(20) Garmeh, Iran: Desert storm

Tom and I had a late start in Yazd, but eventually made it to the bus station (curious: Iran’s bus stations are always way outside of town – why?) and onto a bus to Na’in on our way to Garmeh. I had bought a watermelon the day before with the intention to eat it all for lunch, but was still lugging it around and ate a quarter of it before we left. The extra weight now seems like a bit of a mistake…carrying around 3/4 of a watermelon is a pain.

The ride to Na’in was uneventful, passing through fairly desolate landscape, until we didn’t seem to stop in Na’in. Tom and I gave each other questioning looks before he brought our ticket up to the driver’s assistant. Some frantic and annoyed Farsi ensued (a la “oh shit we forgot about the tourists”) between him and the driver before the bus pulled over, backed up about 100m, pulled a u-ey, drove two roundabouts back and dropped us at the side of the road. (Aside: how do you spell u-ey? I’ve only said it, never had to write it before.)

We were expecting a bus to come through to where we were going at about 4pm. It was just after 3pm. For all we knew the schedule had changed, or no buses were coming through – it was Friday afterall (the equivalent of Canadian Sunday). But, as luck would have it, we were only there for about 10 minutes before a car pulled over, asked if we were tourists, where we were going, and offered a ride. Well, the car itself didn’t ask, the two men inside did. And we accepted.

The two men were professors at a university in Tabas, the next city after our destination. The passenger was a professor of geology, and he was keen to share the geological history of the area with us (which I actually quite enjoyed). Overall a very enthusiastic talkative guy.

He translated one of his favourite Arabic songs for us, and then played it again. He asks us for our opinion. I leave this one to Tom. “It’s quite catchy,” he shares noncommittally.

At one point they decided to pull over to allow us to take a photo, of what I can’t remember now. Because when we stopped, I pointed out a huge billowing sand cloud in the distance, maybe 5km away. A sand storm. Definitely a new experience for me. We took tonnes of photos, the geology professor took some video,  and I gained appreciation for storm chasers. I watched the sand cloud pass down the side of a mountain, and could tell it was moving at quite a speed, in our direction.

“Is it dangerous?” I ask.

“No, no, not dangerous,” says the geology professor.

So we continued to take pictures – with the professors, of the sand storm, of the camel signs on the highway, of a combination of the above. And then, when the cloud seemed to be about 1km away, the geology professor seems to chang his mind.

“OK, we go. Maybe dangerous.”

So we hopped back in the car and within a few minutes we reached our destination, but were overcome by the sandstorm. At first it was just very windy with a bit of dust. The geology professor was concerned for us and tried to convince us to continue on to Tabas, their destination. Tom and I tried to explain that we had a reservation, someone picking us up, someone waiting for us, a friend was meeting us, anything for them to stop the car.

But soon enough, luck would have it that the sand storm became so bad the sky was dark, headlights were useless, and driving any further was even more dangerous than staying. We found refuge in a mosque and waited out the storm.

The worst of it was short, only 10 minutes or so before it was safe to drive again, but was it ever fun.

Our final destination, a traditional house in the oasis village of Garmeh, was a short taxi ride away. The driver had a husky, cackly voice and unknowingly entertained us by his enthusiastic mobile phone conversations. Tom and I both had never seen landscapes like this before, and thoroughly enjoyed the scenery both on this final leg and all the way from Na’in in general. It turns out that desert oases really do look like they do in the movies and cartoons. A blob of palm trees in the middle of nowhere.

Our home for the next two nights was a restored old mud brick home called Ishetoni. Its village, Garmeh, is home to a few hundred people, is backed by some high rocky outcrops, is full of palm trees, sunflowers, pomegranate bushes, birds and butterflies, and is surrounded otherwise by flat, dry nothingness.

