Iran and Iranian people have always had a special place in my heart and mind. Well, at least for the last twenty years. It was London in 1997 when I first met Reza and his associates from Pizza delivery shop. As a young student keen on venturing in ‘uncharted territories’ of English speaking countries, I was ready and opened up to people of all creed, colour, and faith. I was brought up by my liberal and somewhat crazy mother. Here I was in Tottenham tasting not only exotic flavours of Rezas pizzas but other cultures, languages and customs. Throughout all those years we have been through a lot. The whole book could barely covered it. In a nutshell, from 1997 to 1999 I had been coming back and forth to the UK to spend quality time with my Iranian friends soon to become my adopted family. During that period I was helping Reza to keep the pizza parlor in order and in exchange he was introducing me to real English language. Ohh what a joy that was… not. I knew all English tenses but still, couldn’t do simple shopping in the corner shop. With my strong Eastern European accent and too much grammar study but no speaking practice I soon realize little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It was an amazing journey of learning and socialising with these guys.
In 2005 I spent Christmas with Reza’s family in Peterborough. That was truly a wonderful time, enjoying delicious meals, singing, telling stories and sharing memories from when we first met.
The journey has finally come to fruition this year. As I have been growing to the idea, my priorities to what I had wanted to see in Iran changed. It was not actually places like Shiraz, Esfahan or Qom I wanted to see. As much as these are beautiful cities on everyone’s must to do list, my focus was on Persian land, but from a geological, archaeological and religious point of view. First Tabriz with its mysterious village in Kandovan and Urmia salt lake. Then came Mashhad with its Imam Reza Shrine – Holiest place in Iran. Continuing towards South East alongside Afganistan and Pakistani borders I ventured into Sistan and Baluchestan Province with Zahedan and Zabol as my places of interest. The main attraction being Shahr-e Sukhteh, or otherwise referred to as the Burnt City.
I travelled by long-distance coaches and private cabs. All those people I met during this part of the journey have significantly broadened up my horizons. Moving down to Chabahar was an experience in itself as I had a compulsory unexpected trip back to Zahedan. ON my way to Bandar Abbas I altered my route and ended up in Bam for two days.
Here in Bam another amazing story develops. I met there Mr Kamriz a lovely guy with whom I went on a crazy adventure to a small village 50 miles away from our hotel. I had the opportunity to interact with a local family and take some photos of the landscape. Something that I hadn’t planned turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.
Then came The Islands’ Exploration. Qeshm and Hormuz Island have pretty much to offer in geological and aesthetical terms, I would say. Truly, nature gems. I stayed in a very nice place called Assad Homestay. Finally being able to relax, rest and enjoy some homemade Iranian dishes while socialising with other travellers. There I met Portuguese, French and Polish guests. Exchange of travel stories ensued.
Assad’s place is actually in the middle of the island so hiring a shared taxi is a reasonable option. Although I foolishly inflicted some pain on myself when dealing with this issue. Madness as it was, one call to Asad solved the unexpected hassle with an intrusive driver.
Three days of complete bliss and different scenery. Last day I went on a mission to have it all. Visiting a small village, getting back to Qeshm Terminal to catch a ferry to Hormuz, exploring the island and getting back to Bandar Abbas in the hope of catching an overnight bus to Ýazd.
Mission accomplished. Here I was in Yazd completely unaware of what and who is awaiting me. Amazing place with someone I had been fortunate to meet. Once I stepped out of the taxi in Yazd I got to spend the next 36 hours with Fatima. A super lovely French woman. Yazd was the last leg of my journey to Iran and soon I and Fatima were on the night bus together, heading up to Tehran. At 4.30 am the bus pulled up in Keshan and we had to part our company.
I landed in Tehran after a stopover in Istanbul at around 5am in the morning. Visa on Arrival procedure went smoothly and effortlessly. Amazing considering all it was due to my nationality. No interviews, no supportive documents, no unnecessary delays. Thirty minutes and I was ready to explore the city. However, before that happened I have a few issues to solve. First thing first, I needed Iranian SIM card and Iranian currency. You won’t be left on your own with this problem. There are plenty of local taxi drivers to give you a helping hand. They are enthusiastic and almost desperate to ensure your safe and enjoyable start in their homeland. I, however, had a slightly different agenda. IranCell service centre was closed at the airport. I had the option of another company – more data but more expensive. I give it another try in Tehran or Tabriz. Money exchange required some queue waiting and moment of panic when the guy behind the counter handed me millions of Rials. All that for 200 Euro? Was it correct conversion as he could clearly see the confusion on my face.
