Video: Violinist In The Mountains Of Iran


I love hearing different music when I travel, and often it’s the music I remember the most. One of my clearest memories of Bulgaria, for example, is an elderly woman on the streets of Sofia singing a folk song. Even though I didn’t know the words, the song stuck with me.

Here’s a video of another chance encounter with traditional music, this time in Iran. Youtube poster bornainspain was hiking in the mountains outside Iran’s capital Tehran and came across this old gentleman playing a catchy tune on a bright red violin. The caption says it’s a very old Persian melody. It sounds familiar, though, and I don’t think I heard it when I went to Iran back in 1994. Can anyone tell me the name of this tune?

Whatever it is, he plays it well and this video points out one of the best things about travel – the chance encounters that make lasting memories. Do you have any fond musical memories from your travels? Tell us about them in the comments section!

Video: Finding Love In Iran


When people think of Iran, dating isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a conservative country with a strict form of Islamic law. Natural urges are unconquerable, though, and young people will always find a way to hook up. This video from Alessio Rastani describes how the young and well-off find love in Tehran, Iran’s capital. Rastani talks with his cousins, who live there, about how to go about it and what Iranian women are looking for in a man.

This is nothing new. When I was in university back in the ’90s, one of my friends was an Iranian woman studying in the U.S. She told me that when she was in a girls’ high school, guys would hang out in front of the gate at the end of the day and throw little balled up pieces of paper onto the ground with their phone numbers on them. If you liked the guy, you picked up the piece of paper and called.

She was strictly Muslim, so talking was all she did. She liked one guy enough that she got permission for him to come over. After a few visits, her parents left them alone together. The first time this happened they sat together and talked for a couple of hours. After he left, her mother came out from the next room and said she’d been listening the whole time and was proud that she had been a good girl. My friend replied, “What did you expect me to do!?”

For her, you could be a good Muslim and still have fun.

Check out Rastani’s YouTube channel, HelloIranTV, for more great videos about life in Iran.

Ten big travel adventures for 2012

Ten big travel adventures for 2012A new year always brings new possibilities, particularly in the realm of travel. With 2012 now officially underway, it is time to start plotting our adventures for the year ahead. This year, rather than share yet another top ten list of adventure travel destinations, we thought it would be fun to recommend some highly specific adventures instead. These are unique journeys that will take you to the very ends of the Earth and deliver a travel experience that simply can’t be easily found elsewhere.

Visit Yellowstone in Winter
Yellowstone National Park is one of the most breathtakingly scenic destinations in all of North America, and well worth a visit any time of the year. But in the heart of winter, it takes on a whole new level of beauty and wonder. With fewer than 100,000 visitors during the colder months, the park offers plenty of solitude as well, making it the perfect winter wonderland for those looking for a true wilderness adventure in the snow. Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and wildlife spotting are amongst the best activities, and Austin Lehman Adventures offers fantastic itineraries that provide all of that and much more.

Explore Botswana’s Okavango Delta By Canoe
Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, which is formed when waters from the Okavango River empty into the flat-lands near the base of the Kalahari Desert. The result is a fertile piece of swampland that attracts all manner of African wildlife, including elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, and much more. The best way to explore that expanse of wetlands is in a traditional dugout canoe, which puts you in very close proximity with those amazing animals. National Geographic Expeditions has a unique itinerary that allows travelers to do just that, while learning to track game with the famed Kalahari Bushmen and wander the Makgadikgadi salt flats on horseback. This is truly an amazing, once in a lifetime, journey to the very heart of Africa.

Cycle The Silk Road
Stretching across Europe and Asia, the Silk Road was once one of the most important trading routes in the entire world. Today it serves as the dramatic and historic backdrop for one of the longest, and most epic, annual cycling trips that any adventure traveler could ever ask for. The Silk Route Tour, which is designed by the team behind the amazing Tour d’Afrique, stretches from Shanghai to Istanbul, covering a distance of more than 7450 miles and requiring 129 days to complete. This year’s route takes riders into Iran for the first time and will test their legs on Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway, which rises above 15,000 feet. Don’t have time to commit to the full tour? Then ride any combination of the individual legs instead.Ten big travel adventures for 2012Climb A Himalayan Peak
Standing 23,494 feet in height, Pumori is a Himalayan peak that often serves as a tune-up climb for mountaineers hoping to move on to bigger challenges such as Everest. Located in the Khumbu Region of Nepal, Pumori also happens to be a great challenge for those who want to experience a major alpine expedition in the most spectacular mountain chain on the planet. Peak Freaks, one of the top Himalayan guide services in world, offers an excellent, fully featured, 34-day climb up the mountains South Ridge, which requires no high altitude experience, although some technical skills with crampons and ice axes are a must.

