriage certificate to be in a hotel room together.  Couch-surfing isn’t allowed but it goes on anyway.  I had to be quiet when anyone telephoned, sneak in past the neighbours (everyone is suspicious and a potential curtain twitcher) and under no circumstances was I to answer the door.  After a while it begins to feel like you’re trapped – because you are.

“You’ve only been here a month – imagine what it’s like living here for 30 years.”

I don’t know I’m born.

The Azadi tower

The Azadi tower

And then there’s a rise in alcoholism and STDs!  Is it any wonder?!  Sex education is non-existent and the illegal booze made at home in a bath-tub isn’t so hot on the liver.  It’s like anything you tell someone not to do, they’re more likely to do it harder, faster, stronger.  I often cite a Star Wars reference so apt in such circumstances, when Princess Leia is addressing Governor Tarkin:

“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Never a truer word was spoken.

Banners for the Imam Hussain funeral

Banners for the Imam Hussein funeral

Not surprisingly a large percentage of the population are a bit pissed off with all this.  Many young people want out, with Germany being a preferable choice, and I’ve been asking every friend I’ve met and made if the situation could change.  But as always with such politics, even a whisper of discontent could potentially bring the jackboot.   The government (all governments) don’t want people to think for or educate themselves, so Iran is shrouded in mystery to the outside world and hidden behind a curtain of fear.  Just ask any one of my friends or family in the UK or States about my decision to come here and they would question my sanity.  “Don’t go there it’s dangerous.  It’s a dust bowl filled with terrorists.” NO!  I’M GOING!  Don’t believe what you hear or read in the press!

And while you’re here, you just get the sneaking suspicion that with the sheer beauty of the place, the incomparable warmth of the people, hospitality and unrivaled safety (seriously I’ve never been in a more secure country than Iran – I’d happily walk anywhere at night with everything I owned), if the government and religious leaders would just change down a gear for a moment and removed that giant stick up their ass, Iran would be one of the most amazing countries in the world.  But as it stands, never have I been to a place in more desperate need of a massive blow job.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I could write passage after passage about this place, but pictures speak a thousand words they say.  I hope you enjoy the shots below, but really the best thing you could do is to pick up your passport and come and see Iran for yourselves.  You’ll love it even if you drink beer and have sex, and you’ll love it if you don’t.  I learned a lot about their culture, I learned a lot about myself, and I’m a little step closer to finding Stu.

Thank you to everyone who made my experience in Iran so incredible and memorable – you know who you are.  I hope you all find what you’re looking for too.  Hopefully one day Iran gets the freedom and admiration it deserves, and until will meet again –  خداحافظی برادران و خواهران من  Goodbye my brothers and sisters.  Xxx

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Iranian party bus

Thursday 19 November

With time in Iran running out I’d still not managed the one thing I was looking forward to the most: riding a camel.  For one reason or another a trip to the desert had eluded me, and was looking increasingly unlikely, as every tour pointed to extortionately outlandish fees to be on the back of the beast.  I was beginning to despair, and unless I (st)humped up $200 (sorry), I wasn’t going to get any quadruped action.  That is until my friend Sarvenaz stepped in.

Umm.  That sounded wrong.  I didn’t mean that she has four feet and I got some action from her…I meant that she – oh never mind.  Anyway with her help I find myself on a bus leaving late for the wilderness, with the promise of sand dunes, salt lakes, all night camp fires and of course, those fly ridden, spitting, stinking ships of the desert.  Little did I know I was on a party bus tour.

Sarvenaz finds me sand

Sarvenaz finds me sand

So there was little old me thinking it was a mini-van filled with quiet travelers.  There’d be the shy couple from Switzerland.  Several Asians looking incredibly fashionable.  A token Aussie not giving a fuck.  Instead I realise what I’ve let myself in for as soon as the bus pulls out of the city.  Curtains are drawn, the gangway fills and truly horrible, ear bleeding “music” obliterates the bus sound system.  The bass speakers are trying to take off.  Iranians snatch any opportunity to party.

