8-day Iran tour delighted Y. student
A 4 a.m. phone call rousted well-traveled Brigham Young University student Anthon Jackson from bed. The substance of the call made it impossible to go back to sleep.
Iran had granted him a visa to cover a government-sponsored tourism conference for his brother's online travel magazine, AdventureJourney.net, dubbed "The Extreme Traveler's Handbook."
Some friends were as amped about the trip as Jackson, a Middle East studies major who has lived around the world. Others told him he was crazy to risk kidnapping in a country many Americans believe to be hostile.
That perception is steeped in some fact. About 10 days before Jackson left for Iran in late November, President Bush renewed the executive order of a national emergency with Iran that has been in place since the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.
But Jackson and another American travel writer, Max Hartshorne of GoNomad.com, both recommended Iran to readers when they returned.
"It was what I expected," Jackson said. "It was awesome. I enjoyed every minute. I can't wait to go back. There's lots more I want to see. For a tourist, you name it, Iran probably has it."
The tour was so stunning, Jackson said, his insomnia returned. He didn't want to miss a single minute of a whirlwind, eight-day tour. Iran issues more than 3,000 tourist visas to Americans each year, but the government wants to attract many more Americans and Europeans in hopes of improving its international relationships.
Hartshorne said Iran is smart to let its people and tourist sites sell the country. "I think we think of it as Iraq," he said. "Iraq and Iran are so different. The people of Iran are the sweetest, most welcoming people in the world, and there's no reason to be scared of them. It's a great destination for the recession. It's a very inexpensive place."
The Iranian ministry of tourism flew more than 100 tour operators and a dozen travel journalists around the country and put them up in five-star hotels. They visited Tehran, a bustling modern city set against mountains that reminded Jackson of the Wasatch Front, and Esfahan, what Jackson called the most beautiful Iranian city with its mosques, bridges and majestic Imam Square.
They also visited Persepolis, built by the emperors Cyrus and Darius and destroyed by Alexander. It remains an ancient treasure.
"Iranians are famous for hospitality," Jackson said. "They're the nicest people in the world. The vast majority were excited to see an American. They love America. A lot of them hope change will come from within and without in the next few years."
In Tehran, Jackson was stopped when he tried to take photographs of the former American embassy, which is occupied by a militia group and still covered in anti-American slogans. A police officer called to the scene let Jackson and a companion go.
Jackson's advice to tourists? Go see the embassy without reservation, but if you want to take pictures, do so from across the street.