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The first palm tree on our way to Banda Abbas, Iran

Hitchhiking is easy and adventurous. We continue telling our fake origin stories we tested in Alamut, but I can't avoid feeling like we are exploiting the people. It's not about making a financial profit. I feel uncomfortable because people only help us if we give them specific narratives. Besides, people don't know what hitchhiking is here, nor do they know anyone who travels around the world. Traveling is always the equivalent of holidays and tourism. In their minds, we have to be infinitely wealthy to afford it. As a couple, all this may be acceptable, but it's unimaginable that we could be doing it on our own. Especially as a woman. For men, however, it's not much different. It's against nature. Don't you have to think about marriage? For only those who marry are allowed to be sexually active. How can you stand staying single? A valid question and a dilemma that drives boys into marriage. The truth, therefore, isn't an option.

Counting sheep on our way to Banda Abbas, Iran

When hitchhiking, we come in direct contact with the village population. We stay overnight in places where it is extraordinary not to marry your cousin. Where your brother in law, is also your uncle, and your cousin also your brother in law. As soon as you start to explain that we travel together as friends, the problems start. Just because a male and a female sit next to each other in the car, doesn't mean that they tear each other's clothing off. A notion that is quite simply unimaginable in Iranian society. If you don't move to the city (often even then), you will stay trapped in the eternal cycle of the family. Our hosts find it hard to let us go. They are very worried about us. We find it difficult to communicate our gratefulness, but at the same time tell them about our thirst for adventure. Their overbearing care often feels exaggerated. They see danger where there is none. No one believes us that we can travel the way we do. Even J.'s story that he has come from Paris to Iran that way (a story that becomes mine as well, temporarily), is met with incredulously shaking heads.

Star wars like landscape in the mountains in South Iran

Many of those who give us a ride or invite us into their home hope for a permanent contact abroad. We know that's not possible. Because to maintain such a relationship, both sides must have an interest in it. Ultimately (for them), it's about visas and invitation letters. The people here often hope for help in their efforts to break out of this country. However, that doesn't work. It feels like they believe that one night on the floor gives them a chance to enter Europe. Of course, that doesn't work. I am willing to provide them with my couch, a place to sleep, but to vouch for them, is inconceivable. I think this is the core of my "belly grumbling". Although we don't promise anything to anyone, I can feel that that is the unspoken hope on their site.

Controle station in South Iran

The landscape that we pass through looks like out of a star wars movie. Right and left, the sandy mountain ranges tower up, and the first palm trees adorn the road. The temperature rises steadily. We see little agriculture, but many small herds of goat and sheep. After a few shorter rides, we are lucky and get in a car that brings us all the way to Banda Abbas.

We arrive in the early afternoon, get out and almost immediately are approached by a man. What we initially interpret as a sales attempt turns out to be a friendly helper. He takes us to a camping park and says we can sleep there. So we stay on the outskirts, not sure if we could rest peacefully right by the sea (our favourite, we totally could have by the way). The campsite is a desert made of concrete with regular platforms on which the tents are supposed to stand. Our neighbours are two old men who invite us for tea. They have little but seem pleased to meet us. Less us, than J. They proudly tell him that they are gay. (Another side effect of his earring.) One wears a fake wedding ring for protection, like me. They tell stories from their lives that aren't entirely true, like us. They are looking for connections but don't want anyone coming to close, like us. This encounter makes me sad. How evil this society is. It's cruel to people who are different, to their families, to themselves.

Jonathan, visiting on our way to Banda Abbas, Iran

Apart from the two older gentlemen, we also meet a group of young people with whom we spend some relaxed hours. This park seems to be a space for people who are looking for that tiny bit of unsupervised space and freedom. A gap in the tightly knit system of family surveillance. The girls in the group risk their reputation. The boys must protect this reputation. If they don't, they're not "good boys". Good and bad are words that are thrown around everywhere I go. As if it were that easy...

The next day we hit the city, buy a ticket for Mumbai for J. and a ticket for the boat to Dubai for me. We have a deadline and spend the rest of our time on the islands.

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