I have never had people express so many opinions about my travels as when I decided to backpack Iran solo for two weeks. Everyone seemed to have something to say about it, with responses ranging from “That is amazing, I would totally join you if I didn’t have a U.S. passport,” to “You’re going there alone? What sort of death wish do you have?” and the blunt words of my extremely well-traveled great uncle, “Iran is not a nice place, go to Greece instead.”
A friend of a friend even wrote a Facebook note (people still write those?) about my plans, saying that I was either incredibly brave, or incredibly naive and ignorant. In the end he applauded my willingness to put myself in harm’s way in order to experience a place with real sexism, which he took to be some sort of feminist statement about being a woman in America.
What?! Sorry to disappoint, but really I just wanted to see Persia.
I mean, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, hosts nineteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and boasts beautiful landscapes stretching from dense rain forests to snowcapped mountains to desert basins. Plus, so many backpackers whom I met in Central Asia absolutely raved about their time backpacking through Iran. The hospitable people, delicious food and historic sites – how could I not add backpacking Iran to my travel itinerary?
So, was backpacking Iran solo a good decision?
I’ve now been in Iran for a week and a half and, like most places, it’s not exactly what I had imagined. I’m writing this from my new friend Mina’s apartment, where we’re huddled together with hot mugs of tea listening to loud explosions coming from the street. Every few minutes a particularly large explosion will light up the apartment and we’ll look at each other with a mixture of fear and awe.
You guys, it’s the Persian New Year!
As part of the “Nowruz” New Year’s celebrations, which are Iran’s biggest of the year and include Zoroastrian rituals and traditions dating back 3,000 years, on the last Tuesday of the year, families gather together in celebration, building bonfires to run around and jump over, lighting off firecrackers, and sending fire lanterns into the sky, all with random outbursts of song and dance.