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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Mourir pour des idées

After the entertainment, it was time for a more serious note. The iran-iraq war cementary in Esfahan is impressive. Not so much for its size (it’s small) as for the pain you feel when walking around. Even on a weekday, the cementary is full with people. School classes on one hand and mourning families on the other. The impact on a random visitor is immense: each grave has a picture of the deceased and is decorated with an Iranian flag. The flags are regularly attached to eachother in case of multiple deaths in one family. Shocking are the children’s faces on the tombstones.


Striking are the parents, seemingly unable to get one with their lives because of a war, even when it ended 22 years ago


Going home…

There are times in life where you have to admit that you were wrong. And unfortunately this is one of them. After careful consideration and balancing of the pro’s and cons, I have decided that it’s time to go home. For two pairs of socks, two T-shirts and one of the two locks for my backpack. All the best to them.*

(GB added later: Some confusion has rissen on this first paragraph. In order to be very clear: it’s part of my *clothes* that is going home, not me!)

Iran does not stop to amaze me: from vodka in cars, ‘couch surfer’ meetings in hotels, to the endless beauty of the city of Esfahan.

I’m not going to rave about the beauty of the Sheik Lotfollah Mosque, you will just have to come and see it for yourself, as I can’t do it justice. Neither can I fully describe the joy when I discovered a secret passage onto the roofs of the bazar, so i could enjoy quietly the insane beauty of Imam square (2nd largest square in the world). The discovery became even more valuable at night, when I could share the spot with a group of Swiss architecture students.

And (of course) I’ve been treated fantastic by the Iranians: invitation at home, followed by an evening picnic in the park next to the river, walks around the city and good conversations about life (Iranian guy with a broken heart because his girlfriend left him for somebody who is two years younger, and a girl who was left by her boyfriend even though he has a fatal illness). In general, relations in Iran have captured my interest: how do you meet when you can’t just start talking to somebody of the opposite sex? Can you be in a relationship without being married? How do you deal with the short window of opportunity between to young to marry and to old? And many more.

I have to revise one more thing: I thought that Iran was expensive. However, all these great experiences in Iran have cost me 500 euro until now (+234 euro for the flight AMS-Tehran). I realize that this is a lot of money for my new friends, but it fits within my budget. Even better, I wouldn’t want to miss these two weeks in Iran for the world.

* I will give them to somebody here of course




the only way is up, and down

As beautiful as the Iranian cities are, sometimes you need a good taste of wilderness. I asked around a bit and the Shirkooh mountain appeared as a beautiful opportunity. Not to far, not to high (4.100 meters), just perfect.

After attempting to ride a bus there (failed) I took a taxi. Immediately I noticed the perfect mood of the driver, if he could have, he would have danced in his little car. He did manage to sing with both hands off the wheel in full (Iranian!) traffic. We rode with open windows, but when they were closed (when trucks passed) I noticed a strong gas smell. This was confirmed when we went to a fuel station and I was asked to leave the car, while he tanked gas, due to the increased expolosion risk. Afterwards, we had to keep all windows open. Fortunately, he was so sure of his car, that he kept chainsmoking. Anyway, we arrived safely at the track after almost crashing 20 times during a 30 minute ride.

When I arrived at the start of the track it was already 12.00, which left me little time as the (always optimistic) estimates by the locals was 4 hrs to the hut where I would spend the night (at 17.00 it gets dark). The trip took longer than expected, mainly due to the very nice Iranians that kept offering me food for my overnight stay. The last people were about to depart when I arrived at the hut. They looked very surprised upon my total lack of gear. I told them that my "North Face" sleeping bag (cheap Chinese imitation bought in Nepal) was certified until -15 degrees Celsius. They wished me a lot of luck and left for the valley.

What followed was one of my coldest nights ever. I didn't sleep for more than 30 mins straight. Main causes for waking up were either the piercing cold or a feeling that resembled concussion in the ribs (caused by sleeping on my side on an ice cold floor). I promised myself not to look at the clock of my phone (for not getting desperate), but I could follow the passing of time through the light of the moon falling through the windows. When I had just fallen asleep, I was awoken by somebody trying to open the door which I had closed from the inside. I went to have a look, and it was an older man that apparently just arrived at the hut. I looked at the clock and it was 05.00. I saw that in about an hour the sun would come out, so I packed my stuff and left for the summit. That was also much tougher than expected. I had difficulties breathing due to the altitude combined with the lack of sleep and exhaustion (had I mentioned that I only had eaten biscuits for dinner and breakfast?).

Anyway, I arrived exhausted at the summit and enjoyed a beautiful (but chilly) 360 degrees view from the highest mountain in the region. This reminded me why had undertaken this (now) mad trip. When I arrived back at the hut, the unexpected guests (they appeared to be 2) of the morning had woken up as well. They invited me for a (very welcome) tea and to do the rest of the descent together. I barely made it down to the value with hurting knees, ankles and nails.

