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1 July 2014 / leggypeggy

When a guide goes bad

We had a wonderful three weeks in Iran—visiting Tehran, Isfahan, Qom, Shiraz, Yazd, Persepolis, Kerman, Mashhad and even a small oasis.

Everywhere we went, people went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. Fellow passengers were gobsmacked when, during lunch stops in small towns, complete strangers would offer us lifts (rides) to food markets or small restaurants.

Western media is pretty hard on Iran and most Iranians worry that a lot of the outside world views their country with suspicion and mistrust. We were constantly asked how we liked Iran, whether the cities and sights were enjoyable, and if people were being helpful and kind to us. The locals showed visible relief when they heard that we held them and their country in high regard.

High regard puts it mildly. In reality, we were all overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity shown to us throughout the country. And the touristic sites are pretty sensational too.

But there was one big exception and, unfortunately, he played a big role in our day-to-day lives in Iran.

Looking sweet, but a devilish streak lies within

Looking sweet, but a devilish streak lies within

Rafi was supposed to be our local guide, instead he was our local headache.

Sometimes it’s mandatory for a group to have a guide when they travel through Iran. For various reasons, we were such a group. Our driver, Suse, managed to cover the distance from the border to Tehran without a guide, but things changed by the capital.

While Suse had hoped to tour Iran without a guide, she had had some early email contact with Rafi as a possible guide. But her first choice was a woman she met on her first night in Tehran. Unfortunately that woman was already busy with another group.

A third prospect appeared the next morning saying he was our official guide, bragging that he had all the details for our group of nine.

Enough bragging, buddy, said Suse. You must have bought sketchy details from a guard at the border crossing because our group is 14.

So the job fell to Rafi by default. He seemed okay at first, but from the first bush camp it was apparent that he wasn’t the person for us.

In countries where a guide is compulsory, that person’s role is to shepherd you from place to place. They are supposed to keep you on the appointed path and make sure you don’t get up to any ‘mischief’. They aren’t supposed to run the show. On an overland trip, the driver (or the tour leader , if there is one) make the decisions and keep the itinerary on track.

For our truck, breakfast happens an hour before departure. Tents should be down and packed away before the meal starts, then we eat, wash up, pack up the ‘kitchen’ and our own day-to-day gear, and brush our teeth. We can accomplish all this in just about an hour.

Suse explained this daily morning routine to Rafi—more than once—but on that very first morning, he begged for a couple of minutes to explain some history of Iran and where we were headed next. Thirty minutes later, we’re desperate to finish our daily duties and get on the road.

Now don’t get me wrong. I would have thoroughly enjoyed a 30-minute spiel that was interesting, informative and useful. But Rafi gave us a rundown of all the dynasties in Iran from the beginning of time—with no dates, embellishments or anecdotes, and virtually no mention of where we were headed next. Good grief, we hadn’t signed up for a history class. And if we had, at least it could have been made interesting, engaging and relevant to our travels.

Frankly, Poor John—with his wonderful story-telling voice and his amazing memory for the details of everything he reads, especially the quirky—makes for an infinitely more entertaining and enriching guide than Rafi could ever hope to be.

So we were lumbered with a guide whose greatest skills were superb English and knowing where things were in a town, but very little information about the cities or monuments themselves.

Worse still, he told fibs, or they seemed like fibs. For example, the day before we arrived in Kerman, he told us there would a bank holiday the next day, but that we shouldn’t worry because everything would be open. The next morning, he told just one passenger, quietly and on the side, that it’s a pity everything will be closed here today because of the religious holiday. Rafi is supposedly quite religious and you think he’d have known about a national religious holiday. Of course, he knew, he was just being devilish and this was not the only occurrence.

The final frustration came a day or so out of Mashaad. The temperatures were blisteringly hot, and Suse and Rafi consulted over stopping at a particular oasis so we could spend the heat of the day in the shade and resume our travels later in the afternoon.

In late morning as we paused at the likely oasis, Suse asked if this was the right place. No, no, said Rafi, another 40 kilometres. So we drove on for another six hours without seeing a single oasis.

In the late afternoon when we were still moving, Rafi told me privately that he had organised with his friend in another oasis—much farther on—for us to stop and have food and tea.

Have you told Suse? I asked. No, he replied, but it will be a very nice stop.

Yes, the oasis, when we finally stopped, was lovely and we spent about 30 minutes there. But after a scorching day on the road and one that ignored a specific request to avoid the heat of the day, Suse was furious. She let Rafi know—in a stern but even-tempered voice—that she was not at all happy and that he must not continue to try to override her decisions and requests.

In the end, Rafi decided to stay behind in the oasis. Suse did not ask him to leave, but he came on the back of the truck, announcing that he was leaving because he wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

That’s when things went really sour because he knocked himself out trying to be our major problem over the next couple of days.

