I’m still not hitchhiking. I guess I just got lazy and tired of the cultural misunderstandings. But I really miss the practicality of it when I try to find the bus to Sari. I read that there are several a day but I can’t even find the bus station. A random lady giving me a cookie in the middle of the street only slightly improves my mood. And I’m finally saved when a local person comes up to me out of nowhere and asks if I need help in English. I guess in a place like Tehran you can never be truly lost for too long.
Being picked up from the bus station in Sari by my couchsurfing host is a reminder that overbearing Iranian hospitality does have its perks. The guy is super friendly. In the evening over a glass of wine we talk about our favorite books and his plans for the future.
I spend a day walking around the town, through its narrow market in search of an old museum. It’s still hot, and having moved closer to the coast of the Caspian Sea the humidity is getting worse. Fortunately it gets better as I move closer to the border with Turkmenistan, to the city of Gonbad. There are actually a few camels to be spotted in the desert north of the town, but more impressive is the hippodrome where young horses are being trained.
Despite it having a fascinating history, there is not much to see in Gonbad. Its biggest, and only tourist attraction is an old tower in the center but entering it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the entrance price. There is also the slight trace of an old wall on the edge of the town which my couchsurfing host tells me might be a remnant of the Great Wall of Gonbad. I do get super lucky though when a friend of my couchsurfing host offers to drive me around the area’s beautiful countryside.
My host in Bojnord is not from couchsurfing, instead he’s a friend of a guy I met in Tehran. Maybe because he’s not used to having guests he takes extra care to show me around. He works for a local tour group and we join one of the company’s outings along an ever deeper stream, till we end up swimming, fully clothed, to a waterfall. The sun is so hot, my clothes are bone dry again not long after I get out of the water. We also visit a few local museums and the ruins of a huge fortress. Pretty impressive for a place I hadn’t even heard of a week or so before my arrival. It makes me realize that Iran has so much more to offer than what I have time for. With my visa running out I head toward the holy city of Mashad.