5. Iran 1
Turkish boarder to the Caspian Sea
Justine – When we left you last time we were bathing in the warmth of Iranian hospitality, having just had our lunch bought, by a stranger. After this both well fed and well surprised, we visited the cave dwellings of Kandovan. Most of the houses are still lived in today, and we were invited into one by a wizened old lady. The house comprised of one room with several storage alcoves off it, one housing a makeshift kitchen, another a vast quantity of blankets and a washroom. Learning that the village in winter is under 3 feet of snow, you could understand why there was the need for so many blankets. A hard place to live but apparently they moved up into the hills to hide from the marauding Mongols.
Kandovan is renowned for it’s sweet spring water, which is so good that people journey all the way from Tehran to collect it. Clearly we had to fill our tanks from such a source, so we relayed the water bowser backwards and forwards across the river to fill the main water tank in Kabylie.
The next stop was Tabriz where we had a hotel for a night, which was well needed after several days of no showering. As we checked in,
Tom was handed a note from a Mr. Moien, which just said ‘ a friend of Ray’s’. Ray is a Canadian who’s made a similar trip to ours several months ago. He had clearly read our blog, knew Kabylie had been suffering and had asked his friend to contact us. How he found us in a city of several million people is still a mystery. It is not just Iranian kindness out there but Canadian too!
Iran has very, very few modern cars, due to sanctions everything on the roads has been patched up and repaired many, many times . Most of the cars are about 20 years old but the lorries are older and we often get a peep and a wave of solidarity from the oldest of them. Despite this we are still the oldest car that we have seen in Iran.
A fabulous old shop on the corner of our hotel caught Tom’s eye. In side was every possible car part from every ancient car. Metal and grease lined the walls and it was just a shame that Kabylie is short on space. Actually perhaps it is a good thing, or we might have been carrying a vast array of greasy car parts for our onward journey.
Tabriz was definitely more conservative than the areas we had seen so far. There were a lot of full-length black outfits and Mike even had his forearms sternly tapped by a man who clearly did not appreciate the cool airiness of a short-sleeved shirt. After visiting the beautiful blue mosque and some other sites, we caught a local bus to experience the daily segregation of the local populace. We girls were sent to the back as the boys rode in front and it made us think of apartheid in South Africa.
That evening we searched about for something smart to wear as we were going to take Ali (the Iranian who had bought us our lunch) up on his offer of supper at his apartment. We were very much hoping that the offer had not been what the Iranians call “Ta’arof” where they offer you something repeatedly but you are never meant to say yes! Oooops! – was he in fact horrified that seven of us were on our way!
Later we rolled back to our hotel utterly stuffed. Only after we had gorged ourselves on a plethora of delights were we to discover that was just the aperitif and an entire Iranian feast was to follow. It was a wonderful evening and immense kindness from Ali and Sevile his wife.
After Tabriz, we headed towards the Caspian Sea, such a romantic name and one which for many British people conjures up images of C.S Lewis, Prince Caspian and Narnia.
The scenery began to change from wide-open plains with snow-capped mountains in the background, to steep climbs over the forest and the cloud covered Hiran pass. So steep was the road that it was lined with expectant ambulances and pick up trucks which was somewhat disconcerting. Poor Kabylie had to have her breaks cooled several times by Hector and Tom spitting mouthfuls of water at them. One’s mouth is far superior at aiming than a cup or bottle.
The scenery was more like the Panamanian jungle to what you would expect in Iran. The Caspian coast gets a huge amount of rainfall and we were certainly feeling the humidity mount in the back of Kabylie. I have just found out that the word ‘jungle’ is in fact Persian, so rather wonderful to see the scenery that it originated from. We eventually descended to Astara, which borders Azerbaijan. We went straight to the police station to check in as being British, we have to be monitored and let the police know exactly where we are. There were loads of likely lads hanging about the police station who turned out to be moneychangers for all the people coming from Azerbaijan. Clearly a highly secretive black market, if the police station is their stomping ground!
We camped that night on the shores of the Caspian. It sounds more romantic than it was as Iranians have a very different relationship with rubbish than we do and are quite happy to liberally spread it about. It was not easy to find a good camp spot devoid of litter. This is one of the very few faults we have with Iran, the fact that there is lots of litter everywhere and for a population who loves to picnic and enjoy the countryside, it is surprising that they feast amongst the birdsong and then just get up and leave all their rubbish behind. We were told by an academic, that when asked, Iranians say it is a protest against the government, though I am not sure how affective it is as the population suffer more than their rulers.
That night we all snuggled into our roof tent and cozily listened to Bill Bryson’s ‘At Home’ a routine we were to continue for as long as the roof-rack could hold the weight of all six of us!
The nightingale’s song that night, was interspersed by another visitation… from the authorities shining torches at our tents, this time with guns though they were friendly and a phone call to our guide saw them melt into the darkness. We were left to sleep with the howl of jackals and the splutter of tractor engines. Peering out our windows, we were amazed to see tractors in the shallows of the Caspian driving up and down the beach in the sea. After much speculation, and theorising as to what they were doing, we found out later that they drag implements to dig up all the shallow shells to turn into some sort of tiling. Next time you buy a lovely terratzo bowl from John Lewis, you can ponder on the diminishing shells of the Caspian.