It appears that he hopped in a taxi at the oasis and preceded us to Mashaad. At each police checkpoint, he must have urged them to interrogate us and make life as difficult as possible.

This was a major change because we had had no police issues up to that time, and usually Rafi never even showed his face at a checkpoint, so they had no way of knowing whether or not we had a guide on board.

He also began to send Suse a barrage of emails threatening to have us deported, saying she was in cahoots with the devil, and a range of other ridiculous claims and accusations.

Before our last night in Mashaad, he fabricated a story that as overland passengers, we could not remain at the homestay we were using—that we must move to a hotel. Funnily enough, the ‘recommended’ hotel was hugely expensive and one, we later learned, from which he got a commission.

Unwittingly, Suse booked us into a different hotel and the manager of that place told her that Rafi (who considers Mashaad his hometown) was a nasty character and not to be trusted. Hmm! Useful news, but given way too late.

Since we left Iran, he has continued to be a menace from afar. Sending threatening emails, promising to report the overland company and the homestay place we used to the authorities, in an attempt to have everyone banned. All very annoying and disappointing behaviour.

Admittedly, Poor John and I, and Diego (our Italian travelling companion), did go around most of the cities we visited with Rafi. He was quite useful as a map and translator, but as Poor John said, the problem is he doesn’t know anything else about the places we visit.

But you know what gave it all away for me? Early on in the trip, he said he wanted to buy a gift for his wife and could I help him choose something. How sweet, I thought.

When’s her birthday? I asked.

I don’t know, he replied.

Well, at least what month?

I don’t know.

Now there’s a man not to be trusted.

Have you ever had a crappy guide on your travels? Oh, do tell!

P.S. Luckily, I have many more good stories to tell about our time in Iran. Stay tuned. And be sure to check out my cooking blog.

31 Comments

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  1. lisa daley / Jul 1 2014 4:38 am

    Omg what adventures you have. Luckily you made it safely xx

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 1 2014 11:35 am

      Oh, we were always going to make it safely, but it would have been nice to have had a decent and informative guide.

      Like

  2. Derrick / Jul 1 2014 4:41 am

    We had a great guide when we were in Iran, okay we never got to Tehran, but we did get to all the other place

    Our guide Mahmud was great, he knew a lot about everything, dates, places, the best (cheapest) hotels great places to eat, (he even warned us about our leader getting kickbacks when we bought rugs and carpets) he even arranged our diesel on the BM for us

    It was a shame our leader and driver never spent time with him, he had lots of tales on the back of the truck (he wouldn’t travel ‘upfront’)

    He showed us all around the mosques, their history, he even showed us where the ‘mistake’ on the Mosque was (nothing can be perfect)

    He really smoothed our way with the police and was always first off the truck with the papers

    I was one of the lucky ones, I met his family and kids, his wife was at home and wasn’t in her ‘ninja’ kit, she could have passed for any wife in the West, harassed with 4 kids (who stood open mouthed looking at me)

    I found the Iranian people great, friendly and very worried how they were portrayed in the West , we told them the same as you did, Peggy

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 1 2014 11:37 am

      Oh wow, Derrick, you were so lucky to have had Mahmud. He sounds like just the person we were hoping for. Wish I could have written a glowing blog entry about someone like him. Thanks for telling me about him. Got his phone number?

      Like

      • Derrick / Jul 1 2014 5:35 pm

        I never had his phone number, but used to have his email address, but I lost it, its on Lonely planet somewhere

        He never liked using his mobile phone, he always thought someone tapped them

        (He always took the battery out when talking politics)

        The way our leader and driver treated him was bad, they dumped him in the middle of nowhere to get home, but everyone liked him and we had a whip round, everyone put in $10 each

        But in his words, he said he was glad to leave them behind

        He lived in Esfahan, and had quite a way to go to get home

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Jul 2 2014 2:44 pm

        I’m glad your fellow passengers looked after him. I’ll see if I can find him online somewhere.

        Like

      • Derrick / Jul 2 2014 5:24 pm

        I’ll have a dig about as well see if I can find him as well, I also put in there somewhere our guide in Jordan

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Jul 2 2014 5:25 pm

        Thanks, you’re a champ.

        Like

  3. Beth Gerrish Renzetti / Jul 1 2014 4:44 am

    WOW. is there a way to give a bad review or report him? It’s a shame there are people who behave like that. A bigger shame that you encountered one. 😦

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 1 2014 11:38 am

      I hope this blog will help to warn people off using him.

      Like

  4. Chris Gee / Jul 1 2014 5:32 am

    What a painful horrible person; and he was recommended by Vali of Vali’s Homestay in Mashhad. So he turned on the same person who recommended him for the guide job in the first place. Very sad, a betrayal and breach of trust. He has been reported and we hope he never works again except in a salt mine.