And it feels like club 18-30.  The music pauses for a moment as the tour leader demands we all stand and introduce ourselves, indicating if we’re single or not.  It’s fascinating to watch nobody giving a shit until girls are speaking.  I attempt my  best Farsi, being the only native English speaker along for the ride.  This is either going to be a heap of fun,or I’ve gone on holiday by mistake.

Either way the music is relentless, and so too the dance moves of a six year old kid someone has brought along for comedy value. He’s throwing out shapes like a Bee Gee, much to the delight of the increasingly amorous revelers in the gangway.  Ha-jibs are off, and there’s some serious bump n’ grind happening against any leg within touching distance.  Who says you need alcohol to have fun?!

Well, I do actually.  They demand I dance on several occasions, but devoid of the demon drink, I don’t have the courage to do it sober.  In fact I’m borderline offended anyone would ask me to try.  I’d just feel stupid.  But the party clientele nonetheless are whooping and wooing as if they’ve downed a bottle of champagne, it’s New Years Eve and they’re wearing glittery cowboy hats.  But the cat is out the bag a while later, when I find out they’ve been supping on moonshine at the back of the bus like the naughty school kids they are.

The Caravansary

The Caravansary

Around 3 am we pull into the Caravansary, decant from the bus and spill out into the desert.  A person of authority drags a bush from somewhere and sets it alight.  Before long there’s a blaze going, a girl is holding her nose to do shots, Iranian acapella karaoke busts out, and someone is passing round a joint.  I give up trying to get my arty star photography bollocks and take a hit.  A roman candle burst into life amid cheers.

Desert fireworks

Desert fireworks

Mans obsession with fire

Mans obsession with fire

The only downside to this whole scenario, is that it’s over before it’s begun.  In all too short a time the drink has run dry, the dawn tickles the horizon and the embers fade.  Much like the firework so instant and so desperate in its brief existence, so too the Iranian party.  No ten crates of Stella here.  No waiting at 10 am for the offy to open for more.  The vodka is in a pocket sized water bottle.  When it’s over it’s over.

Coming down

Coming down

And in the middle of this, Sarvenaz is accosted by an inebriated female, with a rather odd question.  Incorrectly assuming that we’re hooking up, the pissed up local is fascinated to know what a western man sounds like when having sex.  She mentions something about how I’ve already been making suggestive sex noises (not quite sure how that came about or quite what she’s referring to) and she is desperate to know what auditory delights I utter in the throes of passion.  Alas Sarvenaz has no knowledge of this, and alas that I didn’t get the opportunity to offer them all an option to find out.  A pitched tent some distance from the fire-side has been shaking for the past hour.  Someone planned ahead.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After breakfast I pass out on the bus, and with the exception of a few brief forays into the daylight, this is pretty much my day.  For some reason I’m utterly exhausted, and Sarvenaz takes great delight in taking advantage of this by snapping pictures of me sleeping.  We visit the salt lake and the sand hills in my hours of consciousnesses, but on the way back to the camels (and while I was asleep) the bus breaks down and we return far too late to tack a hump.  My camel experience will have to wait until Uzbekistan, and further down the silk road.

Iranian sleep bus

The journey home ends as the trip started, and I’ve no idea where these Iranians get their energy from.  I guess they need to take every chance they get to let their hair down.  Regardless I don’t care, as I’m in dreamland for the most part, only finally coming to as we pull back into Tehran.  I’m still perturbed about the lack of camel, but to be honest  it was just going to be led round a ring by the owner, like a donkey ride on a beach.  I want an odyssey into the sandy unknown, scimitar at my side and dark-eyed temptress Yasmina waiting for me at the oasis, to fan me with her lashes, and feed me grapes, wine, opium and Turkish delight.  100 Arabian nights,  Lawrence of Schotlandia – and an epic new facebook profile picture.  The only camel I’ve managed to get at is the one I’m smoking.

