SYNOPSIS:  This is about four taxi experiences, cultural customs, one cliff carving, and some differences between Syria and Iran.

As we crossed the mountains today into yet another mountain plateau I was so reminded of my journey from Beirut to Syria.  And so I reflected on a few similarities but mainly differences I perceive after just a few days between Syria and Iran.  By golly, it is clean here!  The contrast is startling.  Even in Teheran, except for the occasional plastic bag and the few things that run down the street gutters after a heavy rain it is overall clean.  After so much trash and filth in both Lebanon and Syria, this is a real relief.

And the smoking stopped! The taxi shuttle driver today smoked just one cigarette and he stopped for it and smoked outside.  The hotel in Teheran served breakfast and nobody smoked.  The internet café’s I have visited have clean air.   Is this just a coincidence or is this a cultural difference?  I will keep my eyes open.  But so far – bravo Iran!  I can breathe again.

Of course, the biggest visible difference is dress code.  Now I understand, Nikki and Sepideh – why you exclaimed a simultaneous “no” in horror, when I said I was bringing a red outfit.  I am not even sure my tailored shawal kamiz from Dubai will do in public here.  It is a combination of red and black; but red pants… Not such a good idea, unless I want to be stared at again all day.  But I have black pants I can substitute.  I don’t think that I would be stopped by anyone if I dressed “wrongly”.  I have been told by several people that the shariah (Islamic law) “fashion police” have backed off a bit and are quite generous when it comes to foreigners.  Thank goodness, I brought my brown, ankle-long overcoat along.  When I have that on, the staring goes down by a huge margin.  It really is the staring.  How much of it can I take?  The less I want of it the more I need to blend in.

This morning I had to exchange money and asked the taxi driver if he could drive me to the bank on our way to the shuttle terminal where I was going to catch a shared taxi to Kermanshah.  Hussein, the taxi driver was so enthusiastic!  When he realized he had a German passenger he listed all the German cars (BMW. Mercedes, etc) in admiration; then he called his wife and I had to say hello to her even though she did not speak a word of English and my Farsi is non-existent.  He stopped his taxi next to another cab, rolled down his window and told the other taxi driver that he had a German inside.  This was funny!  I just had to shake my head.  When he got out of the taxi to accompany me to the bank I felt a bit strange, but thank goodness he was there.  This was an ordeal!  At the airport without a receipt or much ceremony I had been handed a bunch of money (remember, it was 120,000 short) and that’s what I expected again, without the shortage.  But no!  First, I had to go upstairs to the administrative offices where my passport was copied, my life’s history taken down – well, almost.  My name, mother and father’s name, where I was and where I was going.  Then I got a receipt to take downstairs.  There, I had to fill out my information again.  I protested since a copy of all of this could be obtained from upstairs.  So, a phone call was placed and I was exempt from filling out everything again.  But there were all kinds of papers and Hussein just filled them out for me.  God knows what he put down there in my name.  Finally, the clerk handed me all 20,000 bills.  When you get nearly a million of Iranian Rials, that pack is huge and did not fit into my purse.  To get bigger bills I had to change counters – well, you get the picture.  Each time they said something to me which I did not understand, but taxi driver Hussein took me by the hand and got me from one place to the next – the whole thing took nearly ½ hour.

Finally, we were on our way again.  Hussein did not seem to mind the delay.  In fact, he was beaming the whole time, still making phone calls of which I only could make out one word “Almani” (German).  I guess, I made his day.  The hotel had told me the taxi fare and I planned on giving him double for all of his trouble.  At the shuttle terminal he waited until I was in the next cab, and then waived to me like he was saying good bye to an old friend.  But before that, something interesting happened:  When it was time for me to pay him he said “no” – put his hand on his heart, shook his head and refused my money!  Thank goodness, I had read about this in the Lonely Planet – with all the little mistakes I have detected in that book, I can only state one thing – as far as cultural introduction and what to do, how, where, when, and so forth – Lonely Planet is top notch!  Refusing money or anything that is offered to you is a cultural thing!  It really looked like Hussein did not want any money from me for the hour he just spent with me.  But that, of course would be ridiculous.  He is underpaid as it is and he makes his living this way.  I offered again and he refused again.  Only after the third time – just like the Lonely Planet said – did he take the money.  If I had dared to accept his offer and walked away without pay, I would have violated a huge cultural law and really hurt him.  I had to allow him the gesture of hospitality and generosity and then I had to play my part and pay him.  This was a really strange experience.  Reading about it is one thing.  Actually acting it out, another.  Very interesting!

