Forbidden, Forgotten Places

We never, ever had any trouble, however minuscule in crossing over forty borders, and not even one search (yes! the Mongolian border official took my passport to double-check it for he thought the photograph did not correspond to me — it had been taken 15 years earlier!)

In fact, while we were traveling overland in Asia, my father, holding a European passport, drove through the Old Continent and was stopped at the Italo-Austrian border — fully within the so-called European Union — where they thoroughly checked every single item in his Mercedes, confiscated some business documents with no explanation whatsoever, filed charges for some tax evasion (while simply in transit in that country, he had allegedly violated some obscure law stating he had to declare any value, even on paper, like a bank statement!), and it is not until two years later that an Italian court dropped the charges and provided a mild apology.

The opposite happened to us. Approaching the Iranian border for the first time, I was jittery because the Lonely Planet had reported a maximum allowance of 5 films per person, and I was carrying 100 of them. While all Iranians had to open even their pockets, we got not so much as a wave from the smiling, English-speaking official. Warned again by LP, I insisted on filling out a currency declaration which was never requested anywhere, not even upon our departure through the Pakistani border.

Wanting to be on the safe side, the Lonely Planet had also stated: “Before entering Iran, memorize the address and telephone number of your diplomatic mission in Tehran”. Actually, Iranian officials were among the most helpful and friendly — even when we overstayed our visa. In general, officials everywhere were correct, and even in Libya where they were if not hostile, at least stone cold, they never bothered us — nor anybody we know of with a US or UK passport.

“The U.S. State Department had advised me not to go to Iran, a state with which America had no diplomatic relations. But I felt safer in Tehran than in many American cities”, said author-reporter Robert Kaplan (The Ends of the Earth, 1996). The people, there and anywhere were actually fantastic. The more obscure and remote the country, the more invitations and attention we got, except, again, in Libya where they more or less ignored us.

As of the state of war say in Iraq, we go no bomb on our heads nor anywhere in sight, nor were we shot at during our numerous visits to El Salvador in the middle of the civil war. We always remember that statistically it is infinitely more likely that we will be hit in a car accident … in New York.

So, make your choice:

Classical Iran

Desert Libya

Hispaniola : Haiti and the Dominican Republic