Go Gorilla Spotting in Rwanda
The mountain gorilla is one of the most elusive and endangered animals on the planet, and because of this, their remote habitats have been designated as nature preserves and sanctuaries throughout Africa. One of the best places to spot them is in Rwanda, where adventure travel and eco-tourism have helped directly fund the preservation of these gentle creatures. Visitors to the Virunga Volcanoes National Park must hike for miles through dense forests just to catch a glimpse of the gorillas, but those who have made the journey report that it is a magical experience unlike any other. Adventure travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent can help make that experience a reality for wildlife lovers who want a very personal encounter with these amazing primates.

Trek The Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan
In the remote northeast corner of Afghanistan there is a narrow strip of land known as the Wakhan Corridor. The region once served as a buffer zone between the British and Russian Empires, but today it is a wilderness that rarely sees outside visitors. Trekking through that valley is akin to stepping back in time, as there are few modern amenities to be found. What is in abundance however are scenic mountain vistas, tiny villages populated by local herdsman, and rugged trekking routes that are amongst the most remote on the planet. Few travel companies organize expeditions to the region, although Wild Frontiers out of the U.K. does have plans to lead two excursions – one 20 days in length, the other 30 – into the Corridor this year.

Ten big travel adventures for 2012Hike and Bike Easter Island
Speaking of remote destinations, they don’t come much more remote than Easter Island. Famous for the mysterious moai statues that proliferate the landscape, the South Pacific island is an intriguing mix of history and outdoor adventure. For those looking to visit the place for themselves, G Adventures offers an affordable option that features full and half-day cycling excursions and day hikes to visit some of the more famous locations where the stone faces that Easter Island is known for are in abundance.

Dive The Maldives
For more than 45 years, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI, has been teaching travelers how to scuba dive. But the organization also offers a host of diving trips to some of the most exotic destinations on the planet. For example, the PADI itinerary to the Maldives take divers on a cruise through the beautiful island nation, where the waters offer visibility in excess of 100 feet and encounters with sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and scores of other marine animals.

Experience Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
Mongolia’s Gobi Desert has long held an undeniable allure to the adventure traveler, and what better way to take in its wonders than by traveling overland through those remote landscapes. Intrepid Travel has a new itinerary for 2012 that sends travelers on a three-week long odyssey over towering sand dunes, past ancient ruins, and through lush, open steppe lands. Accommodations range from traditional Mongolian Yurts to rugged bush camps. This is the ultimate road trip through a part of the world that few outsiders are lucky enough to ever see.

Ski To The South Pole
If you’re a well heeled adventure traveler looking for the ultimate escape, a last degree journey to the South Pole may just be fit the bill. The expedition begins in Antarctica at 89°S and covers the final 60 miles to the Pole on cross country skis. It isn’t an easy journey however, as you’ll be pulling your food and gear behind you in a sled, while battling fierce winds, subzero temperatures, and occasional whiteout conditions. If this sounds like your particular brand of suffering, than Adventure Consultants has a 17-day itinerary that you’ll probably love. Just don’t let the sticker shock scare you.

Good luck in your 2012 adventures, where ever they may take you.

[Photo credits: Pumori - Philip Ling; Easter Island - Aurbina both via WikiMedia]

Space Tourists: a cinematic journey to the ISS (w/ Audio Interview)

Space Tourists airs tonight on the Documentary Channel at 8pm & 11pm


When Anousheh Ansari boarded the International Space Station on September 20th, 2006, she became the first self-funded female, the first Iranian citizen, and the fourth human overall to enter the Earth’s orbit as a coveted ‘space tourist’.

After building and selling a large telecom business, Ansari had decided that she would pay over $20 million USD to take a ride on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 and orbit Earth as a crew member of the International Space Station for 8 days. While training as a backup for Daisuke Enomoto, who failed to meet the required medical qualifications, Ansari was notified that her lifelong dream would be fulfilled – with only one month remaining before liftoff.

Meanwhile, without Ansari’s knowledge, a charismatic Swiss filmmaker had begun to collect material for a documentary that explored the peculiar circumstances of the Russian space tourism industry. Gathering footage at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (the Soyuz’s launch facility), filmmaker Christian Frei began to lay the foundation for what would become the first documentary to uncover a highly exclusive and secretive world.

The finished product, Space Tourists, debuted in the US at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Thought it never had an overwhelming reception in North America, it is arguably one of the most fascinating travel-themed documentaries to have been produced in recent years and a must-see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a distant dream of venturing to space.

Frei’s film uncovers many facets of the Russian space tourism program that are especially compelling to watch unfold on the big screen.

From the pre-launch rituals at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to the group of men that make a living by hunting down and recovering the enormous scrap metal that falls to Earth from every Soyuz launch; Frei’s film captures an incredible spectrum of physical environments, people/cultures, and brilliantly contrasts the magnificence of spaceflight in direct contrast with the trivial hardships of life on Earth.

It’s a film that’s both visually arresting and offers to bring the viewer on a journey with each of the characters that it follows – from training to touchdown and everywhere in between.

Space Tourists is currently being featured on the Documentary Channel airing tonight at 8pm and 11pm, or available on DVD via the Documentary Channel online store.

