Once back in Tehran, we hit the road to the North. Driving through the evening and night, we listened to some amazing Persian and contemporary tunes of Amir’s, which helped fill the dark hours on the road.
The super lush North grows a lot of the rice, fruit and leafy vegetables in Iran, it has 4 seasons, getting very cold and snowy in winter. One funny moment on the drive was when Behnoz (our translator, water sports coach and absolute champion) asked me to open some soured yogurt drink called Doogh in the car. Once I opened it, it all fizzed out and emptied itself……all over me….and the inside of the car! Warm milky Doogh, a wonderful smell to accompany a long road trip! Finally made it to Bandar Anzeli , in the Gilan province, just after Mid-night. We had some amazing food at Amir’s restaurant/bar in a holiday park and after a shower to wash off the heat (and yogurt:-)) at his flat, we slept soundly.The next morning the sight that greeted me from the flat balcony was breath taking! Thankfully Anzeli wasn’t as hot as the south, but still hot enough and very humid.
After breakfast, we headed out to the Caspian at a beach club to run a bit of SUP race training with the locals. It was a nice surprise as we met up with some guys from my last year’s courses. The SUP crew up here had been training hard, the guys paddle technique and fitness was looking mighty fine. The other surprise is that the Caspian had some little rollers even in summer with light winds, be great to see what type of waves are thrown up in a storm? I taught some racing skills with a bit of surf entry, wave riding and had a great laugh putting them to practice with some fun races.
They’ve also have been making surf and SUP hard boards and managed to get a prototype up to speed for us to look at. Not too bad considering and I was able to help with a few pointers for the future. We charged through the morning to avoid the afternoon heat, ending up round 2pm. Then, we went off for lunch/dinner at a restaurant built on one of the extensive waterways in this area. They served an amazing spread of Gileani regional specialties, centered round some amazing fish dishes. In the evening we chilled in Amir’s restaurant and I taught the crew how to play cards. It was delightful teaching them Snap and Fish and watching their reactions as they learned the games. After, we watched the most amazing blood moon, a type of lunar eclipse till about 2-3am.
The next day was a day off. It was my 1st lie in past 6am for 10 days and sure needed it! We got moving about 10am, and we went on a boat tour, boarding a fast skiff to the Anzeli Lagoon. My word, the place was amazing, I simply did not expect to find such an amazing ecosystem of waterways, with so many unusual birds, other animals and flora. I simply couldn’t initially take in the sight of acres of Lotus lilies in full bloom.
We stopped for a tea at a river side tent cafe and the owner took us for a little ride to see horses and water buffalo scattered across a huge flood plane. In all honesty, it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.!! After a spot of lunch we got a ride back to the flat from a guy whose a Naval officer, but has been laid off due to lack of work and now he’s driving a taxi! Crazy to think this guy signed up to serve his country and the government doesn’t honor the obligation he and other service people make, by not supporting them financially through the lean times.
In the evening we went to the Gilean capital of Rasht to do some shopping, had amazing fruit ice cream in a variety of flavours, which included fig, watermelon and the old favourites of raspberry and strawberry. The craft items on sale in the markets were such high quality and an absolute bargain at our exchange rates. Due to Taarof (Persian hospitality/customs) it is almost impossible for me as a guest to buy anything myself with the guys around! I ended up hiding money in their accommodation when they weren’t looking or passing it on to others to give to them, so I could a least pay some of my way:-) After a few drinks and a nighttime dip in the Caspian, we went off to bed in preparation for an early bus trip back to Tehran.
Made the 7am bus and had a nice chilled ride back to Tehran through lush mountain sides. As soon as we made it through the pass to the top of the mountain range, the trees dissipated and dry high plains took over. The north side of the Alborz range, which runs across Iran east to west, is lush from large amounts of rainfall. Southern side of the mountain range is very dry, eventually becoming even drier mountains and deserts as you head south. We made it back to Tehran’s main bus station in the afternoon, exiting the vehicle we were once again assaulted by the dry heat, petrol fumes and noise. After knocking back the hassling touts and expensive taxis, we secured a taxi to take us back to the luxurious, peaceful Espinas hotel…..yay! But as we climbed up the elevation to the hotel, the taxi spluttered, the driver had forgotten that a very low fuel tank on a steep angle causes the engine to starve of petrol! After picking up yet another taxi, we drove the remaining 500m to reach the hotel. We could of walked quicker if we’d known!
