A lot have we heard about the hospitality of the Persian people before we arrived in Iran. A lot of fellow bike travellers claimed Iran to be one of the best countries for bike touring. Not only for this reason we were looking forward to enter Iran but also because we were curious how people live in a society which is marked by a conservative and oppressive regime on one hand and the longing for the people for more freedom and modernity.
The first three weeks in Iran were incredible. We paired up with another cyclist and the energy between the three of us was so uniquely great that we stayed together for almost two months. Together we were riding through the spectacular desert landscapes of Iran all the way to Shiraz.
We felt the vibe of the old silk road wherever we went. The north of Iran is dominated by a Turkish speaking population coming originally from Türkiye and Azerbaijan. The food, faces and traditions reminded us a lot of Türkiye.
South of Tehran people are Persians so language, architecture and food changed. But another thing changed. After having the happiest three weeks ever on that trip we started to feel sad, exhausted and even depressed. We had a hard time getting motivated to get back on the bikes and we were unable to figure out why our mood suddenly changed.
Until 2 days before the first riots. We were sitting with a young local guy and he told us about his life in Iran. After telling us a lot of details of his life he ended his speech with: “it doesn’t matter what we do, living in Iran means living in a prison”. And this statement made clear to us why we felt the way we did. Already in the first weeks of our trip in Iran we observed that a lot of young people are apathetic and they reported their feeling of hopelessness and imprisonment in a country that is only restricting their education and development instead of supporting it. We learned that Iran, even though the consumption of alcohol is illegal, has a big problem in regards of alcohol and drug abuse. We also read and observed, that Iran is one of the countries with the highest morbidity-rate of mental illnesses. Those feelings of despair were travelling from the minds of the people we were talking to, to our own ones. We started to feel tired and sad from talking to locals without having any advice for them or being able to help. Most of the time we just hear us say: “we are sorry but for Irani's it is nearly impossible to immigrate to Germany”.
On Sept 16th (after the death of Mahsa Amini) our trip changed from an exploration of the old Persian Silk Road to a race against time. First, we thought that the protests would not have an effect on us and we were thrilled that the young population of Iran was finally out in the streets to fight for their rights. A few days later first foreigners have been imprisoned and arbitrary police interviews, mobile phone checks and detentions was something which happened to our fellow bike tourers.
Iranian people who hosted bike tourers would face heavy charges. Even talking to us (what I call road-side-conversations) might look like giving inside information to foreign spies to those who want to believe it. Internet was cut and most VPN´s deactivated. Further planning was near to impossible as well as keeping our relatives up to date who were extremely worried.
The last week in Iran we spent on Queshm Island. In the south or Iran the population is mixed and we could see the influence of a long sea-trading history between Iran with the neighbouring countries such as India, Pakistan, Oman, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Even remains from the first colonialists (Portugal) remain on the shore of the Straight of Hormuz (which we learned later was part of Oman for many years).
We left Iran on a boat to Dubai. We had to scrap our initial plan of going to Pakistan for security reasons. Every day the situation became more unpredictable. We still haven´t “digested” our trip to Iran. We still feel very ambivalent with the negative feelings being dominant at the moment. We wish for that to change and to remember Iran as the place it was for us in the first three weeks – a fascinating country along the old silk road with amazing people, stunning landscapes and a long history.