Saturday, March 1, 2008

South by South-East

The mud brick of Yazd has a strange soothing and apathetic effect on us. We find we cannot move on. We are unsure what to do for the Iranian holiday of No Ruz (New Year) which lasts for ten to fourteen days from the 18th March. We ask Reza, the owner of our hotel, and he suggests that we stay and help out in return for accomodation. It seems like such a good offer, and he seems like a very relaxed guy, that we say yes. So, knowing that we will be back soon, we head off for a circuit through the south of Iran, beginning with Kerman.

When we asked another traveller what Kerman was like they told us it was nothing more than two roundabouts. This seems a little unfair. There are three roundabouts. It is another desert city - the last big town before the border with Pakistan. It is here we say goodbye to James again, who is making the border crossing with Marthein, a seemingly sane Dutchman. The crossing has a small risk of kidnap - this is drug-smuggling country and when the government has made a big seizure in the past, tourists have sometimes been kidnapped in return for a ransom. The famous city of Bam is not far away, but since the big earthquake 4 years ago there seems little point in visiting. It had a huge adobe citadel, which has all but collapsed to rubble. We opt instead to visit Rayen, where there is a similar smaller citadel. The castle walls have been extensively restored with fresh mud and inside some of the larger buildings are almost nice enough to live in, but for the main part it is a jumble of ruined houses and broken archways. In the distance, across the desert, are mountains still with snow.
Another day takes us to Mahan to visit a mausoleum of a sufi mystic. We might be in danger of overloading on tiled domes and minarets, but in this sand dun-coloured region, the decorated buildings look really impressive. Again, lots of people say hello, and some even want to take our photo, bless 'em. We take photos of each other. It feels like we are minor celebs, and it can be quite tiring if you walk down a busy street at night - you never get a chance to finish your sentence (although this is a trait I may have had for some...........

Back in Kerman an old man catches us on the street who speaks good English. He doesn't let us get a word in and asks us back to his house for tea. We hesitate and look at each other and then say yes. This is the first time we get an invitation back to someone's house and I am eager. This is a mistake. Ali turns out to be a taxi driver (alarm bells) who introduces us to his wife and son, neither of whom bother to look at us (alarm bells) and then persists in asking a lot of unanswerable questions in a relentless monotone. It is quite clear he is mad. He produces a translation of the Quran and asks for clarification on certain words (e.g. submit). We sit in their lounge and drink tea and the conversation turns to age. We are invited to guess his and his wife's age. He has two teeth and white cropped hair. She has a face like cold tripe. We guess incorrectly by about 15 years. The wife does not look best pleased, and even less so when we are asked about our religion and reply that we have none. Their daughter joins in the conversation. We are asked for gifts for their children which we don't have and when, eventually and thankfully, it is suggested we leave we are asked to pay for the lift back to where we met. We decline and Ali takes us back to town. We are dazed and relieved and angry. A young man says hello etc. and a bit later we see him again. His English is not very good but he says he would like us to come to his house. We don't even look at each other. Naaa, mamnun! No thank you!!!

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