Sep 14 - We're Going to Iran!

peas and pie
peas and pie

Beyond all belief, somehow we’re on the flight to Iran. If you asked me even a few hours ago, I didn’t know whether we would be going to Iran or not. What a crazy stressful experience it has already been. When you read about going to Iran, the first thing you read is that it’s hard to get a visa if you’re a Canadian. That’s an understatement—it’s damn near impossible.

We applied for our visa for the 2-week Discover Persia tour exactly 90 days ago with the understanding that things could be delayed and that the process could take a long time. We had all the timeframes mapped out so we could get a visa without any stress.

Here’s the resulting timeline of what happened:

June 15 Sent application for visa authorization number to G Adventures
July 6 They asked us to provide a resume
July 8 We sent our resumes. We buy travel insurance
Aug 8 Marked as the date that G Adventures applied for an authorization number in Iran
Aug 22 Marked as the date that G Adventures received the authorization number
Aug 31

We receive the authorization number by email—10 business days before our flight.

Sep 1 We call the Pakistani embassy in Washington to get advice on how long the process should take. They are closed for a Muslim holiday, not open until Tuesday since Monday is also a holiday. So we decide to FedEx everything we can right away regardless. 20-20 Hindsight Mistake: we did not ask them to “Expedite” the application as G Adventures website says it takes 3 to 6 days, and we have a few more than that.
Sep 5 Application arrives in Washington.
Sep 12 We leave in 2 days, where’s our visa?? We call the embassy early in the morning. He can’t find our passport on their system. The guy says that because we didn’t expedite the visa, we got put into a pile of passports where the processing time is 2 weeks, we won’t get it until next week. OMG. We ask for help and he says sorry and quickly hangs up.
Sep 12 pm I go into full panic mode. Felipe is pretty calm, but is definitely concerned about losing the whole trip. We review all of our cancellation policies—the total potential loss is about $4500 per person. We call G Adventures and they give us the option to cancel the tour, saying it’s possible that we get all our tour cost back. The earlier we cancel the better the chance of a higher refund. We take their offer and cancel our trip, we’re thinking it should be easy to reinstate if we do end up getting our visas. We spend a painful evening considering the loss of the trip, the alternatives to our vacation, and what to do next.
Sep 13 am Felipe makes a desperation move and calls the Pakistani Embassy in Washington again, despite our unhelpful first encounter with them. This time he gets a friendly voice and the guy finds our passports on their system right away and puts them to expedited status. He says that they should be sent out at the end of the day, he’ll call us later in the day with the tracking number.
Sep 13 pm No one calls. So Felipe calls again, waits an hour in the queue, and finally confirms that they did complete our visa and it was sent out by Fedex. It should arrive tomorrow. But what time, our flight leaves at 6pm? She doesn’t know and she doesn’t have the tracking number. We call G Adventures to reinstate our tour. At first it sounds like they’ll charge us an extra charge to reinstate, but after some negotiation they say they’ll check if they can waive the charge and will call us the next day.
Sep 14 am G Adventures calls us and waives any reinstatement charges. We’re getting so close now and just waiting for the visa.
Sep 14 pm The anxiety is starting again as it nears noon and the passports still haven’t arrived. We call the Pakistani Embassy one more time and find a nice lady to give us the tracking number. We track the package and indeed it is in Toronto scheduled for a 1.30pm delivery. We are ecstatic when we get our passports at 1pm.

Finally, only 5 hours before our flight leaves we get our visa!!

What an ordeal of not knowing if we would be going to Iran, or needing to rebook all of our flights to arrive a bit late, or just losing everything we spent on the trip. Amazingly it worked out, but Felipe and I agreed that we would never do anything like that again. If the visa has a 3 month lead-time, it’s not worth the risk and the stress.