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Isfahan, funerals and FIFA 2012

Friday 06 November

So I’ve come full circle and I’m back in Isfahan.  Here I’ve returned to my very gracious, hospitable and generous host Amir, who has a passion for tuning cars and talking total shite when it comes to playing FIFA on the X-box.  With most of the sightseeing done, we basically spend hours locking horns and having a massive slagging match with it, so much so it’s a wonder it doesn’t come to blows.

And speaking of which, it reminded me of a time I was working as a residential child care worker.  To keep the bad behaviour in check, I would often accompany one of the boys to have a game of FIFA.  To be honest it was pretty much all I ever did.  And being the dominating force I was on that game (rarely was I bettered) and having a viciously unscrupulous competitive streak in me, I’d be damned if I was letting any of these pip-squeaks win.  Consequently this nearly got me the hiding of my life when I banged in a 5th goal against a particularly aggressive Irish teen, whose background was bare knuckle boxing.  Thankfully for me he decided to smash the games room up instead.

Anyway Amir and I have been going at it for days and hours on end, with obviously me being the overall victor.  Obviously.  Seriously as if there was any question.  But you might wonder why I’m mashing game-pad buttons stuck in an apartment given I’ve only a limited amount of time in this beautiful country.  Well the answer is simply this: normality.  It’s the first time I’ve felt any semblance of “the real world” in many a year.  I know this.  This is familiar.  This is safe.  This was my youth – or parts of it at least – shutting out the world and getting lost in the escapism of a video game.  For a brief moment, I’m 15 again, my clean washing is ironed and folded in the drawers, and my dinner is on the table.  Which I was always late for – because I was playing FIFA.

Oh and Yeah!  They play FIFA over here too!  They have X-boxes and everything!  Amir doesn’t go to work on a camel!  He drives a pimped up classic VW Golf.  That he practically built himself.  He calls me a “cheating fucking bastard” when I score a dodgy goal.  They’re just like us these Iranians…!

Free tea and somber reflection

Free tea and somber reflection

My arrival in Iran has coincided with a very serious Muslim festival.  Actually it’s more of a funeral, and it’s a special and specific date in their religious calendar.  For nearly two months, they honour and remember the life and death of one Imam Hussain, a revolutionary leader and Muslim martyr. They take his death very seriously in these parts (for Shia Muslims only) and cities are decorated accordingly with banners, flags and posters.  Kiosks and street stalls hand out free food and hot beverages, but it’s a somber affair, and the entire country appears to be in mourning.  Believers predominantly wear black, and towards the end of the event, Muslim men gather together to sing, chant, pound drums, pray and beat themselves with fists and whips – symbolising their devotion to and solidarity with Hussain.  I make a point to explore and investigate further, as people always fear what they don’t understand, and seeing a mass throng of black clad men and boys violently beat themselves is a sobering sight.  Meanwhile, as this takes precedence, everything else has a back seat, so I wouldn’t advise coming during this time if you’ve got urgent stuff to do.  I’m also sure someone will message me if I’ve got any of this wrong.

The Lotfollah Mosque

The Lotfollah Mosque

So in-spite of the religious fervor and escalating passions among the devout, the remaining sights in the beautiful city of Isfahan need to be witnessed.   The stunning Naqsh-e Jahan Square is a tourists wet dream, literally, with beautiful fountains the length of the enclosed maidan, and the famous Lotfollah Mosque with its incredible blue dome one of the many attractions.  The square teems with life too, from students drawing the architecture, elderly tour groups and solo wanderers, to families on a day out and horse-drawn carriages to whisk you round the striking square.  I should work for the tourist board.

Hard at work - trying not to giggle

Hard at work – trying not to giggle

Never seen dreads before - if only my kilt wasn't in Cambodia

Never seen dreads before – if only my kilt wasn’t in Cambodia

One photograph = two free pomegranates

One photograph = two free pomegranates

And above all, you feel comfortable.  You feel at home.  Safe.  Surrounded by friends you’ve not met yet.  Strolling in the warm sunshine (it’s November and it’s like July in Scotland)  I’m offered tea almost every step I take, fruit is thrust into my hands as I snap shots of vendors and street sellers, and I’m continuously asked to be included in selfies.  I am, like many other foreigners, something of a novelty.  A personal highlight comes when I’m approached by a man of advancing years who requests an impromptu street English lesson, and as class is in session, a number of other locals join in.  I feel like Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam.  Afterwards, thanking me, he offers me the pick of his enormous bag of fresh limes – something it seems they buy in their thousands.  And bollocks – because I’ve just remembered they’re still at the bottom of my bag.