Anyway, some eight million Rials in my pocket and I could proceed with my plan, which basically was using Tehran Metro to get to the city. Yes I could have used the services of local taxis but I had wanted to personally experience the newly opened line 8 to Shahre Aftab station. Instead of paying 25 Euro the ride cost me 8000 Rials which is roughly … 20 cents? It took me 95 minutes to reach my destination, Rahahan station, conveniently situated near Railway Terminal, my starting point.
Ok, my night slow train to Tabriz doesn’t depart until 18.20 so I have seven hours to visit Islamic Holy Museum of War (Eight years Iraq/Iran War). I left my big rucksack in the luggage storage room located in the Customer Services department. Off I went to the nearest Metro station, Rahahan, which means the railway. The Museum of War is located in the northern part of Tehran. I would say 10 miles. It was not that complicated to get off the right station. What presented a challenge was finding the actual place. Although it was within walking distance from Metro I decided to take a longer route which proved to be a nice reroute. Three chaps sitting on the wooden bench were not much of the help when it came to giving directions as they simply couldn’t speak English. As I was standing there hopelessly two young women appeared out of nowhere and in near perfect English offered to walk me to the actual main entrance. After a short exchange of pleasantries, we shook hands and said bye-bye. Already excited at the first successful contact with locals I enthusiastically made my way to the ticket office. This place is a state of the art, engineering feat. Much attention and details have been put to accurately and graphically depict the conflict between these two countries and the devastating impact it had on Iranian citizens at that time. Imitation of war-torn towns, schools, shelters, and refineries with accompanying sound effects. All that with a portable digital tour guide. It cost 230,000 Rails or 5 Euro to experience this. I must admit it made an enormous impression on me. Similar only to what I have seen in North Korea at the Museum of American Atrocities. I bet they hired guys from Universal Studios in Hollywood in both places. One can easily have a feeling of genuine pride and devotion. Three hours of Iranian history lessons was pretty exhausting.
Now it was about time to go back to the railway station. I still hoped to recharge my mobile phone’s batteries. By 5pm I was very tired but positively tired. 6.20pm was fast approaching. I had better move closer to the platform. That would require going through police check and a security barrier. Little confused with Farsi signage I finally embarked on my long awaited train where I was hoping to get some decent rest and sleep. The train ride ticket was booked via Iranrail, back in the U.K. The commission fee was verging on extortionate but still reasonably cheap. The whole process went smoothly. I got my Teheran-Tabriz ticket emailed to me and ready to print. I wanted the first leg on the journey to be as troublefree as possible. Basically, my plan was executed nicely. Flying to Istanbul, stopover with a cup of Nero, flying to Tehran, trying out Tehran Metro to the city, visiting the Holy Islamic Museum of War, getting on a night train to Tabriz.
This Iranian train was luxurious when compared to European prices. A 4 berth compartment with drinks and snacks, but it was the fellow passengers who made a real difference. All Iranian who were polite and friendly. I never forget this particular one, a father and his 12-year-old daughter. It was surreal. Father and I were having a conversation about just anything but naturally, the topic touched politics, history, and work life. His daughter was drinking in delightedly everything we said as it turned out she was a keen English learner. Earl in the morning when I was still asleep she left a note wishing me a pleasant stay in Iran. Lovely, wasn’t It?
I arrived in Tabriz at around 7.00 am. Before leaving the station I checked with the information desk what was worth seeing, any accommodation, anything useful. Outside there were taxi drivers waiting for tourists. I opted for a stroll down the streets. It was still early to check in anywhere so I decided to see what the town had to offer. Halfway a nice guy approached me and asked about my name. It turned out it was Barham I met on TripAdvisor and who gave me loads of useful information. He took me to my guesthouse. We used public transport which was experience in itself. I was on a tight schedule so every minute counted. I checked in, paid a little extra and after refreshing myself I was ready to explore two must-see places. Barham took me to town and made arrangements with his driver who could later take me to Kandovan village and Urma Salt Lake. The two attractions I had to see.
