Tehran and Isfahan, Iran, August 2012
About a camel’s holiday, a telephone laugh flash, secretly eating and drinking and a short holiday
Sepehr was another amazing host that we will never forget. He was not a member of couchsurfing or warmshowers, neither did he ever see us before, but when talking to Roberto on the phone they both got a full-two-minutes laugh flash. The perfect start for a wonderful friendship.
Sepehr (Sep) is a highly intelligent and interesting young man. He plays the bass for a great folkloric band called Rastak and even invited us to join him for a private concert. He is one of those few people who time flies with when talking. Instead of chatting about how we liked Iran and what was our favorite food our topics of the first hour were America’s indigenous folks, photography and how to inspire young people to learn a new language.
It was the month of Ramadan and Tehran had changed its image. I missed the smell of water pipe in the street. I missed the melon shakes, the ice cream and the smoke of the Kebabs. I missed the families picnicking in any green spot they could find and I missed the tea. Since it was forbidden to eat, smoke and drink in public while the sun was shining we had to find secret places to do so. We really did not want to stimulate the appetite of hungry and thirsty Muslims even more. But we did not want to suffer thirst and hunger during every day either. Our solution was to find hidden places. That can be the backroom of a house with open door, behind a big car in a parking lot or between some bushes in a park. Time made us more creative.
Together again with old friends
And then the day arrived when our old Croatian friend Vinko and his Swiss friend Lukas made it to Tehran. They both came on bikes as well and cycled the same route as we did – in less than half the time. Kim and Danny had left to Turkmenistan already and Vinko’s girlfriend Maja was in Croatia so we did not have the entire group together, but when we met it was like no time had passed at all. We laughed about old jokes, made fun of each other and found out that Vinko and Lukas had also met Akbar, our friend on the speed bike, on the way to Tabriz.
We all set of for a short vacation to the south of the country where we visited Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz in less than a week. Our bikes stayed with Sep and we just headed to the bus station with just one backpack.
Being an ordinary tourist
In Isfahan we went straight to the Immigration office because our visas were going to expire. Two days later we got our passports and the extensions back. Now the real holiday could start. What a difference! Instead of camping and couchsurfing we stayed in backpacker’s hostels, instead of cooking we got breakfast served and went out for dinner, instead of being by ourselves we made friends with plenty of other tourists and instead of working our way from Embassy to Embassy we did some sightseeing, took a nap in the parks and just got lost in the cities.
While we walked through the main square Vinko started talking to a man of maybe 45 years. He had little greasy hair, a proper belly and talked well English. “Do you want to see how a camel makes spices?” he asked us. Of course we did.
Roberto and I had already missed a Camel wrestling in Turkey for being just half an hour late – we did not want to miss that chance. The belly-man led us through the old and empty part of the bazaar where we entered a wooden door. We found ourselves in a dusty dark room and when our eyes got used to the darkness we could not discover any camel. “I am sorry”, our leader said, “it seems that the camel is off already. You must know that tomorrow there is an important holiday and everybody will be praying tonight.”
I could not stop imagining a camel praying in the Mosque and giggled aloud. Vinko looked at me as if I was crazy. No camel then, alright, but the camel’s owner was there ready to introduce us to the world of spices. He mixed eight different spices up and explained each of them. The camel usually grinds the spices moving a big round stone and its owner mixes them. Lukas bought one bag of mixed spices. “This one has no bread crumbs in it. In the bazaar you may get some spices of worse quality, but not here”, the owner smiled proudly and pointed on his spices. “Good quality”, his chubby friend confirmed.
In the labyrinth
We wanted to get back home, but our guide was full of ideas. “There is another interesting place very close”, he told us while we were walking through the labyrinth of passages “I can show you. It is a very traditional and old place”. And so we got introduced to the printing of cotton as well. We watched tablecloths and coasters being printed and stamped with different colors. We touched the stamps and visited the store room.
I got completely lost in the labyrinth of tunnels and trails, but our guide led us safely back to the hostel. “Short track”, he explained with a wink.