iran. it was one middle eastern country that i’ve secretly wanted to visit. i never told my ma that i booked a ticket with the help of the acquired miles i got from gulf air to tehran until i got approved by the embassy in makati. she then asked what was in that country that made me want to visit – and i showed her pictures from the internet of the azadi tower in tehran, the bridges of isfahan and persepolis in shiraz. i told her that i am going to get a small-sized authentic persian carpet for which the country is well-known.
it wasn’t easy to get a visa to iran. an authorization number is required issued by their ministry of foreign affairs. this is then forwarded to the embassy in the philippines which is located in dasmarinas village, makati. the authorization number can be obtained by either a sponsor (who is a local) or applying to have one from a travel agency. i got mine from the latter wherein i paid like $80.00 which took 10 days. i went to the embassy the moment i received the authorization number. after submitting my requirements and paying a visa fee, i waited for another 10 days and got my visa stickered in my passport.
everything was going in the right places for my one of a kind trip. i scribbled in my note pad some helpful farsi words that i can use, carefully planned my 10-day itinerary, took note the places i did not want to miss, got my backpack and personal stuff ready, read a lot of entries in the net about iran – i even got some small native trinkets to give away to locals whom i will meet during my trip.
on the day of my flight friday the 13th, i asked my brother to drive and drop me to the international airport using our family suv. it took us two hours to travel from rizal due to traffic on some major roads. i reached the airport on time, having more than 3 hours before my 12:10 flight. everything went smoothly during my visa check, then the issuance of tickets and paid travel tax plus the terminal fee. i then was in line to the last step which was immigration – then my nightmare started.
it was a long queue to the immigration counters. i can see on the people’s faces the boredom they were having as they stood in line like me. the caucasian guy behind me was muttering the words, ages. ages. and i smelt his breath tainted with alcohol. he looked as if he hadn’t showered.
when it was my turn in the counter, i handed down the lady officer my passport and tickets. her facial reaction changed when she saw my ticket going to tehran. then the questions started: whom am i going to meet in iran? where is my old passport? what is my job? where will i stay? and so on. the last thing she told me was that it is very “unlikely” for someone to visit iran as a tourist. she handed me back my documents and a paper to be filled up and pointed me to that corner in the airport where questionable passengers are to be interviewed.
i filled up the paper that was given to me which are a bunch of questions like how will you support yourself financially, and more that i can no longer remember. as i was waiting for my turn to be interviewed an officer approached me and looked at my paper. again questions: how did i managed to get a visa for iran? what will i do there? when she found out that i was an ofw before, she was asking for my old overseas employment certificate. i told her i did not bring it with me because i no longer work as an ofw. she asked me what was my job before and told her i worked as a paramedic, she then said if i’m going to look for a job in iran – i said no which was the truth.
i was interviewed for the third time by another female officer who was calmer than the other one. i believe she was really trying to help and being fair on me. questions were asked, i produced almost everything she required me to prove that i’m only touring the country. she even excused herself and tracked down my travel history. when she went back she told me that she noticed that i have travelled often.
the last step was for their supervisor to approve my travel and this is where i made my mistake. my booked hotel was only for a day because the online bookings for hotel accommodation for tehran was too expensive. they were asking for my 10 day hotel bookings i which unfortunately did not have. i gave them the addresses of the hostels that i am planning to stay – they did not accept this.
when i applied for iran visa this was not asked, what i gave them were only addresses of the hostels. this did not work out in our own immigration office. lastly, they gave me a difficult task to produce the 10 day hotel bookings and they will let me go. it was already 11:00 and boarding is at 11:30. i told the officer that i will not make it. i will need wifi connection and online booking hotel availability will be very difficult. she wrote in my ticket the word “pending”. i did not ask any questions, my dream to travel to iran has turned into dust.
though my iran visa is good till august, my ticket was forfeited because i purchased it using my mileage (air miles). it required 54,000 miles credit and $200.00, it is non-rebookable. i spent about $150.00 to process the authorization number and the visa and for my travel insurance, $60.00.
this was a very tedious experience. physically and emotionally it affected me but what can i do? every traveler is in the hands of the immigration officers in the airport. i was thinking if ever i knew someone there who knows me personally that i do travel solely for pleasure and not to look for a job it might have been different. also, though there is no ban for filipinos to travel in iran, it was very unique for them to see one guy going as a tourist.
this is not the end of my very few travels. it will not let me stop to explore the places i want to see.