Saturday, August 25, 2012

Rasht and Masuleh

Rasht is a perfect example of flexible travel and the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. So much of what I do and where I go is not really decided very far in advance and can be easily altered if I receive enough inspiration and encouragement from others. I hadn't orginally planned all of my Iran trip, especially the northern section, in much detail because I hadn't been sure if I'd get a visa extention or how long it would be if I did. Thus far on the trip I'd been either seeing places I knew of and had always wanted to see, were really famous or were Unesco sites (always a reasonable recommendation if you have no idea what else to do in a country). Rasht was a name that kept popping up as a city that the Iranians (and a few travellers) kept recommending as a destination too. They hadn't really been able to say why other than because it was different from the rest of the country.
I peeked in a guidebook and read that it's famous because it rains there and so has a more tropical and humid climate than the rest of the country; Iranians go there to see rain. I thought this sounded like the stupidest reason to visit anywhere but reasoned that since it was just off the coast of the Caspian sea and near a few other locally famous tourist attractions, it would make a reasonable base for a couple days. So I found a couchsurfing host and jumped on the bus 4 hours from Zanjan to Rasht, not knowing exactly what I wanted or what to expect.
The first thing I found didn't surprise me. I found more excellent hospitality from an excellent host, Farnaz, and her family. The second thing I found, humidity, tried to kill me. 40C and dry is something you can get used to, 35C and humid is so much worse and sucks all the energy out of you when you aren't used to it. The humidity and rain in the area is the result of Caspian Sea water that falls on the north face of the Alborz mountains, giving the land a very different look from the rest of the country. Getting off the bus in Rasht, I felt like I'd stepped sideways half a continent and was back in Malaysia or some other tropical Muslim country.
Rasht is the rapidly-growing capital of Gilan province, a province that historically has been more isolated than most other areas of Iran and has fostered many rebellions and uprisings in the past. There is a bit more of a Russian influence historically and in the architectural style and I guess it's not too surprising therefore to learn that at one point in 1920 it declared itself the independent Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran. It didn't last long but I was surprised to keep running into pro-communists today in Rasht. In fact, I think the groups of people I met were the most rebellious and anti-government that I met while in Iran. They were certainly the most outspoken critics and also the most paranoid at the same time and I was warned of the continued and escalating restrictions and violations by the current government, especially since the failed 2009 rebellion. Ok, no big surprise there, but it was interesting to hear it all again from the new perspective of people that have actually been harassed or jailed because of it. But maybe it's this underlying rebelliousness that makes Rasht a little more relaxed when it comes to some of the cultural restrictions, for example they weren't as afraid of getting in trouble with slack headscarves as people in Isfahan were.
I saw a little of the city but mostly the cafe culture as there aren't many historical sites that are very notable. The one thing I really couldn't understand about Rasht is how the city with the most rain in Iran was the first city I visited that didn't have a covered market but was open air instead.
Rasht is not actually on the coast, but is close, so my hosts and their friends took me on a trip to have a day at the beach. The Caspian is not known for beaches or for being clean though I guess there must be a few nice spots somewhere. The beaches around Rasht were flat, unshaded and wide so that cars were driving on them, huts were set up for rent and lots of local tourists were out having picnics and swimming. Women either don't swim or are completely covered as you'd expect. The water was salty and warm and the day was fun and I have to comment again about how simple the entertainment in Iran can be. The amusement parks are so small, with wimpy rides and the people at the beach were happy amused by renting small motor boats to drive them around in circles for a few minutes before coming back ashore. It reminded me of the contrast with the western lifestyle with its many entertainments that just keep getting bigger and better, pushing us to become more thrill-seeking without actually giving us true satisfaction for any real length of time.

Once again at the Caspian Sea.

A typical Caspian beach.

The following day Farnaz took me to Masuleh with a group of her friends. Masuleh is a 1000-year old village in the mountains near Rasht, famous for it's unusual architecture. It's on the few places in the world where a village climbs a hillside so steeply that the roof of one home forms the pathway for the home above it. Talk about maximum utilization of space! The setting is really pretty too with misty green mountains rising around the village on all sides. From below the view is quite strange because you see all the people on levels above you standing on the roofs of the buildings you're looking at. From above you don't really notice that you are standing on a roof because it looks like a pathway or terrace under your feet. There are of course no safety barriers at all and in the densest section of the village there are cafes set up on the terraces so you're literally having tea on top of someones shop or home. There were a few spots where you could see abandoned homes with holes in their roofs and I wonder if that is a constant fear for the locals, hoping your neighbour doesn't fall through the roof on top of you while you're sleeping.