The driver was a great guy so committed to our journey, taking an extra mile to keep me happy with what I wanted to see. He parked the car and walked across the busy motorway to get closer to the beach. I was determined to make the most of this trip. This lake was one of my priorities and there I was, walking barefoot in the lake, taking pictures, video recording some clumsy greetings to whoever I remembered. I was overwhelmed with emotions. Not as much because of how beautiful it looked but rather by peacefulness and quietness of this place. Cloudless skies in the early afternoon added some light and shades. Next stop was the small village of Kandovan, famous for Hobbit-like dwellings. It has become a popular tourist attraction and naturally spoiled by massive commercialisation and pollution. Bazaars, shops and stalls are in aplenty. My idea of exploring this place was slightly different, however. I ventured in the corners and blind alleys of these rock formations. At some point, I bumped into an old man fixing a lamp. He sees me and immediately offers me a tour inside his little house. It was surreal to enter the home of those dwellers. All mini sized. It looked representative as if they were expecting guests. There was a wooden trunk in the corner on which people would sit and have a photo taken. I gesticulated a lot but had my photo arrangements made the way I had wanted. He expected to be paid obviously which I promptly did. He showed a true business acumen when he refused to accept dollars or euros. True, why bother with money exchange. My driver waited for me in the car on the main road. Three hours in total was what I needed. Too many tourists and it happened to be Friday. Holiday and bike marathon in Kandovan. While my driver tried hard to jump queues the other vehicles went beyond safety and reason to jump the long line of cars, all heading to the village. I think I was back in the hostel by 5pm. Exhausted but fully satisfied with today’s outcome. Evening in my room, sorting out my stuff and finally having a cup of instant coffee 3in2. I enjoyed it very much. That was Friday completed. Saturday I just went on another small mission. Iranian SIM card and money exchange done. What else I could see here. The Blue Mosque and Azerbaijan history and archaeological museum I found surprisingly worth visiting. Especially an excavation site of burial rituals in the centre of the city. I was tired and my batteries were going dead. I went back to the hostel for two hours and refreshed. I then went out to explore one more place before heading back to Tehran. The Arch, dating back centuries. When taking photos I brought attention from the security guard. He called me to his booth. Then out of nowhere, two Azerbaijani female photographers appeared. After a short introduction and photos taking a decision was made to go for a meal to a local restaurant. We were chatting, laughing and getting to know each other. Sahar and Jila were their names. It was well into the evening when, as surprised as I was, Jila invited us to her house. It was a nice evening of tea drinking, fruit-eating, and folk dancing. Sahar made her ticket arrangements for the same night bus to Tehran and at midnight here we were, sitting next to each other in our VIP couch to the capital of Iran. We parted our company upon arriving at West Tehran Bus Terminal. It was still dark and I had the whole day to explore the capital before embarking on the night train to Mashhad.
Hours spent at the bus station, preparing maps and sipping cheap station-type instant coffee. Metro took me back to the main railway station. Again luggage left in the storage room and off I went sightseeing. Two destinations, only one completed. The first one was, basically, the furthest eastward train station in the hope of spotting some mountainous landscapes. I called it a failure and disappointment with the views. A short walk and I was back at the station, this time, heading southwards, practically near IKA airport. I got off at the Khomeini Shrine station. That was something else! What an amazing visit and so unexpected. I instinctively knew it was worth checking out. Once you exit the station a beautiful water bed and tree-lined pavement take you to the main entrance. You have security checks, naturally, and have to leave your bags in the safety deposit across the road. Inside, you will see amazing mosaic, carpets, and the mausoleum of Imam Khomeini. Pretty emotional experience when you see all those mourners here praying, resting, weeping. Whole families. I really enjoyed this and lied down on the floor to rest, only to be instructed by a security guide to sit up properly. Strange as it was, I noticed there tens of people practically dozing off on the carpet in an adjacent room. I took a few pictures and left to the station. 40 min train ride and back I was at the railway station, charging mobile phone’s batteries. I was tired and sleepy, struggling to stay awake. Soon 6 o’clock struck and I was embarking on a VIP class train to the holiest city in Iran.
I arrived in Mashhad at around 11.30am and almost immediately was greeted by tens of taxi drivers outside the station. I opted however for a stroll down the city, probably in the false hope of finding a decent coffee shop. After 30 minutes of fruitless searching, I made a spontaneous decision to wave the cab to take me to the bus station as I wanted to purchase a ticket to Zahedan first, also if possible to leave my luggage in the storage room. What turned out as soon as I got in, it was the greediest taxi driver in town. Small chit chat didn’t change much his attitude. I needed to be taken to the station and waited till I sort out my stuff and get back to town ideally close to the Imam Reza Shrine. What happened in the station was an important part of Iranian mentality clashes.
