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Elspeth In Qeshm Island


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I'm Elspeth from Australia and I love to travel, mostly on my own. I prefer to go to places not on the regular tourist map and I prefer small towns over large cities, with some notable exceptions.  I travel to challenge my prejudices and stereotypes but mostly I travel to bear witness to the suffering of a people or a culture or a land.

Last year I decided to travel to Iran and I invited a friend to join me. Normally I just get around by public transport but for the first 11 days of Iran tour in Iran we wanted to explore West Azerbaijan and knew we would fare much better with a driver guide.  For the rest of our 31 days we stayed in the larger cities. Here we often used guides too.

This trip, I am travelling to Iran alone but using the same excellent tour organizer, Azimeh from Iran's Travel.

Before travelling to Iran we were worried about all sorts of things. How would we cope with having to bring in all our spending money in cash, would there be Western toilets, would we feel safe, how would women be treated, what should I wear, what if my hijab slipped. Over the course of many months we were in constant contact with Azimeh who patiently answered our endless questions. Once we arrived the truth was we felt perfectly safe, were in awe of the magnificence and beauty of the landscapes of this ancient land, enriched by the long history and the culture but most of all enchanted by the warmth and hospitality shown by the Iranian people. I fell deeply in love with both the land itself and the people.

I have spoken to other people who have travelled to Iran who agree that Iran gets in in a way that other countries don't and it doesn't let you go.

So, what was it like deciding to come back given the whole Middle East feels less stable than last year? At first scary, very scary. Not because of Iran that because it was impossible to know what was going on and what was propaganda. Finally, my desire to return was stronger than my fear.

 

Now I'm here. First stop Qeshm one of the Islands in the Straits of Hormuz. I am conscious that I am at a place of geopolitical significance. However, today as I walked along the waterfront I spent half an hour looking out to sea with an elderly gentleman and watching the crabs scurrying over the rocks. I was stopped by a man in a car who wanted to know why I was here and what I thought of Iran, various people called out Salam and I am delighted to be back.

Evidently it rains about 10 times a year on Qeshm Island.  Last night was one of those nights. From early evening until dark I sat at the window of my apartment looking out across the Straits of Hormuz watching lightening fork through the sky and listening as thunder rolled and clapped all around.  In front of me were numerous boats too far away to make out any details. The symbolism was not lost on me. This is one of lightening points in the Middle East, of the world. Here I am sitting in the midst of this almighty display of power praying that in some way this magnificent storm dispels some of the built up tensions in this area.

 

Pray for middle east

Lunchtime today I headed out to find a restaurant that was on Google Maps. Once I found it, it was almost full. It was only after I had sat down that I realised it was full of men, but somehow that didn't feel like it was a problem. I did feel like the waiter didn't quite know what to do with me but after a while one of the men at the other table signalled to him to give me a menu. I can't read a word of Farsi so that didn't help so I just pointed to a fantastic looking rice dish at one of the tables nearby. At that point three of the men in the restaurant who had some English were calling out things like You want meat? You want chicken? This is the magnificent meal that arrived. Spicy rice, tender meat, delicious chick peas. The guys from the kitchen came out to smile at me and one of them bought a gift of dates with tahini. The cost with a drink was approx $AUD 6 or €3.70.

Persian Food, Qeshm
 

It was only once I had left the restaurant and continued to explore that I realised that this had not been the restaurant on Google Maps.

First Day;

Mangrove forests, These trees grow in salt water. Their root system filters out the salt so the trees can grow and the leaves are collected to feed camels.

Mangrove Forests
 

Naz Islands, In the morning on the way to Hengam Island you would need a boat to get to these islands but by the time we returned in the afternoon we could drive across.

Naz Island Qeshm
 

Kharbas Caves, These caves now above ground were formed under the ocean. The ground is still quite soft and subject to erosion, as is much of Qeshm. You can see the different layers that have formed over millions of years, including the level with shells.