While not really internationally famous, Masuleh is well known in Iran and during the day there are many day-tripping Iranian tourists and our group of 9 was just one of many there that day. Again I had a lot of fun but thought the whole thing was a little rushed or too short. They wanted to hang out drinking tea and enjoying the view while I was more tempted to run around exploring every nook and cranny and weird view I could find... They more or less won, mostly because my knee wouldn't really allow me to run up and down a hill all day anyway.

Our group.

We stayed longer than we should've and ended up missing the last transport back to Rasht. Farnaz is a go-getter and resourceful and figured that 10pm in a village with 8 others was a great time for her to start her hitching career and prove she could be a real traveller. I was very impressed when a little while later she announced that we were going to get a ride back with an empty cargo truck. It was open in the back and the driver was nice enough to give us a broom to sweep out the sawdust and clean the inside a bit. I wasn't fooled and knew the ride would be dust hell inside so took a strategic position near the front to try to get some fresh air.
Within seconds of leaving, everyone was screaming with joy as we were tossed around in the back as the driver (like most Iranian professionals) drove like a madman downhill on a very windy mountain road. The dust was terrible as I expected and when we were finally dropped off 45 minutes later everyone's eyes were red and we had to run into a restaurant to wash our eyes so we could even see again. The ride didn't take us the whole way, but just to a nearby town where we were able to continue our journey by shared taxi.

Hitching in the back of the truck.

After such great experiences travelling together Farnaz asked me if she could continue travelling with me for a little while as she was on summer break. This was bound to add all sorts of complications, especially in a country where a female will get a lot of suspicion and restriction travelling around with an unrelated male, particularly a foreign one. Thinking it would be fun to travel with someone again and teach them the ways, I agreed and a whole new adventure started....

Friday, August 24, 2012


From Qazvin I went next to Zanjan. I was getting a bit pressed for time overall and had considered skipping Zanjan entirely but decided to make a quick 2-day stop anyway and rush to just the most important nearby site, Soltaniyeh. Zanjan is a couple hours further northwest along the main road to Tabriz. It's smaller than Qazvin (but still a spread out city) and not particularly famous in itself but again makes a useful base for exploring nearby attractions.
I had another great host in Zanjan, a university physics professor, who was really busy but still introduced me to his friends and had me helping him proofread his next manuscript which was kind of cool. I don't really miss all that that much anymore and don't want to spend my life writing and proofreading science papers and research proposals.
I ran around the city to see what there was to see, that being a couple of museums, the typical covered market and mosques. One of the museums was in the old public laundry/washing place showing another complicated system of waterworks created for the people. The traditional technologies were really impressive and one of the highlights of visiting Iran. The natural history museum is famous for the remains of 3 “salt mummies”, men that were naturally mummified after being buried in a salt cave/mine 1700 years ago and being found only recently. The main mummies (I think there were 5 in total) are displayed in Zanjan as the cave is nearby but the most famous and best preserved head is in Tehran at the national museum there.

Zanjan's covered market.

The public laundry museum.

The mummified salt man of Zanjan. This head is in Tehran now though.

But the most famous site around Zanjan is the Unesco-listed Soltaniyeh. Zanjan was never a capital of Iran, but nearby Soltaniyeh was the capital during the days of the Mongol dynasty that had a brief reign over the region in the 1300's. Tamerlane (from Uzbekistan) came along and destroyed the place in 1384 and since then Soltaniyeh has been nothing more than a little village 30km outside of Zanjan. What's left to see isn't much other than a huge brick dome mausoleum. It's actually the largest brick dome in the world and the mausoleum was built as a failed attempt to move the remains of Imam Ali from Iraq (it's the 2nd most important Shia pilgrimage site after Mecca) but when the Mongol sultan died, he was buried there instead. The mausoleum is beautiful in it's own bricky kind of way and it looks so out of place completely dominating the local village around it. There is really nothing else there and so at almost 50m high it's visible from several km away on the approach in from the main highway.

Soltaniyeh mausoleum towers in the distance.

Perfect proportions.

