February 2011 Update: If you are looking for info on the visas and border crossing itself, Chris has posted about that here.
We were both still sick, but nonetheless on Wednesday, June 16th we bought bus tickets from Van, Turkey to Orumiyeh, Iran. I must admit that deep inside me I was a little uncertain.
The bus left Van at 9:45 am. Tired, a bit hungry (because Iâ€™m always a little hungry) and still sick, I struggled to keep my eyes open. I donâ€™t know what it is about buses but theyâ€™re always rocking me to sleep. When I managed to keep my eyes open I saw a wonderful landscape unfolding before me. Fields turned into shrubbery-covered mountains that, for some reason, reminded me of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. Perhaps it is from photos I have seen.
We got to the border at 2:00 p.m. Immediately when the bus stopped I folded the headscarf I held in my hands, wrapped in around my head and safety-pinned it under my chin. The man and his family who were sitting by us and had conversed with throughout the bus ride, giggled and smiled. â€œShe says you look like youâ€™re seven or eight years old,â€ he told me.
â€œWonderful,â€ I thought. â€œI was hoping to lose a few years in appearance but not that many.â€
Chris and I stepped off the bus with our belongings. At the top of a mountain, to the left of the buildings in front of us, were huge billboards with the faces of the past and current Ayatollahs, the religious leaders of Iran. Uncertain of where to go, we hesitantly entered a door way. We were surrounded by temporary walls covered in mirror-like material. A man ushered us to line-up with the rest of our bus to â€œcheck-outâ€ of Turkey.
We walked through a hall, or what I like to think of as â€œlimboâ€ between countries. Obvious westerners, we were ushered through a separate doorway and told to take a seat. Two older Swiss men entered at the same time.Â They started up a conversation. â€œThat looks good. Itâ€™s real natural like, what with Allah written on it and all…â€ one of the men commented on my headscarf. â€œDid you wear that in Turkey?â€ asked the other man. â€œNo,â€ I replied. â€œI put it on 5-minutes ago. I have to wear it in Iran. Itâ€™s the law.â€
Five to seven minutes later the Iranian border guard came back and addressed me as â€œMiss Lauraâ€ as he gave my passport back. That was that. We walked through another door and we were in Iran. Customs didnâ€™t even look at any of our luggage. No scanners, nothing. And everything was done with such a calm, friendly demeanour.
Before I could blink a man was up in my face asking, â€œChange? Change?â€. Confused, I went and stood by Chris for protection. It is impossible to get Iranian currency outside of the country so they were trying their best to grab visitors seconds after entering. What a bunch of sharks! We declined and decided to wait until we got to the city in the hopes of a better rate.
Two hours later we arrived at Orumiyeh, Iran.Â As soon as we stepped off the bus we were harassed by taxi drivers.Â I was tripping over luggage, including my own. The space between our bus and the next was so small, that with all the taxi drivers, luggage and passengers, it was frustratingly claustrophobic.
One driver managed to snag us, saying he could take us to exchange money. He took us to a shop outside the bus terminal. A very sturdy, serious looking man sat behind a desk.Â All around him were stacks and stacks of boxed goods from juice boxes to yard decorations. The man spoke some English, something we would later learn is very rare. He was the man with the power and the money. After learning we are Canadian he quickly said, â€œCanada is much better than Iranâ€. Being only 2.5 hours into the country I didnâ€™t feel I was in a position to agree or disagree.
In the last six days it has become very apparent to me that people are not saying â€œhelloâ€ to me, they are not talking to me, or ask me where I am from, they are talking and asking Chris. This state of bystander existence I receive as a foreign woman is quite hard to get used to.Â Yet on the flip side, men (but primarily women) stare at me without shame.Â Itâ€™s also very hard to get used to that. I try my best to ignore the stares, or to simply smile back.
very impressive stuff. i’m headed to iran, or rather trying to get there, in about 10 days, but i’ve been told so many different things to expect at the border. i have a UK passport and will try to cross the border over land thru turkey, probably via a train or bus. i dont have a visa and hope to get one when i cross. is this possible? also, i am travelling alone. any advice? thanks so much.
Looks like you’re stepping out of the old comfort zone a bit in Iran, nice work.
Remember, this is what you signed up for. If you wanted easy travelling you would have backpacked the churches of Europe or sat on the beach in Bali. This is pretty unique stuff you’re doing, and as with most things truly worthwhile it comes with its challenges. So learn more Farsi and stop bum-thumbing the locals!
Since you mentioned Zoroastrianism in two of your blog posts I will share with you my two fun facts about Zoroastrians:
1) Instead of burying or cremating their dead (and thus polluting the good creation or whatever), the Zoroastrians in India leave the bodies on the tops of special buildings called Towers of Silence and let vultures eat them. Unfortunately they are running out of vultures because they keep in getting sick…
2) Freddie Mercury was a Zoroastrian!!!
Keep it real!
7 or 8 years old??!!! you would of been the tallest damn 7 or 8 year old i ever saw! 🙂
glad to see you two are doing well!! Thoughts and Prayers are with you, and i look forward to reading more adventures!! 🙂
Laura Beauchamp Reply:
June 24th, 2010 at 6:22 am
Thanks for the note Daniel. It makes me glad that you’re following us. 🙂