I had a driver trying to screw me over and a bus company representative offering discounted tickets, assistance in security procedures, and advice on taxi fares. All in all, I forked out 300,000 Rails for a 5 miles taxi ride and 380,000 Rails for long distance coach ride to Zahedan. That is almost 600 miles ride!
With ticket in hand and my rucksack securely stored I was ready to explore the famous shrine. The greedy driver dropped me off on the opposite side of the foreign visitor’s entrance, lazy git. I wasn’t too aware of the procedures or restrictions in this holy place. I only knew that non-Muslims are allowed to enter only if guided. You might think that if you travel such a long distance you don’t care too much about procedures, you just want to get in and enjoy the place. Not here, so I queued up for security checks like other Muslim worshippers. They asked some questions in Farsi where I was from (due to my skin colour still thinking but still thinking I am Muslim). I mumbled something and shrugged off my shoulders. They looked bemused and politely escorted me to the police booth. An English speaking guide appeared and my visit began. He was a former engineer now retired and doing voluntary work for the Shrine. We walked around taking photos. The tour started with museum and gallery. I was advised where and when to take pictures. In the end, I was treated with a nice souvenir pack. I then got the chance to talk to Imam. Unexpected, so I was taken aback. I guess I was expected to inquire more about religion itself, not the visiting place. It all slowly added up when the guide told me earlier that they had visitors so impressed by the faith that they converted there and then. Also, as I mentioned planning to visit ancient archaeological sites in Zabol, dating back millennia, that didn’t go well with his agenda. I don’t know, I enjoyed the experience though. I still had a few hours to kill so decided to walk to the bus station instead of taking a taxi. I wanted to visit a local park but the map fooled me about the factual distance. 10km was too much. I changed my mind and directed myself straight to the bus terminal. All was hunky dory in the city but once I was walking away from the tourist area I was feeling more and more out of place. Locals would give me strange and unwelcome look. The final point was when I was getting really close to the bus station’s entrance. The security agents approached me from all angles. I didn’t notice that when I first arrived by taxi. The terminal area in Mashhad is so heavily secured and patrolled, you wouldn’t believe, or you should. I mean everyone walking too close to the barriers were ID checked and questioned about the reasons for being there. It had got something to do with terrorist threats but to them, I was a different sort. As a Polish national with a ticket already purchased I was let off to wander around. I was tired but still eager to check out nearby alleys and shops. I met some Iranians of Bulgarian descent, shop owners, we had a nice chat and a bought some drinks. They also gave me contact phone numbers in case I needed help. They were two well built massive guys, the type you don’t want to mess with. I slowly made a move towards Terminal. From the storage rooms that were 0.5 miles before the Terminal, I picked up my rucksack and went to sit down in a quieter part of the Bus Terminal, next to the socket to charge my batteries. I also manage to find a vendor selling cheap instant coffee. Money and time well spent. Around 7.00pm I was sitting on a night bus heading to Zahedan. It was dark already. With a small delay, we departed, only to return minutes later. We had to circle around the terminal twice and every time going through police checks. What was bizarre even more was the moment when the bus pulled over one mile away and some busybodies loaded rear seats with huge boxes of some sort. It became clear this route served as a delivery service as well. So we had the passengers at the front and twenty boxes lying at the rear.
