The previous part: Desert, camels and salt lake at Kashan
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After returning to Tehran, we went for couchsurfing. Another great Iranian host took care of us and offered all his hospitality. This time, however, he was not a Muslim, but a Bahá’í. And so we could first learn about the “peacefulness” of the Iranian regime to religious minorities. But about how our host was tortured in the next post.
We had a dinner, played games with friends, and began to figure out what to do in the remaining days. After our arrival in Iran, we have thoroughly enjoyed the Tehran smog, so we were for some nature, and I was curious about the Caspian Sea. So we chose to visit Chalus, where many Tehran holidaymakers go on weekends and holidays.
Double disappointment in Chalus
The next morning we went to the nearby Western Bus Terminal and looked for savari – a shared taxi – to Chalus. The departure was right after filling the car, as we used to be for it in Georgia.
The journey to two hundred miles away Chalus leads through epic scenery through the Alborz Mountains and lasts for about four hours.
In Chalus, we found ourselves somewhere in the middle of the city and tried to find a wi-fi to check if someone from the local couchsurfers replied, even we contacted them last minute. However, no public wi-fi was anywhere, and hard-won hacking skills like typing password 12345678 were useless. We went to a local pizzeria where they did not have a wi-fi but had a menu in Persian. With gestures, I explained that I want any pizza, but without mushrooms. Mushrooms and raisins are my greatest enemies in the food kingdom. Succeeded. And after a while comes the first disappointment of the day – pizza with mushrooms. Mamnoon.
We managed to get the internet in a cafe where we went only to ask them if they have wi-fi. None of the couchsurfers replied, and we couldn’t find a hostel mentioned by Lonely Planet. So we decided to check out the coast in the hope that we might choose some hotel there. We couldn’t get rid of a taxi driver who brought us there as we couldn’t get rid of the disappointment number two – a dirty and boring beach. We quickly pulled out from the original plan to spend there the two days and started looking for another savari to Rasht.
Don’t go to Iran without cash
Finding accommodation in Rasht was easier than in Chalus. We could have even chosen. In the first one, they didn’t have internet and shower wasn’t included in the price. And that would be a disaster to pay a few extra cents for the shower! In the second one, a sign was saying “wifa”, which was promising. From sleeping on the floor, we got to sleeping in beds whose mattresses were hard as the floor. We had our own shower, but one had to almost stand by his foot in the toilet to fit into that room.
Two days before the end of our stay, we started to run out of rials, so we had to exchange more. During the evening walk through the city, we tried to find an exchange, but they were already closed. And the next day was a holiday. As a foreigner you won’t withdraw from ATM, so you have to bring all the cash with you and hope it’ll be enough. On the street, somebody advised us to try some hotel reception. We were able to find one after a while, a gentleman at the reception called someone and told us to wait. But of course, we didn’t have the money with us, so we had to rush back to the hostel across the square where the Ashura celebrations were happening, the terrible “Husayn music” was torturing your ears and its only purpose had to be to break windows within a radius of ten kilometers. Eventually, we managed to exchange the money for a normal exchange rate.
What a pity we killed a lot of time in Chalus, Rasht is a nice city and worth a visit.
Masuleh – a village with rooftops instead of sidewalks
For the journey to Masuleh, we chose savari. The transfer was supposed to be in Fuman, but the driver asked us where we were going and that he will take us to Masuleh. A surprise came when paying for the ride. At first for us, then for him. Savari suddenly became a taxi with a tourist surcharge, even though we asked him about the price in Fuman. Eventually, he wanted to charge us ten times more than we would have paid for a full savari. And still much more than if we have paid for empty places. Beeing pissed, we gave him about the half – still a win-lose situation for him.
Masuleh is a photogenic mountain village with two waterfalls where the roofs of lots of houses serve as sidewalks. And we appeared here just when one of the Ashura processions took place. The vast majority of people were in black, and we could see how they were preparing for it from the roofs. As a bonus, women were walking through the aisles and were giving out biscuits. Even to us. And it was the best cookie I ever had.
After visiting the village, we moved to Fuman, the city famous for biscuits. But I didn’t find them so awesome like the one in Masuleh. Locals helped us how to get to the bus station and even escorted us and paid the tickets for us to get there. Then we spent another few hours on the bus to Tehran.
A dinner with a teacher from an underground university and the departure from Iran
From the Argentina terminal in Tehran, no taxi driver wanted to take us back to our couchsurfing host at a normal price. Suddenly a soldier helped us, stopped a passing taxi and set the price for fifteen thousand tomans, ten thousand less than the others drivers wanted. Eventually, he tried to give us five thousand, but we refused. We just wanted to pay the normal price. So the soldier gave the money to the driver and told us to not to pay him more than ten thousand. Deal. And so we met the first taxi driver in Iran who turned on a taximeter. Which, in the end, showed much more than we had agreed. But we kept our part of the deal.
I don’t remember much about our last day in Tehran. Which is strange because they sell no alcohol there. Legally. We’ve visited the Saei Park, and in the evening we went for a dinner to a professor of an underground university. Some people are denied access to higher education, mainly because of their different religion. So the solution is these forbidden “underground universities” when students meet with teachers at home.
Later, we just packed our bags, welcomed new couchsurfers, gave them some tips, and got a taxi at a normal price to the Imam Khomeini Airport to enjoy a night flight to Istanbul and some to drop the scarf off the head.