With no idea where we would sleep that night, my friend and I sat down to strategize. The airport had free wi-fi and I scoured the internet for hotels in Kish. I did find a listing of hotels, but Google Phone and Skype were blocked (as were websites like Facebook and Twitter).
About 30 minutes later two soldiers wearing camouflage fatigues (one carrying an automatic weapon) entered the terminal and asked us to vacate, stating the airport was closing for the night. We knew there was a flight from Dubai coming in later, so we walked from the departure terminal to the arrivals terminal (nearly identical buildings) about a hundred yards away.
Inside, we took a seat and I resumed my online search for hotel options. While there were no hotel listings or pay phone booths in the arrivals area or anywhere else in the airport, there was an information desk in the terminal with a woman sitting behind it. My friend went up and asked her where we could find a hotel and she suggested that we talk to one of the van drivers who soon would be arriving outside.
As I mentioned previously, many migrant workers in Dubai have to make visa runs in and out of the UAE and Iran is a popular destination because of the short flight time from Dubai and inexpensive ticket. Kish Air also offers “visa” packages that include airfare and overnight accommodations for those who have to make the run. The internet stopped working so we just sat patiently for the next hour waiting for the flight to Dubai to arrive.
Just prior to arrival we stepped outside and sure enough, there was four vans that had pulled up. Two of the drivers were conversing and we approached them and asked about the availability of a room for the night. One driver said there was no space at his hotel, but the other asked us what nationality we were, then said he would check on something for us.
We had a seat on a bench nearby and waited. The temperature was still very warm and for a little while, we thought about where we might best be able to find a place to sleep outside, if we could not get a room.
The flight arrived and passengers, primarily from the Philippines and India, began pouring out. Folks seemed to segregate by ethnicity and gender. The Indian bus departed, then the Filipina bus departed. That left only a couple buses for about 40 Filipinos–and us. The driver who had offered to check on space for us earlier returned with a smile on his face and beckoned us to get into his van.
We had no idea where we would be going, but hopped in the van. It was sad to witness how we were treated versus how the Filipinos were treated. The driver was very friendly in speaking to us, but when it came to addressing the Filipinos, he barked at them to quickly get onboard and rolled his eyes (apparently that’s not just an American thing…) and walked away when one asked him whether he should hold on to his bag or put it in the boot of the van.
Minutes later we took off toward the city center. It did not take us long to come up to the hotel, which was really a three-building structure with a few Kish Air signs in the windows. Before we could get out, what looked to be a uniformed border guard walked out of the hotel and over to the driver’s window. After a brief conversation in Persian, he shouted into the car that there was no space at the hotel.
The lady’s van and other Filipino van had already arrived and the women seemed to be checking in. After further consultation in Persian, the van door opened and a dozen more Filipinos piled into the van. There were no more seats so many stood or sat on eachother’s laps.
Off we went, further toward the city center. Five minutes later we pulled up to another structure that looked like a slum tenement. Home sweet home. Everyone was herded off and many made a mad dash for the front desk of the office.
The ground floor office was a large room with no furnishings, save for a couple chairs and portraits of Ayatollah Kohmeini and Ayatollah al–Sistani. Although we were near the back of the line, the driver (who seemed to work for the hotel), walked behind the counter, whispered something about us to the clerk, then motioned for us to come to the front of the line.
We were asked for our passports, which were promptly confiscated, and asked whether we wanted a private or shared room. I said shared, and with an incredulous look on his face, the hotel clerk loudly stated, “You want to share a room with Filipinos?” Wow…
Taken aback, I said my friend and I would like to share a room and he nodded in agreement, relieved that we wanted our own room. Apparently there were three room categories: shared (4+ to a room) for 35 dirhams, doubles for 225 dirhams, and singles for 200 dirhams. I did not have a problem going dorm-style, but my friend preferred a private room so we requested a double.
The Filipinos were being charged a 500 dirham deposit as well as having their passports confiscated, but we were not asked to pay a deposit. With key in hand, we were directed down the hall to our left and up three floors to our room.
Walking past the lobby we entered a smoke-filled recreation room where a dozen Filipinos and Filipinas as well as some Sri Lankans were either sitting around chatting or playing pool at one of the two pool tables.
The whole complex reeked of cigarette smoke and as we walked down the hall toward our room, the filthy carpet, dirty walls, loud conversations, and crying that greeted us made it seem like we were in a refugee camp rather than a boarding house.
Up on the third level we found our room, inserted the key, and turned the knob, not knowing what to expect. While the hallways were cooled with multiple fans, entering the room felt like we were stepping into an oven. The window was wide open with an orange light from outside shining in.
I quickly shut the window and surprisingly located a wall-mounted air conditioning unit in the corner of the room. Setting it on full blast, it sputtered a bit, then begin humming, though the amount of cold air coming out was minimal. The room itself was about the size of a small hotel room with a single bed, chair, coffee table, dresser, and refrigerator that did not work. Like the hallway, the carpeting and walls were disgusting and the room smelled musty and damp. The bathroom was a small square room with a squat and western toilet, sink, and shower in the corner with no partition or glass.