Armageddon!  Panic buying fresh lime juice

Armageddon! Panic buying fresh lime juice

And so it’s more killing you with kindness.  Seriously they’re helpful to a fault as I find yet another pomegranate thrust into my palm and a stack of bread draped across my shoulder.  What’s theirs is yours and what’s yours is yours with no questions asked.  Whoever said this country was dangerous has clearly never set foot in it.

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Yazd, Chak Chak, and hitchhiking with Aussies

Sunday 01 November

Following the mixed bag of experiences in Shiraz, I turn my attentions towards Yazd, a desert town that is slap bang in the middle of the country.  So much so that you can’t actually see it on the google map because it’s covered by the ‘I’ of IRAN.  Rest assured it’s there though, and it’s another tourist magnet and part of the gringo triangle with Isfahan and Shiraz.  I was hoping for some camels.

Yazd at night

Yazd at night

I’ve been enjoying the bus rides around the country.  Not least because hitchhiking can be a serious chore, and there’s nothing better than throwing yourself on to a cheap but comfortable bus, knowing exactly when and where you’re going to arrive.  And not only do you get a very comfy seat that reclines almost horizontally, loads of leg room and space to yourself, but they kindly provide you with a tuck box.  This usually consists of a load of biscuits in varying degrees of dryness (hell on earth if you’ve got wood-mouth), a horrible sugary drink with bits in it, and a portion of fruit if you’re lucky.  But if Allah is really smiling on you, you might get a fluffy cake.  And they’re fucking delicious.

OK, OK so I feel there’s a modicum of cheating going on.  It’s been weighing on my mind for some time, but technically I’m still obeying the rules, as I will continue my hitch towards India when I eventually leave Tehran.  All I’m doing now is saving time and a lot of hassle to see as much as I can on my limited visa.  The major downside to hitchhiking is time.  You can never really know where you’re going to end up and when.  Instant adventure in a cup if you’re free, total nightmare if you’ve got a schedule to adhere to.  Unfortunately in Iran it’s the latter.  This is my excuse anyway.  And there’s an anxious tension still there too.  I don’t care what you say – you can be a rookie or a hitching black-belt, but you’ll always feel a flutter of nerves before you set out, especially since leaving Europe behind, or being off the road for a while.  “What the hell am I doing?” often crosses my mind.  Sinking into a coach seat and closing your eyes takes that all away.

Traditional desert lodging and home for a night

Traditional desert lodging and home for a night

Ironically enough, just as I’m going through a jaded phase, it is in Yazd that I meet a fellow hitcher.  Sam is an Aussie (unfortunately – but they’re alright on their own) and we’re practically cut from the same cloth – right down to our previous occupation – both residential child care workers supporting badly behaved kids.  If he wasn’t a foot taller than me and hairier than Sasquatch it would be like looking into a mirror.

Like a boss.  Seconds after sunglass clips were robbed by the wind

Like a boss. Seconds after sunglass clips were robbed by the wind

And so at his suggestion I decide to join him on a hitch out of the city to a Zoroastrian religious site, and I rediscover my zest and zeal for a free ride.  So much so that even when my expensive and extremely hard to find clip-on sunglasses fly off my face while riding in the back of a pick-up, I hardly bat an eye in the hope that I still look like a hitchhiking literary badass.  Jack Kerouac is my bitch yo.

No traffic meant lots of this arty shite

No traffic meant lots of this arty shite

The day turns into a real gem.  Sam and I get on like a house on fire while hitching and hiking out into the middle of nowhere to the famous pilgrimage site of Chak-Chak.  With little or no traffic on the road, we’re trekking a fair bit, but it is here out of earshot and away from the prying eyes of the establishment that we can vent some serious spleen about religious authoritarianism.  The air turned blue I can tell you, but at the end of it there was a solidarity, and the bond of two men who at that moment would murder for a beer and a blow job.