Upon arrival, I felt as if I was superimposed into some kind of Taliban occupied territory. The bus driver dropped me off at the roundabout instead of Bus Terminal. Desert-like landscape added some fear to my confusion. I was focused on reaching my hotel by any means of safe transport and there was this tall and bearded guy, wearing thick gold rings and a white gown with sandals. I picked him. The car looked dilapidated with the front window cracked, smashed dashboard with wires protruding in all directions. I kept yelling at him; Amin Hotel, Amin Hotel. He just nodded and unlocked the side door of his 60s vehicle. While he was calmly driving, I imagined all possible scenarios of me being kidnapped and buried alive. I was wrong. He pulled up in front of the hotel and reluctantly accepted 2 euro. I then concluded this guy must have had some unspecified, unofficial income and I just entertained him on his day off. Noon was fast approaching and I was still planning to execute my perfect plan of visiting Zabol area, well, basically, desert territory. In the hotel which was quite expensive (37 euro) I was hoping for English speaking staff to kindly give me directions on how to get to the Burnt City and the surrounding area. After 20 minutes of English – Farsi conversation when I almost gave up, again, a white gown wearing big guy appeared and offered to take me “wherever I intended to”. I had a driver! Success but how I was going to communicate during my three-hour journey was a different story. I quickly got changed, took my passport, money, and camera, leaving my rucksack in the hotel room. I was on my way out when the hotel manager called me back and ordered to take all my belongings with me. What?! Later it was explained that this area is frequented by police and random checks are conducted in hotels, therefore, if by any chance I would NOT return, the hotel would be in big trouble having my personal stuff in their possession. Eventually, I had to carry all my luggage with me in the car. I was determined enough to proceed with my plan. Now we had two hours alongside Afganistan border to reach ancient site Shahr-e Afbar and safely get back. The journey started at the fuel station. We had to fill up first, and while waiting, a desperate woman begging for money appeared out of nowhere. Strange enough, no one was paying any attention to her. The station looked I would say typical Middle East. Old trucks, Taliban type men with K47 smoking cigarettes. 10 minutes and we were off. We agreed on 1,500,000 Rials of which 500,000 he spent on petrol. The next hour was filled with me taking photos and him humming his favorite melodies. Police checkpoints were not uncommon. The first one when you wanted to leave Zahedan was 20 min into the journey. The driver explained who I was and drove off, only to be ordered to pull over again. He got out of the car and went to the police officer to negotiate. I was sitting in the car counting minutes before I would be next. Ali came back and asked me to take my passport and go to the barracks opposite the road. I put on a brave face and entered, what turned out to be the interviewing office. A uniformed officer asked my name and country I was from, still looking at my passport. My name is Kris and I am from Poland. How along are going to stay in Iran? Three weeks. OK. Have a pleasant stay in Iran. Bye, mister Kris. End of. A moment later we were on our way to Zabol. The rest of the journey was through some beautiful mountainous terrains. The temperature was scorching hot, almost 35C. I was getting nervous as we were supposed to get nearer the place but all I saw was a desert type landscape. Finally, we got there. I was excited enough not to be bothered by the heat. UNESCO Site in the middle of nowhere. We entered together. There were a small gallery room and a vending machine. Both out of order. An Iranian custodian struck up a conversation and explained the importance of the site and insisted on it being kept safe and protected from… tourists. A long path would take us to the first dwellers’ buildings remains, just up the hill. Open area, no tourists, cloudless sky, and almost 5000 years old history right at your feet. The whole area is quite large and vast. It was actually a collection of ten small dwellings scattered around a one-mile square. One was actually being studied by a group of Iranian archaeologists. They were not too happy to be interrupted by outsiders. I persuaded my driver and a local security guide to let me venture to the furthest part of the site. The heat was almost unbearable. We spent there one hour in total. Time to go back. Mission almost accomplished. Driving back was monotonous and quiet, understandably. Ali and I were exhausted. Zahedan ‘greeted’ us, again with two police checkpoints. Police officer’s suspicion turned into a warm welcome upon discovering my nationality. We were nearly reaching the streets of Zahedan city centre when…boom! the collision happened. A young local driver tried to cut in and would not give way smashing into our car. Nothing serious but still involved the traffic police and crowds of locals. I was truly impressed by Ali’s positive and enthusiastic attitude throughout. Eventually, they exchanged details and the police left. Ali miraculously put the car in motion and drove to the hotel, barely. As I was getting out of Ali’s car outside the hotel, the crash guy and his mob appeared out of nowhere. They tried to negotiate, I guessed. I quickly handed in the agreed sum and left. I felt sorry for Ali. I wish I had stayed longer. Anyway, I was back in my room still taking in what just happened. Two options were on agenda. Leave for Chabahar early in the morning and admire the landscape on the way or explore Zahedan and take the night bus. I opted for the former. I spent the evening repacking, and reorganizing with a short stroll down to the local convenience store to treat myself with crackers and chocolate spread. The guy behind the counter didn’t look bemused. I had to chill and get some sleep as a wake-up call was 5am. My