The Agony and the Ecstacy

Finally, a wi-fi connection. No chance of posting photos til I’m out of Iran, but words can flow freely…

My introduction to Iran, while in many ways great, was also quite tiring. Of my first 3 (very cheap) guesthouses, only one had a shower facility (cold), none had wifi, all had squats, none had toilet paper. Coffee  has been difficult, no more ‘breakfast and coffee included’ like turkey. I soon learnt I needed to buy a jar of instant coffee if i was going to stand any chance of surviving. On a few days, I was forced to forgo my morning coffee due to lack of boiling water – this is a very unpleasant way to begin a day, especially when you haven’t showered. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to start a day without coffee, now I know. It’s bleak. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it. Do whatever you have to do to get that hit. Whatever you have to do.

My obsession with mountains meant I was obliged to head up to Alamut Valley and the Castles of the Assassins. Getting there requires you to play the role of a ball in a pinball machine. It seems like all the cabbies collaborate –  you get in one, he flaws it through the traffic, drops you off (while the car is still moving) to get in another, and so on. They are genius drivers. One managed to cut through absolute gridlock by crossing to the other side of the road, then sneaking through a tiny gap on a road island, doing a U-turn and somehow being on the other side of the gridlock. He turned to me and smiled, with a look that said ‘That was bloody genius wasn’t it’.  Getting to the core of Alamut Valley requires a long, winding journey, which made me extremely nauseous. At one of our pitstops, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and scared the crap out of myself ‘Aaaaah!’. My face was yellow. ‘Im not well’, I thought. I thought the journey was going to be an hour, it was 3. We made many stops along the way, dropping people off, picking them up, dropping them off again. At one point I was sitting in the glovebox. It’s the same deal with the massive busses, they don’t stop at designated places like they do in Turkey, they just slam on the breaks and pull over if someone waves at them. The first time this happened I was convinced we were going to crash into something and die. Then I saw what looked like a Shepherd board the bus, and all was well.

Back to the cab, eventually we made it to Ghazor Khan. The fun was just beginning. I found 2 guesthouses, as listed in lonely planet, both were definitely closed. When you’re lugging a rucksack around in the hot sun, hopelessly, there comes a point when you just stop and collapse, and say to yourself, ‘Please, no more. This isn’t working. I need food and coffee, now‘. It’s usually at this point a miracle occurs. Something always happens right at the point where you’re about to give up and consign yourself to finally living that fear where there is no accommodation, anywhere, so you just sit on a curb somewhere til the sun comes up. It’ll happen one day, not today though. I heard voices in the distance, so climbed a steep road and saw a guy fixing his car. He hadn’t heard me approaching, so rather than just keep walking and scare the living shit out of him by suddenly appearing right next to him, I made my presence known when I was some 20 metres away, ‘Salaam’. He looked up, with an expression that said, ‘Whoa, wasn’t expecting to see that’. I said ‘o-tel’, with desperation creeping in to my voice. He pointed to the top of a hill. He’s either fucking with me, by making me climb another hill for no reason, or he’s serious. I had nothing to lose, I’ll probably end up drifting into the Caspian Hinterland, oh well. It was the jackpot. A guy saw me coming and excitedly jumped out of his chair, saying ‘yes, yes, yes, this way, good room for you!’ It was a great moment. He hadn’t had a customer in 2 years, I hadn’t eaten in 10 hours, we embraced. The room was a sight for sore-eyes – big, bright, with kitchen, veranda, hot shower and, drumroll… western toilet. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see a western toilet, and one that didn’t smell like raw death. Plus a nice little cat who followed me during my struggles. He’d go missing, then pop out from some bushes, go missing again before finally showing up when I’d settled into the new room. He meowed like he was screaming, but apart from that he was good. There was even a kettle to boil my coffee. ‘Im staying put for a few days’, I thought. The first night I thought of nothing but the morning, where I’ll be able to have coffee on the veranda, and read the New Yorker on the iPad #yuppie. I can’t wait, it’s gonna be so good. My mate cooked me dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner etc. Each meal was about £2. The room was about £10. Right in the middle of gigantic, endless mountains. The ecstasy.

The Agony

The ecstasy was short lived, as on day 2 there was an invasion. Two car loads of local tourists struck with lethal force, completely surrounding my room. It was chaos. What amazed me was how they never ever stopped for a single breath, they just spoke incessantly, all of them, all the time. On my day of departure, I had to be up at 6:00 to get my ride, and get this – they were already up yapping away. ‘For fucks sake’ I thought, ‘this is ridiculous’. As I passed their room to get in the car, I banged on their door, ‘Don’t you motormouths ever shut up? Fuckwits!’. I continued, ‘What about the serenity? You can’t enjoy the serenity if you’re always yelling at each other. How’s the bloody serenity!!’. I said that a lot to myself before they arrived, ‘How’s the serenity. Oh, look at the cat (the cat staring blankly into the distance), how’s the serenity’.

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