Esfahan, Iran, August 2012
About the fastest hitchhiker ever, the heaviest makeup ever, the random tourist and wondering who the French guy was
We spent the night in the backpacker’s hostel of Esfahan together with many other individual travelers. By the next day our group of four had grown up to five people. Newest member: Jos from the Netherlands, who hitchhiked all the way into Iran. Jos was the fastest hitchhiker I ever met and kept asking Vinko about the quality of streets in his home country Croatia.
“Well the coast street is full, the others are alright”
“No, how is the asphalt?”
“What do you care for? You’ll sit in a car, won’t you?”
“Yes, but I need tempo, tempo, tempo!”, every time he pronounced the word “Tempo” he hit his hands together and underlined his statement with a very serious look. “I need to choose the fastest route!”
Jos had an important family meeting waiting for him back home and the only reason why he did not take an even faster airplane was Adrenaline. Everybody has his own style of travel. Though none of us had managed to remember Jos’ name on the first day (only three letters) and we only remembered that he was a hichhiking Dutch, we called him “Van der Hitch”.
“Where are you from?”
So our little group of five headed towards the famous main square. “Where are you from?” a lot of young people were curious on us. Lukas, the calmest and most patient of us, stopped every 30 seconds to explain to some of the kids that we were “from different countries.” While he slowly listed all our origins some more kids surrounded him and he had to start from the beginning. Stopping all the time we did not make too much “Tempo Tempo” but Van der Hitch did not seem to care too much. He was on vacation now. His speed mode was turned off.
The woman with the iron mask
When we arrived to the Main Square Van der Hitch showed us a hidden restaurant where we ate some greasy but delicious cheeseburgers and drank a lot of coke. During the day! He had discovered that place a day ago and was happy to guide us there. Filled up with little meat, less cheese but a lot of ketchup and mayonnaise and with the bellies full of bubbly coke we ran into three girls. One of them had her face covered in the biggest layer of makeup I had ever seen. I could not stop staring at her and wondered if parts of it would fall down if she moved her head to fast. The girls were originally from Iran, but grew up in Germany and they produced a show in a local TV station there. So we all explained to the camera what we like most of Esfahan and Iran and how we met each other. I must admit that I was amazed when we said goodbye to each other and her mask was still in her face. How did she do that?
“Just a cup of tea”
Our highlight of the day would be the big mosque at the main square. To our disappointment we had to see that it was closed. “Who has the keys?”, Van der Hitch asked one of the carpet sellers, “I want to make friends with him, maybe he can let us in”. The salesman laughed and pointed towards a chubby man who got bald at the temples. “If you manage him to open the door for you I will give you a carpet as a gift!”
Van der Hitch trotted towards his friend-to-be and we followed the carpet salesman’s invitation to have a tea in his place. “You don’t have to buy anything, it is just a cup of tea.”
So who is the French guy?
We watched some of his treasures and he gave us a proper introduction in the different Persian Carpets. As usual it did not take long until we heard the question: “Where are you from?” all eyes went to Lukas, who did not listen, because he was fascinated with a carpet. So we had to explain ourselves. “Germany”, I said, “Mexico”, Roberto said, “France”, another guy said, “Croatia”, Vinko said, “Netherlands”, Van der Hitch said. Oh, Van der Hitch was back. He did not appear too happy, I assumed that the man with the key did not want to be his “best friend”. After a couple of seconds all our eyes went to the middle of the bank. Did somebody say “France”? Who was the French guy? So there he was sitting, a blond young man in a green shirt right in the middle of our group. He looked down to one of the carpets and took a picture of it.
“And you all travel together?”, the salesman asked. Some of us answered yes, some no and Lukas, as usual, gave a more detailed explanation on our travel situation. I think I have seen the French guy nodding his head. So we were six.
The random tourist’s reaction
When we left the store we ran into a man selling Souvenir T-Shirts in front of the Mosque. The random tourist has a specific reaction on people who walk straight towards him with T-shirts, watches, sunglasses or a menu of “the most local restaurant in town”. This reaction is avoiding eye contact, walking a bit to the other side and whispering “No thank you”. Van der Hitch is none of those random tourists. “When will the mosque open?” he asked the T-shirt seller. He was more disappointed in his failure of “making friends”, than I thought. The man rose his shoulders and let them fall again.
“When? Today?” Van der Hitch was tall, really tall and he appeared strong. He stood just some centimeters away of the first so self-confident salesman who now appeared like a dwarf.
“Tomorrow before twelve, and maybe today after six”. He spit out the words in fear and was quite relieved when his customer let him in peace again. We decided to get to know the Armenian quarter instead. While Van der Hitch was still deciding whether he should stay with us or wait for the mosque to open, the T-shirt seller had found another tourist. A tall blond girl in the most comfortable flip flops and light trousers sighed loudly. She rolled her eyes, moved a bit to the other side and said: “Nooooooo!”, when the seller came too close to her. I giggled. That was a usual tourist’s reaction. The girl turned around when she heard me giggling and I felt guilty immediately.
The group keeps growing
“It was just …”, I started explaining and probably I even blushed, “I mean … your reaction. I would have done exactly the same!” Thankfully I saw her smiling instead of being annoyed. Lotti came from Germany, travelled alone and had a lot of stories to tell. In Kyrgyzstan she wanted to buy two donkeys – one for herself and one for her baggage – and explore the mountains with them. She became our newest member of the group. The French guy had disappeared as magically as he had appeared and we never saw him again.
So the six of us sat down in the park, walked in the empty river’s bed towards the Armenian neighborhood and watched some beautiful churches from the outside. They were all closed. For the third time of the day Van der Hitch suggested that we could all share a taxi instead of walking. “Look”, he showed us the map in his Lonely Planet travel guide. “That must be more than two or three kilometers”. It was his last day in town and he wanted to spend the few hours left sightseeing instead of walking. For the third time nobody else wanted a taxi, so he stayed with us.
Chillaxing in the waiting time
Van der Hitch left in the same night. He took a bus. Vinko, Lotti and Lukas left by the following morning towards Yazd. Roberto and I stayed for another day and a half for our Visa extensions. We got to know more of the city and Roberto took some extensive siestas while I tried to repair my laptop’s cable. At night we met Fabienne and Robert from Germany and Thomas from Austria. Fabienne and Robert wanted to get to know more from Iran before they jumped over to Pakistan and Thomas worked for two months in the Embassy in Tehran. We went out for dinner together.
By the following day we could finally fetch up our Visa Extensions and visited the open Mosque. I felt sorry for poor Van der Hitch, because the inside was really beautiful.