The Only Way is Up

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Iran  ,
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yes, a little bit of trivia for you there, and true enough as long as you are quite lax in your definition of "city".
Our need to get to Athens by early November has started to bear down upon us: when you start to add up all the travel days a cold sweat comes out on your forehead as we have realised we don't have any real margin for error. The unfortunate victim in this is Yazd - we have just 24 hours here if we want to avoid digging ourselves an even deeper hole.
Those who scan these pages to help build their own holiday itinerary should note the name of the Kohan Traditional Hotel here in Yazd. Warm comfortable rooms, an elegant courtyard, beautiful service and oh my god real Lipton tea. All for a very reasonable $25. The resort setting we soaked up also comes in stark contrast to our dog kennel conditions in Shiraz. Oh the injustice of not been able to stick around...
With commitment, the sights of Yazd can be seen in a day, and we committed to get up at dawn and walk the city. All the mosques are open and the monumental buildings uncluttered so this proved a handy consolation to a destination we were clearly seeing with too little time at our disposal. The Jameh mosque, around 600 years old, has the definite presence of being a wise old man managing the town that I found particularly endearing. The Amir Chakhmaq in the town's centre has grandeur without ostentation.
Like every other entry for iran, once again the most memorable elements are in the time we spent with other people. I figure this may be getting repetitive... but the impression left on us is striking.
Marcus, the Australian doctor we met in Tehran (and Esfahan, and then bumped into in Shiraz) had crossed paths with Claudine earlier in the day and let us know he had met a couple of local men keen to meet later and talk politics. Would we like to come? Would we ever.
We met in a beautiful restaurant in the bazaar and were welcomed heartily by the owner - a barrel of a man keen to ensure the air was never left silent for wont of words (even when trying to order, confusingly enough). He was keen to let us know he was a modern forward thinking man - even liked a drink and a smoke now and then as much as any European. We were among friends, we should relax and enjoy.
Not for long.
Ten minutes later he strode across the essentially empty restaurant to advise us to change conversation topics. Now. We had been talking (as we had, discreetly, across iran) about the government, the methods of control, the Revolutionary Guard and the like and he was not going to stand for it. In so doing, he made our companions point more effectively than anyone could have done in words - fear and control are absolute and dominant.
As a Westerner, having your right to free speech removed abruptly is a very confronting experience. For the second time in a week the veiled threat of police being called hung in the air. Picture yourself chatting quietly in a restaurant in Sydney and the waiter coming to tell you that your chosen topic was not to be continued in his restaurant. Its odd. And its not like Sydney where the police will take a couple of hours to turn up either.
Our companion wasn't swallowing this quietly, and a terse conversation in Farsi followed before the point was settled. We dined quickly and moved elsewhere, still a little dumbstruck at what had taken place.
Our conversation with these three new friends provided a great capstone to our time in Iran. More and more loose ends are beginning to be tied up and odd things we have seen being given context. That the Revolutionary Guard comprises 3-5m paid cadres loyal directly to the Ayatollah (not the President or the government) explains how it can be a constant even as the "voters" mood changes. Its scale explains how 70m forthright and animated citizens can be suppressed.
The stories we had heard about the flows of oil money were restated here and the consistency of message across cities is giving us confidence we have not just sampled the outlier's view.
On our return we will spend longer in Yazd - and enjoy it as a holiday retreat more than just the sociology experiment that we have tried to cram into our three-ish weeks in Iran.
I am confident we will choose to return: a sentiment reinforcedd by our parting experience at the bus station for the return to Tehran. Being tall, white and badly dressed I am frequently mistaken for a Brit or an American. A young man about 20 was eyeing me closely a few yards behind me to one side - so i turned to greet and acknowledge him. "Hello American. Welcome" he stuttered out carefully.
The welcome has never stopped, and its clearly a welcome to all who'll take the time to come.
* * *

Despite my headcold, I was glad to climb aboard the bus to Yazd - as it was our way out of Shiraz.  Unlike every other bus we had caught in Iran, this one did not provide travel snacks, drinks or tea.  The much needed tea that my body craved to get well again.  A bad result.

Our bus journey consisted of the both of us working backwards from when we needed to be in Athens (for my Ghana flight) and we came to the conclusion that if every second bus/train/ferry connection that we had hoped to make somehow fell through then we needed to have already left Yazd before we arrived. 

Hmmm.  This was all underpinned by the belief that there was a 72 hour train from Tehran to Istanbul that we would need to catch.  We knew it departed once or twice per week.  The problem was that we weren't sure which two days these were.  Hmmm, again.

We arrived in Yazd in the early afternoon.  Initially we planned to get the first train out until we realised that it and its brethren were all booked out.  We opted to stay the night and catch a bus out the next day. [Buses run hourly when trains (our preferred mode of transport) run only weekly] .

We had caught our bus with British Mathew who we met doing the Persepolis tour in Shiraz. [Mathew is also responsible for introducing us to the delicious Iranian BBQ chicken ;) ].  We haggled our taxi together, avoided the taxi driver-hotel scam together and shopped the hotels of Yazd together.  Eventually I ran into Marcus who provided us with a tip for a great place to stay and invited us to dine with him and some locals he had met the previous evening.

The Kohan Hotel in Yazd was our best hotel in iran.  A lovely hostelier, an oasis-like tea garden around a pond with elevated, carpeted platforms and most importantly an extremely modern, clean western style bathroom.  The perfect place to sit, relax and sip tea - which we did for the rest of the first afternoon.  

We (Mathew, Marcus and us) met up with three iranian locals for dinner at the pretty Malek-O-Tyjar Restaurant.  Another great iranian meal coupled with interesting conversation - despite the fact that the owner repeatedly came over to tell the locals to stop speaking about politics with "us".  We returned to our oasis hotel and chatted about all things political over a few pots of tea until we were all freezing cold.  More of the same disapproval about the quality of life in Iran with a few extra pieces of the puzzle provided.

The next morning we woke extra early to see a few of the sights of the town.  We watched the sun rise silently over the Jameh mosque, wandered throught the desolate old city and looked at both the good (decorative front) and the bad (raw mud and garbage strewn rear) side of the Amir Chakhmaq Complex (aka the imam Hossein commemorative 3 storey facade). 

We had a long, relaxing breakfast at the Kohan with Marcus and Mathew before our 10.30am bus.  Compared to other iranian cities Yazd was very quiet and peaceful (even during the 'busy' afternoon).  We didn't stay very long in Yazd, but it seemed like a relaxing place with a cheery atmosphere which meant we were both a little sad to leave the place so soon.

* * *

Australian Dollar: US0.925... EUR0.64... 0.446.
Thats something you can't plan. Never a better time to travel :)
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