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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 29.05.2017

Iran – ups and downs regarding impressions!

In order to make the distance of 550 kilometers leading to Esfahan more bearable, we stopped half way for the night. We were very cheerful and happy when Margit and Peter, the Swiss couple who we had earlier met at Meteora were already on their way back from their trip from South to North and our routes basically crossed each other. Consequently, we arranged to go out for dinner in the little town of Kashan. It was extremely nice to meet those lovely people again. Our junior loved such meetings as well as they were a great and very welcome change from the daily routine. We were provided with a lot of useful and helpful hints on how to plan our oncoming stages as the two of them were coming exactly from where we were up to going. We stayed up until one o'clock in the morning, chatting while sitting outside before we said good bye. We dearly hope that another meeting in Mongolia works out.
The two of you are amazing people and a real enrichment to our circle of friends.

Iran mainly consists of high and craggy mountain ranges and dry desert regions and basins. Sand and dust are omnipresent. Its location near the Caspian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf has made it to an area of high strategic importance with a history leading back to antiquity. While still being confronted with snow and rain in Tabris, we now saw the temperature constantly rising the further we were traveling south.

Esfahan is the capital of the province bearing the same name. The town is located in Central Iran, about 400 kilometers south of the capital Tehran on a height of 1,500 meters in an oasis of the river Zayandeh Rud in a fertile valley close to the Zagros Mountains. In the south and west of the city rise mountains called Bachtiari and in the north and east the Iranian High Plateau which ends in mighty deserts. The historic centre of Esfahan is characterised by palaces, numerous minarets and the blue domes of mosques. However, the Iman Square with its amazing building located on it and the 33 arches bridge (Persian: Si-o-seh-pol) leading over the river Zayandeh Rud definitely stand out.

Just before arriving in Esfahan I texted Simin. Remember her? She was the young woman who we had first met shortly after the Iranian border. She instantly answered and we arranged to meet at a filling station outside of the city where her husband Amir was supposed to pick us up and take us to a mechanic as we had realised that the suspension of Akela's exhaust pipe had come off. Our joy of reunion was really big as if we had known each other for a long time before. In a mini-convoy we drove to the mechanic and the workshed, where Amir's brother in law welded the suspension right away. Very relieved that this problem could be solved so quickly we happily accepted his invitation to come to his parents' house.

Our first encounter with Amir and his family near the border on the car park had only lasted for about ten minutes, but we immediately felt welcome and secure and safe there. Amir was the first Iranian man who didn't make a fuss about me being a woman. He shook my hand and when speaking to me didn't look to the ground. After a very refreshing shower and a small snack Simin's mum prepared, we met Simin and her children in town. After initial problems we were able to park Akela in the middle of the historic centre, right in the short-term-parking area of the Si-o-seh-pol bridge. Simin spoke English fluently and made an effort to show us the most important sights of her hometown, but, though we told her that we knew about Esfahan's importance regarding culture, we were more interested in meeting local people and getting in touch with them by speaking. Amir and Simin were such people who we loved speaking to and so did they with us. Simin complained about religion which made it nearly impossible to enjoy a careless and free life. Political topics get hushed up, freedom of press is a foreign word, and local people are deprived of Western music, films, fashion, culture and social media.
The Mullah regime makes the population believe that all these laws forbidding western temptations have been installed to protect the people personally and serve for security reasons. However, Simin and her husband were all but naive and didn't believe anything of the bullshit they were tried to make believe by the Mullah regime. Sooner rather than later would they like to break free from this corrupt system, if there weren't their parents. Family is of major importance in the Iran and they had no intention of leaving these people behind.

We were strolling past impressive buildings such as the Si-o-seh-pol – or Khaju bridge, which is also nick-named the 'singing bridge' as at any day- or nighttime people gather to make music, and listened to the stories our Iranian friends told us. Amir was the best multi-tasker I have seen for a long time! He was able to tell stories, make phone calls, run after the children, buy ice-cream and do all of these at the same time and with a constant smile in his face. This is why we gave him the name “crazy man“. As it had already become late and the children were really tired we said good bye and arranged to meet up again the next day. Leander made use of the early morning light and took pictures of Esfahan in beautiful colours. After a strengthening breakfast we wandered to Imam Square. This square, consisting of two magnificent mosques, a palace and the nearby bazaar, counts to one of the most important sights of the Middle East. We wanted to meet up with Amir, Simin and their children on this very square at 3 o'clock pm. It didn't take long until we saw the crazy man approaching – his mobile stuck between ear and shoulder, in both hands some ice-cream, and one child with fidgeting legs under one arm.