efforts were futile as too many emotions and adrenaline was still kicking in. I managed to get a 3 hours sleep. Got up, showered, packed and left the room. The reception was empty and dark and the front entrance was closed with the metal thick gate locked like a fortress. The porter was sleeping on the couch in the waiting room. I was getting concerned l wouldn’t make it to the bus terminal in time. The language barrier was becoming a big issue now. I was basically locked in and the taxi ordered by the hotel manager the previous night was nowhere to be seen. I had other options but those meant losing precious time. The night porter nodded and repeated ‘Police’ five times. I yelled I didn’t need the police, I needed a taxi. Soon it became clear why the police were required. As it was very early and I mean one hour TOO early as I got up at 4am, not 5am there was no one available. Two police officers arrived, accompanied by Taliban type guerrillas with K47 in their hands. They looked seriously concerned about being called so early to the hotel which turned out to be notorious for security issues regarding foreign tourists. After a short deliberation, I was ordered to get in the police car waiting outside. Here I was being escorted by two police officers and two armed soldiers riding a motorcycle alongside our car. The officers asked for a passport. I noticed on many occasions they could not make out what was printed in the passport, like country, visa validity, name. I was showing my Farsi speaking abilities the best I could. We reached the Bus Terminal 30 min later. They accompanied me all the way to the ticket counter to ensure I got on the right one. At 6am I was on the bus heading to Chabahar. It wasn’t safe enough to wander the streets for any foreign tourist and police protection is put in place in this situation to prevent potential kidnapping or robbery. They didn’t want any trouble if something happened to me. They basically wanted me to get out of town asap before a larger conflict arose. I was relieved and so were they but no one could have predicted the twist of events which brought me back to Zahedan within the next 20 hours.
Chabahar was a special visit. It lasted six hours and involved long negotiations with the bus company representative. Let’s start from the beginning. Upon departing from Zahedan and 30 min into my journey I realized I had left my old Samsung galaxy 3 behind in Amin hotel. I left it on my bed probably covered under the sheets. I must say I didn’t panic as much as I supposed to. Immediately an emergency plan ensued in my head. What I was about to lose? 1000 photos, access to my apps? I had my other mobile phone with IranCell SIM card and 4GB data ready to make the most of it. I changed my passwords to most email accounts, emailed my bank and texted my newly met Azerbaijani friend, Sahar to try to contact the hotel on my behalf and explain the situation in Farsi. As we were driving through desert l soon lost net mobile connection. I had to wait. Horrible feeling but well handled. I had experienced a similar situation in the past, I just needed to exercise some patience and calmness for the next 8 hours. I imagined all possible scenarios if the hotel staff had found my mobile phone and got access to accounts. Halfway through we stopped in Iranshahr to pick up more passengers. I regained mobile signal and checked my inbox. Yes! I got a message from Sahar. She needed more info before calling the hotel. I was somewhat optimistic but didn’t expect positive results. I had 10 minutes to do anything I could there and then. I rang up the hotel and with a broken Farsi attempted to tell the man on the phone about my lost phone. All were promising except for the little fact he kept replying in Farsi and me being clueless what was being said. A moment later l got a response from Sahar. It turned out they had found my mobile and kept it safely in the hotel reception. I could collect it ‘at my earliest convenience’. I couldn’t believe my ears. Was it that simple? Was I to get my Samsung back? I had now to reroute my travels to make sure I collect my mobile phone as soon as possible. I had sensitive information on it. I didn’t want to push my luck. New travel arrangements had to be made about revisiting Zahedan. I had to sacrifice one destination for another. Instead of exploring Chabahar I added Bam to my itinerary. How did I do it? I travelled by bus from Zahedan to Chabahar and took the night bus back to Zahedan. So I virtually spent six hours there. These six hours of mingling with the locals. That already started on the bus with some Baluchestani folk. A young guy, sitting next to me, offered a biscuit and conversation started or more like an attempt. I was showing maps and let him take photos with my camera. He then offered an accommodation in Chabahar which sounded too good to be true. Suspicion arose when he suggested I gave him my mobile phone as a gift. What appeared to be the beginning of good acquaintance was turning in to a deception. I have seen that before. Well, I was focusing on my mobile phone recovery mission back in Zahedan and had to stay alert and vigilant, didn’t I? Upon arrival in Chabahar bus station, I directed myself straight to the ticket counters but this biscuit guy from the bus, Mohamed, followed me insisting on me getting into the car parked nearby. You could clearly see all those folk knew each other, winking and gesticulating. Once I got inside the station my false friends disappeared. I arrived around 4.30pm and the next bus or the one which suited me best was departing at 10pm. The bus station had very few facilities. I had to be creative to use my time efficiently there. The bus company office offered access to sockets so I could charge my mobile phone. A small convenience store sold cheap drinks and chips. That was my dinner sorted. With all this discomfort and inconvenience, I was happy with the fact that I was to retrieve my precious Samsung soon. I just needed to go back to the Amin hotel in Zahedan, town which I was so desperate to leave.