    Like

  5. Ken Berry / Jul 1 2014 3:18 pm

    Apart from the stinking Orange Rafi it’s also a pity there’s no shiraz in Shiraz! But perhaps you’ll have a different take on that.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 1 2014 3:21 pm

      Oh, I’d have given almost anything for a Shiraz in Shiraz. 🙂 I also wished I have your gift for languages (especially Russian) as we’ve traipsed through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Oh, and then Russia too.

      Like

  6. lmo58 / Jul 1 2014 3:54 pm

    Oh Peggy, what a shame you came across such an unsavoury and unpleasant character! I know it’s no consolation to tell yourself that all of the other guides have been great when something like this happens. Like everyone else, I hope he never gets another guiding gig. Incompetent and nasty. Bah Humbug!!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 1 2014 8:31 pm

      He didn’t really affect us too much, it’s just that he wasn’t any good as a guide—really unreliable and uninformative.

      Like

  7. gallivance.net / Jul 1 2014 9:58 pm

    What a nightmare Peggy! We were fortunate in Sudan that we were not required to use a guide, but police checkpoints could always be a bit tricky. The only place we were required to be accompanied by a guide was in China several years ago. They were always women, very polite, extremely knowledgeable, and very formal. Like you, we always prefer to travel independently, but unfortunately it’s not always allowed. ~Terri

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 2 2014 12:55 am

      We had guides last time we went across Central Asia, but they were always at least okay. This was an exception.

      Like

  8. Sy S. / Jul 5 2014 5:33 am

    Rafi, what a disaster…. to bad your group needed a guide to travel within Iran.
    Q #1: Does a single person or two people traveling together also need a guide?
    Q:#2: Can American citizens visit Iran? I know that Iranians living here can (may not be
    citizens).

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 11 2014 12:21 pm

      I think we needed a guide because we had a British fellow travelling with us and Iran and UK aren’t getting along at the moment. And I hear that Americans can visit, but I can’t confirm as I travel on my Aussie passport.

      Like

  9. ragingtraveler / Jul 5 2014 5:40 am

    Peggy, I so feel for you! This was especially meaningful as I have just posted about our wonderful guide, Pascual, in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Sometimes it’s just luck, yes? We have had other, less wonderful guides, of course. Guides where every single place they take you to is one where they press you to buy and you know they get a commission. Not a terrible thing but it gets tiresome quickly. Unfortunately for them, Virginia and I purchase so little on any given trip that they are usually quite disappointed and it shows in their attitude and guide performance. But I have to say we have yet to land a character quite like Rafi. Good luck to us all in the future for our guides!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jul 11 2014 12:37 pm

      Oh yeah, I especially hate the salesman cum guide. Rafi was just incompetent and then, to our surprise, so very vindictive.

      Like

  10. David York / Aug 22 2014 4:38 am

    Yes, Western media has made the entire Iranian country out to be the villains of our lifetime! One always wants to be skeptical when things are so universally stated.
    Every Iranian I’ve come in contact here in Denver and other cities around the U.S. in my 20- years of travel have been wonderful people though each entered into conversation with a great deal of trepidation presumably as they never know how they will be received by us westerners, pity as like I said every Iranian I’ve met have been terrific people!
    Glad you called your one scoundrel out!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Aug 25 2014 9:04 pm

      We absolutely loved Iran and the Iranian people. So much kindness and generosity. Rafi was the only disappointment.

      Like

  11. Peter and Barbara McNaught / Nov 30 2014 5:00 pm

    In 2010 in Sri Lanka, Acme Travels acceded to our request for “quiet accommodation” by putting us up in a series of hotels which, while very satisfactory, were usually a long way from town. They also furnished us with a driver, Ravi, who spent time praying at every shrine and supposed holy place before haring off at illegal speeds in order to have his duties with us finished as soon as practicable so he could drink his daily bottle of arak. Our 10 day trip took a long time to end and his tip was the bare minimum.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Nov 30 2014 7:03 pm

      That sure beats our crappy guide. So sorry you had that experience. We had an amazing guide/driver in Sri Lanka in 1986.

      Like

  12. thehutownerblog / May 26 2015 3:44 pm

    whew! I was entertained by the story… well, in every country there’s always a devil…very well told…

    Like

    • leggypeggy / May 26 2015 4:22 pm

      I love your comment—’in every country there’s always a devil’. Thanks for stopping by and for all the likes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thehutownerblog / May 26 2015 4:27 pm

        it’s a pleasure…when i have time i’ll visit again, very entertaining adventure…!

        Like

      • leggypeggy / May 26 2015 9:07 pm

        Thanks so much.

        Like

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