Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Finishing Touches

I've been back with the family in Holland now for a month. I can't say I've really accomplished anything exciting, but I'm thinking of this as my "holiday" period this year where I can be lazy. I have developed quite a plan for most of the rest of the year to keep myself busy.
My goal as soon as I got out of Africa was to start the application process for an Iranian visa. This is not an easy visa to get. 6 years ago when we applied, Canadians were blanket refused due to political problems at the time. Our political relationship with Iran has not improved a whole lot since then. I'd heard from a Canadian friend that went to Iran late last year as an independent tourist that it was possible, which got me in the mind to try again. For western countries right now, the UK and Canada have the hardest time getting independent tourist visas. The non-refundable fees are higher and all must be paid up front with the application. Americans can't travel independently as tourists at all but must book an organized tour to officially get in. Everyone has to get pre-approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran before even being allowed to apply for the visa at an embassy and this requires the services of an Iranian agent to help you get an invitation, not unlike applying for visas to Russia for example. It's all just a hassle and refusals and delays are not uncommon at all.
Paying the agent is annoying too as you can't just pay them because of all the sanctions on businesses in Iran and financial transactions. It is another "cash only" destination and payments to companies in Iran go through European or Turkish banks which is just whacked. I've seen this kind of thing in places like Sudan before though.
Another issue is that any evidence or even suspicion of a visit to Israel will get you refused immediately. Because of this I also had to wait until my passport was renewed, which I did late last year (it was full again).

Why bother with all the hassle and go then, especially with all the drama and controversy surrounding Iran these days? Are you kidding me? I've wanted to go to Iran forever. It's one of the great historical civilizations and everyone I've met that has ever gone to Iran has had nothing but praise for the people and place. I've been sitting here doing some research on my trip (I was successful in my application but only given 21 days on my visa) and not only were the staff in the embassy very friendly (which is more than I can say about many other embassies, including our own) but I've been trying to line up couchsurfing hosts there and been getting completely swamped with spontaneous offers to stay. The difference in hospitality is already huge...
Thus I'm only getting more and more excited to go.

The plan right now is to fly into Erbil, Iraq in 2 weeks. This flight is booked. Erbil is in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq and is quite stable and "touristy" despite the continued problems elsewhere in the country. I'll then hopefully go to Iran before revisiting Armenia, Georgia and Turkey over a 2 month trip. I'm still working on the rough outline, let alone the details....

In the meantime I'll continue helping with the family push to finish Savannah's book. It's very nearly done and hopefully soon we'll be able to make an announcement about how you can get a copy.


At 4:07 PM , Blogger marjan said...

it's sad that there are a lot of difficulties for getting Iranian visa for people from Canada and US...
but I am happy that you didn't get disappointed by all these difficulties or get discouraged by what you hear in the news about Iran. Persia is one of the most interesting places to visit, I am not saying that because I am Iranian, you can hear that from people who have traveled here and Iranian people like all people from all around the world... hope your stay in Iran would be great and looking forward to seeing you in Shiraz :)


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