2010
03.31

SYNOPSIS: Update on Nicola.  First impressions of Kerman.   Meeting a Dutch couple over dinner and losing track of time.  After hours in Kerman  – not a good idea! 

I surrounded the Southern tip of the Zagros Mountains and turned to the middle of the country today.   I had originally thought I would fly at some point.  Flights in Iran are cheap and many inland destinations can be reached via plane.  But Nicola’s experience has damped my enthusiasm for this experiment.  By the way, as hoped, she and all her luggage made it home as scheduled.  Now she is recuperating from 24 hours in transit.   Aside from the uncertainties of the plane travel – delays are notorious – bus travel here is so convenient and so much more tangible that I think I will stick to it.  There are overnight buses, but I prefer the day buses.  I can actually see the landscape and get a feel for the country a lot better this way.  But perhaps, at some point I will try the train.

With the system of not mixing genders I often get my own double seat on the bus.  There are couples traveling and a lot of single men.  There are not many single women on the road.  According to Shariah (Islamic law) I will not be asked to sit next to a man I don’t know.  So, I get two seats for the price of one and can spread out.  I have my computer out, my camera, my notebook and I catch up sorting photos which is a never ending task, or write my blog.  The hours pass and I hardly notice.  This is desert area.  In the distance, on the way, I saw snow capped mountains, which means that we are high enough again for a relatively decent climate. But it is warm now.  The temperatures are definitely comparable to our summers, but mild comparatively speaking.  I was told that some desert spots around here reach 75 degrees Celsius.  I don’t even know what that is in Fahrenheit.  But it must be around 140-160 degrees.

I chose Kerman as my next destination in order to do several day trips from here.  It is a good hub even though it has not that much going for itself except for an old bazaar and a few museums which I will have to check out.  I wandered through town last night to get a feel for its layout.  There is one long-stretched out boulevard cutting through town along which many of the main businesses are located.  This makes the town somewhat inconvenient as things are not compactly centered.  I had to walk 2 km to the Internet Café…

I checked into a budget hotel near the bazaar.  Even though it is a bit run down, the room is big and I could live here.  But… the hotel staff does not speak English.  They could not comprehend as much as “Check out?” and me pointing to the watch or “How much?”  I had to give up or resort to more visual aids, hoping we would in the end come to a close enough understanding of what I was asking.  This was agony.   In a town where I need some help getting oriented with various safaris (the small buses that go anywhere once they fill), or hire an all day taxis, not to have English speaking staff at the hotel is detrimental.  Finally, the owner was on duty and he did speak some English.  But by then I had already made my decision to move.

I realize that there is some cultural arrogance involved for me to expect that people at the other end of the world speak English.  But English happens to be the most common international language and any business that wants to survive with foreign tourists needs to adapt at least in rudimentary ways.  For many tourists English is their second language, too.  It is almost the only way you can communicate across all these borders.  I checked around and found a different hotel in which the staff greeted me in fluent English and in which most other foreign tourists will also lodge since it is highly recommended by the traveler’s most trusted book, the Lonely Planet.  I will move tomorrow.  The hotel had a restaurant attached when I took in all those delicious smells I realize that I had not eaten all day, except for the two biscuits I got on the bus.

The big restaurant was empty, except for a young couple.  I almost left, when they invited me to join their table.  Ghazaleh, the wife, is Iranian by birth and has been in Holland since she was nine years old.  Bob, her husband is a lawyer who was born in Holland.  Both spoke flawless English.  They had ordered a “blind” dinner.  In other words, the cook in the kitchen cooked what he saw fit and Mohammed, our waiter brought out various courses as they were ready.  What a feast we had!  From a tasty spinach-based soup and bread, salad and some pickled vegetables, we moved to a delicious omelet.   We could have stopped there, but the cook was just warming up.  A plate of rice came out with a beef based stew.  I definitely was getting full at that point, but there came another bowl of cooked greens and beans to eat with the rice.  And I ate that, too.  On the side you always have yoghurt.  I was so full at the end of this meal but it was so, so good!  Everything had been prepared and cooked for us from scratch.

