(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.