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Good morning my dear planet.
Thank you for the colors, for the light.
I dream of distance and I climb high for it to get real.
Up, and up, and up.
This is my stairway to heaven.
Here, every breath is a step closer to death, so real, so honest.
let me sweat away that burden that I have on my shoulders since so long.
Up, and up, and even further up.
Then I drop.
My body to the ground.
When there is no ground to set foot any higher I open my chest, and I scream so loud that the wind draws back and hides in fear.
Afraid of my anger, of my love.
I can not get higher.
What is left? We were in Birjand, sleeping on the “tables” of a restaurant until they kicked us and the other homeless out. North we would go. Far north. Through some half deserts until the Elburz Mountains to get to the jungles in Mazanderan. We had been told of a place called Jangal-e Abr, Cloud Forest. We made it to Shahrood and slept there inside the yard of some abandoned buildings. We had figured that there is something that looks like a road through the mountains and we were certain we could theoretically hitch through.
To get to that road we hitched on the back of a car – yes, outside, sitting on the trunk – to the start of a road where guards were collecting a fee from the ones that want to drive into the mountains because it was some kind of natural reserve. Soon after that, we had walked for about 800 meters on the gravel road, a family that was split up into 2 cars stopped for us. We rearranged the seats and the luggage and up we went to the mountains. People had told us it would take 12 hours to walk through the mountains or something like that, we didn’t have a lot of information, but even google told us there was a roadish thing through so we were cool. And we were in a car that already took us half the way, to the top of the mountains. The only thing left was to head down.
As we left the car the people handed us a watermelon. Something we had to take with us, no matter what, they wouldn’t accept us not taking it. So I put it on my shoulders, between my backpack and my neck and it worked quite well. About an hour of walking steeply down on slippery mud and gravel roads we arrived in a mountain village. Everything reminded me of the Pyrenees, that’s what the climate, flora and fauna was like.
The road led us to Tehran. The north provinces are super crowded during summer because its pretty much the only part of Iran where you can stand the temperature. Local tourists all over the place. We hitched a bus and a soldier who showed us photography of dead DAESH fighters in Syria, together with him posing next to them. That was quite disturbing. Then we were in Tehran. Dropped near Nobonyad metro station. The metro was closed though and the only places where we could go were either parks or the Khayyam House.
The first person we approached in English was super friendly, let us use their phone and we called the person at the Khayyam House and yes, it was open and running, yes, it would be crowded, but yes, we are very welcome!
The Khayyam House is a cellar with one big living room, a small room with beds, a tiny kitchen and a toilet + shower room. The Khayyam House – at the moment “was” – is open for everybody, a place to rest, to sleep, to cook, to make music, to socialize, to get information and find friends. It is managed by random Iranians that stay there at the moment or live next to it and feel connected to the idea of a nomad base. We got a taxi there and were taken into the group of people who were already waiting in front of the door to get some snacks from the local street food shop.
Khayyam house was my base for the next 5 weeks. I made very good friends there, I managed to be part of the team behind it, at least informational. I added a lot of my wisdom about openly organized groups like that to the situations when there were troubles and helped refurbishing parts of it.
Since Stefan left the next day to see our friends in Zanjan I had a whole new environment with new people to get to know and explore. Inside of a whole new and incredibly huge city. I started to teach German to get some money, I was hanging around a lot with the managers of the Khayyam House in parks, especially in the evening. I used several ating platforms to get to know the females and their point of view about the situation in their country. I participated in several different and definitely illegal activities that I can not name here. I was in the mountains, I was in the desert, I was at smaller and bigger gatherings of locals and/or tourists. And all the time I poked people around me with questions about their life, their history, their way of growing up, their approach to ethical and philosophical dilemmas, to religion, to society and politics and economics. I challenged their traditions with emancipatory ideas, I fought against their dogmas with logic and tried to pry open their hearts to let me know how they feel without covering themselves in the superficial idea that rules over pretty much everything in Iran.