I finally had a good explanation for the food “limitations” when it comes to eating out.   The kind of a meal we had tonight is what Iranians cook and typically eat at home.  When they go out, they eat kebabs as they may not have a grill at home.  They also eat all the junk food outside their homes, like the burgers and pizzas you can get at every corner.  This means that as a visitor you really have to know where to get the good indigenous food or you find yourself limited to kebabs and fast foods.  I have been lucky so far.  With that restaurant at my new location, I will enjoy a few days of delicious Iranian home cooking.  Perhaps, I can even get some of the ingredients for Joe and Celibeth and the other cooks out there.  From Bob and Ghazaleh I also got a lot of good tips on what to do and where to go at my next destination:  Yazd.  It is great to have these exchanges and these recommendations first hand.  It was also wonderful that I did not have to eat alone.    You can much better enjoy a feast like this in good company.

When I left that restaurant I had about 3-4 km to walk to my hotel.  No problem, I thought.  I needed the walk.  Had I been in Shiraz or Esfahan I would have hardly thought about this.  But as I started to walk I realized that this town was different.  Just a couple of hours earlier, the streets were full of life.  In fact, the town was crowded with cheering and celebrating young guys whose Kerman football team had just beat another town.  Football is really big in this country; soccer that is, for the Americans.  I am always embarrassed when they list German football teams and names of famous players for me and I have no clue.  I would have no clue even if I still lived in Germany.  Sports are just not my thing.

At this hour, there was absolutely nobody walking around anymore.  All stores were closed.  For about 5 minutes I stood at the sidewalk.  Not a single taxi drove by!  I continued to walk.  Now I had cars pulling up with single guys in them rolling down their windows and calling something out to me.  Or they were just driving slowly along next to me.  Did they offer me a ride?  Did they think I was walking the streets?  Did they just do the usual “where are you from” thing?  Where they trying to sell me drugs?  One guy gestured me to follow him into a dark alley!  Bloody hell!  What to do?  This was no longer comfortable.  I waved these guys away and yelled at one of them who would not stop following me.  He finally took off.  I realized that I’d better get off the street as fast as I could.

After 15 minutes, in the distance, I finally saw a couple walking.  Where there is a woman, there is some hope, I thought.  So I rushed after them asking where I could find a taxi.  No taxi, they indicated.  I had to call one.  No phone, no Farsi, I indicated.  Ok, follow us, they said.  All of this really not in so many words.  But I knew we were communicating.  I had my hotel card in hand and the word taxi is thankfully a very international one.  They took me down a dark alley but I felt OK with that.  Around a corner we went and into a small hut where three guys were sitting around – taxi, they gestured!  These were taxi drivers?  Not really, but they were guys with a car trying to make an extra penny.

Well, I had enough witnesses to trace my whereabouts and so I went with one of the guys to an unmarked car.  If it hadn’t been for the woman who was part of this, I would have thought this is the biggest set up to get me mugged, murdered, who knows what.  But wouldn’t you know?  The guy drove me home safely to my hotel which was way off the main road.  Since even the main road had turned into a road for weird single men driving around in their cars I don’t want to imagine what was going on in the side streets… How bizarre.

Mind you – I had not been in any real danger by any American or European standards.  I most likely would have gotten home just fine if I had kept ignoring these guys following me.  I was just uncomfortable.  It was midnight when I got to my hotel.  I had lost track of time at that wonderful dinner.  It is very unusual for me to be out at night at all and even more unusual for it to be so late.  It had happened last night, but I was with three good people and there was life on the street at that hour in Shiraz and I was only ½ block from my hotel.  Today, I was 4 km away from home and alone.  I promised myself this was the last time I would be so careless.

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. Hi Elisabeth,

    We really enjoyed our dinner with you and hope you had a nice time in Iran. We have been reading your blog regularly and it seems to us as if you have made a really amazing trip. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. You definitely gave us some inspiration for places to visit for our next trip to Iran.

    We really hope that you will have another chance to see Persepolis/tachte jamshid without the “ants” there. We found it a truly spiritual experience, having such an old and well preserved place all to ourselves, and were a bit shocked by the photos on you blog.

    We’re so sorry that we didn’t walk you home that night after dinner and are really glad you made it to your hotel safe and well. We normally find Iran a relatively safe place to travel. After reading your post we realized that there is a bit of a dark side to Kerman that we have not witnessed before in any other Iranian city.

    Anyways, thanks for a lovely dinner. It was really nice meeting you. Please let us know when you are in Holland.

    Bob&Ghazaleh

  2. Can you imagine any restaurant in the States offering a “Blind dinner”? What a delight to experience the real cuisine of the area. We had a guest from Korea that thought he had to eat and like hamburgers when he came to the U.S. for he thought that was all we ate.

    This was a scary walk home. Thank goodness for the angels who came to your rescue.(The couple who led you to the hut and the driver who brought you home)