When travel writer, journalist and motorcyclist Lois Pryce told her friends and family that she was planning to undertake a 3000-mile motorbike journey across Iran, she received an overwhelming response – “Iran? What do you want to go there for?”
This was in 2011, when tensions between the British and Iranian governments were at an all time high. Lois, however, was unperturbed. Dissatisfied by the way the West is ‘drip fed’ anti-Islam sentiments, Lois wanted to find out for herself what Iran was really like. So, she did – in 2014.
The result was her book her latest travel memoir Revolutionary Ride. The numerous biker jackets in the buzzing Town Hall on Sunday afternoon (September 30) signalled the presence of the motorcyclists of Marlborough who had come to hear Lois Pryce speak about her experiences.
Bikers and non-bikers alike were not disappointed as we were treated to a talk that was both fascinating and entertaining and gave us an insight into a largely misunderstood nation.
It was not easy getting into the country: “At first my visa was rejected with a lot of strange questions about what my purpose was in the country. Then it was accepted, however they said that I couldn’t bring my bike.” The way she got around this is told in more detail in her book, she explained, but involved sneaking the bike in on a train.
Lois recognised that there would be “…no friendly ambassador offering me a cup of tea” if something went wrong and she was largely on her own. However, she soon experienced the overwhelming hospitality of the Iranians. There was never any need to book a hotel, she said, as there was always someone offering to let her stay over.
Navigating the roads of Iran was a challenge. You need to learn to ‘drive like an Iranian’ if you have any hope of travelling unscathed. Many Iranians would tell her proudly that according to the World Health Organisation Iran has the world’s highest rate of road deaths.
“People travelling at 70mph would try to talk to me from one inch away,” Lois told us – beaming. Bilingual signs were rare and Lois wanted to ’embrace the lostness’ so avoided screens and GPS. She said that this led to interesting conversations as she asked people for directions.
From these discussions with ordinary Iranian people she got a better grasp of what Iran was really like – from the underground music scenes and secret raves in the desert to the climate of fear that Iranians live with, despite their undeniably positive outlook.
“Every adult I spoke to had been arrested at least once,” she told us. In some cases, this was for a few hours for wearing too much makeup for example, but in others it was for a longer period and was too traumatic to speak about.
During question time, Lois was asked how she avoided getting arrested: “I was actually brought into the police station at the start of my trip. I think that the authorities are more used to the idea of a spy than a tourist.”
Above all she discovered that ordinary Iranians were ‘open minded, cosmopolitan people’, with a genuine desire to engage with the wider world. She believes that at home we should ‘be more Iranian’ by emulating their friendly, positive and open outlook in our daily lives.