The south of the Tehran:
People that live in the south of Tehran usually fight a lot of problems but are not necessary more unhappy than the ones from the north. There is a lot of drug abuse, chaos and dirt in the center and south. I didn’t feel very well there, I was accompanied by a very strong and trustworthy person but still, when one of the groups of 4 males started to attack us because I took a picture of them my adrenalin levels went berserk and in the end I was happy to get out of the place fast. Especially since the old woman sitting on the road told us in Farsi (which was later translated to me by my friend): “Run, they have knives! They will stab you! Go fast!”.
The north of Tehran:
The north is very different from the south. It is the rich and middle class district, gradually stretching from the north part of the city (=millionaires) to the north part of the center (=middle class). It is the district where I stayed most of the time. The place where I know the metros, busses and line taxis, where I know some parks, food stores and friends. It is rather clean compared to the south, the architecture changes dramatically, the cars that you see become so super fancy that you could guess you are in Switzerland or Monaco. The shops become expensive, you see approaches to organic shops and cafe’s and you can usually walk the streets at any time of day and night without problems, even hitchhiking works here at night, inside of the city.
Some of my conclusions about Tehran:
Tehran – the city of cars, the moloch of traffic, the overgrown ant farm of people. But not even an hour with public transport and you stand in front of a 4000m altitude peak with countless paths, gorges, hideouts, climbing spots, waterfalls and what else the childish heart longs for. Why not stay there a little more?
“Tehran was designed to have a capacity of about 700,000 cars but currently more than 5 million cars are on the roads” (Wikipedia)
Also Tehran hosts about 4-5 million commuters that enter and exit the city every day, usually by car.
The population in the metropolitan area is around 15-20 million – on an area that is only about 3 times the size of Vienna, my hometown with a population of 2,6 million.
Unhandled Exception: BrainError caused by IntegerOverflowException. Aborting thinking process…
Tours around Tehran:
One day, to see the desert and the Perseids falling from the sky, 3 friends and I decided to go to Kashan where we were introduced in old Iranian culture (see pictures) and new Iranian culture (tourists pay 3x the price). One of the friends and I headed further into the desert to a caravanserai and hitched back the next night.
Another day I hitched over to Damawand, Iran’s highest mountain (5610) and climbed it despite some people telling me not to do it on a path where I was completely alone. I wrote a very detailed report about it in German on Hikr.org.
The 4000 (3910) meter high mountain directly next to the city is called Tochal. I teamed up with another guest from Khayyam House, Khalid from Oman, and walked op there. To the top it took us 10 hours, including some sleeping. The next day though I had planned to go to Kashan and the desert so in the morning, starting 5:30 I ran down, like literally, in 2,5 hours. It felt as if I had had a tank ride over my legs for nearly a week!
The rest of the pictures that I have from my time in Tehran:
When I left the city I had a lot of very sad goodbyes to say. The people around Khayyam house had befriended me and took my promise to come again. Other tourists that I had met wondered why I wouldn’t stay until they come again. The German student wanted to stay in my class. The women I befriended more closely were hoping to see me in Austria soon. All in all I have to say it felt as if I had lived there and was moving away. I was embedded into the context of the city so much that I felt as if I was living there for a year. Leaving that place cost me some negotiation with myself and the others. And the cultural shock that hit me when I came back to Europe showed me how used I had gotten to the conventions, rules and social structures of Iran.
When we arrived to Zanjan we were welcomed by a nice couple where we stayed for 5 days. It was the first time I got in touch with the difficulties of the young generation since our hosts would not hide from us but be really open and direct with their thoughts. There is not a lot to write down about those 5 days because most of the things happening were of emotional belonging. Also we watched Germany dive out of the European tournament.
The plan to head for Damawand straight after Kuh-e Sabalan was ditched as we found out that the weather wouldn’t be so great. So we hit the road south. One goal on that journey was to hitchhike from the north of Iran to the south, possibly crossing some kind of desert to see what that’s like. So we started early morning in Zanjan and went all the way straight to Shiraz. A very important city of the Iranian culture. We arrived at night and slept at the city entrance under the Quran Gate. Others were sleeping there and we figured its fine just to put down a mat or a jacket and rest. And it was fine.
