Couchsurfing In Iran with Stephan Orth
There’s nothing better than sitting on your sofa and reading is there? Today’s guest likes a nice comfortable sofa but he took things that step further when he decided he would like to couch surf as a way of travelling and seeing inside a country he really wanted to get under the skin of. When you stay with various hosts, visit them in their homes, sleep on their sofa you get to see and experience life as they do, fit in with their family, experience their everyday…
But it takes guts to actually go ahead and do this. And to go to Iran…..
Time to meet the man who did….Stephan Orth….
To write your book, Couchsurfing in Iran, you spent 62 days travelling through the country. How did you decide which locations to visit? What kind of research did you do?
It was a mix of planning and being open to new ideas I would get from my hosts. I wanted to see the whole country, including some touristy places like Isfahan and Shiraz, but also some less visited areas like Bushehr or the Kurdistan province in the west.
Some of the best ideas came when traveling — for example, one host was an expert in war memorial sites, so we traveled to some interesting places together.
Had you ever been to Iran before?
One year before the trip I write about in the book, I visited Iran for the first time. The experience blew my mind; so many things were different from what I had expected. I fell in love with the country and decided to come back.
Why did you choose Iran? What drew you to this particular country?
There is no other country in the world where the clichés and expectations are so different from the actual experience. Iran is one of the most hospitable places in the world—and a writer‘s paradise with many untold stories.
What travel advice or tips can you give about the area?
There are amazing sights, great architecture, and beautiful nature, but for me, the most amazing experience was meeting the locals. So say yes if someone invites you for tea, bring some presents from your home—and learn about the taarof rules (Iranian etiquette) before you go.
Do you have any funny stories or anecdotes to share about your literary journey?
In one town, I had an unexpected date in a living room with the whole family present! Another time, my host lived 500 meters from a nuclear power plant. The whole day he told me about security concerns and how his whole village was about to be relocated soon. I didn‘t sleep too well that night.
Do you enjoy the idea of being a literary tour guide?
I‘m always very happy when readers tell me they had similar experiences or that my book inspired them to choose Iran as a travel destination. Once, a reader contacted me and said he had copied my route exactly and even met two of my couchsurfing hosts.
What’s the most stunning thing about this part of the world?
Always the hospitality of the people. But also the difference between public and private life. In the safety of their apartments, many people break the rules, drink alcohol, have parties, and discuss the flaws of the government. What happens outside of home is often a kind of masquerade.
A HUGE thank you to Stephan and publishers Greystone Books for organising this interview