We arrive in Bandar-e Abbas just before sunrise. Prayers are being said by the faithful in the carpark and the mens' toilets are full of blokes scrubbing up before joining them. It's six o'clock in the morning, we've just stepped off a nightbus, I'm desperate for a piss, and it's rush hour in the toilet block. I hop about a bit. It is muggy warm, and a couple of large rats dance across the grass. There are men in shalwar-khameez, the bus station is being rebuilt while it is still being used, litter overflowing from the bins. Are we still in Iran? We get to the pier in the town centre and join a group of people in what looks like a home-made fibre-glass speedboat. The boatman, with African features, climbs in last, starts the motor, lights a cigarette and guns the boat out into the hazy fug of the Persian Gulf. Actually, our journey takes us across the opening of the gulf, past moored tankers sitting high in the fairly still waters. Now and again the boat slams against the wake of another speedboat - there is a lot of traffic to and from Qeshm island, our destination. We climb out onto a landing and walk into the small town, which is a tax-free zone. We try a couple of cheap hotels which are full, and then an expensive hotel which is also full. We ring another one. Full. At the point of giving up we spot a man with a suitcase coming out of an alleyway. We go down it and up an open staircase where we find a receptionist. We struggle with our phrasebook. We can ask for a room but have no idea of the reply. A guest appears, and she kindly translates for us. There is a room, with four beds, we'd have to pay for all of them. It is a shoebox with bunk beds. We say yes. The shared bathroom is clean, there's a kitchen and the cleaner brings us a flask of tea. We collapse. It is only 7.30am and we're knackered.
Our guidebook says " the village of Laft is the highlight of any trip to the island". This may be true. It also says that Laft is a "charming Persian Gulf village". I beg to differ. To get there we have taken a shared taxi to one town and then were feasted on by the taxi sharks, some of whom almost came to blows over the fresh kill, before negotiating a fare to get to Laft and back with a two hour wait. The driver gave us a hard time over the fare we agreed and the waiting time after we had set off, but eventually settled down. Laft is a sad little fishing village of mainly breeze-block houses with wind towers. Maybe we are too tired, maybe the taxi driver has worn us down, but we are disappointed. Very disappointed. Oh well. The landscape of Qeshm island is barren - sloping land rises up out of the desert, pushed upwards by pressure from below - the whole island looks like it emerged out of the sea - and there is not a hint of life. The most amazing thing about Laft is that it exists at all.
Back in the main town we are surrounded by Tehranis doing their duty-free shopping in the bazaar. It is busiest at night, when it is cooler, and the shops look very busy for such a remote place. There's a buzz in the air, and it's not just the flies. There are people selling fruit and spices and cigarettes on the pavements, greasy meaty smells wafting out of the sandwich shops, people weighed down with enormous bags of shopping, crowds pushing through the doorway of an ice-cream and juice shop. This is definitely a different side to Iran. We feel enlivened and energised again.