The was nothing on our mind but getting south so after a short walk through the city and a snack we hitched our next ride to get further. South and south. It was getting more warm, and more dry. Especially at noon. Near the coastal city Bander Abbas the environment started to change and during the last 10 Kilometers before the city the formations of rock and sand were mindblowingly trippy. I really enjoyed just sitting in the car staring at them.
We arrived to the harbor early enough to catch a ferry to the island Qeshm. On the boat we talked to a woman who was all over inviting us home and stuff that made us super happy but when we exited the boat she just said “Good by”. Tarof.
The air. It was so heavy. It was around 7pm when we arrived and it still had 39 centigrade with a humidity level of 65 percent. Felt like Sauna. Not moving and still sweating. I had heard from an Austrian friend that there is a restaurant not far the harbor where a German-Iranian couple works and welcomes workaway-travellers so we figured we could head there to ask them for a place to sleep. As we walked through the nearly empty city with a freshly eaten chicken in our stomaches a stranger approached us and asked whether we were tourist or not. Since we were tourists he told us to stay put and wait for the tea. It would be for free. We should sit down. No Tarof this time so we had a chat and told him about our plan and of course he knew Ali, the guy from the restaurant. He called, we chatted and off we were in a Taxi to that place. Ali was friendly but also wanted to appoint us to some work the next morning so we decided to rather walk some meters on the shore and sleep next to the ocean.
The ocean was dark. The ocean was probably dirty. The ocean was salty. I had a bath but felt rather shitty when coming out since it didn’t dry off. To humid. The skin felt sticky. I still felt dirty. Not even sleeping was very pleasant because it was so hot so the next morning we decided to follow what literally everybody had told us: Don’t stay in the south in Summer. In our opinion it was a better idea to go to the desert. To the hottest desert in the world. In high summer. Definitely not the wisest idea but superbly adventurous.
That day we made it to Bam, the desert city with the biggest ever built human clay structure, the desert citadel Arg-e Bam. We slept in a guest house to find a proper shower and wifi, went to a pizza restaurant, I left my mobile there and luckily made it back in time before someone had stolen it. The next day we visited the citadel and headed further because there was a desert to cross. 300km on a single, nearly completely straight road. No villages, no cities, no infrastructure, no network, no water, no nothing. A desert by the book. And according to the NASA that did some satellite screening of infrared reflections in 2009 the hottest place on the earth with 70,1°C on the surface. A desert called Dasht-e Loot what translates to “Emptieness Desert”.
Before you enter the desert there is a village, Shahdad. That’s were we stood, 2km from the city into the desert. Curious, a little bit hesitant and already discussing a plan B. We had about 3,5l of water together. It was 12am, noon. 50°C in the shade. Not a single car on the road for at least an hour. Who the fuck would drive into that desert anyway? Everyone we had met on the road before here had told us: No! No traffic, don’t go there. No cars. No trucks. Nothing. Too hot. Too dangerous. Only desert.
You know, Stefan and I both have some serious hitchhiking experience. We hitched in the mountains, we hitched in the winter, we hitched in daytime and at night, we had tried a lot regarding hitchhiking. Not the desert. But since we had managed to hitch everywhere else we were certain that we could hitch that desert.
After two and a half hours in the shadow of a road sign the only company we had were 2 neon yellow, big and incredibly fast, creepy spiders. One of them made it into my backpack but some panicking forced it out pretty quickly with nobody harmed. Still I had a feeling rising that if we wouldn’t make it that day through the desert and had to camp there it would not be a very calm night. And we did definitely not have enough water. Each hour waiting we had to drink a liter of water. We didn’t even feel the sweating that dried us out but the hot breeze hitting us from the side like the blow of a sauna attendant was super dry and so warm that I was happy to wear long clothes.
3 cars had passed, only one had stopped and it was going only some kilometers into the desert to a camp. Not a good idea. We knew we had to make it through the desert in one go, one ride or not, that was the arrangement with Stefan. Luckily an about 50 years old truck stopped after nearly 3 hours going to Nehbandan. The city at the other side of the desert. The universe had not failed us this time.
