It’s been nice to be able to see the blog for a few days.

Just to let you know that I am at the airport of Dubai, ready to head off toTeheran.  There is no telling when I will see my blog again, so I will once again rely on my trusted assistant Corey to keep you posted.  I am sure that internet access will be possible.  Corey will also keep me informed of your comments – as always, I much appreciate your feedback.  ET


Day 47 A new Chapter

SYNOPSIS:  Hours before my scheduled departure I got my visa for Iran.  The rest of the day was spent waiting at the airport and in transit.  I met the first wonderful Iranian people and I am a millionaire now.  120,000 short and  50,000 down – it almost breaks even.

I am not very good at math and zeros can be a particular challenge.  When I went to the exchange booth at the Dubai Mall asking for Iranian money, the clerk said “I only have five million”.  Gee!  What am I getting into here?  I asked what $100 is worth and she said 960,000 Rials.  A mere $100 turns you into almost a millionaire; anything above that makes you the true millionaire.  It took me several minutes to figure out that this translates into $1 = 10,000.  That means a 1,000 is just 10 cents.  To double check:  $10 = 100,000 and $100 = 1,000,000.  That seems on the mark.  So, a night in a hotel should be around 200,000 to 400,000 and anything below 50,000 is not much of a loss.  I have to make this tangible somehow in order to get a feel for these dimensions.  I am sure sooner or later, I will get one of these zeros wrong!

Nisreen is a whiz finding her way around in Dubai.  Without trouble, she found the Iranian embassy, a pretty looking building with lots of people coming and going.  We had been phoning them since Sunday.  They close at noon, so Sunday was out.  Monday we called them again and again and again.  We got one person after another who neither could speak English, nor Arabic.  Most of the time they would not pick up at all, and when they finally did and communication may have been possible, they hung up on us within seconds as if they just did not feel like talking!  Very frustrating.   We finally understood that we can come on Tuesday, drop off the passport and pick up the visa on Wednesday.  But then it rained…  By the time the rain stopped on Tuesday and traffic was moving again, they had closed for the day.  This left Wednesday.   That was cutting it way too close for comfort, but what could we do?  When we got there, we were sent from one counter to the next until somebody took a lot of money from me and the final person in charge happily took my passport and said:  Pick it up on Sunday.  Sunday!?  This is Wednesday; we had been told no more than a day and knew that we had to push that.   I had a flight booked four hours later and this guy said “Sunday!”

You should have seen Nisreen shift into gear. With a high pitched voice, striking a pose with her handbag, she started a barrage about why I needed this visa this very moment and how we had been treated by the embassy for three days on the phone and how the Iranian travel agency had instructed us wrongly and on and on.  The queue behind us grew.  The clerk behind the counter made a few feeble attempts to intersect his protest, but Nisreen was on a roll.  He finally just took my passport out of the basket and threw it on another counter and said:  One hour!  That was the only way to stop Nisreen.  All I had to do was look like I was just about to burst into tears.    Head up high, Nisreen walzed out of the office with a big smile on her face.  I always get what I want, she said.  I have absolutely no doubt about that.

The visa was ready as promised.  We drove to the airport just in time before rush hour and off I went with Emirate Air again.  Things went smoothly.  I sat next to a couple from Iran:  Akbar and Parvin.  After about ½ the flight we started to talk.  Both spoke English.  As it turns out, they had a car parked at the airport and offered to take me back to town with them.  What a relief.  It was dark, the airport is 35 km outside of town and I have no phone.  Akbar’s son runs a four star hotel.  He offered to get me the special family rate.  Instead of $120 to $160 per room it would only be $80.  I had to politely decline and explain that with 3.5 months of travel my budget is more around $20-40 per night.  No family rate in a four star would come close.  A no-star hotel was needed.  He kindly called my Lonely Planet pick and reserved a room for me.  I could tell he was not happy with the area I was staying in:  “The South”.

Teheran roughly seems to be divided into the original, old, congested, polluted, poor South and the newer, more affluent, modern and airier North.  Half way through the ride he and his wife offered that I could stay with them at their house.  Two of their children are grown and there are empty rooms.  I could have.  Perhaps, I even should have.  But I politely declined.  Perhaps, when I will come back to Teheran at the end of my stay I will take them up on it.  I need my independence.  Both also invited me to their summer home near Estfahan during the New Year festival Noruz.  That is coming up in about 2 weeks and at a time where not travel is possible as everyone says.  That might be an offer I won’t turn down.  But then, there will be two of us.  Nicola from London will be joining me during that time.  So, I think I will decline once again.  But then they offered to have me over for dinner tomorrow.  I accepted.

Akbar insisted on coming into the hotel with me to make sure that everything was fine.  He paid the clerk  50,000 Rials as a down payment no matter how much I protested.  This tops even the level of kindness and help I experienced in Syria.  After he left it took no more than 10 minutes when he called the hotel back to ask if I was hungry.  He was going to come back and take me to their house to eat!  I could only insist that I was completely filled from the meal we had gotten at the airplane and there was absolutely no need for them to turn around in this heavy traffic.  Wow!  What a welcome to Iran.

This made up for the slightly less pleasant experience at the exchange booth at the airport where I went to actually exchange $100.  Earlier in Dubai I had dealt with a credible source and was told the exchange rate was 960,000.  The clerk at the airport booth handed me a bundle of money, no slip, no receipt, no visible exchange rate posted.  I counted it all in front of him, struggling with the unfamiliar bills, the Arab numbers, and a whole stack of it.  It was 840,000…  I just pointed to it and demanded 960,000 which he topped off for me.  No apology.  I think, I was meant to be cheated…

Well, there are all kinds of people.  Teheran is known for people impersonating police to rob tourists, and the like.  I will be careful.  And, I will be out of Teheran in no time.

Good night.