The night bus was more comfortable and less noisy than the previous one. I managed to get some sleep. I had to. I had a long exciting day ahead of me. Firstly, however, I had to recover my possession. The plan was to grab the first available taxi to the hotel, collect my Samsung while the taxi would wait and back to the bus station to catch the next bus to Bam. The sequence of events was exactly as I had hoped, smooth and almost surreal. I spoke in my broken Farsi to the taxi driver about my journey and came up with the plan. When we were approaching the bus station he spotted a bus pulled up a hard shoulder. He yelled something at the guy standing next to it and there I was, embarking on a VIP coach to Bam. Quick and effortless transition. Chabahar 10pm, Zahedan 7am+, Bam 11am+.
The coach didn’t call at the terminal but at the big roundabout on Khomeini Boulevard. I still had a 1-mile walk to reach the ITTC hotel, one I picked randomly. It seemed to have positive reviews. I just wanted to get some proper rest in a comfortable bed that very night. It cost me slightly more than I had expected but it was still affordable. The room was spacious and had a big TV screen with English Iranian news. The opportunity to catch up with the current affairs. The fridge contained snacks and drinks. All to be paid for. Bam has some amazing architecture like world famous Fortress. Also, beautiful scenery of deserts, mountains, sandy/muddy formations, and old dwellings. Spectacular views not to be overlooked once you are nearby.
Mr Karmiz was a part-time manager who catered for foreign tourists. He was to be in one of my greatest chapters of this journey. When checking in he negotiated a discount for me and called in a local driver to take me to the famous Castle in Bam. He came across as a genuine and friendly person. Considering the distances I could easily walk to the castle. I wanted to visit the places I saw when going by coach from Zahedan. When I pointed this out to Karmaz he hesitated and suggested only local areas. I was so determined that eventually, it was him as my privet driver. The only issue was to pass through police checkpoints. I had my passport and charm handy. What supposed to be a short trip turned out to be a daredevil adventure. 20km off Bam a car was overtaking us and 5 meters in front us it lost its rear wheel, swerved and broke down. Not a tire but the whole wheel came off. Swerving all over the road, this black Renault was a real danger to us and whoever was inside that car. The wheel rolled past our windscreen so fast there was nothing Karmaz could have done but swerve to the hard shoulder. He was on a verge of having a panic attack, graspig for air, clutching his chest. I tried to calm him down but he kept praying and blessing his luck. Thank God he didn’t blame me. All cars pulled up. What actually shocked me was the reaction of those involved. While Karmaz was deeply concerned about the health and safety, Renault occupants took this accident lightly, particularly the woman on a passenger seat still palying with her mobile phone. You could clearly see she didnt seem to have been bothered at all. I was hesitant whether to continue our journey or return to the hotel for the sake of Karmiz health. He regained his focus and concentration to be able to drive. I must say if the wheel had hit our windscreen we would have certainly crashed.
Kerman had to be visited not only for his historical significance but for bus connection purposes. I had to make up an itinerary for this town since I had only six hours to spend there. I had a 10pm night VIP bus to Bandar Abbas. I approached the ticket counter with much enthusiasm and confidence and with a scrap of paper containing questions in Farsi. I did well, I guess. I have my ticket and was almost ready to venture the city. Firstly, however, I needed to get something to eat. I resented buying something from those small convenience stores for fear of being ripped off again. I just fed on excitement and happy moments. I foolishly and naively planned to actually walk to town. It was 10km and while I could technically cover this distance on foot, it could just be a wasted time unnecessarily. I huggled with a taxi driver and made a deal. 250,000 Rial for a lift to the centre, wait for 3hours and ride back to the Bus Terminal. Basically, I had time from 4pm to 7pm in Kerman. I cruised around Bazaar, mostly. I was too tired. I was taking pictures, spoke to a group of young engineer students and to one gifted local craftsman. It was a pleasant and interesting conversation I had with this man. Again, something you wouldn’t find in a travel guide. The evening was approaching, I and my rucksack were feeling the day. The stroll down to Kerman bazaar was a unique experience. I really wish I had had more room in my luggage to carry some of those souvenirs I wanted to buy. At seven the driver already waited for me outside the Bazaar entrance. I spent the remaining two hours inside Terminal charging my mobile phones and getting acquainted with some Turkish guy. Ok, 8pm struck and there was no sign of my night bus. Nervous and tired as I was, it tuned out there was no VIP bus to Bandar Abbas that night and the bus actually heading there was already running late. Lucky again, I met a nice, educated and English speaking Iranian guy traveling to Bandar Abbas. Too coincidental to believe. We had a nice cultural conversation and he offered me to pay for the shared taxi. He dropped me off outside the Ferry terminal. It was still before six o’clock in the morning.