Inside, the mausoleum is now a paradise for monkeys (and Bre) as the hollow interior is one of the most impressive sets of scaffolding I've ever seen. An Italian team of archeologists were working on restoring the mausoleum and had set up the scaffolding in the 70's. After the Iranian Revolution of '79 the team was kicked out and nothing has been done since. But the scaffolding looks like it was built to last until the last millenium too and while it does a good job of keeping everything together it actually blocks most of what there is to see inside. As you can imagine, the view from the 2nd level of the mausoleum was great and I can see how the grassland along the foothills of the Alborz mountains would appeal to the ancient Mongolian spirit to set their capital up there instead of in another Iranian location.

Scaffolding paradise inside the mausoleum.

I'm really happy I chose to go to Zanjan and see Soltaniyeh. It was rushed and there is still plenty more in the area to go back and see, including another Unesco site and some caves, so as I've kept saying to myself over and over for the last couple weeks, I can and will make another trip back to Iran some day.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


You can now purchase your copy of Sihpromatum on as a kindle book here -

And within hours on Kobo as an epub ebook. It will also come on Barnes and Nobles and the Ibookstore for Ipads in a matter of days.

A paperback version will be available in 1-2 weeks on Amazon or you can order it from me personally in September.


Your support is so very much appreciated by the author and family!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book and Website

Once again, it has been far too long since I’ve made my presence here. Perhaps this is because my life has become significantly more boring since the trip or it has continued to be overwhelmingly crazy. I know it is very cliché to say, but I cannot believe how fast time flies! It’s been nearly four years since I flew home from Egypt, ending a family trip of a lifetime to start yet another new beginning. But time was not wasted as I have continued to explore the globe (over twenty countries since that time), finished my highschool, learned a bit of Dutch and started the next big thing, my memoir series Sihpromatum! I am so happy to announce that today, August 16th, 2012 marks two years exactly since I sat down and began day 1 of writing my book. There’s been a countless number of times in the seven years since we started talking about writing a book about our family’s travels that I thought it would never happen. But with all the incredible support and encouragement directed at me, I really pulled it off. I cannot express in words how absolutely thrilled I am that I actually did it. I am so proud of myself.The book is titled “Sihpromatum – I Grew my Boobs in China” by Savannah Grace. It is currently being formatted for eBook and having the interior design applied. It should be available on Barnes and Noble, Kindle and Kobo by the end of this week as an eBook. In 1-2 weeks it will also be available on the ibookstore for Ipads and in paperback on Amazon. I will be printing my own batch of paperbacks which I will be able to sign for anyone who wants to order directly from me. Those will arrive in Vancouver within the time I am in Vancouver from September/October. I could not have done any of this without all of the support and encouragement I have received. I can’t tell you how big an impact kind words have and believing in someone who’s following a dream. You have all made it possible for my dream to come true! Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you.In the meantime, Mom has made a website for the book which has thousands of photos. Go check it out, it’s pretty great! I will let you know the moment the book is out for sale. This is a very exciting time for me.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Qazvin and Alamut

Qazvin was a last-minute decision stop for me. I only stayed 2 nights but it turned out to be quite nice. I had a cool host, a young guy that immediately took me to a tile-art exhibition where I met a couple other couchsurfers and a German guest of theirs, Monic. It was her 5th visit to Iran and she spoke Persian quite well, having started to study it in the last year. After this I was told that my host, despite having a slightly gimpy arm (from nerve damage due to a doctor error at birth) was a 2nd degree black belt in Judo. Very inspiring and optimistic guy. He wanted to show off his dojo where his instructor is the highest ranking Judo guy in Iran. While at the dojo saying hi, I got a lot of attention from some of his Judomates and ended up somehow getting an invite with 2 of them to go to Alamut castle the next day with Monic as well.
My whole purpose and goal in going to Qazvin was to use it as a base to visit Alamut so this was a huge help, especially after I saw the roads we had to travel on to get there. The Alamut valley and it's many castles are famous as the legendary assassin castles of the 12th century Ismaili-sect that legend says used as bases for their mercenary assassin and kidnapping activities. Legend also says that the assassins were convinced they'd be earning a trip to paradise by being shown gardens full of young girls while they were stoned on hashish. The words hashish and assassin are actually related in their roots from this time...
I think I actually first heard about these guys from the book “Count of Monte Cristo” which just goes to show that the legend goes way back and isn't something from hollywood. In any case, there is some truth to the stories. There was indeed a very strong breakaway sect of Islam called Ismaili, that ruled in the area with up to 50 fortresses. Many were considered impregnable for all intents and purposes and the valley itself very harsh terrain as well. Some, like Alamut castle were perched on the edges of cliffs or on rocky outcroppings only assailable from 1 side, and with water storage pools and food stores allowing them to withstand seiges for many years.
The scenery in the valley is spectacular and the road is extremely dangerous for anyone that is even slightly susceptible to car sickness. It's brutal, especially with Iranian-style driving and I was so thankful I wasn't visiting in a cramped bus. When we finally got there, after 1 ½ hrs of driving, I couldn't believe the location they chose for Alamut. It's just a bunch of ruins now covered in scaffolding, but the history and location make it worth the visit anyway. All the fortresses were eventually destroyed by the Mongols who conquered most through trickery or diplomacy, though a couple fought and 1 castle actually lasted 17 years before finally surrendering! The Mongols broke them all down so they wouldn't ever be retaken and reused because they were so tough. The Ismailis basically disappeared but today there are still some in northern Pakistan (we saw some in Hunza actually) and in Tajikistan apparently. Monic had been there a year before and said that nothing had changed on the restoration, and in many ways it seems that is a common theme in Iran, lots of half-finished projects that aren't being actively worked on anymore. I'd love to see the rest of the valley at a more leisurely pace but definitely not by bus. We stopped at the small Evan Lake on the way back as well for a quick picnic/nap.

