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Silhouette jumping, Alamut castle, Qazvin, Iran

From the desert, I had to return to Tehran to meet up with J., my travel partner for Pakistan. We had to apply for the appropriate visa. We both didn't like the capital for different reasons, so we decided to hitchhike to Alamut Valley, breathe mountain air and try if we loved travelling together or not.

J. and me in Alamut valley, Qazvin, Iran

We set out far too late, left the capital at three o'clock and thus gave up any chance of reaching our destination before dark. We got into several different cars. There was a grandfather with his grandson, a young family with two small children, a youngish man, and to all, we had to explain what we were: siblings or spouses. Sometimes we were married, other times not. We merged into one French or German, our journeys mixed. In the beginning, it was relatively difficult for us, but over time we got better and better. We learned to market ourselves. Hitchhiking is easy in Iran and the most delightful way to connect with locals. However, this contact is never real, never honest, never permanent. That realisation surprises me.

When we arrive in the mountains, it is already dark. We get out of the car of a young family, refuse the kind but overbearing suggestion to go to the Hotel and continue along the dark mountain road. Because my hiking boots were stolen in Tehran, I have difficulties climbing up the hill with 22kg on my back. In my delicate summer slippers, I crawl up the mountain. With the right shoes it wouldn't have been hard, but in my case, I despair, take off my slippers and continue barefoot up the slope. That works as well.

Our camping spot, Alamut valley, Qazvin, Iran

On top, we find a lovely flat area, made for us. We pitch our tent, cook noodles without salt, drink tea, crack nuts and eat dates. One of my happiest moments in Iran. Everything is in its place. No one harasses me. My basic needs are covered. I don't need much to be happy.

The road, Alamut valley, Qazvin, Iran
Rainbow mountains, Alamut castle, Qazvin, Iran

Travelling with J. changes everything. He adapts to my destination-oriented travel plans, and I follow him into the houses of locals and the wilderness. My journey is enriched by our encounter. Finally, I can move as I always wanted to. I can get to know the country from its most charming side. Although it bothers me to be considered the possession of someone, I cannot help but enjoy just that. Nobody speaks directly to me. J. has to lead the conversation, sitting in front. I am always in the back seat where "women belong".

It quickly becomes clear what distinguishes the good from the bad drivers. The good ones look at me and then turn their attention to J., the bad ones devour me through the rear mirror during the entire journey. Often they have conversations with J. as if I were not there. And I am ok with that. I don't want to talk to most people. Once, we get into the jeep of a heart surgeon from Tehran, who goes to the mountains to visit his mother. We don't have to explain much to him. He immediately sees that we are not married and his eyes twinkle as he exclaims that he doesn't care. We have the first honest conversation with him. Everyone contributes, we get along well.

J. living dangeroulsy, Alamut castle, Qazvin, Iran

The mountains are my favourite thing in Iran. They are not unique nor are they the most impressive thing I see there. Iran is rich with natural wonders. But the mountains are familiar, empty and massive. Just the way I like it. After a night under the spectacular star-filled sky, I hitched a ride with a young French couple to catch the bus back to Tehran, while J. wandered higher and higher into the mountains. I had to go back to the capital to get my paperwork from the German embassy. This was supposed to be the last step that would allow me to apply for the Pakistan visa. Rejection, frustration and fatigue are waiting for me...

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