By Susanna Huth
Three years ago, the daredevil British travel writer Lois Pryce set out on what she describes as “one of the most transformative experiences” of her life. Taking nothing but her motorcycle, her passport and a small suitcase, she embarked on a 3,000-mile journey through Iran.
That journey is the subject of her new book, Revolutionary Ride: On the Road in Search of the Real Iran. The book was recently launched by the author at Stanfords, the well-known London maps and travel bookshop, before a crowd of friends, family, journalists and fellow travellers.
Lois’s voyage began in 2011, at the height of the diplomatic tensions between the U.K. and Iran. One day, she found a mysterious note on her motorcycle begging her to visit Iran. The note came out of the blue. And yet its impact was remarkable: Two years later, Lois was visiting Iran, on two wheels.
The British biker expected hostility and resistance on arrival. Instead, she was greeted with “overwhelming hospitality,” as she puts it. Falling in love with the country, she returned in 2014, then again with her husband last year. Revolutionary Ride details her encounters with the Iranian people as she bikes from Tabriz to Shiraz against the wondrous backdrops of Iran.
Kayhan London recently sat down with Lois to find out more about her adventures.
KL: When did you first discover your love of adventure and travel?
LP: I never went traveling as a teenager like my friends did. I always fancied going off and having adventures. I just never knew how to do it. Then I learned how to ride a motorcycle for fun, and realized that I could go see the world that way. Traveling by bike is a great way to meet people, and also serves as an icebreaker, as people always come up and talk to you.
KL: You received a note on your motorcycle in 2011 encouraging you to see Iran. Was that the trigger for your trip?
LP: I did sit on it for a while, given the political situation going on with Iran at the time. However, receiving the note and seeing Iran in the news made me really take interest in it as a country. I had never been to the Middle East and didn’t really know what to expect.
KL: How did you go about planning your journey? Did you talk to Iranians and people who had been to Iran before?
LP: A bit of both! I have an Iranian friend here in London who had been out there with her boyfriend. She was really encouraging about my decision, and even taught me a few words in Farsi.
I was doing an interview with BBC Radio Four and they asked about my next trip. So I told them about Iran. As soon as I got out of the building, I got an email from an Iranian woman who was a lecturer at City University London. She had heard my interview and wanted to have lunch with me so she could put me in touch with people. Like the note, I think this really showed something that is really unique about Iranian people: how much they love to engage.
KL: What was the response when you told people you were going to Iran?
LP: I always get discouragements about my travels – more so than ever with Iran. People were nervous; I mean, it was a real shame. But my mom and my husband supported me, and other travellers I know thought it was a good idea.
KL: How did people react to you?
LP: That’s what I was most worried about, because we are made to believe that I would be thrown out of the country, or have rocks thrown at me. But it was really an amazing response. As soon as I entered Iran, I was overwhelmed by this tidal wave of hospitality, kindness, and generosity. I was welcomed by so many people, and was constantly being given tea and cakes and invited back to people’s houses.
I found that people really wanted to engage, and impart their view of the world and Iran. They wanted to show how upset they were with the way Iran is viewed by the rest of the world, and set the record straight.
KL: What did you think was the most surprising thing about Iranian culture?
LP: Hospitality! I’m a travel writer and have been to a lot of places but I’ve never had that experience before. You can find friendly people in any country, it’s not a miracle. But this willingness to go the extra mile to help people was really unique to Iran. I also appreciated their quiet tolerance, and how sophisticated and intelligent the nation is as a whole.
KL: What were your favourite places in Iran?
LP: I really did love the Alborz Mountains. As a city, I loved Yazd and all its old buildings. Shiraz was fun as well, a very lively and very friendly place. The Zagros Mountains were also really stunning.
KL: You say on your website that, of all the journeys you have been on, this one has affected you most profoundly.
LP: Yes, this definitely had a profound effect on me. People have this perception that because it’s a Muslim country, if you’re a non-Muslim you will get looked down upon. But that was not the case. It was very easy to talk very openly with people.
KL: What is your view of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visa ban, which affects seven countries including Iran?
LP: I am totally opposed to Trump’s visa ban. With regard to Iranians specifically, they seem to be the group most affected, due to the large number of Iranians living in the US. Iranians have contributed to the success of America enormously, and are exactly what the U.S. need, and claim to value – hard-working, motivated, highly educated people who are willing to integrate. This is my experience of both Iranians in America, and the people I met in Iran who wanted to emigrate to the USA.
I do not understand why Iran has been included on this list, as there is no history of an Iranian national committing a terrorist act on American soil. The ban is divisive, and only continues to foster long-standing anti-Iran sentiment, which has been so destructive.
KL: What made you want to turn your travels into books?
LP: I’ve always loved writing, and it never occurred to me that I could write for a living. On my first trip, which was from Alaska to Argentina, I started writing a blog. It ended up getting linked up around the world, and I got a book deal from that.
KL: Did you know you were going to write a book about Iran?
LP: When I went out there, I didn’t, but I think that’s the best way, as you’re not just out there to get stories. You go and talk to people and get a feel of the place.
As soon as I arrived, I knew I had to write about it, as it was the most interesting country I’ve been to. Iranian people just had the most poetic way of telling stories, so I knew I had to write about them.
KL: What’s the hardest part about traveling alone?
LP: When I was traveling in Iran, I had a run-in with the revolutionary police, which was scary. But generally, I’m very happy being in my own company.
KL: Where would you like to travel next?
LP: I’m desperate to go back to Iran. If you look at the map, it’s huge, and I really haven’t covered much ground.
I’d also love to go to Oman. I just love the Middle East, it’s a very friendly part of the world and the food is great.
KL: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to travel alone?
LP: To make yourself open to the world and not remain fearful. It’s important to trust people and not just believe everything you read in the news.