(23) Mary, Turkmenistan: The Art of Coincidence

The trip to Mary started early. Had to be ready for pickup at 5am to catch. The German girl I was joining, Julica, was staying at a different hotel and we went to pick her up next. The main roads to her hotel were closed off by more of the same police that populate every street corner it seems. I’m told it’s because the President is in one of the buildings (at 5:15am is he sleeping or working?).

Turns out Julica didn’t set her alarm, and we set off for the airport a bit later than expected. I’ll admit she got ready quick, but she still found time to put her makeup on. I barely understand the effort people expend to put on daily makeup in Canada, let alone while travelling in Central Asia, but I suppose everyone carries some comforts with them.

The domestic Turkmenistan flights seem to pooh-pooh international flight regulations. Namely, I could bring my water bottle with me! I’m sure I went through security of some sort, but the amount of seat shifting that took place leads me to believe that the passenger side of things is pretty lax. As long as the pilots and mechanics run a tight ship, I don’t mind. The 45min flight saved us 6 hours driving, served breakfast, and only cost $18.

Our first stop after touchdown was Merv, a old expansive something-or-other, now just ruins. I’m sure it would have been of greater interest to history buffs, but if it ain’t pretty, it’s a bore to me. I can guarantee about every ancient site I see in Iran and Central Asia will probably have been pillaged by either/both Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC or Gengis Khan in the 1200s. One interesting thing was that at one site a Buddha head had been found, and it is thought that this is the most easterly evidence of the expansion of Buddhism.

I did lots of head nodding and made lots of “mm hmm” noises as the guide gave us his script. I could tell Julica was feeling the same. We both asked a requisite number of questions, but soon it was getting hot, and we just wanted to get out of the sun.

We headed to the hotel, which is apparently the nicest in town and popular with Iranian truck drivers (and therefore Russian prostitutes). I suppose I’m painting a pretty grimy picture, but in actually the rooms were incredibly expansive and clean. And really, clean is all I ask. I went to lunch with Maksad, the guide, and Julica picked up some things from a mini mart to eat in her room.

Maksad is 28 but looks older. He blames his military service. I blame the smoking. I thought at first he was Russian, but he’s actually from a Turkmen tribe in the southwest of the country, one of five in Turkmenistan. He has left Turkmenistan twice. Once for 18 months of military service in Pakistan. Another time he was chosen as one of two cadets and two officers to represent Turkmenistan at the 200th birthday of West Point Military Academy in the US.

We eat lunch in a booth of a dark, smoky, air-conditioned pub beside the hotel. It’s still early so options are limited. I have a large bottle of Coke and a minced beef and onion pastry thing. I never drink Coca Cola in Canada, but it’s a godsend when travelling for me. Anytime my meal is too greasy or none-too-appetizing, Coke makes it (almost) all better.

We all rest during the afternoon in our rooms, and meet later to visit one of the major sites of Mary town – the big museum. There are rooms dedicated to the area’s archeology, ethnography, ecology, contemporary artists, and of course, a room dedicated to photos of the exploits of the president. The president playing sports. The president with a dental patient (don’t worry, he is a dentist by profession). The president cooking outside a yurt. The president on a horse. The president shaking hands with various heads of state. Most of the images are (badly) photoshopped. It’s all highly amusing.

While the country contains many gold statues of the former president (self-named Turkmenbashi), all of the enormous posters hanging outside of buildings and inside buildings are of the new president. Why? “Because the people want it,” they say. By ‘they’ I mean the presidents. I suppose one of the white marble government ministry buildings back in Ashgabat is the Ministry of Making Posters of the President Doing Honourable Things in the Name of Nation Building for Display in Prominent and All Other Locations.

The ecology room is also entertaining. Satisfactorily stuffed animals with unreal eyes set up in overly dramatic scenes.

My favourite room is the contemporary art room. Sculpture, painting, prints. In one corner two paintings catch my eye, and I make a note of the name to look up on the internet at a later time. Or maybe I can buy a print of one of them in the gift shop. Julica has a few favourites of her own. Pomegranates are a common feature in the art. We’re told it’s because pomegranates are used to symbolize women. Women’s lives are like pomegranates – sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter.

