Keen to meet local Iranians and get their thoughts on life here, we were pleased to hear couchsurfing was popular. Like many things in Iran it is according to some apparently illegal, but like the other illegal things (Facebook, alcohol, satellite TV, playing cards, VPNs etc.) people do them anyway! We created a public trip and received many invites to stay with people around the country. Of course we also wrote to people in the cities we were going to, asking to stay. Our experience was overwhelmingly positive.
From the moment we landed in Iran, in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas we were welcomed by our host who had gone out of his way to pick us up from the airport. Reza & his wife Mahshid were awesome, staying with them felt like staying with friends from home. Not only were they interesting people to chat with, Reza took time off work to help us register for a sim card and change money. He took us to supermarkets and specialty shops as well so we could get some supplies. We enjoyed delicious food together.
When they were both at work we didn’t venture too far from their place. Antony did some work and I got hooked on doing a big puzzle that our hosts had half started but not looked at for ages. The 2 bedroom apartment was nice, cool and the living area with kitchen had been recently remodelled and redecorated. It wasn’t big but well designed so it felt spacious. We slept on mattresses on the floor in the spare room, which was to be the first of many floors we slept on. Most people didn’t have a spare room though, in fact I think this was the only host that did. Couchsurfing would be more aptly named Carpetsurfing in Iran as there is a distinct lack of both couches and beds, people prefering to have multipurpose space and mattresses that can be put away or put down on the carpets when required.
Reza and Mahshid took us to an outdoor cafe type place where we watched a woman crouch over a hot plate where she made a very thin bread, thinner than crepes. She used her fingers to spread the flour/water mix on the hotplate and then added on to it whatever the customer requested. They recommended we try it with honey and egg which the lady broke on top and mixed around. The bread was paper thin and rather yum, a specialty for this area. It is called raggagi or koluko.
After this we drove to another spot where we sat in a little shelter called a ‘tahkt’ and drank tea while listening to the waves come gently onto the beach. It was the beginning of February, end of winter and about 25 degrees during the day, cooler but still pleasant in the evenings! Just lovely.
Being our first few days in the country, we had to get our heads around the local currency. 20,000 Rials = 1 NZ dollar but often prices are not given in rials but toman (which is the same as rials minus a zero) so one NZ dollar would be 2000 toman. Was great to have a host who could explain this to us! All the zeros and the rial/toman thing was quite a challenge at the beginning but eventually we got used to it!
It was great to stay with locals in our first few days, especially such knowledgeable and helpful hosts like these two! Very cool to get an insider perspective on life in Iran and, despite the restrictions imposed by the current government, realise that life there wasn’t as different as you might think. People get on just like anywhere with their careers, enjoying holidays, helping out with family, taking an interest in world events, having fun with friends etc. Of course women- female tourists included- have to wear long tops over their trousers and cover their hair when in public. Although I had a few Iran appropriate clothes from NZ kindly loaned to me by a friend, Mahshid was so kind as to give me a colourful scarf which I ended up wearing a lot and also a blue manteau which I could throw on over my ‘normal’ clothes to satisfy the cover up requirements. So sweet of her!
After this great couchsurfing experience, we headed off for 2 weeks workawaying on a nearby island but as Antony got his sunglasses stolen off the beach there we had to make a visit back to Bandar Abbas to get a replacement pair. Again Reza was amazing, meeting us off the ferry, taking us to the optometrist, translating for us and even getting us a discount. Then a few days later he collected the new glasses for us then met us again at the ferry with the sunglasses and took us to the bus station so we could carry on our travels. It was rather sad to say goodbye!
We know Reza was a very busy guy but giving up time like this to help us meant heaps and spoke volumes of the kindness and generosity of Iranian people. We were to encounter such kindness throughout our 2 months in Iran.