The road to Alamut.

Into the Alamut valley.

At the base of Alamut.

The impregnable mountain that Alamut is built on top of.

View from the top.

Ruins of Alamut castle.

Evan lake.

The day was a turning point for me in my trip though because I realized, hiking up to the castle that I could no longer handle any kind of serious exertion on my knee. I damaged it somehow, somewhere just before my trip and it was getting progressively worse, to the point where I was walking like a cripple on slopes and actively trying to avoid stairs as much as possible. From this point on I scrapped every other castle and hike I'd hoped to see or do in northern Iran and in fact started to get progressively lazier out of necessity. :(
The next day I was able to see a bit of Qazvin proper with my host's father. I knew nothing about the city before coming and didn't expect much. Actually it seems like any other city of moderate size in Iran. It was briefly the capital of Iran, 500 years ago, before the capital was moved to Esfahan. So it did have a small royal palace, Chehel Sotun, the usual mosques, a pair of city gates, and what they claim is the oldest street in Iran. How they figure what that means I don't know but there is a sign saying it is so I guess I have to believe it... I was also taken briefly to a little amusement park on the outskirts of town. It's funny how people here will be so enthusiastic about the dinkiest of rides and little parks and even on a weekday it was busy until very late. Each city seems to have a couple of small ones scattered about instead of a single large one like we tend to have back home.

Qazvin's Tehran gate.

Chehel Sotun palace.

Entryway to Imamzadeh-ye Hossein shrine in Qazvin.

The amusement park.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012


I have to confess I was not looking forward to Tehran. I'd heard so many bad things about the city I was tempted to just bypass it completely. Big, dirty, busy, polluted, unfriendly, etc, etc and that really isn't my thing at all. Maybe it was a good thing I was dreading it so much because in the end it turned out to be a lot nicer than I expected. It wasn't my favourite place but I've been to much worse capital cities elsewhere.
I was lucky because I had a really nice host, who happened to have a Brazilian guest at the time and took us to meet a group of other locals to go on a fieldtrip to the Sadabad palace complex in the northern part of the city. Sadabad was the summer home of the Shahs and consists of a 100-hectare parkland with numerous palace buildings, now housing their own themed museums. The northern part of the city backs up onto mountains so the air is cleaner and cooler in the more affluent northern neighbourhoods. It was really pretty and with good company to talk to, it turned out to be a really nice day. The weather was good so the pollution wasn't as bad as I feared though when I first arrived and throughout my stay I could still tell that it was worse than elsewhere I'd been.
Tehran historically was a nothing town until about 200 years ago when it finally got a turn at being the capital. As such there isn't much to see in terms of ancient historical sites and the tourist attractions revolve around more modern palaces like Sadabad and the central Golestan palace where the Shahs lived until deposed during the revolution of 1979. The palaces were fancy inside (the Shahs seemed to have a thing for importing French furniture) but quite small compared to European palaces.

A city park.

Hanging out with a group of couchsurfers at Sadabad.

The Green Palace at the Sadabad palace complex park.