The truck had no air conditioning though. The wind coming through the window at our max. speed of 75km/h was so hot that I had to hold my hand in front of my face as a heat shield. All the metal parts inside the truck had a minimum temperature of 50°C so no touching anything! The driver was rather calm, not talking a lot and distant. It was a silent ride through the heat. The structures of the desert creating images of lost cities in our mind. I drifted away. It were too many impressions, it was too hot, I was too thirsty. Luckily it became darker and darker. After 3 hours night had caught us but also some wind had come up and for the last hour of the 5hour ride we had a mild sandstorm slowing us down to 30 km/h. The desert experience was nearly complete, the only thing missing was – of course a 1 hour police check at the city where we stopped finally. Somehow someone had found something interesting in Stefan’s passport and when the driver didn’t let us out of the truck the place we desired but continued driving we got strange feelings. We didn’t know that his plan was fully legit, just to bring us to a gas station where the police was waiting to interview us. Since he didn’t really speak english we started to get afraid and thus angry for him continuing to drive into a direction we really didn’t want to go. We were about 100km from the Afghan border and I had the strange feeling that something wasn’t right.
At the former mentioned gas station he dropped us introducing us to his “friend”, a civil cop as he said. Sure thing. It is in the middle of the night, a truck driver dropped despite our strong protest at a gas station somewhere at the end of the city, you are waiting there in a black leather jacket and you are a cop. Demanding our passports. Ha, no-go, not with us. We told them that we would give our passports to ‘real’ police, the one with uniform, police cars, sirens and blue lights so they actually called them. He really was a police men but we didn’t trust him a thing so when the police arrived we were cooperative and handed them the passport, very suspicious and observing. They confused the issuing date of Stefan’s visa with the actual date of entrance to Iran and thought his visa was off. Took us one hour to resolve the situation, some explaining about hitchhiking, why and where we are going and a lesson from the cops that as tourists we have to REGISTER to go through the desert because several tourists had died there already and they don’t want guest to be ‘harmed’. Whatever you say, friend, we just wanted to get further. Some miles to go before we sleep. To Birjand.
Not many pictures since I have lost my phone on the way home.
In the summer of 2016 I was on a tour to the middle east. It all began when Stefan asked me if I wanted to pick him up on his way back to Europe. He was on a hitchhiking expedition around the world.
How would I say no? First thing I researched was mountains. Of course. Iran has nice mountains so I figured I could meet him there and have some nice mountaineering and go back home with him. So much for the plan. Getting a reference number (aka. invitation letter) was easily done through the nice people of Caravanistan who didn’t even ask me to pay directly since they have a hard time getting money into Iran but trusted me that I would send them the money (27€) when I arrive to Iran. Of course I did. I love trusting people!
After some convincing of the person in the Iranian embassy in Vienna I also managed to receive my visa in only 4 days (despite their website stating 24h express visa) and I paid 77€ for that. Another 20€ were spent on the Turkish e-Visa. 124€ in total, not the cheapest start of a journey that I have in my travel history but a very promising one!
I took the visa at the Iranian embassy on 24th, went to the highway at around 11am and started thumbing. Little bits and pieces of luck made me sail all the way down to the Iranian border in Bazargan in only 2 days and 19 hours. There was not a lot of sleep involved and I did basically not see anything of the countries I went through since I made the longest distances in the night – as always. I had planned to see them on the way back anyway. In the morning sun, 6am near the border I saw the mountain Arrarat and its glaciers glowing and shining and interpreted it as a good sign. Later I figured that a common theory under scientists is that Arrarat blew up (it’s a volcano) long time a go and with the explosion it lost an incredible amount of 3000 meters of altitude, it had been the second highest mountain in the world before.
On the Iranian border I exchanged some Euros to Rials/Toman – very bad rate, dont do it, go to official exchange offices – and called my friend Stefan who was waiting already in Urmia. I only had to hitchhike 2 hours south to meet him. Surprised by all the impressions, the “sudden” climate change and the strange landscapes I was not able to get anything from the people. I just figured they are super friendly. I had not a lot of waiting and my last driver even called our friend in Urmia so that they can pick me up. A lot of relaxing and good food waited for me there. One and a half days of rest and I was completely rejuvenated.
