Journey to Iran: Hitchhiking to Tabriz
Thursday, November 12, 2015. The morning greets us with light rain as we leave the B&B in rush. Marietta, the owner of the place, needs to go to her work. Collecting all of our stuff, I forget my guitalele in the corner of the room and realize it only when we are on the road. Not willing to go back, we decide to pick it up on the way back from Iran. Marietta’s son drops us off on the main road. Today, we’re going to hitchhike to Tabriz. There are few cars going in the direction of the border, so we take a taxi to get to the border, which costs as 1000 AMD (~2$). The Armenian part of the border is easy to pass – we get our backpacks scanned and passports stamped in less than 5 minutes. An e-bus, apparently hired by a mid-aged Iranian Armenian businessman who invited us to join him, drives us to the bridge over the Araks river that connects the two countries. From here we walk our way into Iran.
On the road to Armenia-Iran border | © 2015 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
It takes us about 40-45 minutes to pass the border control. While waiting in the line (there was one queue both for those who were entering Iran, and for those who were leaving the country), we exchange a few words with Chinese and Korean backpackers who are also on their way to Tabriz from Armenia. Another traveler from Belgium joins us later. He offers us to take a shared taxi to the town of Jolfa, but we refuse wishing to hitchhike right away. Paperwork done, and here we are in Iran. I look around with mixed feelings. “It doesn’t feel much different from Armenia,” I think to myself.
Landscape near the border | © 2015 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
I dreamed of this for the last three years, and now that I am actually in Iran, I feel confused. I look at Nane who walks beside me, head covered with scarf. She also looks confused. As we walk away from the border (and annoying taxi drivers) to find a suitable spot for hitchhiking, a truck passes by and stops about 50 meters away. The driver invites us in and drives us to the nearby small town, Norduz. “Unfortunately, I am going to another town. You need this road, it goes to Tabriz,” he shows us the direction. Although it is a little difficult to speak due to lack of practice, I nevertheless could understand the driver very well.
In the town of Norduz, Iran | © 2015 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
From Norduz we get a ride to the city of Alamdar. There are two women at the backseat, Nane joins them, while I take the front seat. “They are doctors, and I’m an engineer. We work in Norduz, but we live in Alamdar,” says the driver, a 45-50 years old man. As we arrive in Alamdar, I notice that the two women are paying him for the ride. “It seems we are in a shared taxi. We’ll have to pay,” says Nane. It is a common practice in Iran to catch a car on the road and then pay for the ride. But when the driver drops us off at the bus terminal on the outskirts of the city, he just says goodbye and leaves without giving us a chance to pay.
It doesn’t take us long to hitch our next ride. Hossain, a 30 y.o. man with blue eyes, agrees to take us to the city of Marand, about 60 km away. From Hossain we learn that a few days ago there were protests in Tabriz – local Azaris were angry with one comedy show that made fun of the Azari people. “Why don’t they like us?” he complains. Hossain drops us off on the road to Tabriz. In about 10 minutes we get another ride – this time all the way to the capital city of East Azarbaijan province of Iran. Our driver is originally from the town of Khoy, where my forefathers (on mom’s side) are coming from. “There were many Armenians in the past there,” the driver says. “Any Armenians living in Khoy now?” I ask. His answer is negative.
The road between Alamdar and Tabriz, Iran | © 2015 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
When we arrive in Tabriz, the driver decides to help us find a taxi to the city center. The cab driver says it will cost us 6000 toman. I explain that we haven’t had the chance to exchange any money yet, and if it’s possible, we’d like to get to an exchange office and then pay to the driver of the cab. They talk for 2-3 minutes. Then something strange happens: we get back into the car, the driver who had no intention of driving to the city center follows the cab driver who in his turn drives his empty car to the Old Bazaar of Tabriz. We exchange some money, our driver then gives 5000 toman to the cab driver, and keeps the remaining 1000 toman for himself. “I said it’s 6,000 toman,” says the cab driver. “Yes, but I drove them, not you,” answers our driver and drives away leaving us in confusion.
Arriving in Tabriz, Iran | © 2015 Arty Om, teawithstrangers.org
We try to contact our host but his phone is turned off, so we wander around Tarbiyat bazaar looking for a place to eat. As we stroll the streets in search of food, two guys approach us and ask if we need help. We explain our situation, they guide us to a fast food cafe and help us to order a veggie pizza, 2 cokes and a salad. Not exactly what we wanted – some local traditional dishes, but it made no difference to our starving stomachs. We invite the guys to join us but they refuse and walk away wishing us all the best.
Later in the evening, we meet our host, Mahdi, at the Meydan-e Sa’at (Clock square). At home, we are welcomed by Mahdi’s parents, and from that moment on begins what we call the best first day in Iran one could imagine. We sit on colorful rugs, drink tea, eat fruits, share stories and laughs. Slowly, the neighbors join us as the news of our arrival spreads. We stay up late, talking, watching DVDs of birthday celebrations and enjoying the atmosphere. Tired after a long day on the road, we excuse ourselves and go to sleep at around 2:30-3:00 AM.