Julica and I were both interested in checking out artist studio spaces in Mary. There was one listed in the Lonely Planet, and a contact of Julica also suggested a place to visit. After some reluctant phone calls made by Maksad, we found one of them. It was a nondescript old building. We entered with hesitation. Inside was just a long hallway; all the doors were closed. Maksad knocks on the first one. An older man opens the door, and inside is his studio. The paintings automatically look familiar and lovely to me.

He was the artist that I made the note of in the museum.

An amazing coincidence. I see prices on a few of the paintings, and automatically know that I’m going to buy something.

The artist doesn’t speak any English, but through Maksad we learn of some exhibitions his paintings have been featured in around Central Asia and Europe. One painting catches my eye and I make an inquiry on the price. $120. I only have Euros with me, and ask if he will take Euros. I calculate that I should pay about 100 Euros, but he counters the offer with a price of 80 Euros. I don’t think this is the way bargaining is supposed to work, but I’m not complaining.

The painting is entitled “Summer”. To be honest I don’t recognize much of what is in the painting. I see some birds and some trees. It’s pretty abstract, but I love the colours and am attracted to the piece. It’s part of a series of four – one for each season. The “Winter” piece is still on his easel. It turns out he just completed Summer the day before, so parts of it are still wet.  I feel bad for breaking up the seasons, but am looking forward to hanging it in my home.

Once the other artists know that we are in the building, other doors open, and we tour other studios. Nothing appeals like Gurbamov’s work. We soon leave.

The original plan from here was to just to go to dinner, but Julica insists that we find somewhere in the town that local people are. Julica and I have similar interests in our travels, so it’s nice to have her along. She’s a bit more demanding and insistent than I am, and I really appreciate it.

Maksad suggests we stop at Lenin Park, a large park near a river with a few restaurants and rides. The park was full with people enjoying a cultural concert that finished just as we entered. Other people were getting on the rides. Others still were just sitting on benches, talking and people watching.

Turkmen women dress so beautifully. The standard outfit is a long, richly coloured, figure-hugging floral dress with a white lace pattern around the neck. Many of them also wear scarves, but they are wrapped around their hair, rather than the face.

I decide to try out the ferris wheel, and Maksad comes along. It costs 25 cents, and affords a lovely view of Mary and the park. We continue through the park and also try out a small roller coaster. It’s a small circular track with rolling hills. The cars are powered by a motor in the middle of the circle. We have to ride back and forth a few times to get the momentum to get over the first hill. But once we got going, it was actually pretty fun, even a bit scary.

We walked to our dinner spot, passing by golden statues of the former president, and old soviet block style apartment buildings with dozens of oversized satellite dishes littering the outer walls and the roof.

And then was dinner. With vodka. Or maybe you could say we had vodka with a bit of food on the side. Vodka is generally had with meat as a snack. The first shot was incredibly smooth. Four shots later we had done dinner, and I was done like dinner. They were my first shots of hard alchohol in a long, long time. Julica and I treat Maksad for the spread.

During dinner we watched a Russian prostitute try her thing across the street. Compared to the Turkmen women, Russian women here generally dressed very provocatively, and it’s hard to tell the difference between a working woman and not.

I have to say that I may be experiencing a culture shock for the first time here. On any other trip that I’ve done, I usually just slip in and out of the culture. I go with the flow when I arrive in a new country, and when I get back home I slide back into my comfortable life, perhaps with a new perspective on life and material things, but no shock.

Here though, having moved from Iran to Turkmenistan, I feel strange. I feel naked and exposed without my headscarf, like everyone is looking at me. I keep trying to pull down the back of my shirt to cover my butt. I’m shocked and disgusted with the short, low-cut dresses and blatant sexuality that abounds. I can’t imagine what it would be for someone who grew up in Iran. No wonder Iranian men can only get visas here if their wives come along.

Back at the hotel after dinner, we go to the hotel bar for more drinks. Maksad didn’t feel comfortable with us paying for dinner so now it’s payback in the form of more drinks. More vodka, with apricot juice chaser. We have fun watching the Iranian truck drivers attempting to make moves on the local working women. There are way more men than women – do the woman do two rounds? They must, and the men must be used to how it works here. I see three men leave with three women. They are back within 10 minutes. Other men, who have been quiet until now, finally get up on the dance floor and start doing their mating rituals to attract the females. It’s all very entertaining. Maksad reads Julica and I well and the next round is a pot of tea.