While the scenery is unique, the food is lovely and the home is welcoming, the temperature is a bit of an issue at this time of year. Our full day here it got to about 46 degrees, and at night it only went down to 32, which apparently I have trouble sleeping in. The first morning I felt I had already been awake for a few hours when I gave up all hope for sleep at 5 am and took a walk in behind the village and sat up on the rocks for a while as the sun rose. Not my usual daytime routine, but probably the best option considering the temperature as the sun gets higher; I was back for breakfast at 8am and was able to nap on and off until 11am. Watermelon was offered as a late morning snack, and lunch shortly followed. Other than short walks, we (including a young couple from Portugal staying here) each spent the rest of the morning just reading and generally laying around the living area in the path of the cooling fan. I compare it to a modern day version of being fed grapes and being fanned by servant boys.

In the afternoon, the four of us shared a taxi tour to a “salt lake” which turned out to be more of a salt trench. While still beautiful, it was a bit disappointing considering the images the word “lake” conjures up. We should have been more realistic considering the temperature and the season, but seeing as we were sightseeing in the heat of the late afternoon, we were really hoping for something good.

When we got back to the village, Tom and I got some nonalcoholic beers and went for a walk around the village and surrounding palm-treed plots, taking advantage of the (moderately) non-hot wind that had picked up. It was so quiet. I do well with silence.

The next morning, ideas of an early walk were replaced by welcome sleep. We had planned to leave before noon, but ended up staying for lunch, and leaving in the early afternoon with hopes of catching a random ride back to Na’in and then a bus to our separate destinations (Tom to Kashan, I back to Tehran).

As luck would have it, Tom only had time to buy a drink while I successfully flagged down a transport truck to Na’in. Our host in Garmeh had said that trucks travel fast on the road, but we calculated (both by timing the road signs and the markers on the road) that we were only travelling about 80 km/h. For 3 hours. Cramped. In the front of a hot, old, Mercedes transport truck. If nothing else it was an experience. I kept track of the beats playing on the iPod and found that the driver was looking at me at least half of the time. I was glad to be travelling with a male partner. Definitely would not have attempted this alone.

By the time we got to Na’in, it was clear that I wasn’t going to make it to Tehran in good time, so I joined Tom in Kashan for one more time as unmarried twin room sharing opposite sex travel partners, and let Somayeh know I would be back in Tehran in the early afternoon.

But the next morning, for real this time, was the end for Tom and me as travel partners. After breakfast I caught a taxi to the bus station, and Tom wandered off to explore Kashan. I’m jealous of the time he still has to spend in Iran, and his potential plans to come back in February.

Thanks for all the comfortable silences.

(5) Split to Vela Luka, Croatia: Hitchhiking gone bad

Oh dear, what a day. I had hoped to get Dubrovnik today, which would have been easy if I had just taken the bus, but I really wanted to get out on a ferry and see the islands and coast from the water.

There used to be a ferry that travelled from Split to Dubrovnik, but the ferry company was having some financial difficulties earlier this year, so no go.

This should have been easy to do, if the first ferry left in the morning. I could then catch a bus on my destination island to the other side, and then a passenger ferry and another bus to Dubrovnik, but it was not to be. The ferry didn’t leave until 2:30pm (which ended up being a catamaran in which you wouldn’t be outside during sail, which was the whole point of me taking it!!), and when I arrived on the island, it turned out today was a holiday (Labour Day) and there were no buses to the other side of the island (40km away).

I was in the same boat (literally and figuratively, pun totally intended) as two travellers from Boston. Chelsea and Bryan (?) were on a year long trip, and were camping as much as they could. We three thought it would be smart to hitchhike to the other side. I mean, who wouldn’t want to pick up 3 backpackers with huge packs? Well, as it turns out, no one does. We had walked about 5km before we sensed this impending doom. The only car that had even slowed down for us turned out to be a car full of nuns. They gave us a little honk.

After 5km we had reached the turnoff to the next town, of which we didn’t know the accommodation situation, or the bus stop situation, plus Chelsea and Bryan wanted to camp by the beach, and this town was not on one. So we parted ways. I successfully hitched back alone to Vela Luka, where the ferry had originally dropped us off. I found a sobe (like casa particulares in Cuba; homestays) and had a fabulous mussel risotto dinner by the ocean before hitting my hot shower and comfortable bed. I suspect Chelsea and Bryan, who had continued on when I turned back, had a different end to their day. I hope they got to where they were going.