At the border of Iran, a surprise awaits me. It is the first time I am treading Iranian soil and I am eager to enter the country. And this is a different crossing, a land border, a step into the unknown.
I’ve crossed borders in all sorts of ways, even by pirogue. But in Kapikoї it was the first time I crossed the line separating the countries on foot. When I start walking I am in Turkey, in the next step I reach what only exists in men’s imagination. It is almost five in the afternoon when I arrive in no man’s land.
Iran: entering another world
I continue on foot. On my back stood Turkey and the overcrowded van that took me to the border. In front of me Khameini and Khomeini looked into my eyes. The faces of Iran’s religious leaders are painted on a large mural on the other side of the border. There is no doubt, I am entering another world.
I am entering a world that has populated our imagination for decades as the ultimate example of evil. Since the hostage-taking at the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran has been seen as being part of the Axis of Evil, as the country that supports groups considered terrorist by the international community. The giant portraits of Khomeini, the leader of the Shiites who took power in 1979, and Khameini, the current Ayatollah, act as a mnemonic of Persia’s recent history.
Closed face and few words when I enter Iran
Crossing a border on foot is a different experience and this was the first time I did it on my trip from Cabo da Roca to Vladivostok. After the Turkish authorities put the exit stamp on my passport I pass through the narrow gate and find myself in no man’s land. I am in the middle of a road with no traffic marked by high barbed wire fences and I have to walk the two hundred metres or so that separate me from the Iranian border crossing.
I am lucky and have good legs. There is no one ahead of me, so the border formalities will only take as long as the guards consider necessary. The passport control is like so many others: police with a closed face and few words.
– Tourist? – he asks me.
– Tourist -, I confirm.
One more look at the passport, one last glance at my face and the desired entry stamp.
A man with a mission
I move on to the next room. Another border guard, olive green uniform and a close-cropped beard carefully trimmed with a comb two, approaches me with energetic steps. He carries a half smile on his lips. He is obviously a man with a mission.
I automatically respond to his approach, smiling and taking my backpack off my back so it can be inspected. The guard catches up with me just as I set my luggage down on the table, holds out his hand, shakes mine, opens his smile and tells me:
– I am not going to inspect your luggage. Welcome to Iran.
And to make my surprise even greater, he put a piece of candy in my outstretched hand and gave it to me.
I came prepared for a thorough inspection of both my motives for the trip and my luggage and all I get is silence first and a sweet afterwards.
What about my stereotypes? How will I function without my stereotypes?
Travelling is collecting little stories, and the best traveller is the one who arrives at the destination without preconceptions. We can be organised and study everything, but even so it is clear that we will always be surprised. That is why we travel, to be surprised by landscapes, colours, smells and experiences… but mostly to be surprised by people.