The next morning we have a surprisingly decent breakfast, served by a woman doing double duty after last night. She was wearing a very ironic graphic t-shirt, based on how she makes her income, but I forget what it said. Breakfast is usually bread with honey or jam, possibly a hard boiled egg, and maybe some sliced tomatoe and cucumber. Here it’s an egg scramble with fried tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers. Mm!

We stop back by Gurbamov’s studio to pick up a receipt/certificate, so that I won’t have any problems taking it out of the country. Julica decides to buy a painting too, bargains a little, and pays 10 Euro less than me. She asks me later why I didn’t bargain, and I tell her I don’t usually bargain with artists themselves, as usually I find art is generally underpriced as it is.

We stop by another artist studio space, and the artist of one of Julica’s favourite paintings from the museum is there. She shows him the pictures she took of his painting in the museum, and as she flips to the next photo, a painting of another artist comes up.

“Ayni!” he yells upstairs.

Turns out the other artist also works out of this space, and they happen to be partners.

We head upstairs to the woman’s studio, and she is the artist from the museum who liked to use pomegranates. My eyes fall on one particular painting. Julica is entranced as well. We enquire about prices, and she laughs uncomfortably. She throws out random, high numbers. It’s obvious she doesn’t want to sell. She mentions that she has an exhibition in the fall of next year, and she wants her work to become more well known before then. Her paintings sitting in our homes won’t do much for her. Julica and I both make note of the titles of the works we like, and seriously consider buying them in the future.

Back on the road, I begin to feel vaguely ill. I don’t share in lunch with the others. Six shots of vodka the night previous will do that to me.

On the six hourmdrive back, the road is sparse and dry. The roads are OK, but nothing compared to quality of Iran’s. We stop at two archeological sites, but I’m not really for this kind of stuff. Neither is Julica really, but we oblige our guide. One of the sites was midly interesting as it was an old mosque destroyed in the large 1948 earthquake. Luckily, extensive pictures had been taken by a researcher in 1947. It was interesting to see the comparisons of past to present. The devastation was remarkable.

All in all, Mary was a worthy sidetrip, but not for the standard itinerary. Instead, the value was in what we did above and beyond the usual. Like I expected, archeology – meh; but people, art, and rollercoasters – unexpected yes.

(19) Yazd, Iran: Water wells and bathhouse dinners

Tom and I travelled during the hottest part of the day to Yazd, enjoying a bit of air conditioning, some naps, and intermittent views of dramatic mountain ranges from the flatness of a dry desert valley. Upon arriving, we met a taxi driver who took out a brochure for the guesthouse we were planning on staying at anyways – it’s a well touristed spot.

When we walked through the doors into the courtyard of the guesthouse, we each saw something we hadn’t yet seen in Iran. Tourists. It was odd to have spent the last five days in a quiet hum, and all of a sudden hear English spoken, people gathered around a table, Euro Cup on TV. We wondered – should we talk to them? How does one go about approaching tourists.

We put our bags in our room, and went out to the tables. We met a young Iranian couple there celebrating the girls birthday. I wasn’t sure if they were staying there, or just there to meet and talk to tourists. We tried to work it out, but I think it was a bit illicit for them to be there alone, so they weren’t too keen on specifics. She was visiting from Tehran, he was from Yazd. They hoped to get married after they were done university. He had brought a cake, which they shared with the other guests, and he also had sparklers which he spread around and we sang Happy Birthday.

And then, a Canadian and a Dutch guy sat across from us. It took about 10 seconds before I regretted the whole talking to tourists thing. The Canadian was of the “I-have-had-so-many-experiences-with-the-locals-I-almost-am-one-of-them-which-is-why-I-am-cool-and-like-to-talk-a-lot-and-not-find-out-anything-about-you” variety. The Dutch guy was of the “I-think-that-I-have-a-sense-of-humour-so-why-aren’t-people-laughing” variety.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Tom and I were both trying to figure out ways to extricate ourselves. I asked, “Do you know anywhere good for dinner around here?” at which point the Canadian exclaimed how hungry he was. I think if Tom had known me better he would have kicked me under the table. As it was I was kicking myself hard enough.

Instead I made some sort of comment about getting sorted in our room before we go to eat, at which point Tom and I get ourselves the hell out of there and fall into laughter behind closed doors. We decided not to mingle with the tourists anymore.