Sep 19 - Exploring Yazd

Our time in Yazd was really good. I have enjoyed it much more than our short time in Tehran. During our walks around the old town, sometimes it felt like we were the only people there. On the other hand, our walks through the mosque square in the evening brought out lots of families and people enjoying the night. We checked out a strange traditional “gym” where they exercise to some drumming and singing of the national epic. A bit bizarre.

We also had a fantastic day touring the wind tower and gardens of Dolat Abad. The wind tower was beautiful with its tall unique tower pulling breezes down into the building. Around the wind tower room were alcoves with stained glass windows bringing in a great coloured glow. The garden was an unexpected retreat in the middle of the deserty city and was a fantastic escape from the buzz of the city.

tehran train station
giant koran
sydney bridge
towers of silence
zorastrian temple of fire
jameh mosque of yazd
jameh mosque of yazd
yazd markets
iranian beer (non-alcoholic)
amir chakhmaq complex
iranian guys at the traditional gym
saheb a zaman zurkhaneh
stained glass in dolat abad
dolat abad wind tower
wind catcher in dolat abad garden
checking out the door
below the wind catcher
baby pomegranate
rug weaver
bicycle store in yazd market


Sep 20 - I am Jackie Chan

I’m sitting in an old caravanserai, surrounding by old wood and brick. The courtyard has a gaping hole into the starry sky above. I can hear the whirring of cars and trucks zooming by on the nearby highway, but nonetheless I feel somewhat separated from the bustle of Iranian city life. We caught up with some kids taking their goat herd for a walk. I tried to use my teach-yourself-Persian-chapter-one skills to introduce ourselves and ask the kids how they are doing and what are their names. Of course, they responded with glee and started babbling in their own language and then looked at me expectantly. I just shrugged and then moved to chapter-2-mode to ask how old they were and if they like playing sports. We continued until I was out of my short disingenuous conversational sound bytes and then we continued to talk randomly not understanding each other and leading the goats somewhere. The only English they said during our conversation was “Jackie Chan” along with a requisite karate chop and kick.

zein-o-din caravanserai
cute iranian kids
caravanserai door
walking in the desert
goat herding kids
daylight in caravanserai
dinner at carvanserai
sleeping room


Sep 22 - Speaking Farsi

Before the trip I spent some time trying to learn some Farsi. Before even learning a single word, it took some prep time to recognize the alphabet. At first it resembles a lot of dots and curvy squiggles, after learning it a bit it still looks like a lot of dots and squiggles, but at least I can pick out the letters. A couple of things made it difficult to learn the alphabet—one is that there are no books on Persian sold anywhere in Toronto. I had to pick up a couple of books while I was on a business trip in London. And also, I was able to borrow a couple of great language books from the reference library in Toronto. The other difficult thing is that the vowels are unwritten which makes it somewhat impossible to read a word without knowing it first. Ppl cn ndrstnd nglsh wtht vwls bt ts hrdr fr frgnrs.

I’m still working on verbs and vocabulary sitting on the bus, but now that I can read Arabic letters it makes it easier to learn. I look out the windows and find myself using the road signs like flashcards with only a few seconds to translate before they disappear behind us.

Being in the country, it has been pretty neat that I can talk to the locals, even a little bit. I tend to feel more comfortable speaking to little kids as they don’t have high expectations and I don’t have to say much to entertain them.


Sep 24 - Being a Tourist in Iran

We’ve been bussing around the country passing through small towns as well as the large cities. It’s really amazing how curious the people are with tourists. I’ve never really seen this anywhere before. The locals will come by, smile, stare, test their English, and the bolder ones will ask for a selfie or start an awkward conversation. It really feels special that we’re not treated as outsiders, but almost like minor celebrities.

If they don’t speak English, I bust out a couple of my Iranian phrases on them and they laugh and then stare and wait eagerly for my next attempt.

