Thursday, May 20, 2010

CouchSurfing - Iran

Firstly, I must say: WOW! Amazing. Between the historical sites and the friendly people, Iran is an amazing place. Information that I collected from Iranian locals during my trip. As always, take it with a grain of salt. Travel was from May 10th to May 20th 2010

We all need it. It keeps the money going round, even in secluded Iran. To open an account and get an ATM card, is difficult and you need to have a local do it for you. Furthermore, it takes a few days to get the ATM card and you'll likely be gone then. You can get prepaid Iranian debit gift cards is some shops, but not all places accept them.

When dealing with cash, I found that it was easier to peg a bill to the dollar. The yellow 50,000 is $5. Just remember that and go from there. I ran into these 500,000 ($50) and 1,000,000 ($100) bank checks. Don't be worried, I found that people accept them.

Try to take larger bills. $5 for food is enough, but try to carry larger bills, instead of a large wad of $5. It will be easier for you. Be careful of how people present costs to you. $1 is known as 1 toman or 10 toman or 10,000 toman or 100,000 riyals. I’ve been told that there is talk about removing 4 zeros from the currency. We’ll see if that happens, considering the Z$ inflation crisis.

Inflation is always an issue here. Apparently, it is more like 40%. Food at a local restaurant on the main strip is about $3 to $5. If you go off the beaten path, it's more like $2 to $4, but keep in mind cleanliness. If you eat in a hotel, it's more like $8 to $15.

Taxis are inexpensive. A short jaunt around the city will cost you anywhere from 50¢ to $2 (for 2 people). Taxi from Kermanshah to Hamedan on a shared taxi is $10 and in your own taxi is $35 - $50, depending on your negotiation skills. Taxi from Hamedan to Imam Kohmeini International Airport (IKIA or IKA) is $35.

There are different buses that you can take between cities. Cheap – no amenities for $2 to $5. Medium – $4 to $7. Ultra luxurious with reclining seats - $6 to $12. Prices depend on distances. Types of buses depends on travel segments. Take a night bus from Esfahan to Tehran on the ultra luxurious bus and save on the hotel room. Just a thought.

Flights are inexpensive, but North American standards. Prices are charged by segments and distance traveled. Beware of the availability of direct flights. For example:
Esfahan to Shiraz $35
Shiraz to Ahvaz $35
Ahvaz to Kermanshah $78 (Ahvaz – Tehran – Kermanshah) no direct flights
If you choose to fly with IranAir, expect delays. My flights were delayed up to 3 hours, each time. I chose to fly with them for the old planes. I flew on the Fokker 100s, A300s and A310s.

Water is supplied everywhere, free of charge. I refrained from drinking that water, for fear of contamination to my system. Locals can handle it; they’ve been doing it their whole lives. Bottled water costs 50¢ for 1.5L. I wasn’t going to risk getting sick on my trip.
Air quality is poooooooooor. If you have asthma, do not come. My friend’s aunt is a doctor at a private clinic in Esfahan and tells me that breathing problems are a big issue here. Bring a mask and be prepared that your hair, skin and lungs will be covered by a oily, tar. Locals may not notice it, but I sure did. I found the air to get worse as my trip progressed. In Esfahan, on Soffeh Mountain, the air was the best. Kermanshah was the worst. Across from Bisotun, there is a large power plant that spews exhaust 24/7. It’s a haze all around. Trucks and cars are old and do not have the modern exhaust that Westerners have come accustom to.

Despite my warning about cleanliness, the food is amazing. Be prepared that lamb/sheep is used in a lot of cooking. I took a translation of “I don’t eat lamb or sheep” written in Farsi. It helps a lot.

Do you speak Farsi? If not, be prepared to have one hell of a time gesturing to everyone you encounter. Simply put, most people don’t speak English here. Taxi drivers, travel agents, restaurant, hotels. Some have one or two staff that do, but it’s hit and miss when they are working. Practice your Farsi before you arrive. I brought my iPhone with a translator on it and it was okay. It didn’t translate sentences. I really felt that I was teaching ESL again.
Shaking your head is not no. No is Na. The motion for Na is to raise your head up. Confused? I’m still confused and I’ve returned.

Friendly or Patronizing?
People are naturally curious and Iranians are no different. People will talk about you in groups and look at you and point and laugh. You have no idea what they are saying, but you know they’re talking about you. It’s best to ignore it. Iranians make it BLATENTLY obvious that they are. I’ve been approached by army men, groups of girls, random individual guys and girls to take pictures with. I don’t know them, but I guess it’s the novelty that there is a visitor in the country. I’ve been told that Esfahnis believe that Guests are a gift from God. Perhaps this extends beyond the tree lined streets of Esfahan?

Hotels are priced inexpensive compared to Western World. Hostels are not that easy to find in smaller cities. Hotels usually include breakfast, which was interesting to me. I recommend:
Shiraz – Hotel Hafez - $29/night breakfast included
Ahvaz – Hostel downtown (don’t remember name) - $20/night no breakfast, but really awesome people!

Just my 2¢ on Iran. There are positives and negatives of everywhere you go. I feel that you can mitigate the negatives by preparing. You can read as much as you want about Iran, but your experience will differ slightly, based on your current personal situation. It's a place to go and see. Many have expressed their interested in moving abroad and are curious of the outside world so be prepared for many questions. The people are kind, but like always, be prepared for pick pockets and thieves.

CouchSurfing - Iran

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