Instead we ventured through town, hoping to eventually find a restaurant that sits in a former bathhouse. It was a maze of streets, no signs, and a bit of luck, but we made it. It was seriously like an underground shallow swimming pool. Blue tiles. Humid. Some water, but lots of tables. Great food. Possibly the best non-homecooked meal in Iran. Mainly because it wasn’t kabab. But it was also just good. I introduced Tom to dizi and the small metal plunger. I had rice with a sauce of pomegranates, walnuts and chicken. Mm!

Yazd is known for having a picturesque old town, in which our guesthouse was located, and for adapting well to the desert. The buildings have towers that are designed to somehow circulate air around them. And the water sources are nothing short of amazing. Outside of town, you will find piles of dirt everywhere. It looks like abandoned construction. Or just a mess really. But these actually hide large networks of underground water tunnels. Within the town you will randomly find stairways that seem to go down darkly to the reaches of hell, but instead take you to the water sources. People go down with buckets to fetch. It’s actually the opposite of hell. Cool air and lots of water.

A lot of places actually have deep down caverns, even if water isn’t drawn from them. Going down one level probably drops the temperature at least 10 degrees. Two levels, 20 degrees. Which takes you to standard North American room temperature. It’s so hot here. I’m really getting tired of my inner elbows sweating.

The next morning we went on a walk of the old city. There were a few things we wanted to find, but other than trying to find a way up to get a view of the city from above, the narrow lanes were the main draw. We found an old school that was referred to as a prison which was actually just a series of shops so basically you were just paying to get into a place to be sold stuff but there was a second level down below which sold drinks and things so we were able to cool down for a little while. <end run on sentence>. We also enjoyed a helpful tourist information centre, some lovely old Islamic buildings, and yes, we even found (with the help of some construction workers) a stairway behind a closed door which took us up to open air views of the old city from above. At one point a lovely young woman stops to talk to us, asking what our “idea of Iran” is. She is hoping to study to be a tour guide, and she asks if she speaks English well enough to be understood. She is great. I’ve noticed this over and over again in Iran. People that speak English, however basic, do it with very little accent at all. Just as Farsi is lovely to listen to, so is Iranians speaking English.

We also found a water museum, which is where we learned all about the construction of the water system (it involves lots of small men moving through lots of small tunnels) and where we once again enjoyed a deep, cool, cavern.

After an afternoon siesta, our search turned to food. We walked a long way, finding nothing, barely even kebabs. For some masochistic reason, Tom always waited until I was too hungry to go any further to turn around, even if he was starving. Something to do with army experience, he said. If he was ever tired, or sore, or hungry in the army, he always found relief in knowing that someone had it worse. Which is why he never gave up looking for a restaurant. And considering I’m pretty stubborn, this often led to two hungry people wandering the streets. This night, however, Tom gave up first. We skulked to the guesthouse for dinner, back where we started our search. The food was another hit like the night before. I’m hungry just thinking about it. We never should have bothered going out, though I suppose we got to see Yazd by night.

And that was Yazd.

(18) Shiraz, Iran: Plans out the window

Tom decided to join me on a route to Shiraz through the mountains. Rather than going directly by bus, we were going to try to make in through a little used mountain route by a series of buses and taxis. I found out later that Tom didn’t think we’d actually make it in a day.

The first bus was easy, taking us to main town north of the route we hoped to take. It left pretty much right after we arrived. No time wasted.

When we got to Shahr-e-Kord, it got a bit complicated, especially with all the help people wanted to give us. People were convinced it was not possible to go where we wanted, or there was no bus, or did we want to speak to his mobile to his brother that speaks English?, or we should go back to Esfahan and catch a bus from there, or there was a bus in the late afternoon. We opted for a bus to the next town along the way.

The next bus had friendly and inquisitive people. As we didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers, Tom and I pretended we were married, but no, unfortunately we didn’t have any children. They wanted to know where we were going, but because of all the hassle at the last town, we told them that we were just heading up for the day for a picnic. This satisfied them. They kept repeating a word over and over again, and we had no idea what it meant. Turns out there’s a fort that’s a popular picnic spot, on the other side of town. Which meant it got a bit awkward when we asked to get dropped off in the town, instead of staying on with everyone else on the way to the fort. We found the easiest way to muddle through things is to pretend we didn’t understand them, but act very certain in what we were doing, even in we weren’t.

And then, the search for a way though the mountains began. We started approaching random taxi-looking cars on our path through town. They weren’t interested, or didn’t understand. Once again, we were told to go back to Esfahan if we wanted to get to Shiraz.

