04 December 2016

Impressions and Images of Iran: Hitting the Ground Running

I arrived in Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport a little after 5 in the morning: my flight was a red-eye flight from London, which was about 5 hours long, but truth be told, flights like these are the ones I hate the most, as the time tricks you into thinking that you'll be traveling in your sleep, yet in reality, after the drinks, the meal service, and the duty free service, all that remains are about 2-3 hours of relative silence and darkness where you can finally try to fall asleep. Needless to say, I was sleep-deprived when I landed. It was in this condition when I hit the ground running in Tehran.

My first line of business was to get some Iranian rials. I brought cash with me, as credit cards from foreign banks are useless in Iran, given that their banking system does not talk with the rest of the world due to the sanctions. There were banks in the airport, yet it turned out that I had to wait about an hour or so, simply because most of the international flights arrive during the early morning, and so the banks have to wait for a few hours or so to dispense money to catch up with the demand. In any case, after wandering on both the Departure and Arrival levels of the airport, I finally found a money exchange that would be willing to change me some money. I changed 100 EUR, giving me back approximately 4,000,000 IRR (when I was there, the exchange rate hovered around 1 EUR = 40,000 IRR). And surely enough, after exchanging 100 EUR, the counter closed again, as they need to wait a few more minutes before they can dispense more rials, forcing the people behind me to wait.

It was already half past 7 AM when I finally was armed with rials (I'm a millionaire now!), and was able to get out of the airport. My first destination was Kashan, a small city at the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir desert. So I went to the taxi counter and got myself a taxi that would take me to the South Bus Terminal in Tehran.

At this point, it was still sinking in, the thought that I actually was in Iran. My first taxi driver was funny, and even though he didn't speak English, he was hospitable, insisting that I use his taxi's armrest, and he even was arranging the sun visor accordingly, so that I don't get the sun's glare. The kindness of Iranians are unnerving, which I would learn later. At this point, I just have no idea yet, and I was slowly easing into it.

When I reached the bus station, I found myself in the middle of a circular building, with ticket counters on all edges. I needed to buy a ticket for Kashan, yet of course, everything was written in Farsi. I would eventually learn a few basic Farsi letters allowing me to decipher what is written, but at this point, it was too early, and therefore I was illiterate. I approached a random counter, and when they understood I needed a ticket for Kashan, told me using gestures that I should go to the opposite side of the circular building, as those are the counters I would need.

When I found the correct counter, I bought a ticket, and even though I understood nothing of what they said, through gestures they made me understand that I should just take a seat, wait, and when the time comes to board the bus they will call me. It is amazing how much communication one can do with gestures. And it also made me realize how much effort the Iranians are putting into, just to take care of their visitors, who for all intents and purposes, are handicapped. These are definitely the most patient people I have encountered. In other cultures, I probably would have been left alone and not helped as much as the Iranians have done so.

Anyway, boarding commenced, and I boarded my bus. I had to move once to balance the seating arrangement, as men and women who don't know each other typically don't sit together. So I changed my seat so that I would be sitting next to another male.

The bus ride to Kashan from Tehran was three hours. I was sleepy during the ride, but I managed to watch a movie which was playing in the bus. The movie was I am not Salvador, and while the languages used were Farsi and Portuguese, for some reason, I found myself understanding the movie, even laughing at parts of it.

So for the next three hours, I was alternating between a semi-sleepy semi-consciousness, laughing at a Portuguese-Farsi comedy, and coming to the realization that I was actually during that point in time journeying through the Iranian desert. I suppose the reality that I actually have successfully visited a country belonging to George Bush's "Axis of Evil" was just sinking in. And yet I have to say that my experience was anything but that.

After three hours, I reached Kashan, and again, the Iranians took care of me. This time, it was the bus conductor, who asked me whether I would need a taxi. When we stopped, he pointed me where to get a cab, and effectively protected me from the random guys waiting preying on disembarking passengers. So I got a cab, and told the person the name of my guesthouse, and I was on my way.

I promise, there will be pictures next time. Stay tuned.


  1. I'm in the "I want pictures!" team ;-)

    Funny how "short" the flight was. I never realized Iran was so close to Western Europe, geographically speaking.

    1. Zhu,

      I suppose the cultural differences make an impression that it is rather far, but it is definitely rather close, closer than say taking a trans-Atlantic flight from Europe to North America! After all, the next country is Turkey, which already straddles the two continents.