Nesfe Jahan, pt 53

18 November 2010

Kashan. A medium city between Tehran and Esfehan, smack next to the Maranjab desert. The first place in Iran I don’t manage to find a host on hospitality exchange, even though I asked 24 hours before. But I manage to haggle the hotel for forty percent. Somehow, my dirty backpack and clothes are quite convincing. The city itself is mildly interesting. The hamman in the bazaar has tiny basins to wash, there is only one designated place to submerge yourself in. Dry town, water is very precious. Did anyone of you read the novel Dune? The only places where water flows abundantly is the palatial houses and the royal gardens. But I’m not here for that. I’m here for the desert.

Concerned family members might want to skip the next paragraph, until the first picture.

My preparations are a mixed bunch. I carry 9 liters of water, and food for 4 days. Clothes that have proved themselves in -25. But my maps are atrocious. Well, there are no good maps of nature in Iran. I must confess, my “maps” are a bunch of pictures taken from google maps. Covering ten thousand square kilometers. The only landmark that’s not huge is a tiny caravansary smack in the middle. My first destination. I take a taxi until the edge, and then start hitching. Two trucks later I’m staring at a huge military base. And a stop sign, with only Farsi underneath it. I stop, and look anxious at the guard. He waves me on. But I’m not so sure. I walk up to him, but I only manage to ask him where the sand is, and he continues to wave me on. I call an Iranian friend to translate. “He says their is no problem. The sign just says that if they motion for a vehicle to stop, it would be wise for that vehicle to stop. He’s also asking where the hell your car is”. I walk on, but i keep my head turned at all times, checking if they motion for me to stop. About half a kilometer down the line, I face my first hurdle. A branch in the road. I didn’t count on that. The road to the left has a small sign, incomprehensible to me. The other one just goes straight. Probably the right one, even though it leads a bit out of the way. Probably. I sit down. I have all the time in the world. But lo and behold! After ten minutes, I see a dust cloud rapidly growing in size. And of course they take me, right to the caravansary. Goal number one, check.

Welcome back, concerned family. The caravansary is small, and build right next to a spring. About five trees provide some shade when the sun is high. I thought it would be opened as a hotel, but it’s not. Ah well, I’m prepared for that. I hike two hours to get to the edge of a giant, dried out salt lake. There are about three things to see here. A huge field of dried up earth, shaped as polygons. A huge field of salt that has the shape of big earthworms. And a huge field salt balls, in average six centimeters in diameter. My sightseeing takes about 5 minutes. It’s so quiet I can hear my ears hallucinate some sound, so I wouldn’t go crazy. I pitch my tent. I eat. I’m bored. I wish I took a chair. Still three hours until sunset. Damn. Suddenly, I hear a very loud rumbling from far away. A slight panic. A sand storm? A salt storm? I have no idea, but the only thing I can do is to secure my tent for the worst, and wait. The sunset is disappointing, because their are barely any clouds. Night falls, and the stars are disappointing. The moon is waxing, and it’s so bright here it obscures the smaller stars. I notice two camp fires, far away. The Tehran liberal society. Casual sex department. I start walking towards one of them, but I realize quickly they’re too far. I would never be able to find my tent again, depending only on my Chinese made compass. And I’m too lazy to pack everything. I really wish they weren’t there, I was prepared to sleep alone here. But now, it’s just very very empty. I figure out where the rumbling comes from. It’s the airplanes departing from Tehran, pretty close to the ground. I can see the light of the plane very clear against the black sky. The rumbling is audible far away from them, sound travels slowly. The lack of buildings or plants to muffle the engines make the rumbling so loud. I notice the expiry date on the empty can of food is 89. I really hope it’s the Iranian calendar, even though I have no clue what they year is in Iran. Can’t be fixed now anyway. I have nothing left to do, so I go to bed.

At the end of the day, we drive to another village called Niasr, wholly unremarkable tourist attractions. We camp out in the park. Another great thing of Iran: it’s fully legal to camp inside parks, even in the city centre. Some cities even have special facilities for this. Even in this small town, toilets are open and lighted all night, and their is no vandalism. Iranians are full of respect, sometimes annoyingly so. The next day we visit a traditional house in Kashan, one where I have already been to. But this time, a first in Iran, I’m mobbed by a group of twenty schoolgirls. They all stand around me, taking pictures of the strange tourist with his yellow beard and blue eyes. I make a boo boo when I take one picture of them. They quickly point out that that’s not OK. Aha. The next day I take the early bus to Esfehan. An important place.

As a final remark, a proof that culture influences language. In Farsi, their are two words for desert. Kavir means sand desert, while biaban means dry, desolate place. In English, we have jungle, for subtropical forest, and forest. But Farsi has only one, translated by most dictionaries as jungle. About 2 weeks ago, I took a 3 hour bus ride to the jungle, to arrive in a forest. Tricky stuff.