Golestan palace.

Golestan palace.

A hall inside Golestan palace.

My host was supposed to be working on his thesis and was hosting his parents (from Esfahan and who were about to fly to Vancouver of all places) and cousin in addition to me so he was pretty busy and I spent the remaining days wandering around alone though I was able to take one day off and rest, my first day off of the whole trip. During my wanders I visited the central bazaar. It's much like the others but too big and busy for me. The bazaaris (shopkeepers) still wield a lot of economic and political influence in the country and I had an interesting conversation with a Persian carpet salesman who tried to explain the differences in value and style of the carpets and the culture behind them. A new style that has emerged is making carpets of pictures to hang on the wall like paintings. Some of them look really cool, though most carpets are just patterns, either tribal from the villages, or city carpets with more modern patterns. Tabriz carpets are the most popular at the moment and run at about $200+/m2, depending on the density of the knots. Apparently they get more valuable with age and use and because they are so expensive, many traditional people in Iran still buy and keep them as a form of savings. Especially now that their currency is tanking, carpets are becoming even more valuable as an investment item in addition to hard currencies and gold. I guess it's not a bad idea, it's pretty hard to break in and steal a carpet...

Tehran's very busy central bazaar.

I also visited a couple museums, the best one being the jewels museum. It's in the central bank vault and really a disgusting display of wealth with some huge diamonds and gem-encrusted swords, crowns and other clothing and jewelry. There is also the famous monument, the Azadi (freedom) tower, set in the middle of a big roundabout. I'm still not sure what I think about it. It's the symbol of Tehran and you've surely seen it before. I can never tell if it looks huge or tiny when I see it in photos and on tv, and even when I was standing under it it was still somehow indecisive in what it wanted to be. It was built by the Shah's wife in 1971 and stands 50m high. Which isn't big enough to be really big, but too big to be small and cute. I didn't go up to the viewing platform because there was some sort of convention going on all over the grounds and it seemed like a big hassle.

Azadi tower.

And no visit to Tehran is complete without a visit to the old US embassy compound. It has been shut down since the hostage taking fiasco in 1979. You can't actually visit the compound but just walk around the outside and look at all the paintings on the fence with messages like “Down with America” or pictures of the Statue of Liberty with a skull face. It's kind of cool and a bit weird because although the politics of today still echo the same thoughts, I never got any anti-American sentiment targetting me and the people by and large seem quite welcoming to foreigners. Not that there are any American tourists in the country, they still can't get a visa without an organized tour and I didn't bring my US passport with me or admit to being American ever either (or I could get in big trouble as a “spy” I guess). I did meet 2 Americans in Yazd that were travelling on Georgian passports and it was very obvious that they were Americans but they didn't admit it to anyone else. I really don't think there'd be a problem from the locals anyway though, they really are nice.

The meaning of the murals around the old US embassy are pretty obvious.

Tehran was only a quick stop as I'm more interested in the more ancient history and structures than the big city so after a couple days I took off a couple hours west to Qazvin.

Sunday, August 05, 2012


My next visit was to Esfahan one of the most visited and famous cities in Iran. It's famous for its Imam Square, considered to be one of the largest and most beautiful in the world. The city is much older but didn't reach its peak importance until becoming the capital and having the square built about 450 years ago. Today the square is a Unesco site and should be stacked with tourists from all over the world but there were surprisingly few, in yet another sign of how sad the level of international tourism is Iran these days. It's still very popular with domestic tourists and the city is the pride of Iranians all over the country. I liked the square and spent quite a bit of time in and around it in the 4 days I was in Esfahan. The square is lined by the bazaar, which continues as a sprawling covered market for quite a distance outward to the north and east. The southern end of the square has a palace and 2 of the most beautiful mosques in the world, according to them. Modesty isn't really part of the Esfahani character and I heard many unfavourable comments about them from Iranians in other cities.

The covered market of Esfahan.

A hookah cafe at Imam Square.

Imam Square with the Imam mosque.

Ali Qapu palace in Imam square.

Entrance to Sheikh Lotfollah mosque in Imam square.

Inside Sheikh Lotfollah mosque.

Imam square at night.

Men praying at Jameh mosque.