After doing some planning Stefan and I decided to climb the Kuh-e Sabalan, 3rd highest mountain of Iran, a volcano, 4816m of altitude, northwest in the Azerbaidjan province. We bought some warm socks (camel wool) since we expected to cross some snow fields and a fancy Pali (that scarf that the supreme leader and the soldiers in Palestine wear) to cover our head from the beaming sun up there. A little bit of hitching brought us on the same day to the foot of the mountain with only a short police check on the way and an awesome night-ride surprised us with a lift to the telecabin at 3300m altitude. Up there waiting 2 cops and another guy. We had no idea what our driver was searching up there but we already made it closer to the peak then expected. The next day we wanted to start ascending.
Talking to the cops was funny, we used a lot of google translate and I even painted them a picture about our plans of ascending and descending and acclimatizing. The moment they had opend the gate for us a rainstorm had started so we were sitting in their container drinking their tea. After a short excursion with the 4wd jeep to an even higher point at the end of the telecabin where we watched some bear trails and took pics of the milky way we scouted the area for a good place to sleep but since there were bears around the cops invited us to sleep in their container, an offer we took with only little hesitation.
The next morning we started early. We got a free ride up to the higher station of the telecabin and after we jumped the fence there to get further we were alone, with the mountains, the green grass. Alone with the sun, the great view and the motivation to get up that mountain. We had no map and there was no path on any maps that we found on our side of the mountains but we expected to get up there somehow. Anyway the first tour was just for acclimatizing and so we walked. And walked, and walked and walked. The first trails of huge paws in the snow fields next to our path explained that we were not really alone. Nature was around, for us that meant mostly: A bear is around! A little bit scary. The trails looked at least a day old so we were not too scared but when we made it up to about 4000 we saw rather fresh fecal matter. Definitely from the bear. So I was constantly on the lookout but everything was fine. I am not sure and never communicated about it with Stefan if he was worried too but the altitude was clearly slowing down our brain process a little bit. At 4200 we dumped our backpacks to climb a little hill and see whether we should continue scrambling up the rather unknown side of the mountain and to scout for paths that might lead through the snow fields (Stefan was wearing outdoor sandals so we couldn’t risk walking several hours through snow). Too bad that the mountain spirit was not with us.
After some minutes of changing plans we decided to cross the flank of the mountain to try from another direction where we might face less snow and less rock faces, but after more hours of walking and us becoming tired we decided to rather head down again and hitchhike around the mountains to try it from the north, the other side of the mountains. We kind of knew that there is a path up until the top since we saw that on the satellite images. The way down was hard, we were walking already for many hours and only at the station where we started we found a car to take us down the mountain. But we went to a nice restaurant and ate some good Disi (cooked bones, sheep meat, potatoes, tomatoes, and good sauce) with fresh bread and Adana kebab. We really ate a lot! Then we searched for a spot to camp and found a nice hill in the middle of Sarein where we had no dogs or other animals disturbing our fine sleep.
The next day we were soon on our way to Shabil, the city in the north, but on our way we made a mistake in trusting one of our drives with only asking ONCE “No money ok?” which he had replied with “Yes”. Actually it was a taxi, and the free ride was “Tarof”, the Iranian way to express respect to someone by offering everything cheap/free but not meaning it. To bad he didn’t accept that we really didn’t want to pay after we got out but after a very hard fight involving other Iranians and us capitulating we paid the Iranian prize (not the tourist fare) and he drove off in anger. We didn’t really give a lot of fucks and since Stefan had brought some food we snacked and headed further up the mountain, on the gravel road. Not too long after a shepherd stopped for us and we took seats on the roof of the car. He brought us half the way up the shelter. He also wanted money, seems like we hadn’t explained ourselves very well. He also drove off in great anger when we – this time dogmatically – refused to give anything or a thumbed ride. Anyway, the mountain was ahead of us and I was full of motivation. 150 meters of altitude under the shelter we decided to stop and rest for a moment when we spotted 2 men having a barbecue behind a rock. There was no other way but to invite us and so we had some salad, some kebab and bread and of course some schnaps. The two guys, Farshid and Behrooz, would not let us go so easily. This time it was the opposite. They did of course not want anything in return and didn’t even take a lot of the stuff we added to the meal but instead accompanied us to the shelter, set up camp next to us, talked to us all the time, showed us the bear that visited the camp in the night, took us to the top of the mountain and when we were back down gave us a ride to their city Meshkinshar and organized a nice place for us to sleep with free electricity and tea. That’s hospitality that we hadn’t expected that Iran is so well-known for!
