Last Weeks 33-34 – Baluchestan & Good bye, Tehran

Weeks 33-34, 21.11 – 7.12

My last weeks in Iran were about to start. In the one when I had to write the final exam, I went directly to the airport after the exam. I wanted to fly to Zahedan, in Sistan va Baluchestan. I planned to travel around for nine or ten days and visit a friend on Qeshm Island in the end (Route).
So on Wednesday (25th Nov) my IranAir plane took off with only 30 min delay from the city airport Mehrabad to the regional capital of super dangerous Sistan-Baluchestan. What most westerners think of Iran, Iranians think of Sistan-Baluchestan. The first step, flying to Zahedan with as unsafe regarded IranAir of which an airplane crashed over Tehran in summer, was mastered without problems.Right to the photos

“U.S. citizens […] should exercise caution […] especially in the southeastern region where Westerners have been victims of criminal gangs often involved in the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Terrorist explosions have killed a number of people in Iran in past years. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to areas within 100 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan, within 10 kilometers of the border with Iraq, and generally anywhere east of the line from Bam and Bandar Abbas toward the Pakistan border. [US State Department]
Border areas are particularly sensitive. The FCO advise against all travel to: areas within 100km of the Iran/Afghanistan border; […] the province of Sistan-Baluchistan; and the area to the east of Bam and Jask, including Bam. This area is notorious for banditry and is the main route for drug-traffickers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The towns of Zahedan, Zabol and Mirjaveh are particularly insecure.
Some Iranian officials and media reports have falsely alleged a UK connection to separatist groups in Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchestan.” [British FCO]

Like in other cases, I can hardly agree with the description of the “ministries” of Foreign Affairs, but just terrify people. Later more to how cool this region actually is.
When I arrived in Zahedan at late afternoon, I met with A. and we went to the bazaar because I wanted to have the traditional Baluch clothes. The first merchant offered me the typical trousers and the shirt for 0,79Mio Rial (20$), a second one wanted said he’d charge me 470’000 Rial (15$) for a tailored combination. I was able to pick it up the next day.
Next day, I got it, but didn’t wear it yet. I didn’t walk through town a lot, but I did and was noticed by police. But they didn’t care. In the evening I met with friends of L., at whose place I slept. We went a bit outside of town to a place that is super crowded in summer and beautiful. But since it was quite cold, we rather went into on of the heated tents with some tea.
The next morning A. and a friend of hers invited me for a little hiking tour south of Zahedan. When we came back, we ate breakfast and then I hitchhiked to Saravan, which is about 430km south-east.
In Sistan-Baluchestan there are no gas pipes like in Tehran or in most other regions in Iran. People have to buy gas in tanks. In general the government in Tehran does ignore this province. One reason is that Baluchi people are Sunnis and on the other hand people are organized in tribes. That’s why officials from Tehran only have a bit influence. Former president Ahmadinejad identified that problem and now the Tehran officials talk to the tribe leaders and they to their tribe.
The unemployment rate is huge in Baluchestan. Most of the people smuggle Diesel to Pakistan for a living. They buy pick-ups to get a Diesel contingent, put it in tanks which they put on the loading space and Pakistan, here they come. The second part from Zahedan to Saravan I was sitting in a car that smelled like Diesel and on the front passenger seat was a full 50L tank. I was packed and very happy that my legs didn’t die off.
Of course there were some police checkpoints on the road. I mean “some” means on every main road at the entrance and exit of a big town. But they just didn’t care that a foreigner was sitting next to the driver. And when they wanted to see my passport, I just showed them a copy – and never had problems.
In Saravan I couchsurfed at cool people again, but roamed around alone. But honestly there was not much to see. Though in the whole five hours that I spent outside only school children approached me curiously. When it got dark, at around 6.30pm, I went out again for half an hour, but there was even less going on.
Continue reading

