Imagine my excitement when I first heard about the workaway website, clicked on it and saw a place in Iran profiled on the homepage! It wasn’t just any old place either… it was a restaurant on a beach! What a cool location and a great opportunity to be more than a tourist in this most fascinating country! I wrote to the host almost immediately (this was July 2015) and she must have thought it slightly odd to get a request to workaway with them at the end of 2016, more than a year away!! At that stage our plan was to start our year long trip in South America, go to Europe then finish in Iran. But as it turned out the friends I wanted to visit in Peru were moving home to Denmark and so we decided to leave South America for another time and just focus on Europe and a 1 or 2 month visit to Iran at the beginning.
The workaway placement was located on the island of Qeshm, a one hour ferry ride from the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Dubai was close so we bought flights from NZ to Dubai then took a ‘Fly Dubai’ flight across the water to Bandar Abbas. It is also possible to go straight to Qeshm from Dubai we discovered later. Sum total to get to Iran for both of us was $2193 NZD (Auckland-Singapore-Dubai on Singapore Airlines, my favourite!) + $318 NZD (Dubai- Bandar Abbas) = $2511 NZD, i.e. $1225 NZ per person ($865USD). Not bad when you are coming to the country of your dreams from the other side of the world!
And so after a couple of nights couchsurfing in Bandar Abbas (more on that here) we took the ferry to Qeshm, the largest island in the Persian Gulf. Being early February it was officially winter but the temperatures were between 24 and 28 degrees most days. It was hot! It cooled down in the evenings but still pleasant.
Our hosts were Annelie (German) and her husband Ali (Iranian who had lived in Germany for many years). They moved from Germany to Qeshm around 5 years ago and had in that time established a lovely outdoor restaurant on the beach- with the help from time to time of various workaway volunteers. Ali was a nice guy with lots of ideas, always busy, dealing with lots of things at once so we didn’t spend so much time with him. Annelie was great, relaxed and friendly, interested in people and open to talk about all sorts of things. We learnt a lot from her, also in her kind way of talking about others and her general amazing attitude to everything!
We didn’t go inside Annelie and Ali’s home which was beside the kitchen buildings. There were two typical Iranian squat toilets behind the kitchen- also used by restaurant customers and staff. One had a shower in it we could use. Further back behind this area was a private outdoor living space where we ate breakfast and could relax in a hammock under the tree. Surrounding this space were some temporary sleeping quarters. The two musicians who entertained at night shared one and the first week we were there a kiwi workawayer (Eugene, 50, Maori, lives in New York, teaches hacky-sack) and a super lovely young Dutch guy (Milan, 22, on a big world travel adventure, studied civil engineering if I remember rightly?) shared another. There was a larger pre-fab building which had 2 rooms and in between a kitchenette. Two really nice young Ukrainian guys (Sava & Sasha) who were there longer term shared one room and Antony and I got the room with a double bed- a treat! This was to be our home for 2 weeks. I had originally asked Annelie if we could come for 3 weeks but then I was nervous that our 1 month visa might not get extended and we’d only have time to workaway and see Qeshm so we changed it to 2 weeks – thankfully Annelie was very flexible and it wasn’t a problem.
It was a lovely atmosphere with the other volunteers there and we enjoyed getting to know them, working alongside them, eating together, hearing their travel stories and getting tips for our trip. Sava always had a big smile and got up most mornings to see the sunrise and do some exercise on the beach. He also played his guitar and sang when he had free time. Sasha and he were good friends and both had a great sense of humour. Sasha was the guy people looked to for advice on anything practical to do with the building projects. They could both speak English well, knew some Persian and had been in Iran for around 3 months. Sometimes in the evenings the two of them disappeared to hang out with two Iranian sisters, very cute.
We worked 5 days a week, 5 hours each day (sometimes more and then compensated by doing less next day). Annelie and Ali briefed us on the work that was required but mostly it was Milan who had been there for one week already who showed us what jobs needed to be done and helped us with them. He was very organised and a hard worker! Our hosts trusted us to get on with the work and structure the day as it suited. This was great. When the heat got too much we jumped in the sea for a snorkel or a swim. Then back to work again after.
The work was done in a yard beside the restaurant… we helped make rooves for the tahkts (shelters) that people sit in at the restaurant and also made lattice frames for the sides of the tahkts. We had to measure and cut palm tree branches then nail them onto the frame. Also did a bit of anti-rust painting, sanding, and de-rusting. It was quite tough work at times in the hot sun all covered up with headscarf etc.- not a single cloudy day! Quite often an hour or so of my work hours were spent in the kitchen (a welcome relief from the sun!) where I prepared something for lunch for us workawayers and usually Annelie joined us too. We could order off the menu for our meals but there was a limit to how much garlic bread, fries, pizza & rice we could all eat. So I supplemented with lentil salad, lentil soup, carrot salad, green salad, beetroot salad, vegetable curry etc. I love cooking and the guys who had been there for a while seemed especially grateful for the changes in the lunch options. Usually we ate breakfast around 9 or 10am, lunch around 4pm and dinner around 10pm. Quite strange in the beginning but we got used to it. Antony still talks about how he misses the ‘garlic bread’ (5 months later!)… the infamous garlic bread was more like a pizza with an absolute overload of both cheese and garlic.
The restaurant staff were great although our interactions were a little limited due to very little common language. Mohammad, who welcomed people at the gate, had good English and Antony and I enjoyed our talks with him. He was quite a character with a sharp sense of humour. Every day but Friday he wore a western style suit with tie, which is not allowed in Iran, but he didn’t care. One day some official visited the restaurant and told him he needed to remove the tie. He refused to remove it choosing instead to go home. The next day (and ever since) he came to work with a tie again! On Fridays he wore a totally different outfit- more arabic style, also not common here. He was a very gracious, softly spoken guy and very likeable.
The restaurant was open in the afternoon for lunch but most people came in the evenings when it was cooler and the live music was on. We often ate our meals in the restaurant at night and enjoyed watching people relax and enjoy the music. Some of it was pretty groovy but as dancing is illegal in Iran, people settled for toe tapping, head nodding or for the daring some arms moving in dancing fashion. It was the same music every night so we got to know it quite well! Also got used to falling asleep to it after midnight when things were still in full swing.
Workawaying on Qeshm was great socially and we had lots of amazing places to visit on our days off… read about our Qeshm daytrip with Annelie, dolphin spotting on Hengham island and the incredible Hormoz island. We had wifi so I spent some time learning Persian online, contacting couchsurfers and figuring out where to go in this huge country. Antony of course worked when he could.
I would recommend winter workawaying here to anyone considering it… provided that you don’t mind practical work outside in the sun for 5 hours a day and you are ok with squat toilets (the norm in Iran) and pretty basic shared shower facility. If you are a solo traveller you will most likely share a room with another volunteer. You need to have your own sleeping bag. The hosts are wonderful and the food is fantastic- both from the restaurant and Annelie also buys whatever you ask (if it’s available) so you can make something else. The location is fantastic, literally on the beach where you can swim and snorkel. I even swam with a large TURTLE on my last day here… SO super special! A big shout out to Ali & Annelie for making it all possible! We won’t forget this place in a hurry.