Contrary to the actual planning to cross the cloud forest in northern direction, we turned around and followed the road directly towards Maschhad without a short stop at the Caspian Sea. The landscape became much drier in this region, also some salt lakes were found off the road. But something really exciting didn’t happen any further. After the first weeks in this country it was also very good to have some rest and time for us.
Two days before reaching the big city in the northeast, which is also Omid’s home, we called him for an appointment. His reaction had surprised us a bit because he couldn’t remember giving us his number. Maybe there was too much vodka in the mountains. But the joy of our call didn’t stop there. With plenty of tips for sightseeing for the last few hundred kilometres we set off to our agreed meeting point. Beautiful sandstone canyons with plenty of opportunity for sport climbing and a few historic cities provided variety.
We had an encounter of a completely different kind in between in Maschhad, when we were standing at a traffic light in the traffic jam in the city unsuspectingly, watching the colourful hustle and bustle of the streets. Spice stalls at the roadsides, many pedestrians and an obligatory rose seller. Car after car it went slowly forward and as you know, one is not really in one’s favourite environment when one is in the middle of heavy traffic. We continued to watch and saw a man get out of his car and run to the rose seller, buy a rose and then… come to us. We opened our window and he handed us the rose with the only words “Welcome to Iran”. Completely bewildered we sat there, thanked him several times and he got back in his car. Once more we experienced how Iranians welcome travellers with open arms, without ever having seen them before or expecting anything in return.
Arrived in the city, it actually went directly out again, because as already mentioned, there is nothing better for Iranians than camping. And so a short time later we found ourselves away from the city in a naked hilly landscape, the view of a beautiful little lake directed to which Ernst unfortunately could not go down. The terrain was a bit too steep for him. Surrounded by Omid’s friends we sat on our beautiful Persian picnic blankets, grilled lamb and chicken, plastered delicious eggplant yoghurt and enjoyed the many stories of the nice people around us. With the setting sun Omid led us back to the city. Our newly won sleep rhythm, which had adapted to the sun, had long since challenged us to look for our way to bed, but here the calculation was made without the host, because we did not go to a quiet sleeping place, but to a traditional restaurant where we continued to tell and eat for hours. But also this day ended in a remote street under a lantern. The next morning coffee was interrupted by a police check, as so often in this country, but once again a very friendly encounter from which we were released with a private telephone number of the policemen for emergencies.
Today was then the collection of the Turkmen visas on the program. With the local escort of Omid and Reza it was no problem to find the consulate. The remaining time in this city was used to equip Ernst with two small but beautiful Persian carpets and to visit the Holy Shrine. Never heard of it? Neither did we. And whoever thought that the Vatican is beautiful and splendid, will get very big eyes at the sight of this building. One of the central places of the Muslim faith extends over an area of 10km² (according to the guide). A place of pilgrimage, laid out with knotted Persian carpets almost over the entire surface, decorated with golden archways, mirrored halls, and decorated over and over with artistic mosaics. You have no idea what to expect when you drive up the escalator from the underground car park. That’s why we were completely speechless for the first minutes. Of course, the Holy Shrine had to be entered according to gender and Conny was first properly wrapped by the women around the whole body with the cloth borrowed from Reza’s sister (yes, the head scarf was not enough here), so that she was allowed to enter this holy place properly dressed. Reza took the lead here and had a great answer to every one of our ignorant questions. Finally learning firsthand about another faith throws a whole new light on many things. One was literally carried away by the awe of the believers surrounding us as one was pushed past the Blessed Sacrament in a stream. Once again, separated by sex, the experience with the women was such that a swarm of women pressed themselves directly to the shrine, which was decorated over and over. Babies were lifted up and handed to the front, in the back rows they sat on the floor and prayed. It was definitely an unforgettable experience, albeit strange.
We promised to tell you what makes Omid so special. The following night we spent in a small gorge in the north of the city. We reached the place only late, therefore the darkness blocked our view to the rock walls around us, but when Omid began to sing a throaty song from full breast in Farsi (Persian) about love, it reverberated from the walls again in a way that would make any opera house pale. The three of us sat at a small campfire, one sang, two cried. Probably the most touching moment of the whole journey. This honest love for his culture and his country tore us from our feet, because everyone else we have met so far in Iran, somehow wanted to go away to another country. Not that Omid had nothing to criticize, but he recognized and found the beauty of the country for himself. Our performance of German vocal art in the form of an old canon (Hejo, pull the car) couldn’t really keep up. Our language is simply not made for singing. At night, Omid’s friends followed his invitation to camping again, and so we laughed, ate and drank into the late night. After a few great climbing routes the next morning and a cup of tea in the tent of a farmer’s family who had set up camp here, Omid led us towards the Turkmen border. On the way the supplies were still filled up for which we were not allowed to pay again anything, and thus we took at a small lake in the north of the country farewell from a completely special person. But not without wringing the promise from him to visit us at home. We hope he keeps to it.
In the small border town we quickly got our own Persian picnic blanket. Without it you just can’t camp properly, we learned 😉 From now on desert follows, but we’ll tell you more about it next time.