Espinas is a top hotel, photos displayed of head of state meets and in the lounge and rooms, big deals being done. I popped outside for some air one time and there was this guy sitting by himself. His Table was covered in luxurious food and he’s smoking a shisha (hookah, narghile, waterpipe). He asked me where I was from and other small talk. In reply, he said he was working for the government, then changed his story and told me he works buying and selling US dollars! He then proceeded to show me pictures of large amounts of US dollars on a hotel bed and seemed very proud of himself……Hmmmmm, don’t want to know anymore thanks! I made my excuses and got the hell back inside.
Once we hit the rooms, we grabbed our swimmers and hit the indoor pool! Sooooooo nice to stretch out in shaded watery surroundings in contrast to the dry bright landscape outside. After a little siesta caught up with a surfing buddy working for the Japanese oil industry here, swapped stories and became wide eyed as he told me of his work trips to Iraq.
We were then joined in the early evening by most of the Surfing crew and companions we’d had for the weeks here. We had one last dinner together of great food, gift swapping and talking late into the night.
Up early, after little and broken sleep and assulted once again by confusion and incompetency. The representative from the IOC (the same guy I referenced to a chocolate teapot last dispatch) turned up with another taxi and wanted us to put our baggage this taxi, separate to us in our taxi. Me: “What happens if one car breaks down and we get separated from our luggage”
Chocolate teapot: “It will be no problem” Loading our stuff into his taxi. Eventual response after no sleep and far too much faffing about……… …Me: “I’ll tell you what, put our ££$”^ing bags in our car NOW!” This seemed to get things moving:-)
In Iran, I found if you have time, just let things happen, it’s great to observe. But if it’s high priority to get moving, act a little annoyed and issue orders or start doing what YOU want to see happen. It’s amazing, suddenly things get moving!! I only hope I didn’t offend too many people over there, people generally seemed to be OK when I pushed things along, but apologies just in case I offended……..
We arrived safe and sound at the Airport. Fortunately the idiot rep couldn’t wait to leave, so left us as soon as possible with just Mehdi and Setareh again. After sad goodbyes and clearing all the security and immigration, it was time for some food and coffee! The seriousness of the currency free fall and it’s effects hit home when we went to get the refreshments. I didn’t have any Rials and the smallest money I had was a $20 US note, the shops couldn’t even break this. I was also hit again, but this time with the amazing hospitality and kindness shown after this. Another customer bought our coffees for us and the shop keeper gave us the pastries! No matter how much we protested, tried to give them money, they insisted. Wonderful people still being wonderful in difficult times. Caro and I boarded the plane and it was great to be on our way home to see our loved ones. As soon as the drinks service started I asked for a red wine. It was 9am, but seemed like a perfect time for a drink after 2 weeks without any! “You like like you need that, how long have you been in Iran?” said the steward as she passed my wine.
“A long time, but also far too little time”
Plenty of possibilities for surfing in Iran. The Gulf of Oman coast has loads of places. Although as written earlier, environment is harsh and hard to navigate round due to military areas and access. The Caspian sea is the largest inland sea with more than enough fetch to get waves, there were even a few little runners in summer with light winds. No crowds anywhere and the locals were stoked to see what was possible. Iran’s simply mind-blowing, so many unique sites and sounds. The people are unbelievably hospitable, they couldn’t of done anymore for us. It’s part of their culture (called taarof ). You couldn’t look at anything in a shop or house or someone would give it or buy it for you!! With the guys we got to know well, we got to the point where we’d just say “No taarof” for ease and just laugh. On reflection I don’t feel too indebted, we bought what we could with us and just hope we helped them as much as we were helped to have such an amazing experience x
Great to meet ya, love and so many thanks to: Alireza, Setareh, Behnoz, Caro, Ebi, Amir (both of you:-), Abdolrahman, Hamed, Hassan, Alireza, Mina, Golara, Behnaz, Pooneh, Medhi, Ramin, Abdolrazagh, Abed, Shams, All the groms, Abdulhussien, our driver in Chabahar and all I’ve forgotten to mention. You guys rock!!