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Week 15 – Iran’s Green Side


30.5-5.6, Saturday-Friday

The previous week (23.5-29.5) was quite uneventful.

Wednesday (3.6) was a holiday in Iran, so the weekend was one day longer. Of course I had to take advantage of it and decided, as a friend recommended me, to go to the mountains around Soobatan, Gilan Province, in the north-west of Iran, near Azerbaijan.
I wanted to cross the mountains westbound from the coast north of Talesh to Neor lake, make a stop in Soobatan and then pitch my tent somewhere outside. The whole trail would have been around 38 kilometres (26mi, high differences already regarded).
Neor-Soobatan-Coast
But I didn’t want to go alone so I asked around a bit. And I really got an answer. A friend of Frisco’s firends, whom I had met before, wanted to join me. She didn’t hike or camped before, but the eveluation profile and experiences of other hikers suggested it not to be difficult and the 38km were divided on two days. Though the whole project (hiking and camping without a tour guide) seemed extremely crazy for Iranian standards, I wasn’t sure at all, that she would join me.
When I bought the bus tickets Tuesday (2.6) afternoon for the same evening, I had to notice that we would need to hike eastbound, since only tickets to Ardebil but not to Astara were available.
The bus should have left the terminal at 10pm and at 9.15pm I really met with A. The bus left with one hour delay and of course I couldn’t really sleep on it.
I told the man who stored my backpack that we wanted to get off at Budalalu and he agreed with a nod. I wasn’t sure that he understood especially since the guy who checked the tickets said it won’t be possible.
Anyway on Wednesday (3.6) morning at 7am the bus stopped and we go out. Now we just needed to get to the lake to start our tour. A. talked to a hiking group and luckily on their bus were exactly two free seats lefts.
At 9am we started from the lake but only two hours later A. was exhausted and wanted to take a car. It was possible since the there are (bad) roads to the village, to bring lazy tourists and food. I didn’t want to go by car so I gave A. some stuff for my backpack being a bit lighter. I estimated to arrive 3 or 4 hours later in Soobatan.
I arrived shortly after 2pm, but found A. 2 hours later. Then we discussed, if we should agree to the hospitality of some inhabitants or to start hiking and reduce the distance for the next day and sleep in the tent.
I could convince A. of the last, but it was already quite late that’s why a thunderstorm was about to hit us and shortly before it started we crashed into a big family and they didn’t let us continue. Of course I didn’t wanted A. to be afraid, so we went back to Soobatan with them.
After the thunderstorm was over, we drove around a bit and later we ate dinner. But I didn’t eat much, so the family saw it as an insult. Thus I couldn’t be 100% appreciate their help. A. and I then went sleeping on the terrace, since we needed to get up very early. I was surprised that the night was not cold at all as I was afraid of.
At 5am we got up and packed our stuff. The trail we took towards the coast couldn’t be done by car. So we regularly met shepherds or nomads, wrangling their animals along.
The distance was only 15km (10mi), but it became a challenge. Right at the beginning I took A.’s backpack and soon her inexperience was shown, because we could only go very slow. We needed nearly 10 hours till we reached the street to Tehran. I never hiked that long with such amount of luggage and my shoulder started to make problems.
The nature on the other hand was stunning beautiful and it rightly called “Iranian Alps”. The landscape reminded of of the one in middle and northern Europe as well as the Balkans.
As we reached the street, we took advantage of the fact, that the buses just stop at the roadside. That was shortly after 3pm and the driver told us it would have been 5.5h or 6h to Tehran. Unfortunately we didn’t arrive before until 11pm…

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Week 6 – Part 1/1 – See you soon, Tehran


Day 40, 1.3, Sunday

I don’t know, what I did the days before.
On Sunday I met with Roman and a friend of his at the university of Tehran and later we went eating (you HAVE TO read the menu, they served specialties like non-alcoholic bears) and visited an interesting photography exhibition.

Day 41, 2.3, Monday

There is a bus from the international Airport of Tehran into the city, but only few people know of it and information are hard to get. I wanted to change it, but failed.
The bus should commute between the international airport and the bus terminal at Azadi square or the local airport. But at the terminal no-one knew of the bus.
Then I met with Zhihui at Azadi Tower and we went up. The view of Tehran from above is really nice. After falafel and hiding from stupid teenagers we went to the local airport. But there the existance of this mysterious bus was denied as well, although when I arrived in January I saw this bus leaving from IKIA.

Day 42, 3.3, Tuesday

I met again with Roman and his friend Maryam. After class we had a picknick near Tajrish and went to different book stores. Then we had a coffee and on the way we saw a perverse situation: A woman running for a bus having one shopping bag in each hand. While running her, scarf slipped and her hair was uncovered. Instead of just running into the bus and put it on again inside, she stopped and asked Maryam to put it on.
As we enjoyed the coffee on the kerb a security guard asked us to go somewhere else.

Day 43, 4.3, Wednesday

It was the last day of school and we had an exam, but it was quite easy.
In the evening I went to the bus station and went to Esfahan.

