I left France in July of 2008, for a round-the-world trip "on the road", by hitchhiking, when it was possible, and Couchsurfing.
Couchsurfing is a wonderful way to travel. It means surfing peoples' couches. Via the website www.couchsurfing.org, you can contact members all around the world, and ask them if you can surf their couch. Beside the fact that it's free, and you can travel for very cheap, it is, above all, a wonderful way to make connections and friends around the world, and exchange, especially culture.
One of the most amazing experiences I had during my travel from France to India, was probably in Iran, in Zahedan. Zahedan is a middle -sized city, in the South-East of the country, almost at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Because of its geographical situation, in the middle of the desert, Zahedan is considered, even by Iranian people, as a dangerous city. Here, there are all kinds of traffic: drugs, weapons,…
When you arrive in an unknown place, especially if this place is considered dangerous, there is always a lot of adrenaline. You feel, at least at the beginning, a bit uncomfortable to be there.
I arrived in Zahedan by bus, from Kerman, at the end of the day. It was the beginning of the night. The bus station is out of the city. So, my first wish was to find a way to reach the city center.
Here, there are no couchsurfers, and the only information I had, was that there was a little hotel. And I was not confident of this information, as I had found it in a very old travel guide. All I had was the name and the address.
I bargained a taxi to reach the city, but the communication was quite difficult. Almost nobody speaks English.
The first thing, when you travel, if you don't want to get scammed, is to ask the price, before anything; taxi, bus, restaurant,… Not so bad, I got it for 2000 Rials (about 2USD).
Here, like anywhere in Iran, there is anarchy on the road, and being in a car in the middle of the Iranian traffic, is a mix between being scared and impressed.
The taxi driver dropped me in the city center, in a street with a lot of shops. The shops were still opened, and the street was full of cars, noise, dust and people. I didn't know where I was: lost.
In the street, everybody was staring at me. Some people were sitting or just standing and they followed me with their eyes, with no facial expressions.
The baloutche people mainly bear beards, and traditional clothing, with very large pants and long shirts. So, if you watch a lot of American movies, you can easily imagine that you are surrounded by terrorists. I was filled by mixed feelings of fear and curiosity.
But I tried something: I smiled at someone. And, surprised, I got in return a smile. And suddenly, I understood, that they were all nice, just, like me, and curious to see a "white man" here. Zahedan is everything except a tourist place.
I entered a shop to ask for directions. Of course, everybody was looking at me. I tried to ask, but nobody understood English, and they were talking and laughing together, watching me trying to make them understand, and I had no idea at all of what they were talking about.
Then a guy, about 30 years old, wearing western clothes, entered, and asked me in English what I wanted. I told him that I was looking for the hotel but he replied that the place is not very nice. He also told me that he was a dental technician, and had an office, with a shower.
He offered for me to go to his place, to rest for a while, and for a shower and tea. He told me that he would contact the hotel for me afterwards.
At this time, I didn't know what to do…Do I have to follow him or not? This guy, coming from nowhere, offering for me to follow him, in an area where tourists, especially western tourists, can be easily kidnapped.
There is a rule to follow when you travel like this, choose people and don't be chosen. And this time I was chosen.
But, I don't know why, I decided to trust him and follow him.
We walked about 200 meters and reached his place. His office was an apartment, at the first floor, and newly renovated. His name was Ahmad. He introduced me to his business partner.
I had a shower, some tea, and he explained me that they don't see foreigners here, but he likes to speak English and exchange. He called the hotel, but insisted for me to stay some days at his place, taking my time to rest and finish my Pakistani visa. I accepted.
He invited me to his own home, a very nice one, and introduced me to his wife.
She cooked a wonderful and delicious Iranian dinner. Chicken with rice, served with a green sauce. We drank Dough, a traditional drink, made from yoghurt, water and salt. After dinner, we spent a long time chatting, drinking tea and eating dates from the Iranian city of Bam, the best I've ever tasted in my life: they literally melt in the mouth.
I spent 4 days with him, sharing his life. He was very nice. Every day, after work, he showed me around the city. Here, I learned not to be afraid of others, even if they are different. I learned of Iranian hospitality. I learned about their culture, and all the time, Ahmad was very helpful.
I finished my visa for Pakistan, and had one of my greatest guest experiences since the beginning of my travel.
Finally, he joined the website www.couchsurfing.org, and we still keep in touch by email. Of course, they don't have a lot of travelers in Zahedan, but he now hosts almost all the couchsurfers who cross his city.
I will never forget him, I got a new friend in Zahedan, and hope to be able to meet him again, one day, somewhere… That's what Couchsurfing is all about.