Besides that, the way up the mountain was quite hard. Not technically, but my highest before had been 3910m of altitude and this tour started at 3700m already and we would make it in one go up to 4810. We didn’t make a lot of breaks, only at the top Farshid sleep for some minutes – Behrooz was still down at the tent bringing everything to the shelter and also sleeping because he had drunk his bottle of booze in the evening and was heavily hung over but caught up when we were descending. On the way down we had to make a longer break because Stefan got sensitive to the altitude and required to go down to 4500m altitude to take a nap. We paired that with some nice snacks, tea and cigarettes that Behrooz had brought, including a melon!
On our way down we stopped shortly at the natural hot springs that are spring-fed by the volcanic system of the mountain and relaxed our muscles.
From Meshkinshar we hitched back to Tabriz and from there to Zanjan where Stefan managed to find a host on couchsurfing in superspeed time – 1 minute. A near-hit with a truck made us sceptical if we could reach the city but nothing happened – only the truck we were driving with had to make a rough braking from ~120km/h down to 30 km/h as another truck switched lanes without any warning and hitting the break in front of us because another truck in front of him had switched lanes without a warning.
Iran shares the place for the number 1 on the ranking for highest death toll in road accidents with India.
Also read Why I went to Riga – Latvia Nr. 1
Getting out of Wroclaw towards Warsaw. I took some kind of bus, stopped at some crossroad and on the street I stood. No clues. Sun burning. The spot was shitty, I walked a little further, but the road got worse. No place for cars to stop. Shit.
At some point a nice driver stopped and put me a little further, directly to the onramp for the highway. There was neither traffic nor a place to stop, so I said to myself “Fuck it!” and went straight for the highway. Cars rushing past. Trucks. Noise. The heat of the spring sun already burning. At the end of the onramp I put my backpack behind the barriers and stood with a Warszawa sign. Begging to be picked up before the police could catch me. And I was lucky. Not even 10 minutes later a nice person stopped and brought me to the A2/E30, the highway to Warsaw. From there I hitchhiked further, continued with Riga and Stīna in my mind. I can’t recall how I made it through Poland. I remember being dropped at some places, behind Warsaw, somewhere on the A8/E67, directly on the highway, walking next to a fence, the sun dropping at the horizon, red evening light in my back. Two young guys brought me from Augustow to Suwalki. Darkness. I took a break at the McDonalds for some wi-fi and a snack, told Stīna that I was on the move. I was about to hitchhike all the way through to Riga. Why stop and sleep? Continue reading “Why I went to Riga – Latvia Nr. 2”
Also read Why I went to Riga – Latvia Nr. 2
The early spring was warm when I made it with Sarah to Cape North. After several weeks of adventurous hitchhiking we had parted our ways in Helsinki. As I walked onto the ferry that took me from Helsinki to Tallinn I didn’t know that I just entered an emotional labyrinth that would give me on the first 50% whenever I found a dead end a pack of cookies to cheer me up but would bear deep horrors for me in the second half where It would be deadly to make too many mistakes since every dead end would have a little piece of death in it.
Now here you go with a shortcut through Tallinn. Small capital, old houses, castles, harbor, hipster, poverty. Done.
Hammerfest. Grey. Industrial. Early in the morning. The city is very silent. The people disembarking from the Hurtigturen slowly dissolve into the dawn. A big oil facility has been pulling people here. To the north.