Between Hamadan and Kermanshah there is no bus service, so shuttle taxis go back and forth the 189 km.  We crossed the mountains and pretty much the whole way down were going on a road which was flanked by awesome and majestic mountain ranges.  Nobody in the taxi spoke English, so I pretty much dozed off for the 3 hours this ride took us.

In Kermanshah, I checked into a low class budget hotel again.  A run down place, but I have what I need.  It is time to get my own sheets out again.  J  It was only 4 in the afternoon, so I decided to check off the most important local sight tonight.  I do not intend to stay here any longer than necessary.  I want to get to a smaller and older place for comfort.  Kermanshah has nearly 800,000 inhabitants and its layout is confusing and without a center.  I am only here because of two main monuments:  Both of them cliff carvings; one in town, one 30 km north of town.

To get to the one in town before sunset, I got a taxi.  Half-way through, he ran out of gas!  In the middle of an intersection his car simply died.  What was he thinking?!  He must have been running on empty for quite a while if it was that empty.  He asked me to wait in order to get gas, but I thought that was unreasonable.  So, I paid him his fare anyways and got into another taxi that was waiting right there.  Things always happen for a reason.  Scheherezade made this guy run out of gas!  Because, if that bozo had not been running out of gas I would have never met Kover.

As I got into the next taxi, the driver looked at me and said:  “Welcome to my city”.  This is one of two things I hear in just about every store, office, bank, internet café and even on the street.  The other is a question:  “What do you think of Iran?”  Iranians know very well, how their country and their leader are viewed abroad.  As this is vastly unjust towards them, they try to make up for it by extending themselves in every possible way and they ask your opinion hoping to hear a positive answer.  Akbar – remember, I met him and his wife at the airport – has been calling just about every day to make sure I am OK.  Mah’sa, with whom I explored Hamadan yesterday, has been calling twice already to make sure I don’t need any help.  I am beginning to curse that phone, but so far, I am still able to handle it.    I really don’t need any help and I won’t get lost and I am OK.  I might just have to turn the phone off.

But back to my fourth taxi driver of the day.  Kover is young guy who has a degree in transport and engineering but can’t find a job.  Just like Mah’sa was telling me.  He had a few words of broken English to convey that much.  He got me to Taq-e-Bostan and offered to wait.  But I told him that would be way too much of his time since it would take me at least an hour.  He would be back after an hour, he said, and he was.  My heart goes out to these overqualified, intelligent young people who cannot do anything but drive a taxi.  Ali was like that in Aleppo.  But he liked being a taxi driver.  Kover hates it, but has no alternative.  Even though I had mapped it all out on how to get to Bisetun, the rock cut monument by bus, I instead arranged with Kover to drive me there tomorrow.  He needs the money.  I would much rather spend it on him than on a fancy hotel.  I charged him with finding any other historically significant thing in the area.  Let’s see what he comes up with.

Taq-e-Bostan was interesting.  Three cave-like openings were carved into a huge rock formation depicting Sassanian rulers in various activities.  These reliefs go back to the 4th and 5th Century.  A display of royal power, they were part of a palace garden that surrounded them.  I got there in good time as a German group of tourists were given a tour by a rather knowledgeable and articulate Iranian guide.   All in all this was great timing.

I have been battling a slight fever and an aching body for a couple of days.  I am getting to bed early, try to sleep 8-9 hours and try to get over it.  Baisjayaguru needs to swing into action.

There is a gas burner right outside my window which started to fire up about 15 minutes ago.  I can smell it…  I wonder if this is poisonous.  I guess either you or I will know in the morning.

Good night.