It had taken four days of hitchhiking to get to Tehran and I was still getting used to a country where I had yet to see another backpacker.
I had accepted that backpacking Iran was going to be a very different experience to traveling in any other country I had visited before.
“It’s only a temporary marriage anyway,” she shrugged, smiling.
Temporary marriages, or Sigheh, are used by lots of Iranian couples for lots of different purposes; a marriage can last from an hour to a decade and a dowry, traditionally, has to be paid.
Luckily, Esme waived the dowry, so we were able to get married for free.
Temporary marriages provide a way for Iranians to be intimate together without breaking the law.
If somebody had told me a year ago that I would meet a girl on Tinder in Iran and go backpacking across countries like Pakistan and India, Bhutan and Myanmar, I would have laughed.
If you feel something pulling you somewhere, go with it.
A couple of months later I saw her again: she flew out to join me for a backpacking adventure in India and we raced a multicolored rickshaw 2500km across the country.
I had yet to see anybody drinking or smoking and, so far, the only girls I had seen had been hidden deep within the endless black folds of heavy chadors. I messaged her with the best chat up line I could think of. We sat in a cafe, her blue hair peeking out from beneath her green hijab; a compulsory garment for all women in Iran.
I expected to have to keep my head down, and to abstain from sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. So I turned to Tinder, curious to see if any local girls would be online. Esme told me of her adventures backpacking in the Philippines, of her career as a vet, of her hopes that a softening of laws and attitudes is coming to Iran.
Later still, we returned to Iran where I met her family and we had a second (permanent) marriage — this time it was a huge Persian wedding, rather than a hasty affair in an underground office.
Iran has a huge amount to offer adventure seeking backpackers; a rich history, incredible Islamic architecture, beautiful people, plentiful Couchsurfing, the best hitchhiking in the world and some serious bang for your buck; Iran is one of the cheapest countries in the world to go traveling.