Take it easy my fried, this is Iran

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Stig has in recent days arrived in Iran (Persia if you will). The country has a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the West and a very different perception of law and order. In that light, we were naturally a bit tense before Stig drove across the border and lifted the veil on what lay on the other side.

It has now been a few days since the last blog post. Updates from Stig have been slightly delayed due to the embargo of Facebook in Iran. This draws in many ways a perfect image of the country that historically has contributed so richly to our western culture, but which today holds the same culture and civilization at arm’s length. Iran's relationship with the West is changed significantly in 1979 when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power and initiated the Cultural Revolution in 1980. The Ayatollah’s harsh methods strained relations with the US and especially Israel. Nuclear programs and volatile speeches at the UN would cause Iran to be at odds with much more of the western world. Therefore, it is very interesting to think about what happens if you sit in a car and driving from the north through Tehran and to the south of Iran.

Iran in numbers

Iran is a large country, 1,648,195 km2 , it is the world's 18th largest country . There are approximately 77 million people in Iran, the majority of these are Shia Muslims, and the official language is Persian. The currency Iranian Rial is considered the world's least valued currency. A full tank of diesel costs less than £1.

Stig says:

Take it easy my friend. This is Iran. You need to "love" waiting. This is not Europe.

Yes, we can wait, it’s just that it does not look as advertised.... our visas are in order. The problem is that they want a carnet document for the car to get it into the country. Two self -appointed helpers are in full swing,but now they have obviously tried everything. I ask to speak to someone. Someone who can make decisions.

Mr. President, of border patrol, sits busy in a meeting, so I get greet the Vice President. I plead our case to enter the country. The Vice President understands but says no; "This is the rule in Iran." And when the vice president says no, then it's no. Right now, the only option looks like turning around and driving back to Azerbaijan.

I call the embassy in Tehran, who are very accommodating and talk with customs. We go back inside where a warrant for the vehicle is being proposed. We need the document faxed back from a national office in Tehran and the problem is that customs closes in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Tomorrow is the start of a 2 day public holiday!

More frantic phone calls are made to Stine at the embassy. She thinks that things will work out. They usually do in Iran, it just takes time. Will we make it before the end of the day? Don’t count on it. Wednesday however will not be a problem...

Meanwhile, Mr. President (again, of the customs office) has been hearing rumours about our contact with the Norwegian embassy. He decides to call a meeting for us. I sit in the office with 10 other people, feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Mr. President is insistent that I call him Mohammadi. He feels that if we are in Iran to experience and report on a public holiday then it will be a positive exercise for both parties.

After a phone call, the fax machine bursts into life and the relevant warrant for our vehicle arrives. Stine at the embassy will now also act as our personal fixer. Mohammadi asks my father to join us inside where we are served fruit, chocolate and coffee. In 1976 Mohammadi visited Norway so we have lots to talk about. Later in the afternoon, we are wished good luck on our travels and once again we hear “Take it easy. This is Iran"

We find a restaurant with the aid of our 2 helpers. They enquire as to who is looking after my wife whilst I am away. When I disclose that I am not married, they find it strange. Even stranger that I have kids. “Did you adopt them?" Sex before marriage and children outside of wedlock are not normal concepts to most Iranians.The guys like the idea of Norwegian culture. I show some pictures of my son doing a parachute jump and playing in the snow. They have snow in Iran too which surprises me. We look through more pictures and the helpers comment on how pretty the girls are without veils. They comment how tough my partner Julie looks skiing. I smile and let them know that in Norway, all women ski, cook and look after the kids!

One of the guys also had Facebook (even though it is illegal in Iran) and I will be a friend. They see pictures from the trip and are keen to see Baku. Most had been there before the Ayatollah took over in 1979. Sahin and Shahriar joined me at the local insurance company, the insurance on the car was ordered. We were on the road again - after 6 1/2 hours at the toll station. Iran has a nice people :- )

I was in the car ... We had come to Iran, the country with the highest number of fatalities on the roads in relation to population. Everything seemed chaotic. The waving black “pirate flag" everywhere (turned out to be due to a religious mourning we had come in the midst of), all women wore black from head to toe and also the men were dressed in black. They had sheep on the sidewalks that were slaughtered and sold in the same place; mutton was cooked at the local takeaways. Nobody spoke English and the signs were bad. And not least - I felt underprepared for this leg of our trip.

Credit cards are not commonly accepted in Iran. I was aware of this. However many of the major banks and hotels did not take plastic! This I was not aware of. Money was hard to get to in Iran. Our plan was to withdraw some money, get back in the van and drive continuously to a port city in the south of the country. “Been there, done that" mentality. What a mistake that would be.

Iran has been fantastic with their hospitality and accommodation. This is the country (along with previous trips to Lebanon) that has really surprised me. My fondness of Iran will be explained in detail during and after this trip. For now, I just want to depict what I see, my experiences, the people that I meet and places that we go to. Please do not confuse these with me trying to say if something is right or wrong. Take the sheep on the sidewalk. Yes it was raw. Yes it was brutal. But then I think back to the conversation with our helpers after the crossing. I said Julie is a good cook. But in Iran, there is no way that she could buy half of a sheep and feed our family. This is what exploring is all about, experiencing another culture, not judging it against our own.

The religious festival was fun to see and the traffic was far better than my first impression. Money was no longer biggest problem. In a country where a litre of diesel costs less than £1 and a taxi ride max cost £2. We find our Indian agent where we sorted our travel to India and arranged the hotels (just so we do not misunderstand each other - we’re talking about hotels that few people in my circle would have gone into).

All Iranians are incredibly friendly and helpful, and when we ask "Do you speak English?", they run around and find an English speaker . Hospitality in all contexts! Last night we stayed at the home of Omid , a guy we met in the shipping office. He was a nice guy who also helped us to export the car today, death by paperwork that took 7 hours and 45 minutes ... Take it easy, my friend... Yes we have had very nice week in Iran, but the technique of toilets like a hole in the floor, I have not learned ...

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Do you have tips and advice for the Stig? Maybe you know places he should visit, restaurants he should eat at or experiences to try along the way. If so, you can send us an email to kha@abax.no or sal@abax.no

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/Chris Miller