. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.





#44 - Iran
Jeff Willner - 8 June 2002

(Mianeh, IRAN) – Persia. I had been looking forward to visiting it for years. Even as the appeal of the trip was fading through the rough sections of western China and the toll of nine months of rough travel was wearing hard on me, I still looked forward to Iran. The ancient city of Persepolis, grand mosques, the main square of Esfahan which was said to rival Venice in sheer grandeur, there were so many things to look forward to. A free spirited friend of mine who regularly quit his law profession to wander the world had sent me a postcard from Iran years ago, raving about the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the country. I was definitely ready for some friendliness and beauty.

And our trip started well. The border guards processed us quickly and we were across the border into the eastern desert on a beautifully smooth highway, driving on the right hand side of the road again. One of the first things that struck me about the country is how middle class it seemed. And I mean that in the best possible sense. Clean city centers, grassy medians, modern infrastructure, it was no third world country. We wandered through the downtown of the first big town looking for a place to stay and shopping the hotels was quite straightforward. The decent ones had signs in Arabic and English, the clerks spoke English, and the amenities were right up to western standards (if you didn’t count the squat toilets). 

Sally and Stacey had to wear head scarves, though in Pakistan it was a bit hit and miss. Sometimes necessary and sometimes not. On our first evening in Iran though, Sally and I left our hotel room to get a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant. Forgetting her headscarf, Sally headed across the hall with bare hair and I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. No way. The manager politely stopped her and asked if she would mind going back to her room to put it on.

We had done some reading on the internet and in our guide book prior to entering Iran to make sure we would be sensitive to the local customs – but we made a critical mistake. Not only were headscarves and long pants necessary but in Iran a woman was half naked if she wasn’t wearing an overcoat type robe (chador). The closer we got to the northeast near Tehran, the more we noticed the stares. At first we just didn’t understand the problem. But it became clear pretty quick that every other woman in sight was wearing a chador. Unfortunately one drawback of driving hard is there is precious little time for shopping – so we decided to just press on.

The fortress of Bam is a mountain of mud brick battlements protecting a lush oasis in the middle of the desert. Thousands of palm trees fringed the fort walls, gradually petering out into the baking hot rock. It was easy to see how the fabled Silk route acquired its mystique. Tracing the silk route backward we went up into the hills toward Persepolis. Ancient city of the Babylonians and testament to the grandeur of the crescent kingdoms. Further to the east we finally arrived in Esfahan.

City of poets, grand squares, hundreds of fountains, and long arched bridges spanning its massive river, Esfahan was legendary a thousand years ago. The on again-off again capital of the Persian empire (Iran) it was gifted with architecturally ambitious kings. At the heart of the city is Masjid-i-Shah, a 17th century mosque and one of the best examples of Persian architecture. Around it is the main square where horse drawn carts circle a long reflecting fountain, and a massive arcade of shops selling all sorts of wonderful items. Families eat ice cream in the shade and carpet dealers offer free tea to any and all. 

I bought three little pictures inscribed on genuine camel bone for just over $20. Stacey bought two carpets for over $4000. My mind boggled. “You wait and see, when we get home this will seem like a real deal!” After a year on the road I couldn’t conceive of four thousand and bargain in the same sentence. Sally and I were still bargaining for two dollar meals “One eighty five by Allah and not one piastre more!”. Eight dollar cappuccinos and eighty dollar bottles of wine seemed like a very distant memory.

It wasn’t cheap to tour Iran. The oil economy means there are plenty of people with money and the tourist trade was booming just with the locals. But one place we saved a mint was on the diesel. It’s a huge country, over 3000km to transit, and we had to fill the tanks a few times. After pumping 80 litres into the tank at the first station I asked the attendant for the price (there was no meter on the pump). “Oh, that’s about 4,000 Rials.” I stopped, puzzled. “You mean 40,000?” “No, 4,000.” I paid and jumped in the truck. Sally was doing expenses and asked the amount. I told her. She didn’t believe me. “Jeff, are you telling me you just paid $2.20 for 80 litres of diesel?!!” Yep.

It was totally casual at the filling station. Diesel is a greasy thick fuel and when a couple hundred litres have been pumped over the forecourt it makes for slippery going. It was just so pointless to be careful filling the tank. Ooops, missed the spout, got to talking with the attendant, fuel tank is full and overflows everywhere, pull it out. How many litres the attendant asks. A hundred and twenty in the truck and another couple all over the place. He squints with the effort of adding, that will be… $3.20. Sorry, I only have $3 on me. Yeah that’s fine. Gotta love that oil economy.

“Of all the places we visit Esfahan is my favorite”, said an overland driver/guide we had met in India. “You will walk in the main square and be invited to sit with a family having tea, hours pass just talking and before you know it you are invited back to their house for dinner.” So we were a bit puzzled by our reception. Possibly the political climate (the US had recently included Iran in the official Axis of Evil) or the size of our group (we were not in a big tourist mob) contributed to the attitude toward us, but I think most of the frosty stares were because the women were not wearing chadors. We did have an excellent evening smoking a sheeshah underneath one of the long arched bridges with two Iranian families, and many people were very friendly. But it wasn’t the kind of genuine Arab hospitality that we had experienced in Sudan, Syria, or even Pakistan. We were puzzled and even a bit hurt.

Unfortunately on our last day in Esfahan Stacey and Sally were doing some sightseeing and a guy tried to grab Sally’s purse. Not being a shrinking violet, she hung on and tried to get a few swift kicks in. He dragged her to the pavement but took off as soon as she started yelling for the police. To their credit the Iranian police were very very upset about the whole thing. But the snide comments about their clothes, the occasional wandering hand from a randy young buck, and then the mugging were about enough for Sally’s tolerance. “I’ve had it with this country,’ she said, ‘let’s get to Turkey.”

So we bid Esfahan adieu, took the loop around Tehran (the Los Angeles of the Middle East) and drove hard to the border. We blew by the Castle of the Assassins, fresh wheat in the fields and the snow capped mountains with Iran’s ski resorts, winding westward into the night heading toward the border. And almost as if they sensed our mood, that we had given up on their country, four different individuals tried to rip us off on our way to the border. It really was an unfortunate way to end our visit. I hope to visit Iran again, there have been too many wonderful reviews for it to be as bad as all that. And the mystery of Persia still sings in my imagination.



Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com