Not with each other of course…with…y’know…a women…and stuff.  You know what I mean.

Chak Chak.  Get out and walk

Chak Chak. Get out and walk

Anyway I digress.  Chak-Chak is an ancient Zoroastrian pilgrimage site.  For those not in the know (formerly like myself) Zoroastrianism is a pre-Islam/Christian religion thought to be one of the oldest monotheistic in the world, still with around 2 million followers mostly located in Iran and India.  Yet another blatantly obvious reason why all of this crap is made up by man, is the simple fact that Christianity and Islam “borrowed” bits they took a fancy to from Zoroastrianism. One mans fictional deity cherry-picking from another mans fictional deity.   To me it absolutely beggars belief when you have a literal, physical paper trail like a car owners MOT log leading all the way back to when some nut first created this superstitious nonsense.  Each to their own I suppose.  I’ve been doing well not to get dragged into the debate with a blog post, but I feel that time is at an end.  So along with a rant about couch-surfing I’ve got a rant about religion coming up too.  I’m not doing myself any favours.

Burning for...a long, long time...

Burning for…a long, long time…

Tradition has it that pilgrims, at the first sight of the fire temple,(where the flame has been burning constantly for thousands of years apparently) must stop and continue their journey on foot.  This is no mean feat since you can see the thing from a good distance away, and with barely a sinner visiting at the same time as us, Sam and I make our own 7 Km pilgrimage back to the main road.  To be honest if I was approaching this place in a car I’d just keep my eyes closed until the front door.

Sam foolishly attempting to flag down motorists on the the highway.  If I saw a six foot long-haired Aussie running at me I wouldn't stop either

Sam foolishly attempting to flag down motorists on the the highway. If I saw a six foot long-haired Aussie running at me I wouldn’t stop either

One tour group (three tall European looking dudes and a short girl) clearly haven’t had any spirit of goodwill rub off on them at the holy shrine, as they speed past the two of us hobbling up the road in the same direction.  A lift to the main highway was the least they could do, but I can imagine one naysayer aboard complaining that we didn’t pay a bean.  And quite rightly so.  I’d feel ripped off too if I’d paid 200 bucks to do what we just did for nothing.  Blisters or no blisters.

Shhhhhhhhh!

Shhhhhhhhh!

Not content with my pilgrimage, I also paid a visit to the “towers of silence”, another one of these Zoro-thingy sights.  I heard about this location from my bible; Atlas Obscura.  Apparently it was a place they used to take the dead to be “decontaminated” before their final resting place.  According to their traditions, once someone dies, your body can be entered by demons, and the only way to be purified was to be left to the elements at the top of the towers.  Only when the bone was bleached and fleshed removed by carrion could they be buried.  Bodies were being discovered here until very recently, but the tradition is now illegal – for obvious reasons.  Stacking your dead loved one outside and waiting for their flesh to be eaten isn’t my idea of respect.  Still – this is my kinda tourism.

Into Mordor

Into Mordor

In the end I didn’t get to see much of Yazd itself, save for wandering around at night.  But it certainly looked like a charming little town, with an old-world street maze feel to it that people would love to get lost in.  Following yet another astounding kebab and rice dinner, (i have been crapping like a king – but unsure if the position at pooping or the sustenance is responsible) Sam and I go our separate ways on differing night buses.  I hope we meet again somewhere around the world to once again compare our hitch stories, tips, tricks, trials and tribulations, not because I enjoyed his company, but because the sneaky Aussie bastard owes me half the cab fare.

Tatooine

Tatooine

My own horseless coach whisks me back to Isfahan, for the return circuit to the capital.  In the next few days I find out if Iran is going to allow me to stay a little longer, and then I can begin the nightmare Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan visa process which takes so long, you might find my bones in the desert clinging to a 3.5 x 4.5 cm passport photograph.  At least I’ll have lost some weight.

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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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