„Iran? This is not a good idea for a woman to travel there alone on the bike .. I perhaps would go back, but only in the company of men" said female Belgian solo cyclists, I met somewhere in Kazakhstan and she told me her story. Story about, how bad she felt in this country and an incident when she, barely escaped from what saved her life, when she was attacked while cycling a road less traveled. This was the first negative opinion I heard about the country, whose inhabitants are is praised for their hospitality. The fate was that, I read her blog entry about traveling through Iran and learnt about the details of them months later, when she responded to my post about problems women have while cycling solo in Iran, which I posted in one of bike touring groups on Facebook.
Next there was a cyclist from South Africa, I met in Kyrgyzstan. „Iran? I ran away after 2 weeks. I will never go there again. I joined forces with another female cyclist and still it was not good . You think maybe, that I was dressed inapproprietly? No, no, I was covered from head to toe. No no hair sticking out from under the scarf and the hips covered with manteau. But still we were attracting to much attention of men, after two weeks we had enough – of it and we decided to take the bus and leave the country " . Hmmm.
I was curious about Iran. still I am. Besides, the ocuntry was on my way along the Silk Road, I did not want to preposses and give up , but surely these opinions sowed in me the seed of anxiety.
After all there were also positive reviews of solo females. First of them, Heike, has spent in Iran during two separate visits 3,5 months and did not stop to admire the country and the people, although it also met uncomfortable situations.. There were two Poles, Joanna and Dorothy, which had equally positive experiences. And many others.
It's time for my own ones then.
I entered into Iran from the south, by ferry from the United Arab Emirates in Bandar Abbas. Later that same day I took the ferry to the island of Qeshm. It is a beautiful island with a straight fairy-like landscapes with views like from the moon. A paradise for those, who like solitary encounters with nature, and I do a lot.
Every woman, local but it applies to foreigners too, that travels to Iran has to obey to the policies regarding appropriate clothing – so already on the ferry I covered my hair with a scarf, I was wearing long pants and a long tunic with long sleeves. Sometimes, when the scarf slid from my head while cycling I still was pulling the hood of the sweatshirt. I should have even worn. manteau covering the buttocks of to mid thighs, but the sweathsirt is quite long so I assumed , that I'll buy this piece of clothing later.
Therefore, I started to go around the island slowly savoring and enjoying the peace of the people's greetings. There was quite a lot of passing by cars - it turned out, it turned out there's a long weekend in in Iran in early February, Thus, the island was visited by crowds of tourists. Twice I spent some nights in a tent on the beach, I once slept (by a permission of a guard) in a prayer hall in the park at the beach. People were helpful and friendly.
South of the island is, however, pretty empty with lots of very remote areas, between some villages there's like 20 km distance. I was some 10km after Salakh, when I saw a young man on a motorbike coming from the opposite direction. He. passed me, and then turned back.. He tried to talk to me, but neither I do speak Persian (farsi), nor him English. Inevitably, the conversation was not possible, therefore I cycled on. After some 1-2 I saw a turn to one of the local attractions - I had to take an even more empty road, which goes to the valley known for its unusual rock formations,. After five minutes, the boy reappeared. I stopped enjoying it and it started to get on my nerves. I shouted at hime, to set off, but he just stood there, after some time, he finally drove off. I turned around resigning from going further into the valley. It was 14.30-15.00 oclock and I was hungry, I haven't eaten but a small breakfast that day, along the way there were no restaurants , some 500 meters from the junction with the main (however, still empty and little frequented road) I saw a small piece of wall, some unfinished building - the only such object obscuring the mighty wind, i could see around. I decided to use this shelter, and stopped to eat. When I finished he appeared again. I was furious. I did not want to wear headscarf and put on the long sleeve - taking advantage of the remotiness of a place I took off those uncomfortable, However, obliged to wear by women clothes in Iran, but still I had on my long pants and a T-shirt. Motor stopped a few meters away from me and if anything happen he wanted to sit down next to me. I yelled at him , to go away, which seemed not to make much of an impression on him. After some time, however,, he finally got up and sat on his motorbike, But was not departing. Then I took a picture of him. and tt helped, he was gone. I packed the bike and ready to leave I saw him again. This was too much. This was probably already 5 and I felt like killing him. He was terribly importunate, However, still he didnt give the impression of someone dangerous, I find it hard to explain why not at this time I didnt take out my pepper spray, which I received from the host in Dubai. After having safely make it through 40 countries or more 4 years on the road my intuition was telling nothing wrong. Yep, it was a mistake.
