Trip Start Mar 21, 2009
14Trip End Apr 29, 2009
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I neglected to mention in my last update that my arrival at the Tehran airport last week would set the tone for the rest of the trip. They are definitely not used to seeing Americans, and the immigration officer (a young kid) was hilarious. He took a look at my passsport, looked up at me, smiled, and couldn't believe his good fortune. He knew he had to follow a separate procedure for Americans but wasn't quite sure what it was, so he called his supervisor and there was a lengthy conversation in Farsi that I assume went something along the lines of "I've got an American here, do you know what we're supposed to do?" "I don't know, I thought you knew." And so it went for about 45 minutes of being taken to see different officials before finally being fingerprinted (only because the US fingerprints them say the Iranians) and then let through. It was actually a very funny experience because it was clear that they wanted to let me in but just didn't know the protocol.
OK, fast forward to Shiraz, which was about a 1-1/2 hour plane ride south of Tehran. Shiraz is a university town and the people have a reputation for being some of the friendliest in Iran, which is an understatement. At almost every place we've gone, we've had people approach us to ask where we're from, and then when they find out we're Americans they all want to talk to us and have their picture taken with us. Very entertaining. Our guide in Shiraz is a very nice man in his early 60's named Abbas who was a flight engineer with the Iranian Air Force and is now retired. The only problem is that he's a history buff which is great in small doses, but after a while the history lecture starts to wear thin especially when it's compounded by Persian pride. He seems to be on a mission to make sure every foreigner he comes in contact with understands that a) Iranians are Persians, not Arabs, and b) The Persian Empire was the greatest empire that ever existed. Abbas is convinced that everything of historical importance originated with the Persians (language, fables, architecture, you name it), and if there were ever any problems it was because of the Arabs. Or the British. Needless to say it gets a little tiring after a while, but luckily we built in a lot of free time to our schedule so we can wander around on our own.
Yesterday we had a great day at the bazaar since Kate has a friend back home whose brother owns a carpet store that has been in their family for 70 years. Yes, you know where this is going :) He showed us all around the bazaar, and then we must have spent a few hours at his store in the bazaar drinking tea while he explained the intricacies of carpet weaving and design. It was good to have a connection since he gave us a great deal on carpets, so now the only trick is to make sure we can get them home past US customs - keep your fingers crossed.
We also spent a day in nomad country, about a 3-hour drive from Shiraz. There is a small population of nomads in Iran that continue to live the lifestyle they've had for hundreds if not thousands of years. They tend sheep, live in tents, and migrate twice a year to warmer/cooler climates based on the season. We spent an hour with them drinking tea, and when they asked if we were married I said "no, do you have a husband for me?" This really cracked them up, and one of the women pulled me aside and told me that "it's just as well, they're a lot of work". A good bonding experience.
The next day we left Shiraz and an hour later stopped at Persepolis, one of the major archeological sites from the Persian Empire. It was a pretty overcast day when we headed out and we were able to get in an hour of wandering around the ruins before the skies opened up and we got drenched. But up until that point it was pretty incredible, amazing to see such detailed carvings in stone that have survived for centuries. What was even more impressive were the women who, covered head to toe in a chador (imagine yourself wrapped up in a big black sheet that leaves only your face and hands exposed), clambered up the stones to the burial sites of the ancient kings. Quite a sight. Luckily with all the rain we were able to convince Abbas,our guide, that stopping at any other sites that day was not a good idea, so we just drove straight through (5 hours) to our next destination, Yazd.