5 – Rom and I ran Persia

One immediately ascends a level of hospitality by crossing this border. We arrive in Maku after a very cold journey. First thing to do, change currency. img_8486-01Indeed, Iran is not connected to the international banking system, which makes it impossible to use our precious credit cards to pay or withdraw money here. An elderly gentleman stops us on the side of the road to help. He leads us into a small supermarket, the person there doesn’t have enough money to allow an exchange. We are about to leave when he calls back at us, a bit of his sandwich stretched out towards us. He also offers us a little tea and incidentally, calls a friend who speaks French and hands us the phone. Yaghoub, on the other end of the line, proposes us to spend the night at his house in Tabriz, the city where we wanted to go. We board a taxi, bikes on the roof. Epic. After a few days spent in this millennial city, we set out to explore the mountains of Iranian Kurdistan, along the Iraqi border. We start in Saqqez, first stop in Marivan, then Sarvabad. We arrived in this city (do not tell the locals that it’s a village) with the idea of sleeping at the mosque. Indeed, an imam would leave a stranger to sleep outside under no circumstances if you come to ask him the lodging. Nevertheless, everything went very differently. Google indicates the presence of a restaurant, which is something exceptional in this area. We go in, and Salam, the young owner takes care of us. Barely 3 minutes later, he proposes us to sleep at his house, forbades us to pay the addition and leave to buy us fruits. Normal. When I tell you that you pass a course in terms of hospitality, I measure my words! Finally, it’s at Naman’s place, Salam’s best friend, that we spend the night. This PhD student being one of the only people in the village to have internet, Salam assumed, with reason, that we would be interested. We decide to stay one more day in this pleasant village. The next day, Salam and Naman take us to a picnic in the mountains.They made a fire and brought music, we danced their traditional Kurdish dance, all in the shoulders, and in exchange we made them dance the mia, it's kind of our traditional dance in Marseille, right? The next day we leave for Shuyesheh and finally Sanandaj. The landscapes of this arid mountain range that is Zagros, are incomparable. From the summit, it looked like an agitated sea frozen in time. img_20161129_123110-01Every day people met by chance welcomed us in their homes, we dressed in traditional Kurdish costumes during a family dinner ... It is impossible for me to put french or english words on the extreme kindness of the people of this country. In reality, there is one, it’s call the taarof. A huge gap between the people and it’s leaders is felt in Iran. Prohibitions are commonplace. Alcohol, relationships before marriage, homosexuality ... The most distressing remains women’s status. Wearing the hijab is obligatory, smoking is forbidden, denuding of the forearms is a crime .. Tehran is a rather open city compared to many others in the country. It is a megalopolis of more than 15 million inhabitants, polluted, immense and disconnected but also, thanks to this chaos, it is possible to find a little freedom there. Girls smoke in the cafes and let their hair unveil a little more than allowed, boys allow themselves to approach them in the parks, which become places to meet far from other’s sight. Culture is also more accessible here.   img_20161211_122404-01The Persian population is no less welcoming, far from it. After the capital, we head south. We stay a few days in Isfahan and its blue ceramics decorating the walls and roofs. A city straight out of a fairytale. Our visa is limited to a month, time flies and we decide to join the very open Shiraz. With the largest and reputed university of the country, it is here that lived the artists, poets and major painters of the Iranian culture. In a very unconventional cafe, we meet one of these painters, Omid. With great happiness, he invites us to sleep at his house. A beautiful apartment / studio in which are exhibited some of his works. He paints life, he paints Shiraz, his family. The realism of his art is striking, his technique leaves agape. We will learn later that he is very famous back in Tehran. It is in this same cafe that we meet two very surprising sisters. Sharmin, with blue hair, and Shole, a piercing in the nose, are two completely uninhibited students, passionate about travel and their constant search for freedom. This freedom, precisely, so rare here, is actually fully accessible not very far away from Shiraz. Indeed, just 30 km north is a very small village called Ghalat. Perched in a mountain, with only one road guarded by a militia, you can actually access it there. Police never comes. img_20161214_131421-01Marijuana plants, liquor for sale in the shops, unveiled women, bar playing live and local music. A small Amsterdam of 500 inhabitants in the middle of one of the most restrictive states in the world. I let you imagine the effervescence that reigns there. Can you believe it ? No ? I did not either. Yet this place is real. It’s the allegory of what every traveler seeks. A simple place devoid of flourishes, of unparalleled authenticity, a singularity in the purest way. We probably had one of the prettiest nights of our lives there.