So, the bike was already packed, I held the steering wheel, when the man asked me for a joint selfie. "No!"I replied,, because I was sick of it. I had the impression, that is was what hurt him the most. I felt his hands grabbing me from behind, struggle, fall, fumbling on the ground. When he managed to pull my pants and underwear down and put his finger inside, I realized with horror, that I cannot fight him off . Although pretty tiny, he however,, was still a man to whom nature has given more strength. Then he... . gave up. He jumped up from me, took on his motorbike and rode off. It looked as if suddenly he realized something. Being in complete shock, I took the bike and quickly went to the main road. Handling thousands of thoughts going through my head -of what to do? The nearest village there was 10 km distance, roughly the same for the slightly larger village of Salakh, which I passed before. I saw there a police station and there I headed. I had, after all, his picture.
At the police station, no one spoke English, but I was taken to the guest house, which co-owner knew the language. I found out that , his mother - a marvelous woman Zinat, is known on the island and in Iran activist fighting for the rights of women. I was in good hands.
Also I informed the Polish embassy. "This is serious Madam Ewa" I heard. In Iran, there's a death penalty to the perpetrator of a rape. Unfortunately, We are not supervising the Iranian police, we will intervene, but it depends on them what they'll do, "I heard.
I spent the next four days at Zinat's place trying to recover. On the second afternoon, I heard - they caught him! We're going to the police station.
I did not recognize him right away. he changed his hairstyle – certainly he cut his hair and looked different. But it was him and his motorbike . "It's me," he admitted immediately too.
The coming hours we spent on writing the protocol at the police station. Writing down the protocol without my knowledge of the local language.. Documents, which I was told to sign, and you do not want to sign without getting acquainted with it with the help of my embassy. I never signed a protocol as I didn't know the exact content, out of fear for my own good and the fear of being accused of provoking the perpetrator. It was decided, however,, that it's OK and it doesn't matter I havent signed, and so they have the grounds to start criminal proceedings. I was told, that the offender awaits trial in the largest village on the island – Qeshm city.
In the meantime, to the police station the family of the perpetrator was let in. Mother, two wives (!) and a child. Women in traditional outfits, flowery chadors and with masks on their faces - such masks on their faces, as in Oman and the United Arab Arab indicates a women is married and is obliged to wear it. There was one big lament. Begging me for forgiveness. Kissing a child. relentless requests, which neither I understood, or a total of not want to listen.
The next day we went to court in Qeshm. At the entrance there I was dressed in a black chador, I could go inside. The judge gave me a good impression, showing he's is on my side. Once again he asked the same questions - where and how it all happened. in sequence.. The whole time the owner of the guesthouse was assisting me, who served as interpreter, as the court had no possibility , at least not in a short time, to assign me one. After placing my testimony I was told, I'm free. On my question of the possible sentence for the perpetrator (I have to say, I wanted him to be punished, but I was horrified by a vision of the death penalty) I was told, that this issue they can only inform the Polish embassy in Tehran after the issue of their official letter.
Officially, however, I never learnt anything. Tourists passing through Queshm, I met later told me, the guard of one of the local attractions told them about the case, saying, that the perpetrator got a half years in prison and whipping - 70 whipes.
After the end of the case and stay in Zinat, I felt better and decided to give Iran and a second chance - to go on using the increased precautions.
Believe me, I'm careful. Although often I spend the night in the wild, I never decompose tent before dark, carefully I choose the place and never use the light, not to be seen . Here, however, I had to make further vigilance in the day. Looks like I haven't succeeded though.
Still it was hard to predict, what can happen. The next day a couple of adolescents on a motorcycle approached me while driving, and one of them tried to grab the butt. Yep, I heard about this too. It was seen by the driver of the car, who followed me and stopped offering help. He had bad luck, because instead of the teenagers, who fled I screamed my anger on Iran at him.. since then, however, much more closely I watched in the rearview mirror, to be able react in time, if something like that would happen again. This can not be called a carefree journey.
