Iran felt so safe that I was lulled into a false sense of security. So much so that I didn’t even realise that I had lost my passport. Here is how the story unfolded.
After a two-week small group tour through Iran, my husband, BK, and I went off on our own, retracing our steps, taking our time, and seeing different parts of cities we had visited previously. Some of the time we travelled by local bus.
Travelling by Local Bus in Iran
The VIP (Very Important Passenger) bus is an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel. Travelling with locals, you may be the only foreigners on the bus. When leaving Kashan, we decided to take the bus to Tehran. It is reliable and only takes about two and a half hours.
When the taxi driver arrived to drive us to the bus station, we bid the hotel receptionist farewell. It was a bit like saying goodbye to an old friend. He had looked after us over our three-night stay and there was laughter and chit chat as we left.
Arriving at the bus station in Kashan in good time, the taxi driver showed us where to go and helped us purchase our tickets. Following the calls for passengers to “Tehran! Tehran!”, we easily found our bus, stowed our luggage and settled into our seats.
A Local Experience
Fascinated, I watched the goings on through the window as the bus left town. Outside the bus station, the bus slowed while the assistant hustled for more passengers. These people avoid the bus station ‘tax’, but won’t get a seat if the bus is full.
The bus stopped several more times to pick up other passengers and to load goods including carpets, and all manner of other things into the hold. Three young men climbed into the driver’s sleeping compartment behind the luggage storage.
Finally, we were on our way. The driver’s assistant strolled through the bus handing out juice and biscuits. These refreshments are included in the ticket price of only AU$3.00 (at the exchange rate of the time). While BK dozed off, I stared out of the window, absorbing the beautiful Iranian countryside for the last time.
The Lost Passports
Then, the assistant walked purposefully up the aisle, flip phone in hand. He stopped next to our seats and handed the phone to BK who looked at me, confused. We both thought the same thing – was this was a friend of the driver wanting to offer some sort of service in Tehran?
BK’s side of the conversation went like this: “Yes….” “Yes…..” “OH!”
He looked at me in horror. The Kashan Hotel receptionist was on the line telling BK that we had left our passports at the hotel.
In Iran you need a passport to check in and must leave your passports at reception until you check out. Our departure from the hotel was so jovial and carefree, that no one remembered our passports. We forgot to ask for them and the receptionist forgot to return them to us.
Various Solutions to our Lost Passports
Interestingly neither of us panicked or got upset. The Iranian way had really entered our consciousness, and we calmly worked through our options. The receptionist proposed mailing the passports. In the meantime, photocopies of our passports could suffice to book into our Tehran Hotel. And then again, they may not. And as we were leaving Tehran the following day, using a postal service sounded like an unreliable option.
The receptionist didn’t like my suggestion of getting a taxi to carry the passports to Tehran and BK’s offer to return to Kashan the next day wasn’t met with enthusiasm either. As the bus had not yet passed through the Holy City of Qom the best solution was for both of us to alight in Qom and return to Kashan by bus from there. Hopefully we would return to Tehran in time for a pre-arranged dinner date with an Iranian friend.
No-One Speaks English
Now, I needed to communicate to the driver and his assistant (who spoke no English) that we wanted to get off the bus in Qom, and return by bus to Tehran. After double checking with the man seated in front of us (by pointing ahead and saying “Qom” numerous times) that Qom was still ahead of us, I walked to the front of the bus.
Speaking and gesticulating in a type of semaphore, I hoped that the assistant understood my intentions. First, I pointed ahead with both hands saying “at Qom” followed by “we” indicating towards my chest. Then pointing to the steps of the bus I said “get off the bus” and finally pointing with both thumbs back over my shoulders said “go back to Kashan”.
Having repeated this a few times, I hoped that the nodding assistant really had grasped my meaning. Perhaps he didn’t as a few minutes after I returned to my seat, he walked up the aisle looking left and right asking other passengers “Engilisi?” No-one replied in the positive, so I repeated my ‘semaphore’ performance.
An Unexpected surprise in Qom
After some time, the bus glided into a road siding and the driver announced with some urgency “Qom…..Qom”. We quickly gathered our belongings from the overhead compartment and hurried off the bus to collect our bags, hoping that this was a bus station.
Ignoring the swarm of Taxi drivers gathering around and calling to us, we noticed a bus, door and luggage compartment open. A man called to us from the open door. Shrugging off the taxi drivers, we walked quickly to the waiting bus – one headed for Kashan, back the way we had come.
It dawned on us that our bus assistant (the Kashan to Tehran one) had called ahead to the bus coming the other way and instructed them to wait for us. How helpful can you get?
We settled into our new seats, paid for our tickets and gratefully accepted another juice and biscuit, satisfied that a minor catastrophe had been averted. Soon we’d have our passports in our possession and hopefully would make our dinner date.
All’s Well that Ends Well
The ‘moral’ of this story (if there is one) is that Iran works. Somehow, the hotel receptionist tracked us down on a local bus, I managed to communicate our intentions to the non-English speaking bus assistant who kindly and unexpectedly arranged for a bus to wait for us in Qom to take us back to Kashan.
Oh, and we did make that dinner date …just.