If they speak English, sometimes the curiosity of the locals transforms to a sort of pent up frustration. A feeling of being trapped in their country by the strict religious and societal rules, of lacking opportunities in a lacklustre job environment and stagnant job market, and of facing international distrust and barriers when trying to travel abroad. Some scoff at the rules and the government, saying that they can get any of the forbidden vices with just a quick phone call and can navigate around any bureaucracy by just knowing the right person or greasing the right palm. They laugh at the internet police, preventing the people from accessing many websites, while politicians and the supreme leader himself continue to chat on the forbidden Twitter.

It’s the first time where I’ve been to a place where the people are collectively starving for a connection with foreigners.

maharloo salt lake
light of the stained glass
nasir al-mulk mosque
pink mosque
shiraz market
iranian spices
artesan crafts in iran
iran flowers
tomb of hafez
mirrored shrine
donation box


Oct 1 - In the Desert


persepolis columns
sunny at the tomb of darius
felipe and me
abiyaneh photos


ESFAHAN, IRAN, اصفهان‎
Sep 28 - Men vs. Women

Another stark contrast in Iran and Canada is the treatment of women. Before we came to Iran, we were given a set of dressing rules. For men—you must wear long pants and no tank tops. Ok easy. For woman, wow: women must cover their head, their shirt must go to the wrists and hang below the bum, their pants must cover their ankles. So Felipe and I are walking around mostly comfortable, although shorts would be nice. But the girls in our group are completely covered up, so much so that I literally couldn’t recognize them the 1 time they were allow to dress normally when we were in the caravanserai. In some places, the girls in our group were even required to wear an extra “chaadoor” which looked like an old bedsheet on top of their clothes.

When we talked to the women in the group, they said the first couple of days was a novelty and it gave them a way to fit into the society right away. But after a few hot days, and even during their relaxing time in the bus and hotel, it sounded like they were starting to get annoyed by it once they realized how oppressive it is even in the short period we’re here. Thinking about all women forced to do this all the time is mind-blowing for me—how can women not be viewed as being inferior and weaker when the entire society openly promotes that idea in daily life? It’s very frustrating to see this, when you know that there is a clearly better alternative.

tour group women
iran men vs women clothing
iranian women in tunnel


Sep 29 - Singing Under the Bridge

Our tour guide recommended that we go to the long Khaju bridge over the dry riverbed in Esfahan. Under the bridge, groups of men gathered in the afternoon. With a well-used songbook in hand, one man began to sing--a hauntingly sad song, poignant in parts. The other men listened intently sometimes a wave of emotion sweeping over them as they would tap their hands to their chest. It felt like a moment when people remembered the past, worried about the future, and shared it all together under the bridge.

sheikh motfallah mosque
music room in aali qapu palace
camel bone carvings
shopping for persian rugs
khaju bridge
singing under khaju bridge
si-o-se-pol bridge
esfahan mosque
hotel window
traditional iranian music
armenian church hell to heaven


TEHRAN, IRAN, تهران‎
Sep 30 - Propaganda

Propaganda seems to be a reminder of the highly politicized world where we live. We are seeing two sides of a story now as Trump denounces the Iranians and threatens to restart the embargo that has debilitated Iran and its people. The TVs show Trump's attack on the Iranian government and ultimately the people themselves. Israel is shown as a co-conspirator. The view of the western democracies is negative here on all the TV stations. And not just the TV stations, but on the street and in the mosques.

Meanwhile on our Facebook feeds and news channels we read the American propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program and how it threatens to destroy peace in the world. I can't believe that all the people we met on our trip, who have been so welcoming and kind to westerners are somehow diabolically planning a devastating war.

It seems like the rest of the world watches as the two sides bicker and try to draw support. Must we all take a side?

imam talks
US crimes list
down with the USA
representation of canada
iran war photo


IRAN, ایران‎
Oct 1 - Ceilings, Shrines, and Mosques

keith and me
sydney bridge
sydney opera house
keith and me
keith and me
sydney opera house
keith and me
keith and me
sydney opera house
keith and me
keith and me
sydney opera house
keith and me
keith and me
sydney opera house
keith and me
keith and me



see itinerary