Sabbath upset our plans. Though quite a lot of tourists had already gathered on the square, most of the stands stayed closed. However, plan B sounded very funny as well. It was Father's Day in Iran and Simin invited us to her uncle's country house, where the whole family had come together to celebrate this public holiday. When we arrived there, there was a warm welcome and we were asked many questions such as where we came from, what our names were and if we liked Iran. Our arrival con-jured up a deafening disorder of voices. We were served chai and chicken kebap and nibbles and Gaz, an Iranian sweet dish, were offered in little bowls standing at various locations in the room. I cannot remember the last time I had 'stuffed myself that much', though Iranian hospitality seems to force guests to do so. This might sound a bit helpless, but anyone who has ever been traveling in this country knows what I am talking about. It was an exceptional afternoon which reached its peak when Leander, as guest and father, was asked to cut the Father's Day Gateau.
When dusk was setting, Amir took us with our fat bellies back to Akela. It was really difficult for all of us to say good bye. Thank you so much for being the way you are, for allowing us to get an inside view of you and your family and for your hospitality. You are amazing! I hope, Simin, that all your dreams come true one day and you and your family stay as happy as we got to know all of you.

Once again we were completely exhausted when we lay down to prepare for an early rise and drive towards Yazd. The road led us first through a dull desert and then over a mountain pass of a height of more than 2,000 meters towards the mountain range. Our Akela had to struggle with the rising temperatures and also the constant gradient and its engine was getting hot. We had to stop once in a while to take breaks as the display of the thermostat had gone mad. The distance of 330 km from Esfahan to Yazd took us two days. Our radiator seemed to work perfectly so we assumed that the thermostat might cause the problem and be broken. This very object was removed in one workshed and replaced again in the next – just to be told that everything was “khub, kheili khub”, which is Persian for 'everything is all right'.

Yazd is the oldest town in Iran and was built at an oasis. This oasis is located between the deserts Dascht-e Kavir and Dascht-e Lut. Iranian men love choosing their future wives from Yazd, as there is an old saying telling the following: “If you are looking for a wife wo is able to cook well for you, take one from Tabris. If you are looking for one who should enchant you, take one from Shiraz. If you are looking for one, who is faithful, then marry one from Yazd”.
In the historic old town, on only 3km², there are mainly mud houses lined up closely next to each other with narrow and partly roofed alleys and domes as well as numerous wind towers. Spending already 3 weeks in Iran, this sight of Yazd was the first time we felt to have arrived in Persia. Despite 40°C outside did we take a stroll through the old town. Once in a while women passed by in black chadors, the Iranian cloak which only allows to see the face of the women. We felt a bit as if in '1001 night' when seeing the many colourful shops, teashops, shishas and crooked rooftop terraces. Looking at the cutthroat prices quickly made us return from fairytale to reality. Many badly made Chinese goods were on offer as well as handcrafted local products such as bags, jewellery and carpets....which shop owners also sold for outrageous prices.

On our third and last day in Yazd we said good bye to this town when enjoying dinner on a rooftop terrace. Then we started to get work done. We had to cover a distance of 660 km to finally get to the sea. Lennox cuddled up in bed while Lander and I got into the driving cabin. We had to end our night shift already at 2:00 am as Akela suddenly wouldn't drive as fast as we wanted him to go and only moved at a snail's pace. We stopped to remove the assumed problem – a blocked prefilter of the diesel tank, but the truck still didn't start going any faster. This second time Leander stopped bad-tempered to clean the main filter. Unluckily this attempt of repair didn't succeed either and so we stopped at a car park hoping the next day would bring success and more luck for us. After just few hours of sleep and rest did we start the engine again, but our fervent prayers had remained unsuccessful as well.

Akela moved slowly like a snail. Just about as slowly as Akela moved did we realise why he might have had this problem: steadily yet continually rising had we been moving up to a height of 2.500 meters and this is what caused the problems! We frequently had to stop to fill up cooling liquid and to cool down the hot engine. It was a horror trip! Tired and heavy-eyed did we finally arrive in the harbour of Bandar Abbas after 13 hour's driving time, where there were temperatures of 40°C. We had expected to be able to take a car ferry from this port in the Persian Gulf to Qeshm Island. Had we done our homework more carefully and checked out earlier then we could have known better! We had to drive on for another 90 kilometers to Bandar Pohl to get a ferry. We could have saved ourselves the extra kilometers.
However, as being annoyed about such a mishap still didn't take us there earlier, we had to get into Akela and drive there after all.

When arriving at the port in Bandar Pohl it took us about an hour to complete formalities and paperwork and finally could bord the car ferry.