Two days later, I decided to use the restroom at a large gas station. Ladies Toilet, as in Iran it was somewhere at the far end of a large terminal. I had stomach trouble, therefore I entered the toilet several times. When I went there the last time, leaving I saw a man standing in the doorway (women's toilets!) not letting me out. blocked the exit, trying to push me inside with both hands. I'll never forget those bad, angry , eyes fixed on me. I could only scream. scream at the top of my lungs as perhaps never before. He escaped by jumping over the fence to tomatoes field and I was shaken, I crying headed to the police station that I passed before. I had nothing, no proof.. I just wanted somewhere safe to hide. No one spoke English, I translated what I could on my phone translator, and I could spend the night in the house who lived near the family. In the morning I got on the bike pledging what to do because the last thing, which I wanted was to ride my bike.
It no longer was an easy and pleasant trip , This was a trip in a constant voltage. I was somewhere in the middle of nowhere. With the already paranoid vigilance watched the situation on the road and beyond, having the phone ready to take pictures.. after several cases of man waiting for me t pass closeby by the road watching me and turning to ride again next to me, although I did not know their intentions - maybe they were good, I panicked. I did not want to go on, but I was afraid to hitchhike. Before me there was over 100 kilometer section of the semi-desert with perhaps one village along the way. In a distant 120 km vtown I could stay with hosts warmshowers.
I called them , asking to help me to arrange transportation to their home, and they just simply.... got in the car and come to pick me up. More than 100 km one way! Over the next few days I was just experiencing their gracious hospitality, However, not being able to get on a bike again, nor because of the still cold weather in the Caucasus leave Iran earlier (it was February, So still winter) too quickly to leave Iran. I decided to continue the journey.. by bus. Shiraz, Yazd, Esfahan, Qom, Talesh, Garmsar. In these cities, I spent a few days, feeling completely safe, living in hostels or there experiencing the famous Iranian hospitality.
In Iran I spent.. 2 months. In Qom, an extremely conservative city I met some local cyclists, who not only took care of me in offering free stay in their hotel, but took me for a trip to north of Iran - the mountains and the coast of the Caspian Sea. Ye north of Iran had a differnt feeling, a friendly one. Felt something different in the air.
Inevitably, I wondered why this happens. Are there any dependencies, which make, some women manage to cycle this country retaining only the good memories, and others don't want to come back? Have I made any mistake?
I began to study the subject of females solo cycling in Iran a bit closer. Here blogs I found describing the stories of other girls and women. Let me recall some fragments and place links if you want to read all:
- Cindy from Holland quite meticulously describes why there are (because there are) differences in the solo traveling in Iran for men and women:
..”I had several assaults, besides more than a few invitations for sex. Men would come to a halt on the highway, block my way and either ask for sex or make movements to make clear they wanted sex. Truck drivers would stop after they passed me, hide behind their truck and showed me where their penis was hiding. One man lay naked on his bed in a simple traveler’s rest-house and held his hard-on in full view each time I walked by. Motor drivers would ride beside me, asking for sex, or I would be groped while they passed me. This happened almost each day until I start carrying a broken belt drive, as a whip…’
..” I never camped though, because I certainly did not feel at ease to camp. Often I was followed by men by the time dusk arrived…”
- Trien from the Netherlands (I met in Kazakhstan) – her experience was very difficult. The description includes the same situations and emotions, which I was experiencing.
..”I smiled less through the daily, countless cars along the way that awaited me or followed. To ask me where I come from and where I am cycling to. Even though it was well intended.
I didn’t smile at pursuits of guys on motorcycles, riding next to you, starting to grope, turning around and repeating the same action, up to three times.
I didn’t smile at questions of being together on the photo and the sudden feel of a stranger’s hand on your breast.
I didn’t smile at all when I was followed by a tough guy on a motorcycle. Who pulled me off my bike, tried to throw me in a sandpit next to the road and tried to rape and murder me. I was super grateful that I could escape. That, when I was dragged by my ankles through the sand, I could loosen a foot and kick that guy in his balls, chest and chin and run away.