Click below for an exclusive, uncut interview with Anousheh Ansari & filmmaker Christian Frei:

Uncornered Market Q&A: Audrey and Dan on Iran

uncornered marketUncornered Market is one of the most popular travel blogs out there. A quick gander will demonstrate why this is the case. Audrey Scott and Dan Noll’s labor of love boasts some of the most arresting travel photography around. The subjects the two take on are of broad interest as well–from reflections on cultural traffic to recipes, to reflections on the importance of diplomacy on a personal level, and even to a particular brand of self-help.

Audrey and Dan talk to Gadling hot on the heels of their first visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran with a range of opinions, suggestions, and tips.

Q: Good day, Audrey and Dan. Define your occupations.

A: Storytellers, writers, photographers, world travelers. Mostly, we’re known as the husband-and-wife team behind the travel blog Uncornered Market.

Q: You recently traveled to Iran. Tell us how the trip came about and where you went.

A: Our interest in Iran dates back to 2003 when we befriended Audrey’s Iranian colleagues at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and attended a slideshow presentation from travelers who’d recently returned from Iran. Our curiosity was piqued; we wanted to see for ourselves what the country and people were like, to find an alternative story than what the media tends to portray.

We’ve been on the road for five years and now seemed like the right time to satisfy our curiosity despite the fact that our family and friends thought we were crazy given the current political climate.

Our trip began in Tehran and then made a loop through Hamadan, Kermanshah, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Yazd, Isfahan, Abyaneh, Rasht, Masuleh, Ardebil, and Tabriz. We finished the journey with an Iranian train trip from Tabriz to Istanbul, Turkey, which took two and a half days.

Q: In your interactions with Iranians, did politics ever enter the picture? Did you discuss geopolitics or the actions of the US and Iranian governments with anyone?

A: We never began our conversations on the topic of politics, but particularly after we earned people’s trust, it entered the discussion. Most of the Iranian people we met took issue with their government, its rules, its rhetoric, and its disengagement with the rest of the world. Many would conclude with: “People are good. Politics and governments are bad.”

The impression of America, and especially of the American people, was strikingly and overwhelmingly positive. The Iranians we met wished to engage more with the rest of the world. However, most Iranians we spoke to did not expect change within their own government, and as a result, they were not optimistic that relations between the Iranian and American governments would improve any time soon.

Q: How were you received, generally speaking?

A: Like rock stars. We traveled with a small group of Americans, Australians and a Dane. We were all well received, but as Americans we were often shown special positive attention. Being American got us a lot of handshakes, hugs and invitations to people’s homes.
Q: Did you find yourselves unpacking assumptions made in advance? Did you encounter any surprises along the way?

A: Yes. What we found in Iran – and particularly regarding ordinary Iranian people — was so profoundly different than the prevailing media narrative. Iranian people, as a rule, are kind and are not a bunch of terrorists.

Iranians also actively seek and find ways to circumvent censorship. For example, everyone seems to have Facebook accounts and satellite dishes, both of which are technically banned or blocked.

We were also pleasantly surprised by how often we managed to slip off, walk the streets, and talk to people on our own and how safe and normal it all felt.

Q: What were your favorite places in Iran?

A: Shiraz — like the wine, though they don’t serve wine there anymore. (Iran is a dry country.) The Shirazi people are friendly and the archeological sites (Persepolis, just outside town) and various religious sites like the Pink Mosque and Shah Ceragh Mosque really blew us away with their elaborate and dizzying designs.

We also really enjoyed the Persian Islamic architecture of Esfahan and the Zoroastrian burial sites in Yazd. Throughout the country, bazaars (markets) were fun and served as great places to meet people.

In the north, we were big fans of the ancient Armenian monastery near Jolfa and its ethereal mountain setting.

Q: Do you have any recommendations, logistical or otherwise, for Americans interested in visiting Iran?

A: Three things. First, Americans are required to have a private guide or join a group tour. The tour company will sort your visa paperwork. The visa process involves obtaining an authorization number from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then procuring an actual visa from an Iranian consulate. The entire process can take up to two months, so get started early.

Secondly, try not to bite off too much. There’s a ton of Islamic history and pre-Islamic history in Iran, including around ten UNESCO World Heritage sites. But the country is huge, so being selective will help you avoid spending all of your time in transit.

Lastly, always be aware of the context, but don’t be afraid to talk with people on the street.

Q: What’s next for the Uncornered Market duo? (Or should I ask where’s next?)

A: We are in the midst of planning 2012. Israel is near or at the top of the list. We’ve collected numerous invitations from newfound Israeli friends and travel companions. We’d like to see Israel for ourselves, especially after our experiences in other parts of the Middle East.

In addition, Audrey would like to visit Australia, which will be her seventh continent. Japan, Papua New Guinea, and the Balkans are in the conversational mix.

Our 2012 non-travel plans include redesigning our blog and completing several publishing projects. It’s also about time to write that book we keep talking about.