Why Iran is a great place for a road trip
People often ask me 'What's the best country you've ever visited?" It's an impossible question to answer, I love Mongolia for the vast, empty steppes and nomadic life. I love Bhutan for the colourful temples and festivals. Iceland too is a favourite for the incredible geodiversity of the land. Every new place I visit has some unique aspect to love; in Iran that's the people. Ask me which country is the friendliest and Iran tops the list!
Meeting other Brits on the road in Iran
I have never felt so welcome in a country than when visiting Iran. Everybody wanted to stop and chat and ensure I was enjoying my time in their country. My first such experience was trying to exchange money in a bank in Tabriz; this was something I would need to go to the main branch in the bazaar to do. Not a problem, I got chatting to Fatimah as we waited in the queue and she happily escorted me to the bazaar and showed me around her town. Then there was the lorry driver who shared his lunch and water with me at the roadside; he also had words with the car full of boys who had been driving dangerously around me, they didn't mean any harm, they were just curious.
Ali translating for me in the garage with David Beckham watching on.
After driving across the border into Iran I realised I had made a stupid mistake. I had forgotten that foreign ATM cards don't work in Iran. I would need to make around £250 stretch to 2 weeks of food, fuel and accommodation. In the UK that wouldn't even cover my petrol, let alone pay for a bed for the night! Fortunately in Iran petrol was only 10p per litre so I could keep the car going. I sought out the cheapest hotels and ate as cheaply as possible. What I didn't reckon on though was the incredible hospitality, it was hard to get people to take my money, even the motorway toll booths waved me by wishing me a good stay. People flagged me down in the car asking where I was from and inviting me to stay. I wish I could have accepted all their invitations but a time dependent Tibetan visa had me regrettably rushing my visit.
Oddly I find myself the most conservatively dressed
Ali spotted me and Pedro in a roadside garage of his home town, Adabeh, he stopped and helped me translate that I needed help cleaning the dust out of my carb. The standard of English in Iran is generally very good but Ali's English was superb; he explained his work as a shoe salesman meant he travelled to the UK a lot. He invited me to his home for lunch and to meet his family. Of course I was a little wary as a lone woman following a strange man to his home but I was in my own car and figured, if I didn't like the feel of the place, I could drive on. I needn't have worried. In this country where headscarves are mandatory for women I was surprised to see Ali's wife, Royah, learning out of the front door waving with her hair hanging loose and wearing jeans and a sleeveless vest top. I was invited to stay the night and spent a wonderful evening with their family singing, dancing and dining on rugs in the garden, with not a headscarf or chador in sight! Western music isn't available in Iran so before I left I shared the contents of my MP3 player with the family's daughter, Nelofah, and gifted Royah an Amy Winehouse CD, her favourite of my car collection.
There are of course exceptions to the rule, on my first day I was stopped by the police, I don't know what they wanted however as two other passing cars stopped and shouted at them to leave me alone - which they did! Wherever you travel in the world people are essentially the same, we all share the same hopes and fears. Iranians are typically curious about the west and wary of the regime that governs their own country.
The only Beetle in Iran, they were very excited to meet me!
Just like us there are Iranian petrolheads too. I met these two guys in Yzad. We were both so excited to see another Beetle that we pulled in to the side of the busy road. They told me they bought the car from a man who had been driving it from the UK to his home in Pakistan. They had persuaded him to sell the car to them and continue his journey by public transport. They were so proud to have the only Beetle in Iran! Amazingly I then met the previous owner at a car meet in the UK when we got chatting about our travels!
If the famously hospitable people aren't a good enough reason for you to visit then how about the incredible sights. Donald Trump has stated that Iran's cultural sights would not be off limits in a conflict with Iran. While nothing compares to the tragedy of lost lives, to destroy one of the most ancient civilisations on earth would be sacrilege. Persepolis has stood since 550 BC, see it while you can!
Since my visit travel for British citizens has been restricted and is now only possible with a tour guide (also required for US citizens). In light of the recent tensions between the US and Iran the UK foreign office are advising against travel to Iran. I wouldn't encourage anyone to ignore this advice, even though I have in the past, for one thing it will probably invalidate your travel insurance. I would encourage you to keep an open mind when seeing reports of Iran in the media and should you find the opportunity once tensions ease, go and see for yourself.