Sunday, 17 February, 2019

How I hitchhiked from the Netherlands to Iran

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By: Kim Berghout

I hitchhiked from the Netherlands to Iran

It was September 2015 and I was about to set off on a new adventure. I just finished my studies abroad and spend summer back in the Netherlands. I didn’t apply for any jobs, houses or future studies. As the summer slowly came to an end I said goodbye to my family, packed my backpack and put out my thumb. I had no obligations, no expectations and no plan.

I was free, and ready to explore the world.

I decided to hitchhike east, all the way to Iran. I had never been to this area of the world before, and wanted to see what was going on there. The media isn’t very fond of the Middle East and lots of people told me to stay away from there. It would be too dangerous, and surely I was going to get killed.

The travellers who had actually been to Iran told me a different story. That it was an amazing country, which I should definitely go see for myself.

So I went.

I decided that my travel would go overland, as adventurous as possible. This was by no means going to be a holiday. I wanted to confront myself with my own fears and challenge my personal perceptions of this world. To experience the cultures and countries I would come across and to really feel all the different places, people and emotions. I wanted to make new friends and build bridges between cultures.

To dive in deep, head first.

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Kim Berghout seen in Iran

Hitchhiking to the east

The first hitch I got was from a Dutch/German couple. They took me along with them to Germany. The most beautiful thing about hitchhiking is that you meet with all sorts of people, from all layers of society. One hitch is from someone who is living in the backstreets of a big town, another is a rich countryman who owns several big wine yards.

The further I made it to the east, the more hospitable people seemed to be. In Eastern Europe I was invited multiple times to join a dinner, given some food or offered a place to sleep in someone’s house. By the time I left the Balkans I had gained multiple kilos from all the burecs and family dinners. The next county – Turkey – was even more extreme. The numbers of chai and baklava’s people offered me are countless.

In every country, the grandmothers are definitely the best and the creepy guys the worst. Especially as a woman traveller, you will come in contact with the latter one sooner or later. The creepy guys are ruining it for many women to go traveling on their own. People tell us we should stay at home to not provoke anything and avoid these kinds of encounters.

Now, in my opinion there is nothing worse than being told I should stay at home. Why would you give someone else the power to control your life? Creepy guys can be found everywhere, but fortunately there are just as many techniques to avoid them when traveling as when you are walking alone to your house in the dark.

My trip continued from Turkey to Georgia and Armenia. During eight months, I hitchhiked, couchsurfed and camped in the most random places. Sometimes alone, but more often with other travellers I met on the road. From time to time I would volunteer somewhere in exchange for food and a place to sleep.

There were good times and bad times. Days where I met loads of new people, made new friends and had a warm place to stay. There were also days where I ended up in the rain, with no one to pick me up for hours. Times when it was already dark, and I couldn’t find a place to camp.

It was fine. This is what I had chosen to do. In the end, the good always balances out the bad.

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Kim Berghout and her friends seen at Nasir ol Molk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Welcome to Iran

Eight months and sixteen countries later I reached my destination. Together with Lena, a German hitchhiker whom I had joined forces with, we crossed the border from Armenia.

Welcome to Iran.

Had I first thought that Turkish hospitality was extreme, than the Iranians proved me completely wrong. In this country, the concept of welcoming foreigners was taken to a whole new level. The first Iranians we met immediately took us to their house to drink chai, eat some sweets and meet the family. These kind of ‘friendly kidnappings’ followed thorough my whole stay in the country. People wanted to meet us, and I definitely wanted to meet them as well.

There were many questions I had about the country, the culture and its people. Outside it looked like such a strict country, with very different values from the country where I came from. In some ways it was, as I had to wear a hijab and was officially not allowed to do several things that have no restrictions in Europe. In other ways, Iran really surprised me. I found out that inside their own houses and cars the people are the ones who decide how they behave and what they do. It was a whole different world, whereby all those strict rules didn’t seem to apply that much.

As I continued my journey across the country, I slowly discovered the Real Iran.

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3 Comments

  1. Ghaderi

    July 29, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    This has become a cliche. The ignorant Westerner who doesn’t know anything about Iran pays a visit to the country to be completely surprised and impressed by the hospitality of the people and how the nation is different from what the visitor hears about Iran in the West. The Last Samurai type of cliche, where a clueless “white” person almost goes native because they fell in love with the culture. We all have heard this bad song for a very long time now. It’s actually nothing more than glorified Western condescension. In this day and age, do Westerners really need to personally go to Iran to find out that Iranians on the dinner table do not discuss plans to wipe out Israel and America, that they are normal people just like everybody else? Talk about prejudice and wilful ignorance in an age when access to information is at our fingertips!

    I find it funny that Western tourists don’t seem to understand why Iranians are exceptionally hospitable. They don’t understand that this exceptional treatment is given only to Westerners, especially if they are fair-skinned. Look at how Iranians treat other foreigners in the country. Afghans and Arabs for example are treated like trash. I have neither heard nor seen any Iranian showing non-Western tourists the kind of hospitality given to Western visitors. I think Jalal Al-e Ahmad explained the reason behind this Western exceptionalism in Iran, he did so 54 years ago.

  2. Elisabeth

    July 31, 2016 at 3:25 am

    I do not know Iran, but I watched several Iranian movies. I was impressed of the quality of the movies. Through the movies, I observed lots of different details. If cinema is the reflection of the reality, so, in those movies I could see that Iranians are far more civilized than Arabs. The Muslims are not afraid to stand for their rights, whether men or women.

    • Iranzamindeli

      July 31, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      You font connaitre iran

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