Persian Gulf

IMG_4151An overnight bus from Yazd takes me to the port city of Bandar Abbas overlooking the Strait of Hormuz. It’s like a different country down here, as it’s significantly warmer, the people are darker and there’s a more relaxed atmosphere. My contact here is a student who’s free for a couple of days so together with a friend of his we take the short crossing to Hormuz island to go camping. Hormuz, once a Portuguese colony, still has the remains of the former coloniser’s castle around the only settlement on the island. IMG_4165

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IMG_4201Part of the Portuguese Castle, Hormuz

The locals here mainly rely on fishing for their income. It seems a lot poorer than the mainland and there are a lot less facilities (only one shop selling food and not much else) and infrastructure, with no paved roads. We hear of a local artist, an elderly lady who’s been trained by a famous Tehrani artist so we search for her place, following the murals on the narrow lanes leading to it but unfortunately when we arrive there’s no one home.

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IMG_4210Shortly after we get some supplies in the shop for the night, we meet an Argentinian/Italian couple (Juan and Sonia) and a group of holiday makers from Tehran. We decide to all camp together on a deserted beech on the other side of the island. The landscape here is strange. Apparently there are 18 different colours of soil/sand and Iranian artists often come to create sand carpets from the array of natural colours. On the journey to the other side of the island we pass colourful but barren landscapes of rock, soil and sand. When we finally reach the soft sand of the beech, the Tehrani group, already in good spirits, get to work on getting drunk, high and stoned around a camp fire. After a dinner of canned food, I fall asleep underneath the stars.

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IMG_4244The strange landscape of Hormuz island

The next day we move to another deserted part of the island by boat. I would’ve been happy staying on the beech but the group from Tehran insist that there’s another ‘special place’ that we should visit. This ‘special place’ has no wood whatsoever, so we’re left fireless during the night. It also rains and turns the dry surface to mud but none of this dampens the Tehranis’ spirits. Eight of them in their late 20s and early 30s, they are constantly laughing, joking and singing. It reminds me of the drunken revelry of music festivals I attended in my late teens, except these guys are making their own craic…just the prospect of being in a secluded location where they’re not at any risk of getting in trouble is enough for them. At one point during the night, I awake in my sleeping bag  (in a waterproof bivvy bag) and look out to see four of them dispersed around the campsite in the rain, just standing in silence in their own world.

IMG_4279Muddy campsite

Around 20% of the World’s petroleum passes through the Strait of Hormuz and  oil tankers are a constant on the horizon. If WW3 ever starts, there’s a good chance the spark could be ignited here, as the US has threatened to keep the Strait open by force should Iran ever block it for a significant amount of time. The dark substance that artificially keeps our whole ‘civilisation’ afloat and that we dangerously have become dependent upon to live, is slowly but surely reaching it’s peak in supplies. Once demand outstrips demand, as it inevitably will, the shit is going to hit the fan. An escalation in war and economic turmoil will be the result. I can’t help these thoughts drift through my head as I look out on the Strait and the setting sun.

IMG_4271Oil tankers in the distance, Strait of Hormuz

IMG_4274Back in Bandar Abbas, I hang out with Juan and Sonia for a couple of days before getting a bus to Shiraz where I’m meeting two French guys I met up north. Coincidentally we’ve all been invited to a wedding in port of Bushehr, along with Nikolas, the Italian photographer I met in Yazd. The bus is full of conscripts on their way home from service but it has the same atmosphere of any long-distance bus journey in Iran. The afternoon after I arrive in Shiraz and meet Rafael and Clement, the three of us get a bus to Bushehr, 5 hours away. It’s good to have some company traveling again – it makes the journey times go faster. On the bus, just before we arrive, an enthusiastic chap in his 20s starts chatting to us. He doesn’t have much English but that doesn’t stop him following us off the bus and insisting we come with him to the center. Tired from the journey, we’re unable to shake him off and he comes in a taxi with us. We stop in a fast food restaurant for something to eat and the whole time he keeps parroting the same line, “You come my home. Not speak. Come my home” with smile on his face. Eventually he gives up and leaves. This is not uncommon in Iran, where having a foreigner in your home is looked upon as being something of a privilege. We would’ve been tempted to go with the irritating  lad but luckily we had a kind family (relatives of the bride) to stay with.

IMG_4286Soldier’s hat on the bus to Shiraz

IMG_4303Bushehr Port

Within five minutes of meeting our hosts, it’s like we were always part of the family. Not knowing what to expect from the wedding and not having any formal wear, we’re a bit apprehensive but the next evening when the party kicks off, it’s clear the most important thing here is having a good time. Even before the bride and groom arrive, the dancing begins. Most of the music is 1970s Bandari style with a live band including a fella playing the Ney-anbān (an Iranian bag-pipe which sounds a bit like the Irish uillean pipes), which makes for great, energetic dance music. It’s mental. When the married couple arrive, fireworks go off outside and the women making a high-pitched, celebratory sound (something akin to a Middle-Eastern yodeling). Then the dancing continues for another couple of hours before the meal is finally served in a buffet outside. The dancing goes on into the wee hours and when I get a lift back to the city with the wedding party, with horns beeping the whole way, they stop in the middle of the deserted highway with the Bandari beats blasting out and dance for a few minutes before continuing.The party continues in an Uncle’s home the next evening. An Aunt continually pulls me up to dance every time I sit down for a break and by the end I’m knackered. At one point near the end of the party the music stops and people begin to look a bit worried as word comes of the police being outside asking about the noise. When the police are gone the party starts half-heatedly again but soon after people start to drift home. By the time we head back to Shiraz after another day of hanging out with the family, picnicking and playing football with cousins, we’re a bit overwhelmed with the warmth of our hosts and how they embraced us for these celebrations. At the same time, I’m glad of a bit of breathing space when we return to the city of poets.

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