We went back downstairs and I brought my laptop with me, hoping to find some wi-fi so I could notify Lufthansa that we would not be making the flight back to Frankfurt that evening. We took a seat in the recreation room and purchased a bottle of water from a small snack bar in the corner. I wish I had a picture of the room, but everyone was already staring at us so I did not feel comfortable taking pictures. I was able to get on the internet and contact Lufthansa, who noted on our record that we were trapped in Iran and would miss the flight.
The rec room was air conditioned so it was nice just to sit there for the next half hour and relax a bit–the last few hours had been quite taxing. We eventually retired for the night and I pulled the cushions off the chair and slept on the floor while my friend took the bed.
To ensure we would not oversleep (we are both not morning people) we set three alarms each and despite the heat in the room managed to sleep rather well. It was no Park Hyatt Dubai–far from it–but we were simply thankful we did not have to sleep outdoors.
The following morning we were up early and ready to leave for the airport at 0900, three hours before scheduled departure. Because we did not have confirmed seats on the flight, we wanted to allow plenty of time to ensure we made this flight. But we had a problem: how to pay for the room when we only had a few dirhams and rials left.
Downstairs we asked to settle our bill and were quoted the posted 225 dirham rate for the room. We only had 25 dirhams and about 30,000 rials (10 dirhams). I pulled out a $50 bill (184 dirhams), praying that the hotel would accept USD, and handed it over. That all came to 219 dirhams, six dirhams short. After looking at our helpless stares for a few moments, the hotel clerk agreed to accept the dollar/rial/dirham combination and returned our passports. I had saved a 50,000 rial for the cab ride–the last of our money (thank goodness for Kamran!).
A cab was sitting outside and we quickly took off for the airport. At the airport, the driver wanted more than 50,000 rials and to be paid in dirhams, but when we made clear to him that was all we had, he agreed to accept it. The situation could have become quite messy had he insisted on dirhams.
Now out of money, we were greeted at the airport by the same guy who denied us boarding the previous night. “You come too early,” he told us, but we took a seat and waited an hour and a half for check-in to open. We asked him again if we had confirmed seats on the flight and he told us not to worry.
At 10:40 he walked out of the Kish Air office and motioned for us to come over to the check-in desk. A crowd quickly joined us in line and he checked us in for the flight, issuing boarding passes for both of us.
We proceeded directly over to the passport control station where the same agent who had denied us exit last night was on duty. He stamped my friend out and sent him to the security line but was not so quick to wish me a pleasant journey. After examining my very fat passport, he took it with him to a back room and you could see him speaking to a colleague about it for a few minutes.
I was sweating it out, hoping there wouldn’t be a problem and thankful I had asked Israel not to stamp the passport during my trip there in 2009. Finally, he came back, stamped my passport, and thanked me, telling me I could go. Whew!
Like Dubai and Muscat, security was lax and I did not bother to take out my water bottle or laptop from my bag. In the boarding area my friend and I just sat and waited. It appeared we had made it.
The flight was delayed an hour, but eventually boarding was called and we again were herded onto buses to take us out the MD-80.
I managed to snap these pictures on the way out to the plane:
The flight crew was again pleasant and we immediately took off once everyone was seated. Flight time was 30 minutes and an identical snack to the outbound flight was served.
We touched down in Dubai 55 minutes late–we had make it back to the UAE safely. What an experience the last 24 hours had been!
Tomorrow: Dealing with Lufthansa about our flight back to Frankfurt
In case you missed the early sections of this story:
Part 1 – A Spur of the Moment Trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran
Part 2 – The Kish Air Experience in Dubai
Part 3 – Dubai to Kish Island, Iran on Kish Air + Interrogation at Iranian Border
Part 4 – Trapped in Iran!
Excellent read, Matthew, and what a fantastic experience. I wonder if you’ll have any troubles with a Kish/Iran stamp now appearing in your passport during future travels?
A couple questions:
1) How seriously did you consider just sleeping at the airport or immediately outside of it? I think that’s what I would have done without much money rather than deal with the hotel van adventure.
2) At any time did you feel unsafe? See any sketchy characters? Anything that made you think maybe someone would cause you trouble?
3) Was there am audible call to prayer?
looks like that MD80 was an former CO jet.
@Darren: That’s a good question. The Iranian entrance and exit stamps are rather inconspicuous, though they do contain the Iranian seal on them. The DHS folks haven’t even looked through my passport my last few trips back to the states so I am not all that worried. With three page additions to the passport, it would also take them a while to find it.