As we wandered down the street, looking for a bus/taxi area, a young boy with some sort of rifle inadvertently kept pace with us. He kept aiming up at trees around us. We tried to steer clear – crossing the street, pausing, speeding up – but he always managed to be metres from us. Eventually he dropped away. He never did actually shoot anything, let alone us.

Eventually, we make it to some sort of taxi office, where one driver finally appears to understand what we mean. We say words like “mountains”, make roller-coaster motions with our hands to indicate a rough road, and list towns that should be along the way (though our map in Lonely Planet is horribly inadequate). Our soon to be driver nods, and repeats our words and motions back to us. We think we’ve hit the jackpot, even though he’s asking a lot of money. We bargain down $5, and agree to get on our way.

We stop for lunch early on, and we act all generous by getting a Coke for our driver. When he pays for his lunch later, we keep an eye on the cash he hands over so we can assess what we should be paying. Tom and I develop the same game that Peter and I played in Turkey – the “how-much-is-this-going-to-cost” game. When we get up to pay, the driver waves us on. He has paid for our meal in the end. Generous, or so we think (read on).

Now, according to the guidebook, the first two hours of this drive are supposed to be phenomenal. We’re not sure where this mountain road is, but we most certainly didn’t end up on it. When the turn off to the first town we are expecting to head through comes and goes, we ask to stop. We had agreed on this town, had we not? Ah, but the road is bad/blocked/doesn’t continue south. Our respective English/Farsi language abilities are crap, so we can’t do much other than look really frustrated. We have no idea if he’s ripping us off, or saving us some trouble. We think the former.

The road is fine, but nothing dramatic as we had anticipated. We pass a picturesque lake, wander along broad valleys, finally make it onto some more scenic winding and ascending routes. We take stops for photos, but know overall this was not our originally hoped for route. Ah well. We stop at one point for a toilet and water break. Again, our generous (or so with think, read on) driver treats us to some bottles of water.

When we arrive in Yasuj, we make it clear we want to get to Shiraz. He tells us he’ll drive us for another outrageous sum, and we insist on getting to the bus station instead. We have no idea where it is in this town, and we don’t know if he knows either. Eventually we get to the far end of this spread out city, and it appears we have found some sort of bus station, or at least a bus stopping area.

When we get out of the vehicle, we are accosted by taxi drivers, but we try to push on, after tipping our driver – he bought us lunch and water, afterall. And then, our driver tells us we have to pay him more for lunch, and the water he bought us. The taxi drivers all get on his side – “He paid for your water and lunch, you owe him.” They tell us what apparently the lunch and water cost, though we know from earlier cash spotting that it’s an outrageous lie. We should have just walked away from the beginning, but we try to reason with them. We’re surrounded, and it’s going no where. Eventually, we push through, and get away to the ticket booth. Tom realizes that a pouch on his camera bag was open and some small change may have been stolen. My first experience with a real asshole in Iran. I would have expected it more in the main tourist centres, but we were totally off the main path. He wasn’t a scheming businessman. He was just an asshole.

Tom and I make it onto a bus to Shiraz leaving soon, and after getting some snacks and lemon beer, we’re set. We arrive in Shiraz in the dark, at some bus station that’s not in the Lonely Planet. We have no idea where we are, or how far to the city centre, or what a taxi should cost. We’re tired of getting ripped off, so ask at an electronics shop on the corner. They’re a great help and get us on our way for a good price.

Arriving in the main centre of Shiraz, Tom and I both comment on how we miss Esfahan. Shiraz is a city. Noisy, busy, city. Lots of people, lots of traffic, lots of lights. We make it to a hotel, pause when asked what our relationship is (“Uhhh….friends?”) and are happy to be able to share a room not being married. I’m glad to be here only one night – the plan for me is to see Persepolis the next day and then take a night bus to Tehran so I can meet Somayeh and her sister for our little road trip to the north. We find a great spot for dinner, and enjoy something other than kebab.

The morning sees us trying to find some information about getting to Persepolis. After the rip off the day before, we were hoping to get an idea of what the cost should be. The tourist information stand was a bit of a dud, but we make it to a travel agency and get ourselves sorted. The price is reasonable, and although we missed the scheduled tour bus earlier in the day, it only costs a Euro extra between us to just share a car and driver instead.