They kindly invited me to their house where I was presented a (delicious!) sheep stomach soup, a local specialty and met the rest of the family. For the foreseeable future, I will ensure that I'm better prepared. Tomorrow I will go on a tour around Yazd and take a bus to the very famous Esfahan. In the mean time I will catch some well deserved sleep.

Home for a / the night


The beauty of nomadic life

I went on my first ‘organised’ tour. It was to a nomad family which had everybody complain about a gruesome 7 hr ride. We arrived after dark. Fortunately, we could join herding the goats up the mountain, which made us long for the simple life these people were leading.

After a rough night (our hosts were up most of it as wolves had eaten a lamb 2 days before, testified by their dog which was bitten too) I had enormous fun while playing with the lambs that I was tasked to herd. Only then I realized the true daily routine of living in the middle of nowhere, without rain, but with incredible numbers of flies that appeared out of nowhere at 09.00 in the morning. Temperature hit 30+ degrees celcius at 09.30. This was also the start of the daily ‘attack’ by gigantic wasps. Our hosts had a half open tent to live in and seemed to be completely used to both the flies and the wasps.

Through an interpreter I had the opportunity to ask the man of the family some questions. We spoke of everything from his ancestors to how he made money on his goats (milk, not meat). His family had been nomads for generations, but he had no man to succeed him on his land. The Irani government has been pushing the nomads to settle (easier to control), however most nomads refused. Expectantly, I asked if he was one of the persons who had refused (out of love for the nomad life). He had refused alright, but only because the government’s offer for living in the city would lead to worse conditions than he was now.

We left in our van at 10.00 when the heat became unbearable.
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Persepolis is a world class monument, however the experience pales by what happend yesterday.

I was sitting quietly at the tomb of Hafez, Iran’s greatest poet, when I was approached by an Iranian family. They are well educated people and pArts of their family live(d) abroad. They invited me to their beautiful house where I was presented a delicious Iranian lunch including Shiraz wine (!). Especially striking was the difference in their appearance outside an inside. We had a lively discussion on the current political and touristic situation in Iran and their support for ‘the famous Dutch politician (Geert Wilders).

Afterward they invited me to visit a beautiful park together where we observed together how unmarried Iranians interact. Finally, they invited me for dinner in a beautiful coffeeshop.

My grattitude was enormous: inviting a stranger in your house, feed him, talk with him like a long lost friend and show him around your town. They wouldn’t accept any contribution for the dinner, as I was their guest. Beautiful people who I wish all the best.

Experiences like these are the reason to travel around the world, easily beating any monument.

Where are you from?

I’m from Holland, which is The Netherlands.
In Holland we say: ‘Ik spreek Nederlands’. I speak Dutch.
‘Ich spreche Deutsch’ is what they say in Deutschland, which is germany.

What’s that in my pocket?

Despite what people might think, one tends to carry quite some stuff around on a trip around the world. Useful items include for example an ‘iPhone simcard cutter’ and a southern hemisphere compass.

The big question is: where do you keep all that stuff? The answer seems obvious (backpack), however in practice the storage options include:
– 6 pockets in my backpack
– 2 special fishnet-like bags for inside my backpack – 8 pockets in my trousers
– 4 pockets in my ‘valuables bag’

That’s a lot of pockets. Again, the answer seems obvious: develop a system for remembering what’s where. In practice this has proven to be challenging. Important things go into the valuables bag, that is stored in the hotel safe. Unless you don’t trust the hotel. Jackets are at the bottom of the backpack (it’s 31 degrees during the day) excepts when the nights cool down to below 10 degrees. Socks are on top of the backpack, but my feet have swollen to much because of the heat so they are no longer useful. Etc.

Fortunately, I’ve got more than enough time to think about these things and my stress levels are still manegable, but I fear what will happen to my system once I change climate.

Golestan palace: more is more!


Who said that ‘bling’ is a recent trend?

Getting used

After the initial period where everything seemed different from the life I knew, Tehran is getting ‘normal’. 5 lanes of cars and motorbikes storming at me while I cross a red light: no sweat. Finding my around the city: easy! Speaking Farsi (iranian) with a vocabulary of 3 words: pas de probleme M

monsieur !

The Iranian currency (rial) is collapsing: compared with yesterday the country is almost 3% cheaper. Compared with 2 weeks ago it’s almost 20%. Welcome to the Weimar republic!

There’s an interesting twist on the ‘forbidden DELL computers’ story of yesterday. When I discussed this with an Iranian guy he said: “just because we disagree politically, doesn’t mean that DELL can’t make great computers”.
Surprisingly Coca Cola seems to agree that you can make profit from an enemy as they even produce their drinks in Iran (and they’re drunk by every irani in this alcohol free country).

Visited today the Tehran bazar (which mostly sells wholesale) and the amazing Golestan palace. Will fly to Shiraz tomorrow. Also found a ticket to New Delhi for only 160 euro (total cost Amsterdam – India is less than 400 euro!). There’s still enough to see in Tehran for when I come back.