To the photos of part 2
Next day, it was Sunday (29th Nov), I wanted to get to Pasabandar, which was 460km from Saravan and with ~1900km the most distant town from Tehran. I wore my Baluch clothes, but hitchhiking was difficult that day. But difficulties just lead to new experiences so I hitched a motor bike for the first time – until a police checkpoint. But the police men there were relaxed – I didn’t even need to show my passport or a copy. We chatted a little bit, I told them that I don’t like to go by bus, because I want to practise my Persian while talking to the drivers and then they stopped a car for me. It took me half of the way, to Sarbaz.
There I wanted to continue near Pasabandar by bus, but it didn’t come for a long time. That’s why I started waling. Then it arrived, but didn’t stop for me. It got later and later and I looked forward to spending the night in my tent and was already searching for a quiet and abandoned place, when a Baluch guy stopped persuaded me to come to his village and to sleep at his house. The man’s name was Jaseme, was 27yo and had a son.
The stars were very bright, the toilet on the yard and literally the whole village came for dinner to Jaseme’s house. We ate with our bare hands, and never saw the wife who most certainly cooked that delicious food. It was a interesting and curious gathering in that conservative community. It was very hard not to forget to only use the “clean” right hand for eating.
One guy was employee at the small medical centre in the next village. Although Sistan-Baluchestan is neglected in many things by the central government, medical supply is important and guaranteed. For example the number of Malaria infections was reduced to 5 per year, where as on the Pakistani side of Baluchestan it’s way higher and a serious problem.
The next morning after breakfast I was taken to the main road again, but the stopped bus didn’t want to take me for unknown reasons. To make things short, the next 200km I was take by taxi for cheap 100’000 Rial (3$). Then I hitchhiked to Pasabandar, which is only 5 minutes by car from the Pakistani border. I arrived during sundown, took some photos, walked around and then got lucky to catch the same drivers who took me to Pasabandar and were now heading to Chabahar. At its bus terminal I wanted to take the night bus to Bandar Abbas, but again I had bad luck. I was told that night was no bus, I should come back the next morning. That’s why I talked to a truck driver who was standing outside, but he said, no truck would go to Bandar Abbas at night. I accepted the offer to sleep in his truck’s trailer.
On Tuesday (1.11) I could finally start going to Bandar. But I was kind of forced to hitchhike again, because I was told again, that there were suddenly no buses. However since between Chabahar and Bandar Abbas there’s basically only one road and no big towns, I could be sure that there will be trucks going directly all the 700km. And after some waiting, it happened. The two drivers were Kurds and fortunately only the old one drove (for 10 hours straight), because other wise I would have missed the last ferry onto Qeshm for sure.
On the island I visited Annelie, a friend that I met in Dehkhoda. She has a very good restaurant with her Iranian husband called Shabhaye Talai – Golden Nights and it was a pleasure to see her again.
On Thursday (3.12) when I went back to Tehran by train I wore my comfortable Baluch clothes again. The farewell photo shooting with Annelie made the watching Iranians totally confused, because they are not used to people with red hair, wearing clothes, that are also worn by Afghans. At the train station I had to rise my voice a bit, because a police officer that checked my bags and me, touched me where no man is allowed to.

Back in Tehran, I was surprise by all the police with machine guns. ISIS/IS/Daesh had threatened Iran while I was travelling so was needed to pretend subjective security with these people at every metro station. And of course I was checked nearly every time. But now I know at least how the Muslims in Europe have to feel after an attack.
Else I met with friend, went shopping, enjoy the snow and went back to Berlin a little sad.
Thank you very much!

Week 21-22 – No problem? – Yes problem!

