Our eighteen country road trip across Europe and Asia last summer left us with a wealth of memorable stories and experiences. But if you asked me to name the single most fascinating and thought-provoking place we visited, the answer would clearly be Iran.
A large part of the reason was the mystique surrounding the nation that former President Bush once described as part of the so-called "Axis of Evil."
Less than 2000 American tourists visit Iran in an average year, and getting a visa was a bit of a complicated process, involving going through the Pakistani Embassy (since Iran doesn't have diplomatic relations with the U.S.) and hiring a tour guide to escort us through the country, but it ended up being well worth the effort.
Our guide met us at the border and helped us navigate the lengthy bureaucratic process of crossing into the country.
After driving on Turkey's excellent highways for the past few days, we were totally spoiled and unprepared for what we'd face in Iran. It's not that the roads themselves were awful, though they were somewhat bumpy in places. But poor lighting, signage, and markings made for a difficult and at times harrowing experience, especially after dark. The worst were the pavement-colored speed bumps that had a tendency to sneak up on us without warning when we were barreling along at 40 miles per hour, forcing us to slam on the brakes. The entire experience seemed to require nerves of steel and a sixth sense that those of us used to driving on American or European roads simply lacked.
One nice thing about driving in Iran, however, is that we were treated like celebrities everywhere we went, with numerous people pulling up alongside us to ask where we were from, wish us well, and even offer us some of their food!
When we first told our friends and family that we were going to Iran, we got a lot of raised eyebrows. But there was a never a moment during our journey when we felt unsafe or experienced any hostility. To the contrary, it was probably the most welcoming place we've ever been!
While our two countries may have a long history of political differences, we didn't go there to argue politics. Rather, we just wanted to meet people face-to-face, engage in dialogue, and learn from each other. We can only hope that our presence in some small way helped to make a difference.
Check out my latest podcast episode to hear more about our experiences in Iran.
And if you enjoy what you hear, please tell a friend.
Thanks for listening!
Photos by Drew Gurian