Tehran... 07/09 - 10/09
This morning, we boarded a funny bus: women seat at the back and men at the front in between a fence! Are men really worse in Iran than elsewhere that women need so much protection? Each day brings a new surprise, we regret not having someone with us to answer our questions!
Most of our questions are about the women´s condition, especially for Sylvie: why should they be veiled? Why in black? Are all these rules in place to limit the power of women or are there other reasons? When we hear that 65% of students are women, but that they represent only 10% of the job market, we wonder ...
Tehran is a strange mix of Western and Eastern cultures. The streets are clean and of a beautiful black tar, we see a few traffic lights on the streets, men walk in trousers and short sleeved shirts ... But on the other hand at 7 am, everyone sweeps his trash in the gutter full of water; women wear a veil or a headscarf, black for most of them; there are no supermarkets, shopping means going to the fishmonger, the baker, the grocer; in the evening, stalls set up on the sidewalk, selling soups and stews.
This is one of our biggest regrets. We were looking forward to try the Iranian cuisine, but Ramadan is a big constraint. Restaurants are closed, those in hotels are expensive, so our only option is a few small shops. Our lunch is quite boring: pasta or tuna and cheese on bread with cucumbers. This is hard for us French who love food! We have to wait until 8pm before we can have a kebab or a soup.
The traffic is also a source of astonishment. When driving, the Iranians keep their calm where Europeans already would have white hair. A stream of cars and motorbikes continuously floods the streets, stopping at the last minute, turning without signalling ... In 3 days, we saw only a minor accident. Everyone seems very calm. Except when they lose their nerve! Sylvie witnessed a fight at the bus station of Tabriz. No less than 6 men were needed to separate the two protagonists.
We could talk endlessly of the buzzing urban life in Tehran, of the pollution that gives sore throat, of the lack of traffic lights and of the pedestrian bridges that makes us so tired we prefer to brave the cars... But we always come back to what seems the most shocking for us. All the more shocking that nobody seems to challenge the situation. Openly at least. Even Sylvie automatically puts on her headscarf and climbs without discussing at the back of the bus. How will it change? Given the cost of living in Tehran, we suspect the women´s condition is probably not the first concern of the Iranians.
The visas keeps us busy for 2 days. We get the uzbek visa in an hour thanks to the letter of invitation that we obtained beforehand (otherwise it's 3 days). Happy, we hurry to the Turkmen embassy... they are on holiday, we have to come back tomorrow!
This is how we meet Corinne and Loic, also on recumbents (Nazca). We knew they were ahead of us but every time we arrived in a city, they had already left! We spend a day together and sympathize immediately. It is too bad they have to leave 2 weeks before us (the uzbek visa has fixed dates).
Why make it simple when you can make it complicated... In every capital of the world, the underground is connected to the railway station. But not in Tehran! After 4 tube stops, we have to get on a bus for 10min (yes, a segregated one). And that's not all. The tickets for the day are bought at the station but as we are buying in advance, we have to go to an agency, 500m from the station... The price of 1st class is very cheap (50,000 rials or 4 euros for 8h of travel!), so we don´t ask about the 2nd class.
We realise the next evening there is probably no 2nd class. We thought it would be a 4-bed compartment but it is actually a 6-bed. Everything is old and not so clean, the lights don´t work, the door doesn´t close... We regret the comfort of the chinese trains! The other passengers, a mother and her son and two friends, don´t speak english. The son starts making his bed on the top bunk ... But it is our bed! We prefer to be at the top to check on the luggage and avoid being disturbed. Ben tells him politely but he replies that seat numbers do not matter, the first who wants to sleep takes the top bed. We look so surprised that he leaves us the bed. Again, a new rule!