Weeks 21-22, 5.9 – 18.9

During the week not much happened again. I wanted to use the weekend to finally sent out some applications. On Wednesday (9.9) I went to the birthday celebration of a friend.
At 10.30pm I took the bus home. It was extremely crowed and that is special even for Tehran. Though I got inside. Before I received a message but I would answer it after having got off the bus. So I got off and wanted to answer the message, but there was no phone any more. And my wallet was nearly out of my pocket, so someone seemed to be greedy. So I ran after the bus, but of course didn’t catch it. Police officers, that I passed and told my problem didn’t do anything but smiling stupidly and asking for my nationality. Of course it was naive to think they would e.g. follow the bus, stop it and check everyone’s phone (only vibration was on) only because a foreigner said his mobile would have been stolen – possible in no country. So I went to the last station to check the buses because maybe my phone just fell out of my pocket. But it wasn’t in any bus. The police there didn’t help me much, I had to ask some traffic police officers to help me. They told me I had to go to the police district where my phone had been stolen – so back to Enghelab square. It was already 11.30pm. In the little police, you can call it booth, was one young soldier who called his boss. He came after another like 45 minutes, gave me a piece of paper stating my story and told me to go to the main police building of the district the next day. I was happy, that the door of my dorm was open otherwise I would have been really upset.
So the next day (Thursday) I went there, had to sign another paper and should come back with the bill of the mobile phone some day. I was happy being able to speak Farsi, since nobody was able to speak good English…
The rest of the day I spent in Zari’s apartment and when I returned in the evening I bought a new phone. I had enough SIM cards left and saved the contacts before my summer holidays, so basically I really only lost money and time. For around 62$ I got a used HTC Desire 310 with 16GB memory card – which was not a bad deal in my opinion.
On Friday (11.9) I configured the phone again, meet with Zhihui and went with my room-mates and some others to a café in the evening.
The pursuit of the bus combined with heavy breathing caused some breathing problems the following week.

On Saturday I bought new internet and calling credit. Unfortunately I changed a phone configuration that failed so my phone was like in a coma. Everything really went great! So Sunday I went to Zari until dawn again and at 2.30am I had a working phone again.
It was good so on Tuesday evening (15.9) I could meet for an art inauguration in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
Finally the following weekend (17. and 18.9) was a quiet one. Thursday I went to friends of a a friend and on Friday I learnt for the midterm exam.

In the end I want to give some information about the public transportation in Tehran at night. There are five metro lines and six fast bus lines (BRT – Bus Rapid Transport). Whereas the metro is only running from about 5.30am to 10.30pm the BRT thanks God 24/7. The BRT covers a great area in Tehran so one can easily move without taking a taxi. Another awesome advantage is how regular the buses are going all night. I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes!

BRT network map (as of September 2015)
Metro network map

Week 13 – In the Desert

Directly to the photos

Day 90, 16.5, Saturday

After the weekend was used for my relaxation, I started excitedly my desert tour on Saturday morning (Route: ).
The idea was significantly influenced by Frisco who would fly back to Sardinia after this week of holidays. I wanted to meet with him in Garmeh, a little oasis village. My plan was to hitchhike on Saturday to Naein and to spend the night there.
From Tehran I did auto-stop till Qom and then Ali Reza and his son gave me a lift in their truck till Naein and invited me to participate at their lunch picnic.
I arrived in Naein before sunset, that’s why I decided trying to continue to Garmeh respectively Khoor. While waling through Naein I bought some bread and was taken to Anarak. Meanwhile it became dark, but as I was walking along the road a truck driver stopped and took me till Khoor, where I arrived at 11.30pm. First I walked for a while in direction to Garmeh under the breathtaking starry sky and eventually I got a ride with some students to Garmeh. They couldn’t believe or understand that I wanted to camp outside the village: Someone would come and kill me, camels would trample me to death or what would I do when a snake came? So they told me I had to sleep in a little praying room. After they went away of course I went out of the village and pitched my tent behind a little hill, hidden from the road.

Days 91-92, 17.5-18.5, Sunday-Monday

The next morning I met Frisco and we strolled through and around the village. We went to a water spring, that supplies the field around with water and maybe even Garmeh. In the spring were many Cleaner fishes, that soon were occupied with my feet.
For lunch I joined Frisco in his hostel although it was quite expensive, but ok. Then we went for a walk to another village in the vicinity. This village was kind of hard to find and not very beautiful. But in contrary the way to there and the landscape was amazing. During dusk we were back to Garmeh. While Frisco ate dinner, I built up my tent at the water spring and lit a bonfire. Initially we and some other guests of the hostel wanted to go to a café in, but it was closed. So we went to my place and sat around the fire talking until midnight. Two times shady people came near, but when I went sleeping they didn’t return any more – or at least I didn’t notice.
The next day started in a relaxed way. I got up late and at noon Frisco and I hitchhiked to Khoor. There we ate lunch and at 4pm I started alone towards Tabas. Again, the first vehicle, of course a truck, gave me a ride. This road is acutally the main connection between Esfahan and Mashhad that’s why there are always vehicles passing by – at every time of the day.
In Tabas I wanted to see the Shah Abbasi Dam. It was 20km from the place where I was dropped off and it started to get dark. Thus I found an old cistern a bit offside the town to be a nice place for the night.

