"Iran? Isn't it dangerous?!"
This reaction we heard so many times before we started our trip that we almost believed it ourselves. But the only danger we faced in Iran was the tiredness from the attention of locals. Wherever we appeared with or without the bike people were at least looking at us. Most of the time they used to come to say 'hello', make a picture or ask always the same questions in their often poor English language. People are not used to tourists that's why we felt very special since the beginning, but not even a second felt any danger. People were so kind and helpful to us. Very often we got helped just on the street. If we got lost, right away somebody helped us by guiding to our destination.
It's the Iranian government that might be dangerous for Iranians by limiting their freedom. The Iranians cannot do legally many things that are a part of our daily routine. They are not allowed to listen to foreign music, watch Hollywood movies, enjoy a cold beer and have a party. Off course most of the things they still do because they want to enjoy their live as much as possible even though it might be risky and cause problems.
Having contact with foreign tourists or taking them home is also not allowed in Iran. One time we were stopped by the policemen when we walked with our new Couch Surfing friend Pooya in Esfahan close to Azadi square (so ironic, it means 'Freedom' in Persian!). They started interrogating us about how we met each other and if we stayed over at his place. Fortunately we knew how to behave in such a situation and the policemen were not so smart - they believed our nice story about camping in a park in Esfahan and that the GPS that was in Pooya's bag was just a camera. We all were saved! But at the same time few Iranian girls were less lucky - they were taken to the police station because of showing too much hair even if in our eyes they were totally covered by black chadras! In general, Iranian girls have the most difficult life. All their live they must hide their beauty under scarves. The face is the only part they can show, that's why the girls are using a lot of make up and we saw many of them with operated nose. Fortunately they don't need to hide their emotions - their surprised and smiling faces were the nicest reaction we got on the street.
Why we got married in Iran and other cultural differences
Everybody who we met in Iran was wondering if we are married - for Iranians it's hard to imagine that not married couple could travel like we are traveling. So in order to respect local traditions that are mainly based on religion and avoid extra questions we introduced ourselves as a married couple in Iran. And in some cases it made the situation easier.
The life of Iranians is influenced by religion, off course if they are religious, and we could witness that while our trip.
In the same village family we had another funny situation due to cultural differences. Since Turkey Milda cannot get used to the fact that locals are not using toilet paper and just flash with water. It was so hard for the family to understand why would Milda need toilet paper when there is water available in the toilet. Finally they went to the store to buy it, but most likely still didn't understand her totally and all the evening it was a funny topic for them.
However we really enjoyed traveling as a couple and think that it can have advantages, especially in a country where the role of man and woman are quite different. We could get attention and a lot of care from both - Iranian men and women.
Iran highlights by Johan&Milda
Relaxed Esfahan where we discovered the most beautiful mosques and the nicest atmosphere in the streets. Two days were not enough to enjoy the city and chat with locals on the street but it was enough to fall in love with the city.
Silent and majestic Persepolis that poses only one question - how the human being was capable to build something like this thousands of years ago. It was worthed driving 1000 km. extra from our main road to pose this question!
Getting lost in the city center of Yazd. It feels like its houses and high walls made from mud are hiding a secret and Milda didn't have time to discover it.
Or maybe its secret was an amazing show at public gym where the Iranians are showing to all the world how sportive they are!
Travel to the past in Maymand village which is inhabited for more than 3000 years. It looks like not much have changed since first people came there. A night in cave hotel let as feel like a real stone age man and woman.
Wild camping in Kalut desert surrounded by sand castles. We expected to get here a thousands stars hotel, but most likely it was not a season. We stayed in hundred stars hotel and enjoyed a bright full moon light all night long. Just one minute of tension - this time it was a sand fox checking our garbage bag.
Staying over at locals' place. It was the best example how the guests must be hosted and we will do our best to show it to our guests when we are back. One family said us goodbye by poring the water with flowers behind our bike - local tradition wishing us to come back soon. We made new friends in Iran!
Crossing Turkey-Iran border. Many travelers advice to cross the Southern border of Iran because of more relaxed officers who don't ask tips for their 'help' to cross the border. This border was not on the way for us so we experienced why the Northern border is not recommended - the officer asked us directly to pay 30 euros for his help walking around with our passports and Carnet de passage. If he saved our time, and most likely he did, then it was worth paying this money.
But we made another mistake - we didn't check the exchange rate before crossing the border. This allowed one Turkish guy to cheat on us with 60 euros by exchanging euros to rials. Money exchange on the border is always bad, but in Iran it's impossible to take cash (ATMs don't accept any American cards like Visa or Master) or exchange money in a bank. It's only possible to do that in money exchange office in bigger cities.
Driving in Iran. The roads are good in Iran because asphalt is cheap. The traffic is also ok, especially when Johan started using the horn in the way that locals are doing. By using the horn the drivers just inform that they are getting closer and you need to drive faster or let them pass you. Only one time we were quite close to an accident when the moped came from the side road and didn't see us coming.
The traffic police is very friendly and helpful to foreigners.
The benzine is very very cheap (0,40 euro per liter). Gas stations you can find every 100 km.
We also made use of local taxi which function is more like a minibus in Lithuania, because it's shared and the price is fixed per distance. Once we were alone in a taxi and needed to pay for empty places as well.
Staying over. It's possible to camp almost everywhere in Iran as the Iranians really like camping. We didn't camp much because the nights were getting colder. Cheap hotels are really cheap (180 000 to 250 000 rials which equals 10.5 - 15 euros), just not always tidy. Almost every time we stayed in a hotel we were not sure if the sheets were changed after last visitor. If we really had doubts about that then we used our sleeping bags. Not married Iranian couples are not allowed to sleep in one room in a hotel, but this rule doesn't apply for foreigners.
Costs. Everything is cheap in Iran. For example a small snack, ice cream or a drink on the street costs 5000 rials that equals 0.30 euros. We had dinner together from 40 000 to 130 000 rials which equals 2,3 - 7,6 euros. Often the prices are indicated or said with one 0 less.
Other information. Internet is very slow in Iran that's why we couldn't upload the pictures of Turkey. The sites like Facebook or all kind of blogs have a filter and only experienced guys from Internet cafees were able to help us.
When we traveled through Iran the weather during the day was perfect for sightseeing or driving, but it gets quite cold in the night. Sometimes we had a very strong wind which makes driving difficult.
After a policeman's remark said to Johan, his wife Milda covered not only her hair but as well her ass.
Friday is the only day-off in Iran. They use a different calendar and according to that it's not 2011, but 1390.
For us Iran was not a country to enjoy beautiful nature, maybe because of dry season, but nowhere else we saw so many old historical monuments and met such a kind and warm people.
If you ever plan to visit this country, don't forget to enjoy your last beer and get ready for a lot of attention!
KMs driven in total: 12 000
KMs driven during this period: 5450
Money spent during this period: 450.5 euros (from which 98 on benzine)!