Well. I cried, I was empty, exhausted and felt enormously misunderstood. Because, ‘Well, in each country you do have bad people anyway’ it sounded. ‘Uh yes, but three incidents in four cycling days… Sorry, that, I never saw before.’ And ‘Iran has good people. What you say isn’t possible, you are lying, how dare you!’ and ‘Hey, rejoice, you are still alive nevertheless, look at the positive side!’.
- Anita from Spain had a lot of positive experiences, jednkaże admits, that:
..”I did, however, experience some unwanted attention too, although it was much rarer, and I never really felt scared. Mostly annoyed, sometimes properly angry. The most common (and to be honest, baffling) annoyance was being overtaken by boys on motorcycles who would yell at the top of their lungs, right in my ears. I never understood the reason why, but young men do tend to be the silliest of all demographics, and that is a truth universally acknowledged. Maybe it was their way to show support? On very rare occasions (maybe 2 or 3 times) one of the boys would try to engage in conversation with me by yelling “HOW ARE YOU I’M FINE THANK YOU I LOVE YOU!” and try to grab my arm. Sometimes a stern word would be enough to make them go on their way, but one time they kept chatting (“HOW ARE YOU I’M FINE THANK YOU I LOVE YOU!") until a man on a motorbike stopped them and shooed them away, apologizing and calling them “diwane” (crazy). And there was that one time when a guy stopped his pick up truck and offered to pay me for sex. With his very young daughter next to him. I got very angry, so he shrugged and left. I can go a bit mental when I get angry, so in a way, I admired his poise and calmness…”
- Jin, solo cyclist Korea says:
..”Arriving Iran, I was glad to come back but I was worried. When I cycled in Iran for two months, I got sexually harassed two times although I had the cycling partner at that time. It was for sure that if I cycled alone, I must get sexually harassed. I heard from solo women cyclists that all of them must get sexually harassed in Iran, not only one time, but several times. Sexual harassing is happening all around the world. But it is not common that solo women cyclists must have this experience 100% sure. I never recommend any solo girl cycling alone in Iran. Some European girl on a bicycle told me she got grabbed between legs even by the immigration doctor on the border. Too much risky to cycle alone and I already cycled from north to south for two months last time that I decided to take the train from south to north back at this time.
- Finally, Rocio from Spain, I met in Uzbekistan and her recent experience, May or June 2018 2018, described only in private correspondence
..I don't know the details, but all I know is thrilling too - there was 3 pepetrators. one attacked, the second helped him, the third was watching. when she saw, that some men were standing by the road she turned on her camera GoPro. She started to do it while felt unsecure, And that was the case this time too. In this case, the right. She abandoned her bike on the road to escape.
Just as in my case the perpetrators in some way.. "have not finished". Her court case lasted longer than mine. 'they were sentenced, of which the offenders gave appleation to. But most important is, they were caught.
And here are a few voices from the discussion on Facebook:
But do not forget about the positive experiences:
Joanna http://www.za7zakretami.pl/ on the way to Asia, she visited Iran twice, She loves this country and admits, that it did not anything superannoying . Dorothy http://alepieknyswiat.pl/ she spent in Iran some 3-4 3 weeks and returned delighted. "And what can be the harmthat can happen in Iran?"She asked me recently. Heike www.pushbikegirl.com She spent in this country over 3 months and has a lot of great memories, although it did not avoid provocations and solicitation..
This post was created, to make traveling solo girls and women acuqainted with the subject , that travelling in Iran by bicycle as a solo woman can be a time of your life or a nightmare bu defi8nnitely, its a different journey form the one as a couple, group or man's solo journey. It can be super, and may be dull.
Places, which increases the likelihood of a negative experience is mainly on quiet roads, mountain provinces such as Iran. Lorestan and south of the country. The area north of the line Tabriz - Tehran - Mashhad seems to be the safest.
I want to emphasize, that is not my goal of writing the bad things about Iran. It's a fascinating country full of wonderful people, who willingly acceded to the sky to make you happy, and many of them will remain forever in my heart. But solo travel by bike in the country as a solo women should be thought over twice., not overground bike, but moving solo to Iran ladies recommend extreme caution (another entry in the topic).