Sunday postcard from… Tehran, Iran

Hi, friend.

I have finally arrived!! I’ve wanted to go to Iran for YEARS so now that I’m finally here – it’s awesome.

Border crossing was easy – the real trouble started on the other side. As soon as I stepped through the gate, I was swarmed by half a dozen men, all wanting something.

‘Taxi! Taxi?’

‘Exchange?’

‘Autobus? Tehran Ardabil?’

I let a man lead me to a hole-in-the-wall exchange office where he promptly proceeded to try and scam me. Foreign bank cards don’t work in Iran so I’ve had to bring a stack of crisp US dollars with me and I’m exchanging rial as I go. Money here is complicated – I’ll tell you all about it later, I promise – but basically the nominations are ridiculous – think one million real per every ten dollars.

So there I am, slightly groggy off the night train from Baku, surrounded by Iranians counting bills out loud, hitting the stack on the desk. ‘- five, six, seven! Okay? Okay!’ But something doesn’t add up – literally. The stack should add up to twelve million, instead, about four million and a bit lay on the table. The man points at two 500,000 rial bills, then one 100,000 rial bill, as if 500+500=100. Confused, I keep counting the notes. I thought I had miscalculated the zeros before I realised he was trying to scam me.

That must be the stupidest scam in the books. I mean, it would be so easy to just quote an ignorant tourist a false exchange rate – but to rely on them not knowing 1st grade maths, well, that’s a bold move.

I almost wanted to give in to the pressure. That’s what happens when four Iranians are yelling at you to just take the money as politely as they can. I’m glad I stood my ground though: if succeeded, they would’ve robbed me off about 60 dollars.

So I took my Benjamin Franklins elsewhere, and the next agency was nice as ever, they were even able to arrange me a taxi to the bus terminal at a normal rate. Not double it, like most of the loud salesmen on the street were offering.

Getting on the bus was… a task. I arrived at the half-deserted station, just an Iranian couple was quietly (but intensely) arguing outside and half a dozen men  – presumably working there – were loitering around. So I’m sat there in an office while the bus people serve me piping hot tea from small shot glasses, pointing at the clock on the wall as none of them know English. Somehow I understand that the next bus to Tehran is at noon and costs 600,000 rial – about six euros. They’ve managed to find a blonde Belarussian woman who speaks both Farsi and German to interpret for me, and for the next few minutes, she becomes my tour guide and saving grace.

I was sat in that office for forty-five minutes, making small talk with the one man who’d appeared from nowhere speaking English and trying to chat with the ones that didn’t. It’s five past noon and they’re telling me that they need a permission for a foreigner to travel. Or that’s what I gather – apparently that’s not a thing that exists.

Suddenly my Belarussian guardian angel shows up and drags me out to the bus that was about to leave. The bus men are arguing with her, she’s arguing with the bus driver, the driver looks confused. I’ve got my backpack half in, half out of the luggage compartment just trying to make sense of it all. In the end, I paid the driver in cash and didn’t even get a ticket.

‘I have to say a lot of “bitte, bitte”,’ the Belarussian told me later. It remains unclear why she needed to practically beg them to let me onboard. The driver had said the bus was full; but as we embarked on the 9-hour journey to the capital of Iran, the bus remained half empty.

 

I feel like this whole ordeal has been an apt introduction to the country. I’ll keep you updated on how all the chaos unravels. Now, falafel.

 

Love, Elina

 

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