Maybe that's why I'm still convinced that they are the worst drivers in Iran. Iranians all say Tehran has the worst driving, and I'm jumping ahead slightly but I vote for Esfahan for 2 reasons. In central Esfahan there is still little traffic control and nobody obeys anything. In Tehran's centre there are many more traffic lights and cops that the drivers listen to and Tehran is more organized with special bus lanes and a metro system so you can avoid the traffic if you want. For sure Tehran has worse traffic delays and more cars on the road, but in any case I was totally unimpressed with Esfahani driving at the time.
At certain times of the year I can see how Esfahan could be the most beautiful city in Iran but unfortunately this wasn't exactly the time. The positives that it has going for it is the Imam Square and bazaar, which are very cool, but the overall layout it beautiful too. There is a river dividing the city into northern and southern sections. Both sides of the river are lined with beautiful parks and there's nothing better in the heat of summer than to just lay in the grass and relax or have a picnic. Or at least that seems to be the attitude of people there. I still find it amazing how the Iranians love picnics and will lay around in any patch of grass or shade that they can find in the city. Fortunately for them there are a lot of parks and green areas in all their cities. And crossing the river are a handful of very pretty, historical pedestrian bridges dating back 400 years as well. They look great with their arches, the largest having 33. Unfortunately, in the summer the river runs dry and was dry during my visit thus losing a lot of the beauty and effect of the bridges. It did however let me run around underneath them and walk out into the river bed to get photos from more angles.

Khaju bridge.

Si-o-Seh bridge.

Under Si-o-Seh bridge.

Si-o-Seh bridge at night.

To me the biggest disappointment with the whole city is the amount of construction going on. It's so busy and everything seems to be scaffolded. The main Imam mosque, the huge Jameh mosque, the Ali Qapu Palace (in the square), large sections of the bazaar and it's gates were all covered with scaffolding.
Esfahan also has a large Armenian quarter. It's kind of a funny story because Shah Abbas, who moved the capital to Esfahan in the first place decided he wanted to make a beautiful city and a huge square so he forcibly moved the entire Christian-Armenian population from Jolfa (an Armenian region under Iranian control at the time, Jolfa is now a small Iranian border town) to do the work. They were considered to be the most skilled artisans of the day and were given their own section of the city to create “new Jolfa”. I visited this Jolfa to see their main Vank Cathedral and feel the slightly different vibe of a Christian quarter. The cathedral was pretty but I almost died of shock to see nearly naked bodies on the frescos inside the church when everyone everywhere else is so completely covered. What must the Iranian tourists think?

Vank cathedral.

Overall I spent way too much time in Esfahan walking. One of the frustrating aspects of couchsurfing in Iran is that the hosts are usually not comfortable with the idea of you hanging out in the home without them there. Many other places (but not everywhere) have been really relaxed but in Iran it's a little more complicated so most of the time you leave when they leave for work. They work too much. In Esfahan my host (a young married girl living with her family) hung out with me a couple times but often just told me to go see stuff and went to visit family or friends and would sort of forget about me. 12-hour days of walking around in circles in the heat alone gets tiring very quickly, especially when you have no idea what their schedule is and can't pace yourself. As I said before Esfahan is very strict about local/foreigner interactions. When I was with my host she'd tell me to walk a distance away from her and pretend not to know her so the police wouldn't bust her. I'd have to sneak past the neighbours' doors to enter the family home so they wouldn't be found out as well. It's all a bit ridiculous. From what I've heard is that for them to host a foreigner they have to tell the police and register the visitor or ask permission or something and to walk and talk to a foreigner they have to be a registered guide and have their tourist guide card on them. I've also heard it's not actually a law but an abuse of power by the authorities which have gotten a lot more strict and paranoid since the failed revolution of 2009. In any case, trouble is possible and in Esfahan it seems a lot more strict than elsewhere. This made it frustrating for me because it also meant that the possibility of randomly meeting locals was very low and with all my lounging around in the parks, nobody other than a tout or 2 approached me in all my days there :( I did meet 1 Australian guy briefly and ran into him a couple times but it also amounted to nothing. So I sat and watched the world go by getting addicted to ice cream cones to console myself in my loneliness...

A night out with my hosts and friends.

I also had the stress of applying for my visa extension in Esfahan. I actually went to do it the day after my visa expired, which would generally be considered a bad idea and just asking for trouble, but they were surprisingly really nice and helpful. They only gave me an additional 21 days (my original visa was for 21 days) instead of the usual month. That set the timing for the rest of my time in the country and meant that I needed to get moving on to the next destination right away and keep up my intense pace.