During my journey across Iran I would visit the cities of the Northern Region and make friends along the way. Travelling up from Esfahan by comfortable local bus we pulled into Tehran, scene of many a bloody demonstration in preceding weeks around the time of the national elections.  The main thing I wanted to see here was the northern suburbs (which I’m told are nice) and the old US Embassy complex infamous for the hostage situation there that dragged on after the 1979 revolution.

Now days the southern wall of the former Embassy has a dozen anti-American murals; I’m told this is the view of only the government and that the majority of regular people like Americans and Westerners.  From my experience Iranians love foreigners; are curious and extremely hospitable towards them, but I guess I have interacted mainly with a specific liberal cohort of central city citizens.  I’m told many Iranians are even getting sick of hearing their government’s anti-west rhetoric that only furthers the false stereotype about them.

Tehran is a little short on sights, but knowing this, I contacted a local (through the Couchsurfing project), to get a different perspective on Iranian life from a locals point of view.  After meeting them, we would all go out biking for the afternoon. Sara, another local I’d meet through couchsurfing, and I d visit enjoy Dizi and traditional soup-stew meal at her home.  When Sara is in public she would need to wear the government imposed Magney and Manto (even in the heat of summer!) as part of the Islamic dress code (you are arrested if you do not).  Men on the other hand, providing they wear pants, can wear what they like. I’m told though that the actual enforcement of the Hejab (religious dress) has relaxed somewhat over the years, now days in larger cities, it’s not uncommon to see young women showing some hair, maybe even some ear! Thanks again Lana and your friends, Thanks to you I had a memorable few days in Tehran.

My time in Tehran fell, fortunately, between periods of street demonstrations so I never saw anything unusual, however when I arrived at the Caspian Sea coastal town of Ramsar I did. There were tree stumps in the salty waters of the ‘world’s largest lake’.  How could this be?  It seemed the water level had risen and reached the trees that used to grow along the coast, but surely a ‘lake’ 40% larger than New Zealand couldn’t have risen by this much.  I would learn that yes it had, during 1977 and 1994 it rose 3m which equates to a staggering amount of water.

A Swedish traveller, by the name of Pehr, I had met in Tehran joined me for the trip north to the coastal town where we met up again with Mehran a local I stayed with in Tehran through friends of my couchsurfing contact.  We all headed into the Elburz Mountains that separate the Caspian from the Iranian desert plateau, as we planned to climb Mt Samamous; the highest coastal mountain in the region.  Mt Samamous would be no simple hike, as the mountains summit reaches 3,620m towards the heavens.

The initial part of the climb was through pasture lands and fog from the warm moist Caspian where there was no end to the fields of wild flowers. I would take dozens of photos of the various strange flora I came across. The hiking was tough going on account of the 2000m we would need to climb into the cooling air, but seven and a half hours after setting out, we reached the summit. There was a simple stone hut on the  summit where the four of us would slept, but not before our tuna and naan dinner around a warming fire and the light of a full moon. Magical.

In the morning a lone horseman turned up top the summit, Swede was quick to ask for a ride.  We would leave a note on the wall in the stone hut, in English and Persian, for any that followed. Of all the countries I have visited Iran has the least amount of English; although several times a day people who know some English (mainly Uni students) will start a conversation with you.

The descent was somewhat clearer, but no easier than the ascent although it was broken as we came across a semi nomadic sheppard’s hut where we would stop and be treated to lunch. In the Sheppard’s hut we would have freshly made bread and yoghurt in addition to chai of course, simple but tasty after a few hours trekking.

Once back at Mehran’ s Granma’s house in Ramsar we certainly enjoyed another of her delicious meals, this time her best khoresht (meaty stew with veges) and rice etc.  I can only stress the added richness of connecting with locals when intrepidly travelling through a new country. Mehran it was a great five days we all spent together in Tehran and the Elburz mountains, I hope to see you again mate, thanks for the memories.

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