Days 44-45, 5.3-6.3, Thursday, Friday

When I arrived to Esfahan, I walked to the Hostel, where I stayed four years ago. Nothing seemed to have changed: I think I had the same bed, which was worn, in the same room. Only the attitude of the guests ws different. 4 years ago, no-one would sit in the evening on their beds and use their Macbooks.
I had to rest for two hours since the bus ride was only 6 hours and sleeping on the bus is often impossible for me to sleep.
With new energy I met with Shirin, a girl that I met 4 years ago, and two German tourists, Uli and Paul, and we walked a bit through Esfahan. It was wonderful having escaped from Tehran. In the evening I went to 33rd-bridge (si-o-sel pol) to take photos and to relax a bit.
For the next day we planned to have picknick in the mountains, but it was cancelled since a friend of Shirin, I. was caught by hijab police (dress police). She had worn a too short coat meaning, although wearing jeans, it only nearly covered hear knees.
Shirin had to give her ID and I. had to fill a form stating that she’ll never do such carelessness again. We took the cabin on top and ate breakfast, playing billard and table football.
While Paul and Shirin took the cabin back down, we – our group had been extended by two persons – walked down and took a taxi to Imam square again. Together with Shirin, Uli and Paul went to the remaining sights while I. and I waited on the square answering surveys of young students, who giggled when I ticked off being single – welcome to everydaylife in Iran; at least to the nice part of it. Then two men approached us, asking where we were from. We answered that we were a married couple from Montenegro. The men never heard of it and fortunately went away without further questions.
In the evening, I went back to Tehran again.

Day 46, 7.3, Saturday

I hadn’t had much time to get sleep again, since I had an appointment at 11. Zhihui and I met the girl (L.) at the local airport and some days later she asked Zhihui for my number.
It was a bit odd. We met at Enghelab in the center and about 1.5h from Velenjak. We went to some bookshops to buy some for her French classes, to a café and she invited me to spend Iranian New Year (norooz) with her and her family in her hometown since she would be bored. Then we went to a park, ate sweets and went through the whole town to Tajrish bazaar to buy some stuff for my parents. This appointment however lasted 8 hours. Before we said good-bye at the metro station, I told her it was strange for me, but in for myself only on cordial terms. Thereupon she reacted a bit upset.
Since in Iran officially unmarried relations are non-existent, going out together and flirting goes more far than in Europe.

Day 47, 8.3, Sunday

It was mine last day in Iran for one month. I packed my stuff and said good-bye to Roman and Arne and went to the airport at 9pm. At 5am I left but before at 2.30am, L. called again…

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Week 3 – Tochal – Part 1/4


Day 16, 5.2, Thursday

Roman and I got up at five in the morning to go hiking again. This time we decided to do a “real” tour. We were about to conquer Tochal (3962m/13000 ft). Of course we could have used the cabin to the top – or close to the top, but where would have been the challenge and fun then?
At six we started from the dorm in Velenjak (~1700m/5555ft) and began the actual tour from the first cabin station (1904m/6250ft) at 6.30. That’s why we could witness the sunset over Tehran. Fortunately a strong wind was blowing over the town, so we had a clear view for the first time since our arrival in Tehran.
Even at that early hour surprisingly many people were around. They were mostly over 40 years old and some even came back from their tour.
Three hours later we arrived at the third cabin station, which seems to be the destination of most hikers. It lays at2500m (8200ft) altitude and was used by us to take a breakfast break.
The hiking community in Iran is sworn in, so we were greeted friendly and offered tea, scrambled eggs and soup. As they heard our food consists of water, bread, apples and bananas their looks showed disbelief and pityness.
When I gave our two friendly meal donators some Haribo saying it’s pork-free, they smiled mischievous telling me they are of course not moslems!
Before we rushed to the summit, we put on an additional layer of clothes. Soon I wore three trousers, one T-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, a windproof jacket with hat and gumshield plus a scarf and two pairs of gloves. So we were ready. At the summit it was -13°C (8°F) and at the 3rd station already -4°C (25°F).
We assaulted upward, overtaking everyone, defying snow drifts and strong winds. Sometimes we had to open the jackets and put off the gloves since the sun and our motion.
It was only up, up and up. Always up along steep slopes and on narrowest ridges – ok maybe not that dangerous, but it wasn’t easy either.
Fortunately the thin air didn’t affect me much and after 6.5h we reached the last station of the cabin (3700m/12140ft) at 12.30. There is also the Tochal ski resort, but the slopes aren’t very steep.
The last part (1.7km) to the summit was the last challenge. Who would have thought so, it went up again and I started to feel the altitude. It was exhausting and I only did small steps and Roman had some problems as well.
But then we did it! After seven hours we were at 13000ft (nearly 4000m). It was unbelievably great. And the view was so clear. We could see Damavand (5604m/18385ft), the highest mountain in the whole Middle East. It will be climbed as well. After some pictures we went into a small metal igloo to limber up and eat. All the other people with their clothes let us look like bloody amateurs, but as everyone know Austrians and Germans are tough guys.
However we were invited for tea again and many photos were taken. After we changed our socks for dry ones, we started descending. Due to the snow and mud created by the sun it wasn’t easier as the ascent. We weren’t faster and didn’t make any break. For the last part Roman took the cabin, but I just couldn’t. I had to finish it the old-fashioned way. After 13 hours, approx. 32km walking distance and at least 5200m (17000ft) of difference of altitude I arrived at 7pm at the dorm.
It has been the longest hiking tour, I have ever made in one day. It was great but we were unfortunate that we couldn’t celebrate with a cold beer. Though our lungs were able to be cleaned after two weeks breathing polluted air and the silence was very nice as well. Of course I got a sunburn.
Before going totally exhausted to bed, we watched Tatort.