Now for some stupid reason, we end up at Persepolis at the hottest part of the day. The spot is wide open, in direct light, without any wind. It’s scorching, and bright. Approaching Persepolis was a bit strange. Like it should have been more built up, or busier, or something. I feel like if we come across a 2500 year old archeological site, trumpets should sound, or something. But instead we are 2 of about 20 people across the whole ancient city. And it only costs about 50 cents to get in.

The remains of Persepolis are spread out over hectares – pillars from old buildings, majestic staircases intricately etched with royalty and horses, tombs carved into the hillside – but two parts in particular formed my highlights. The first was the sculptured entrance to Persepolis. In and of itself it was decent, but what I loved about it was the centuries-old graffiti. Carvings that read something like “Sir William Billington and Expedition, 1809”. Even back in the day people liked to leave their mark. Somehow this graffiti was more romantic than what you might find at a modern day sight – “Carl and Sue were here, 2007” or something like that – but I can’t explain why.

My other favourite part was a rock overhang near one of the tombs. It was shady, what can I say.

On our way out we stop for some food, and all that’s available is hotdogs. We’re already later than expected to meet our driver, but we’re starving. It takes over 30 minutes (was he making the wieners from scratch or something?) and now we are way late for our taxi. The hotdogs are enormous and taste aweful, but we also scored some lemon beer, so it’s all OK.

On our way back to Shiraz, we stop at one other ancient site – a series of about 7 tombs carved high high into a sheer mountains side. Not sure how it was done, or who they are for, but they were pretty. An old Zoroastrian ossuary was nearby, where bones get picked clean by birds before burial. Apparently after death, the flesh belongs to the devil, bones to heaven.

Back in Shiraz I float the idea of going to a movie. Who cares if we don’t understand it. I just want airconditioning. Nothing’s playing quite yet, so we opt for a siesta instead. I call Somayeh to find out about our road trip, and it turns out her mother has had surgery on her hand, and so needs help around the home. Road trip is off. Another great dinner spot is found instead.

The next day I sleep in. Tom heads out early to get his visa extended, and we meet later to explore the limited sights of Shiraz. Which basically means walking from place to place until we find some shade. After picking up Tom’s visa extension, we find a sandwich shop and get some stuff for a picnic. We find a spot in the nearby park and make guesses as to how many people will bother us, or Tom more likely.

We get approached by one guy, someone working in the park, who chats to us briefly as he passes. Doesn’t count for intrusive. And then, Tom hits the jackpot. An albino man, covered in grass (I think he worked in the park), and seemingly a diminished mental capacity kneels down beside us. The first time he’s by he only remains for a few minutes before the first man shoos him away. The second time was much more interesting. He was not at all interested in me, and instead looked into Tom’s eyes, telling him that “In the name of God, I love you.” Except he said “God” like “guide” and we thought he was trying to get us to be his guide. We do a lot of smiling and nodding, until he takes Tom’s head in his hands, and kisses him on the forehead. It was a tender moment.

At this point after lunch, we are lying in the grass reading, and police officers come along. We are asked to leave. Apparently lying 2 feet apart in the grass is too much for them to handle. We are told to go to another park. As if the other park is where are the heathens go. We pack up and move along.

Next stop, bus tickets for the next day. Check.

Next stop, getting stopped by fake (we think) police officers. They pull over on the side of the road, flash a dodgy badge, and ask to see in our bags. We show them at a distance. They keep asking “No marijuana?” Sorry man, we’re not carrying. They leave. Shortly after, a man starts walking with us. We can’t decide if he genuinely just wants to practice English, or if he is going to ask that he becomes our guide. He speaks good enough English that Tom and I can’t conspire to drop him, but eventually he leaves us at the gates of our next destination without any hassle. Rare.

Next stop, the tomb of some famous Iranian poet. Not too remarkable, but we stop for water, then for shade. We pick up some burnt photo DVDs, check email, and head for an afternoon siesta.

Our search for a good dinner place on our final night was not as fruitful as the first two. We walk, and walk, and walk. Eventually we settle for a kebab place. English is not commonly spoken here, so we hesitantly approach the man at the counter and ask “Uhh…kebab?”. He replies fluently, “Would you like chicken or beef?” It was the nicest looking meal I’ve had in a long time, but the flavour didn’t match.

The next morning we have a slow start before catching our bus to Yazd. We have planned our ride to coincide with the hottest part of the day, and pray for a reasonable level of air-conditioning.