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The Kindness (and madness) of strangers

August 3rd, 2008 · 1 Comment

The long wait for the sun to rise and the border to open was whiled away exchanging cups of Earl Grey for our first of many cups of Iranian brew with the locals. Once the chief of border control had had his cup of tea the gates slowly trundled open, and so with hasty goodbyes we leapt into our taxi and sped through the gap as soon as it was wide enough to accommodate us only to have our enthusiasm curbed three yards later by an extremely irate border guard who decided that Ed, being in a Polo shirt and swimming trunks, was completely inappropriately dressed for his role as driver and dragged him out of the front and threw him the back with the instructions not to get out until his lower legs were covered. Unfortunately the only garment available in the back of the car was Max’s thick woolen Moroccan robe. Feeling suitably out of place as an Englishman dressed as an Arab on the Turko Persian border he sheepishly emerged and headed for passport control.

 It was in this fashion armed with our passports that we stood a little out of place among the huddled masses at the immigration desk. As we reached the front we soon realized that Iranian immigration might not be as straight forward as Turkish emigration. Our Carnet du Passage was, immediately singled out as a particularly suspicious article worthy of the closest scrutiny by at least 12 officials. (Our passports required but two frowns each). Our precious Carnet spent two hours being passed from one person to another without a stamp whilst we sat on a customs desk trying to avoid a mustachioed gentlemen who had very particular views on Anglo-Iranian relations. Ed who had had 4 hours sleep in the last 3 days, became slightly delusional, but in a moment of lucidity said to the room at large. “I have never felt more out of place. I … am an Englishman dressed as an Arab in Persia. With this he fell into a stupor that he did not recover from fully for quite some time. Hours passed trying to avoid political debate with various customs officials until eventually from one of the dark rooms we heard a volley of rubber stamps cascading down upon something that we hoped was our carnet. A voice called “The Fearman”, which Max cautiously hoped was him and entered to darkened room to witness a sight few people will ever see, the final stamping of the Carnet.

This marked our release for the time being from Iranian bureaucracy we dashed between 4 buses and out into Iran. At a town called Maku 10km we were required to arrange our insurance. Unfortunately the daily power cut was scheduled to coincide with our arrival leaving us stranded there for two hours. This gave us time to have lunch, change some money and fraternize with our many admirers. Ed was still in the back, sweltering in the July heat under the thick robe and at the point of asphyxiation. Taking pity on him, Charles got a pair of trousers out of the roof rack and passed them through the window. By this time we now had an audience and Ed was forced to change in the back with an audience of some 10 Iranians, noses pressed against the windows. Trousers on and rehydrated but still feeling “unnatural” to say the least Ed headed of with some sterling to exchange into rials. After furious negotiations with the bank clerk which involved altering the national exchange rate, such a large transaction of $400 was unheard of here and the bank clerk asked if he could have his photo taken with Ed and the several reams of banknotes. Ed returned to the car with enough currency to last us the week/enough loopaper to last us the month.

Our next stop was Tabriz, an ancient capital of Persia 250km further down the road where we received our baptism of fire in Iranian urban driving. We have all experienced tamer rounds of bumper cars. Pulling up at the side of the road to rest the nerves and try and find our bearings, a crowd gathered including a particularly charming teenager who recommended a good hotel in perfect English and gave us directions. We bravely set forth to find the Hotel Senna. By the time we arrived he had run through the backstreets and negotiated us a room for the night and was waiting to help direct us into a parking space he was holding for us.

Another good nights sleep followed in preparation for the road to Tehran. Along the highway to Tehran, just before Qasvin we stopped to buy lunch from a farmer selling fruit on the hard shoulder of the expressway. He invited us into his hut for tea and questioned us unrelentingly in Farsi about everything to do with the Taxi and “Ingilistan” Just as we were leaving another man who spoke English arrived to buy fruit and managed to translate for us. He then invited us to dinner with his family that night when he realised we had nowhere to go in Tehran.

We then went in search for some diesel which thus far we had siphoned off passing truck drivers 20 litres at a time for 5000 rials or about 30p. We did this for two reasons. Firstly as we needed a ration card to buy diesel and secondly diesel stations are particularly dangerous places to be in Iran as is demonstrated in the photograph below.