1.) If it was me traveling on my own, there is certainly no way I would have spent ~$70 on a room at that sorry excuse for a hotel, but I would not have slept outside. My friend and I were kicked out of the airport terminal and I would not have been comfortable sleeping on the bench with armed guards walking around the airport and me unable to speak Persian. The odd thing was I did not see a single beggar or homeless person while on the island–a first for me in a new country–so it gave me the impression that vagrancy was not looked kindly upon. I would have been happy to share a room with the Filipinos for 35 dirhams, but ultimately was glad my friend wanted the private room because we both got seven hours of sleep. Plus, there were a lot of bugs outside. I made the stupid (in retrospect) calculation to sleep outside when I overnighted in Antigua last fall. Big mistake–I awoke covered in bug bites and was itching for days.
2.) Outside of my time in the interrogation room upon arrival, I never really felt unsafe. Most everyone was exceedingly kind and the only other time I felt trouble might be near was when the taxi driver did not want to accept our rial on the final trip to the airport. But even he eventually was smiling and shaking our hand as we left his cab.
3.) Yes, though it was not quite as bad as the ones in Dubai.
@Damian: Could it have gone to a Russian airline after CO and before going to Kish? The inside was littered with cyrillic text.
Wow, great story Matt. Having someone who can communicate with the locals must have made you feel so much more comfortable. Harder to get ripped off when someone can yell at them in their language.
If nothing else, it was an experience you’ll never forget and that’s what makes world travel so great. So now that you’ve set foot in Iran, when will we see you make the trip to North Korea on one of those chartered tours?
@Bryan: It was indeed an experience I will never forget. Believe me, I have thought numerous times about going into North Korea on one of the tours. It’s a little pricey, I think, but one day. At the very least, I will technically step into North Korea in January when I take my DMZ trip from Seoul.
My friend speaks Urdu, not Persian. There are some similiarties, but he was not able to communicate fully either.
Amazing trip report… this is your best one yet!
Matt, I’m so glad to read your notes. I have been to Iran twice for tourism and people don’t believe me when I tell them how friendly iranians are. I keep hearing “it’s because you are a man” “it’s because you are not american” “it’s because you look arab” (ehmmmiranians are persian not arabs anyway). I think it is great that you passed this information, and hopefully we can do something to change the image that media portrays of these friendly chaps.
Also I liked your observation about the immigration queue. I have been to Israel with 2 american friends, and they kept complaining about the security and immigrations interrogations… I didn’t find it any different that what I encounter at JFK or MIA airports. Great report!!! I really enjoyed it!
Thanks for your comment. I really loved Iran and would love to one day visit Tehran. The people were amazing–so refreshing.
Iran is such a paradoxical place. The people are extremely kind, not hostile to America or the West, generous and benevolent–but then you have a government that does not tolerate dissent and has destroyed the once-robust Iranian economy. Quite sad. I was hoping the Arab Spring might become the Persian Spring…
It’s very interesting! Not sure if you are still actively updating, but I think the “Russian” is Ukrainian (or Bulgarian) , on the plane.
I’m guessing u meant 50,000 rials for the taxi ride to airport 1st time (not 500,000)?
I was eager to hear how your interaction with Lufthansa went! Did you not get around to posting that? (With me they were kind of douche-bags when I tried to postpone a connecting flight when my son was vomitting.)
thanks for sharing your experience in kish island while typing this comment im currently in kish with my husband and were here for 2 weeks now. Its very sad yet also thankful because we did not have to sleep outdoor. Its sad because my husband and i are filipino and were very hurt by their discrimination and bad mannered towards us. I also feel sorry for other asian nationalities like sri lankan and thais. my husband and i went to kish to change visa we thought going to kish would be like a vacation for us as read online k8sh is pushing towards tourism and bragging about their tourist attractions. So infact i was excited.. you will feel UNSAFE already once you get out the airport the bus took us to farabi hotel, this hotel is mainly like for adian nationalities mostly filipinos who nedded to exit dubai. At the lobby we were treated like slaves already the free breakfast was a hard bread wrapped in plastic and 1 tea bag. My husband and i decided to move to another hotel took the risk to go out and check for others. Most hotels here does not accept other nationalities exclusive for iranis only. once you inquire they will tell you its fully booked or their closed even though its obvious that their running for more than a decade now geez! All i can say is people or iranis from this island are very opportunistic( they will suck your money out until your broke and cannot pay them) they love to take advantage of foreigners here. Most specially they dont know how to convert and speak english. Im very thankful that dubai is going to open an exit place in jebel ali for changing of visa.
@Dave: LH story here:
@Jessica: Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry to hear that you were poorly treated and I hope that if I ever encounter you or anyone else, that person would be treated with dignity and compassion as a fellow human being.
I went to kish island for 5 days and 4 nights. Kish was nice unfortunately the passport control guy made me stay at a certain hotel which was 200 aed a night. I am pretty sure my stuff was searched a few times. Did i mention that i had 4x stamps from israel in my passport plus 15 to 20 other stamps. The passport guys were more interested in the iran image than what stamps i had in my passport. More than 1 person looked in my passport. They wanted to know what i did for a living and how much i make. Then i had my finger prints and picture. If i am ever in UAE i want to go back to iran, hopefully as an american i would be able to go to main land iran for a few months.