Bandar Abbas might have offered some tourist attractions but to me, it was just a connecting hub to reach the island. This Iranian bloke was a blessing. Not only did he guide me through how to get to the island but invited me to his place to rest and sightsee the town. As much as I highly appreciated his offer, I had other plans. I got out of the taxi and rushed to the Terminal to catch the first available ferry or boat to Qeshm Island. Price was 150,000 Rials for one way ticket. Shortly after I was sitting on half-empty speedboat heading to Qeshm.
Finally, I reached my destination. Long awaited and well deserved I think. It has bèen quite a journey so far and I felt it was time to slow down and do some cultural socialising. I took it in a clumsy, chaotic manner. I got off ferry and started to walk towards this famous Portuguese Castle. It was scorching hot and me wearing extra layers and carrying heavy rucksack didn’t help. I was enthusiastic and optimistic about my visit so just continued marching to the castle. It was a sunny day, cloudless sky, quiet streets. I liked it. I reached the Fortress in 30 min. Ticket cost 60,000 Rials. I left my rucksack with the ticket vendor and toured the place. I was tired and thirsty but tried to truly enjoy the moment in history, dating back to 1500s.
That was one long bus journey from Bandar Abbas. Ferry from Hormuz took app 1h. Now to find a reasonably cheap taxi driver to the Bus Terminal on off I went to Yazd. The Bus did not stop at the Terminal but on the main road. It was still dark and I was slightly aggravated by the notorious taxi drivers’ intrusions. I almost got into argument with some of them as I just wanted to rest and charge my batteries at the station. Fortunately, it happened to be within 10 min walking distance. I had two hours to compose myself and get ready to welcome my new destination. I managed to find two sockets and a vendor selling cheap low quality coffee. That would do. I was still contemplating whether to stay overnight in Yazd or sightsee for half a day and continue to Isfahan. After a brief consultation with my needs, I decided to stay in Yazd and explore the town. Well, if only I find cheap accommodation here. Around 8am I went outside and soon was approached by taxi company. With a bit of confusion they managed to find a driver who knew where I was heading. Here I am on last leg of my journey to Iran. Again, taxi taking me to Kalut Hostel, or did he? I was willingly dropped off on the main road and started walking through those narrow alleys, clinching to my mobile phone GPS map.
Exhausted but strangely happy kept my head up and… SHE happened. A female solo traveler was passing by, eye contact, smile and HELLO, something I have not experienced recently. A little exchange of information let us sync our plans which was basically to find accommodation. Fatima was her name. She guided me gently through other hostel options nearby and, eventually, we ended up in Orient Hostel. Spacious and cheap. That was a bargain. Moreover, I just found a great companion to see the Yazd attractions. After refreshing and repacking, I and Fatima went on a little exploration. What unfolded for the next 36 hours changed my life.
Warmth and kindness radiated. We were on the same wave length as if we knew each other for a long time. Trust and Intimacy built up within minutes. After a short deliberation, we decided to stay together in Orient Hostel. One hour later off we went out to enjoy our time amongst locals and historical buildings. The first visit to the nearby Mosque allowed us to test our trust and confidence. We both felt so relaxed and enthusiastic with one another, walking together or separately, taking pictures, only to find ourselves on the bench chatting about pretty personal stuff.
ARG of TABRIZ
ULMA SALT LAKE
Imam Khomeini Shrine
HOLY DEFENCE MUSEUM
GOING TO ZABOL
The Burnt City
Takashiki Island and Rishiri Island were reached by ferry, while to Wakkanai I took over night coach from Sapporo.