 In a long queue at a petrol station, a man approached us and informed us that there was no diesel at this station and that he would show us another and that we would be guests at his house that night. We told him we could not come to dinner but would love for him to show us where to get some diesel which he did, and gave us his number saying that he would organise somewhere for us to stay that night while we were at dinner.

Dinner proved to be spectacular. A full Azeri spread eaten on the floor of the apartment in Karaj, just outside Tehran, including saffron ice cream and watermelon followed by chickpea and dill soup with lamb fortified us enormously and is still the best meal we have enjoyed so far this trip. The entire family drove us into Tehran to meet Mashoud, the man at the petrol station who took us to a hotel in the centre of the town where he introduced us to his brother in law who was to be our guide for the next day in Tehran.

The next day was an introduction to Tehrani pedestrianism. There are a few simple rules of the game:

  1. When crossing a one way street., always look both ways.
  2. Never change your mind and turn tail or break into a run this is considered to be a personal challenge of pursuit to the Tehrani drivers who enjoy the panic stricken faces of helpless pedestrians.
  3. When crossing at night a flash of headlights is an acknowledgement of your existence and not necessarily a guarantee of your continued existence on earth.
  4. Traffic lights, lane markings and road signs are mere ornaments to the potholed roads.

These maxims offered by Patricia Baker in our Bradt guide are the only reason that we are writing to you today.

Having survived a day of sightseeing in Tehran we headed south through the desert to Esfahan. The old girl struggled a bit with the heat reducing our top speed to a mere 35 miles an hour. Esfahan with its 40 UNESCO sites was impossible to cover in the 2 and a half days that we had.. We explored various madrasas of equal stunning beauty and Charles got thrashed at backgammon by a sage Iranian in a teahouse looking over the central square in Esfahan that used to be the Shah’s polo pitch.

On the way back from Tehran we turned off the road to explore an oasis 5km north of Natanz. We were not quite prepared for the 1000 year old wattle and daub castle complex that we discovered in this tiny town. An incredible array of ruined hamams, granaries and fortifications that lay untouched and seemingly unnoted by UNESCO.

From Natanz we headed north for the Caspian, arriving in the seaside resort of Chalous (which we discovered in the light of day to be a rather down-market Iranian version of Blackpool) at 3 o’clock in the morning. As the passenger window was stuck down and refused to budge Charles heroically volunteered to sleep in the car while the rest of the team checked into a hotel for a decent night’s sleep.

In the early hours of the next morning Charles was awoken from his dubious slumber by a bizarre and thoroughly out of place American accent. Through groggy eyes he saw a wrinkled face peering through the window jovially telling him that it was illegal to sleep in a car past 7 in the morning. The long and the short of the conversation that followed resulted in Charles being taken to a tea house in the village where they had spent the night. There, after a dozen cups of local tea and a number of tall tales, Charles suddenly realised who he reminded him of. He was an Iranian version of Yoda, but without the powers and quite likely less basis in reality. We then unwittingly bought him lunch before heading for the coast for a swim. We had got but knee deep in the surf before a rather too toned, bronzed and coiffed lifeguard blew furiously on his whistle and ordered us out of the water informing us that the sea was for splashing in and not for swimming. He told us that swimming in the sea was very different from a pool. We thanked him for his concern and informed him that we lived on an island and that we would probably be alright. After a ten minute swim the whistle blew again and this time the police ordered us out of the water. A body had just been washed up.

Slightly damp and smelling of sturgeon we belatedly set off for the Ngad Mountains and Turkmenistan…

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Robo // Jun 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    I would divide the eggs in 3 grupos. Two grupos of 3 eggs each and one with 2 eggs. Now you weigh the two grupos of 3 eggs each against each other. There are two possible outcomes. each of which is discussed below If they come out to be equal then you know that the heavy egg is in the the third group which has 2 eggs. You can now find the heavier egg by weighing the two eggs against each other. If the two grupos of 3 eggs each, weigh unequal, then we pick up any two eggs in the group that weighs heavy. If these two eggs weigh equal then the third egg is the heavy egg. If they don’t weigh equal then the one which weighs more is the egg we are looking for!! What would be more interesting is if you only knew that there is one egg which weighs different, you don’t know if it weighs more or less. I wonder if u can do this in 2 steps.

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