First day of my tour of Qeshm and once again Iran amazes, surprises and delights. The landscape is completely different to anything I have seen elsewhere in Iran. The culture has an Arab and Indian influence which among other things shows up in the food with more curry flavours than I have encountered elsewhere. There are men in Arabian clothing, and being so much warmer than other parts of Iran people have a darker skin. Of course being an Island the main food is seafood.

As always it is a joy to be accompanied by a great tour guide. My guide for these 3 days is Qeshm, has lived on the island all his life and has a great passion for it and is very knowledgeable. It has been a wonderful day.

Qeshm was one place I was scared of coming. We hear so much of the Straits of Hormuz being the "flash point of the Middle East". And here I am being a tourist, enjoying Qeshm hospitality and beauty and going for boat trips and feeling totally safe.

Second Day;

The day started at 5.30 as my guide, was picking me up at 6.30. By not long after 7.00 we were on the ferry to Hormuz, the island of salt. On arrival we had breakfast of a local bread with a spread made from the local red sand.

Our first stop was at the Salt Goddess.  For me, there was powerful energy and sense of the sacred.  To be in the presence of such beauty is always deeply enriching.

We continued to rainbow valleythe valley of statues and red beach.  Wherever I looked there was colour. It could be the specks of iron glittering in the black rocks or sand or the hills that are every colour from white through yellow, red, blue, green, purple and black.

Next stop was to explore the Portuguese castle. I have visited many castles but this is the first I've seen that glows pink in the sun because of the bricks being made of the red sand.  The castle was of strategic importance to Portuguese ships whose trade extended to India and beyond.

Lunch was shrimps and rice Hormuz style, deliciously spiced with Indian spice influences.  Then it was time to relax before catching the ferry back to Qeshm. 

Today has been an amazing day of great beauty in my Qeshm Trip. The top soil is full of shells. The creative majesty all over the island of Qeshm is breathtaking. The blue of both the sky and the water is what a dream holiday may be made of.

The first stop was the salt cave and once I got out of the car and looked at the walk down and then back up again I felt a little daunted. No problem, the guide at the caves put his motorbike at my service and I was down and back, clinging on to my two hiking poles/walking sticks and remembering younger days.

The entrance to and inside the caves were beautiful. However, it was considerably hotter inside the caves than outside and very humid and large portions of the roof had fallen in recently after the rain.

The next stop was Chah Kooh Valley. Here I made a huge mistake. I knew that I was thirsty and did nothing about it. I had a guide who took me in and did his best to help me negotiate difficult terrain, but the combination of me walking slowly because of a mobility problem and the heat meant I became dehydrated.

I was still able to be in awe of the beauty but I did not feel well. Once I had drunk lots of water and curled up and had a sleep on the traditional seating area of the lunchtime restaurant I felt better.

The final stop for the day was Star Valley.  I feel I have run out of superlatives and will let the photos speak for themselves.

Today is the long drive from Qeshm to Kerman. It is about 9 hours.

Azimeh has organized a delightful young Iranian couple to be my drivers.  They are warm and kind and showing traditional Iranian hospitality with all sorts of food and drink packed into the car.

Because they both work long hours they are excited to be able to spend time together.

As I travel away from Bandar Abbas the landscape is arid but the colours in the barren mountains continue. Subtle shades of blue, green, purple, yellow. Darker shades of white, red and black and at times the covering of salt that could be mistaken for snow.

Camels and goats along the side of the road. Single level dwellings in the villages we pass.

As in Qeshm the mosques are predominantly Sunni. Often a gentle yellow or orange, not yet the ornate mosaics of the Shia mosque.

We pass through date and pistachio growing territory and have a picnic under a tree that Atoosa and Afshin have kindly prepared.

Once we climb the mountains the scenery and mosque change.  The land is flat with tussocks of grass and the hills are in the distance and mosques are the ornate blue of Shia Islam.

It has been a long but delightful day.  My hosts are kindness itself. For me, living on the coast of North West Tasmania, I love the vastness of this scenery.

 Let's Check next days diary on Elspeth in Kerman Province.

It includes visiting Kerman, Bam, Mahan, Rayen, Shahdad Kalout and my way continues to Yazd