Inroads in Iran
From the moment we arrived at the Iran border crossing it was quickly emphasised how far from Europe we had now ventured. A manic border crossing of chaos and confusion; our first day in Iran was hardwearing and a steep learning curve to survival in Iran.
Firstly, as expected, our border crossing wasn’t a straightforward procedure. An official personally helped us through the process, then asked for a huge sum of money. We haggled, but confused and expecting to pay a fuel levy, shelled out more than what we should have. 4 hours enduring the formalities, before being liberated into a new world.
Some obvious difficulties with the Iranian road signs
On the road, the urge to stop for lunch took us to a dusty little collection of repair shops. A set of tables and chairs out the front of one store indicated there might be food on offer here. We pulled up and met a thick set, moustached Iranian, mimed international code for ‘eating’, and were instructed to sit down. Five minutes later we were each brought trays of the generic dish served here: a chunky stew in a steel jug. This was first decanted into a bowl, which we initially slurped up with Iranian bread, and the solids made up the second course. Pouring these onto a plate we were able to inspect the contents: a few diced pieces of red meat, potatoes, chickpeas, tomatoes and a few peculiar looking lumpy white pieces. Hmm….I know this material from video games and zombie movies back in my youth…brains if I’m not mistaken! After a few nibbles I can easily conclude that this is not a flavour or texture that will be missed much! Later we learn that our initiation into Persian cuisine was a very specialist dish called ‘Dizi’. Served correctly, the metal crushers (which we thought were decorative!) are meant to pulverise the brain and other interesting solids into a thick paste for your bread.
Our first interaction with a local policeman was an outlandish request for 100USD (supposedly speeding). This was diffused by a complete communication breakdown between Farsi and English. This corrupt official soon gave up trying to extract the money with only three words of English. Our second police stop gave us the announcement ‘In Iran – don’t trust anyone’.
Escorted by locals along a steep mountain pass amongst the Castles of Assassins
But initial misconceptions about the Iranians were quickly dispelled. We were nearly constantly bombarded with ‘welcome to Iran!’ by locals fascinated by seeing western tourists. This meant a lot of rigorous handshakes with strangers, and even a few ‘I love you’s’. Iranians are also very keen to know what part of the world you are from. With the British plates on our van we might as well be transporting the Queen of England, for the attention we get on the road is outrageous.
Attracting attention on the roads of Iran – “welcome to Iran”
High-speed conversations of the type mentioned earlier are common out the van windows. Strangers insist on buying us food. Others urge us to stay with them at their homes. All this hospitality at times leaves people of western culture gobsmacked. But we are at least fortunate to offer a few small token gifts from our part of the world in return: some European sweets, Yorkshire tea, a rugby ball…all which seem to be well received.
Iranian picnic with new friends
This ingrained kindness and generosity towards strangers is part of the Iranian culture – which they call Iranian ‘ta’arof’. Being taken in by locals is the best way learn and experience an interesting culture, an ancient history, delicious food (maybe not Dizi), and stunning landscapes. Without doubt Iranian people are the friendliest we have ever encountered. It is very much a shame to have to move on from this place. We cross into Turkmenistan tomorrow.
Rice paddies in the lush Alamut Valley
Inside the beautiful Masjed-e Imam mosque in Esfahan
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