Qeshm is the biggest island in the Strait of Hormuz, on the Eastern end of the Persian Gulf. We came to Qeshm City, the capital, in the late afternoon. In this city we had contact with Ali, who was running a restaurant and a small campsite. In the fee for one night we would have had included a breakfast, water and free Internet. Unluckily, Ali had his campsite closed for four days when we arrived. We really seemed to have bad luck and wherever we went in Iran the shops were closed and this is why we made do with a big gravel car park for the night, which wasn't too bad after all.

It was impossible for us on our first morning on Qeshm island to keep our youngster inside Akela at breakfast time and a temperature outside of 30°C. He just urged to get into the sea to cool down. However, the sea was only refreshing for men as I had to put up with walking along the beach with my trouser legs rolled up. Obviously in Iran it was an ABSOLUTE NO GO for women to wear a bikini at sea, but going into the water wearing all my clothes appeared ridiculous and inappropriate to me as well.
During the hottest hours at lunchtime we went to well air conditioned shopping centres in town. As Qeshm is a duty-free zone the prices were lower than in the rest of the country but since we also mainly came across badly made Chinese goods we didn't fall into a shopping binge here either. After two days we turned our backs to the capital and driving along the coast moved towards Stars Valley.

Stars Valley is not only a wonderful spot of nature on Earth, it's also a geological phenomenon. Legend has it and has been general native belief that stars have dropped from heaven and shaped these abstract rock formations. Fact is, however, that soil erosion, surface water, torrential rain and gusty wind have shaped these tuff formations throughout centuries.
For two days we enjoyed the Iranian sun on our tummies – yes – literally speaking. We found a hidden beach section not far off the street on which I dared to lie down in my bikini, even though being in Iran. Though I wasn't completely unobserved. Now many of you might say that I behaved in a very provocative way by wearing my bikini in an Islamic country. I was of this very opinion in the beginning as well, but on this long and deserted beach section I came to the conclusion that there was space for all of us and whoever wanted to observe me I allowed this pleasure. When Islamic guests travel to Austria they never remotely consider to conform and adapt to Austrian rules and regulations but keep covering their bodies.
I dare to be able to claim that we take consideration of other countries' habits and traditions. They are also the very reason why we have gone on this journey, but there is a time in life when enough is enough!
When the temperature went down in the evening we drove to Stars Valley and carrying a lantern and food in our luggage walked up to the high plateau of the valley. There was a cool breeze blowing while we were quietly watching and enjoying the stunning landscape.

Visiting the Salt Caves of Namadkda was not as amazing as we had expected and so we were a bit disappointed by them. Apparently the caves meander into the mountain for about 6 kilometers but only 50 meters are open to the public, which is a great pity.
In Qeshm, more exactly in Shib Deraz, there is a location where sea turtles come to lay their eggs and if you are at this very place at the correct moment you might be able to watch this unique incident. Unluckily, we arrived about half an hour too late and weren't lucky for the rest of the night either to watch this natural spectacle. After a week on Qeshm island we wanted to leave from Shib Deraz and go to Laft the next day.
From Laft we wanted to take the ferry back to the main land. Qeshm will always remain in our minds as island without shadows and shades. One cannot compare this island with any Greek or Spanish island you might know from past vacations as there are neither sunbeds or parasols nor nice street cafes. This might still all sound perfectly all right, but the worst was that there was also NO SHADE. We were sweating buckets in springtime temperatures of 40°C.

Traveling back from Qeshm Island to the main land went without problems and we reached the harbour of Bandar Pohl in the early afternoon. Our drive took us back to Bandar Abbas where we stopped once again. Bandar Abbas is the captital of the province of Hormozgan in the south of Iran. The city is home of the biggest naval base and harbour of this country. We knew that in this city there was an office of Alien Affairs (this REALLY is the name!) where we would be able to apply for an extension of our visa. By no means should we fail to do so as our official visa for the Iran were only valid for another 5 days. We quickly found the very building but unluckily the officials said we should come back the next day as they were closing for that day.

We were quite worried about Lennox that day. He moaned about feeling tired, was sluggish. In the evening it turned out that he had a temperature as well and we assumed he had a sunstroke combined with exhaustion. As it had cooled down a bit by now we provided him with a blanket just outside Akela to rest. Moreover, did we treat him with cold compresses and after some relaxing sleep his temperature went down again. However, it was quite tricky and difficult to give him the needed rest. Many Iranians approached quickly, gave us advice on what to do and urged us to take him to their air-conditioned houses and have him treated there.
One man even dared to pull Lennox out of my arms as he didn't regard lying on the ground a good place for the boy. Sorry, but this was once again too much! We really appreciated the helpfulness of the people, but we as parents knew best what was good or not good for him at that moment. The helpfulness of Iranians started to drive us slightly mad and even though we do not want to sound or appear arrogant and ungrateful I do have to say this at that point of time. There is nobody anywhere in the world who wants to eat more than required, and everybody prefers sleeping in their own place rather than at a foreign place, and when it comes to your own children then enough is enough even at an earlier time. These issues kept coming up and demoralized us and took away energy and spirit of traveling on in that country.

