After a couple of nights in Tehran, my decision is clear: I will go back to Azerbaijan and take the ferry. It is the cheapest option and will also allow me to visit Kazakhstan, which I was not sure if I could visit otherwise (maybe after the Pamirs).

The hostel staff helps me book the ticket (again, it is unclear if/when/how the bicycle goes on the bus) and the next night I find myself at the bus station (more precisely the West bus terminal) to catch the 22:30 to Astara.

I'm early enough and the bus isn't there yet, but I need the 30 minutes I have anyways to change my booking confirmation into the actual ticket (where is the ticket office!?) and find the right spot from where the bus is supposed to leave.

When the bus arrives, I just have to take the front wheel and saddle off and the bike fits right into the storage compartment next to the rest of the luggage.

The seat booked is not the best one: the last row has limited recline, but it is still more comfortable than traveling economy in an air plane.

A bag with snacks is brought and shortly after the bus is on the way.

"Sorry no money!"

About 30 minutes into the trip, a guy walks up to my seat and through his gestures I understand he is asking for money for the bicycle transport. Is he the co-driver? A service person? I have no idea.

I pretend not to understand and when he asks another passenger to translate, I tell them that I do not have the 500.000 IRR asked for: after all, I should be in Azerbaijan in a couple of hours.

The man does not come back and around 07:00 I'm being dropped onto the street in Astara--there seems to be no bus station at all.

Iran: a resume

By accounts of other travelers, I had a certain expectation from Iran. The people were supposedly well-educated, the country more advanced than Turkey in some aspects. Suffering from the regime, for sure, yet welcoming and hospitable.

After 59 nights (the second longest time I've stayed in a country so far) I can mostly confirm that image.

I've spent lots of hours on the road, next to trucks. And it was often enough those truck or pickup drivers showing the best of Iranian culture. Countless times have I been greeted by friendly honks, stopped for a chat, given fruit, tea, candy, invited for a lift or to share a meal.

When stopping to seek shade somewhere it doesn't take take long until another car stops and someone approaches you and asks if you're okay or need anything. Often enough those brief encounters end with an exchange of phone numbers and some follow-up messages: "Are you okay?", "Where are you now?"

Iranians are generally curious and despite their restrictive government which regulates foreigner/local interactions (e.g. by blocking hospitality websites such as couchsurfing and warmshowers) do not shy away from inviting travelers to their homes.

On the downside, "tourist prices" do exists and more than once I've paid double the regular price in smaller shops, especially at the beginning of my stay in the country (the currency is not really easy to deal with!!). Thankfully that still seems to be an exception but with increasing tourism I fear it will just gain more and more popularity, even more so since the Iranian Rial had lost about 60-70% of it's value compared to last year.

On the other hand if I had to pay double or triple the price, some things would not have been worth it to be honest. Almost everything is of lesser quality than in other countries and hygiene standards are quite poor.

Also, I haven't heard a single Iranian speaking favorable about their government: "Iran is a good country, but our administration is shit!" is the tenor heard from fruit sellers and doctors alike.

I've had overwhelmingly good experiences. Sure, some people may come off quite pushy and demanding in their attitude, and that may get a bit tiresome with time.

But while a cyclist friend of mine got "robbed" in Iran on the road (a rookie mistake to be honest, showing their dollars to "curious" Iranians on the roadside who promptly grabbed them and ran away...) and others were cursed at and forced into paying bribes by unfriendly bus drivers, I had no experiences like this during my 2 month stay. And for this I want to say:

Thank you, people of Iran!

Last but not least, an honorable mention is also in order for the excellent staff and owners of hostels all over Iran, without who's help I couldn't have survived during Ramadan.

Most of all:

  • Heritage hostel, Tehran
  • Mahbibi hostel, Isfahan
  • Silkroad hotel, Yazd
  • Negaar guest house, Varzaneh
  • Sohrab Traditional hostel, Shiraz