Day 93, 19.5, Tuesday

I got up quite early and a teacher drove me to the starting point of the way to the dam. There I saw a German Volkswagen car, but it’s passengers were still asleep. To get to the dam, I had to walk for about 40 minutes along a little creek through some stunning canyons.
The water was (unfortunately) surprisingly warm and the creek not really deep. After 20 minutes I decided to get rid of my backpack – since it was Tuesday morning 8.30am, who should steal it. Later the water got deeper and I couldn’t walk around it, so I turned my trousers into shorts and hence violated the dress code of the Islamic Republic.
Then suddenly the dam appeared behind a 2 meter kind of stone wall and it was an impressive construction.
When I returned I obviously met the two Germans. They went to India and were on their way back again. They gave me a lift to Tabas, from where I wanted to go northbound and then westbound again, taking a the little road 36 along the desert and through a national park.
Unfortunately at the cross roads there was a police check point. It wouldn’t have been bad, if the few cars going in my direction had given me a ride. But maybe they were intimidated by the police presence, anyway the only thing they did was staring.
The check point was just a little area with a small building directly on the street, another in the middle of the area and a caravan. In the building on the street a young police officer and a soldier were sitting. After about one hour they whistled in my direction as I was a dog, so I waited until they came to me. They were very bored, I could see it and the police officer asked for my passport. I wanted to know why, but he just pointed his shirt with a sticker saying “POLICE”. I didn’t have any other chance than handing him my passport in, but from that time on I refused to speak Farsi, but only English.
Two and a half hours later I got it back. In the meantime he called his boss, another traffic police arrived and they randomly checked trucks confronting them with fake violations just to get bribe. The officer in charge was a disgusting dickhead, sorry but it’s the truth. In general the officers acted very arrogant and rude. At same time a Danish couple passed the crossroads and of course they were stopped and asked for their passport, too. After their passports were checked, I got mine back and could continue; but it was already very late. I needn’t pay any bribe by the way but wouldn’t have done it in any case.
I had to change my planned route and instead of the small road I had to take the highway further north. A trucked stopped by the police had to take me to the next town (Bardaskan). There the driver stopped for gas and I decided to spend the night next to the mosque of the resting area – which is allowed – and before sleeping read a bit.

Day 94, 20.5, Wednesday

I wanted to hithchike to Semnan, where I wanted to couchsurf. Initially I planed to arrive the day before, but obviously that was history. From Bardaskan I went to Sabzevar, where I was picked up by a truck driver who thought I was Turkish. At first he drove really fast, but later only 40 km/h. That’s why having a guilty conscience I told him I had to leave when I made his lunch break at 3pm. I didn’t want to arrive at the end of the day again, kind of wasting another day – of course this is hitchhiking and it happens, but I wanted at least to try to get there faster. And it was the right decision, since 2.5h later I arrived in Semnan. But 25km before I thought it would be later, since a rear wheel exploded. Fortunately the car had a spare tire, so we could continue after 15 minutes.
My couchsurfing hosts were a young Iranian couple, who was of course very nice. The husband, E., picked me up but didn’t speak English, so I spoke Farsi with him. His wife, A., spoke English and both attended some German classes. It was nice to speak English again after a few days.
Since the drivers only spoke Farsi, I didn’t have another option, but adapt. I hope it helped, because the topics were always the same.

Days 95-96, 21.5-22.5, Thursday-Friday

On Thursday E. and A. went to Tehran and took me with them. The rest of the weekend I relaxed and did nothing.

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…