The night ran smoothly for Lennox and he was back to normal the next morning, which is why we arrived punctually at 8 o'clock at the correct location which was also a police station where we wanted to extend our visa. We handed our applications over to the official and waited. After looking at them for some time he turned to us and said that everything was alright apart from my pictures. To extend the visa in Iran I would have to have pictures taken of myself wearing a headscarf. At the beginning we thought this was a bad joke and made fun of it until we realised that he was dead serious.
We started a heated debate about the usefulness of certain rules and laws in Iran and the officials and Leander nearly had a go at each other if other officials hadn't stopped them. The first official insisted on me obeying to Iranian law and kept telling me that when in Iran do as Iranians do and this meant getting a proper picture taken. More than one policeman escorted us out of the building. We dearly hoped that we hadn't ruined getting a visa extension because of that incident and we took a taxi to have a picture taken with me wearing a “headcloth” as well as getting colour copies of our Iranian visa and pay the fee via bank transfer. These were very tediuous activities because we were in the Iran.

I am not quite sure how to describe the feeling of traveling in the Iran. Very often many things and aspects here appear irrational and require strong nerves. Everyday activities seem extremely complicated and very laborious here. Especially when organisational matter are concerned bureaucracy is complicated and the left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand has done. When asking the way in the street immediately a crowd of people rushes by to help and each person claims to know better than the others. Helpfulness and hospitality in Iran are unbelievable, yet sometimes we have felt declared imcompetent.
Saying “no” isn't heard by the listener or gets ignored. This country also leaves a bitter and dishonest taste at times. Women are forced to cover up their whole bodies in clothes even though there are tropical temperatures. Shorts for men are not the latest craze either. However, behind closed doors and in the private, life looks different for many Iranian women. They are allowed to wear loose hair, nice dresses, alcohol gets drunk and many jokes are told about each and every person, not even the best friend is spared.
Yet outside the doors religion enforces discipline. We have gone through many situations which have left us shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads. Dagmar, a lovely friend of mine who is married to an Iranian man and who I met in Esfahan described a typical Iranian man to me like this: when you need to scratch yourself on the right ear you take your right hand and scratch yourself on the right ear. The Iranian man uses his left arm, reaches over the head and then scratches his right ear. Why do it the easy way if it's also possible to do it in a complicated way? That's how it is done in Iran!

Back to the policestation. After some time we had completed all necessary requirements and rushed back to the policestation. Leander said sorry by reaching out his right hand to the official who took it appearing quite ashamed about what had happened at the police station before. The beforehand quarrel could be put aside and everything was hunky-dory again. After an hour we had the stamp in our passports which allowed us to stay there for another 30 days. Relieved yet still a bit stunned we borded the truck and started moving north.
Dasht-e-Lut was our next destination. As the distance was too long to be done in one day we stopped in the little town of Kerman. From some travel blogs we knew that there was a hotel offering parking facilities in the back yard. Additionally, water, internet and showers were supposed to be available as well.
Dawn had already broken when we arrived there and so we just quickly had dinner before going to bed, once again feeling really exhausted. However, we weren't able to rest for a long and sufficient enough as Lennox woke us up because he had cramps in the stomach. Already in the previous week had he complained about pain in in his tummy.
By providing him with a hot water bottle and massaging his tummy we managed to get through the night satisfactory and instantly went to hospital the next morning. The doctor there explained to me that Lennox had a stomach virus, prescribed him some medication and forbade eating any sweets, which was very difficult for him as he has a sweet tooth anyway. As we had feared it might be the appendix we were really relieved.
After 2 Greek hospitals we now were able to add an Iranian one to our list. In a way one must go through such an experience once in one's lifetime as well and see that the clock is ticking its own way here as well.
We treated Lennox with time to recover and stayed some days in Kerman. It was an excellent place to catch up with household duties and additional work which had to be done. I was able to do the washing in the truck as water was included in the fee and Leander started working on the pictures and videos he had taken on Qeshm Island. The small lad lay in bed, recovered and was allowed to watch Disney films on the laptop to help him do so. After two days he was completely well again and this meant, off into the desert to Shahdad.

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  1. Amir Kaljikovic
    Amir Kaljikovic
    Ohne Amir geht wohl nichts, hier nicht und im Iran auch nicht. :)
    Ich hätte die Situation ums Schädlfetzn gern gesehen, kann mir Leander richtig gut vorstellen in so einer Situation. *haha*
    Grüße aus der Heimat.