A Travellerspoint blog

The One Where Maaret Buys a Horse

A childhood dream comes true in Cuba. Kinda.

We all have those. Childhood dreams that we know, as adults, are a bit silly and will never really happen but we occasionally drift into them anyway. One of my friends sings in the shower, pretending to be at Wembley; another one still hopes she will accidentally bump into Prince Harry (it used to be William, but lets face it, Harry just is cooler) they'll share a joke, fall in love, and she will live happily ever after as a princess. My secret daydream is climbing up to the highest platform at the Olympics, with my bronze and silver medalist companions looking at me, enviously, as I gracefully accept the flowers and the gold medal for winning the showjumping, and wave to the crowds, becoming a Finnish national hero.

Well, a lesser version of this is just to own my own horse. And when I heard that in Cuba, you could buy one for about $200, it was just way too good to pass by.

For my last week in Cuba, I wanted to take it easy, and, after almost 5 weeks of constant movement, sit still. I wanted to be somewhere beautiful and quiet, to sit on a porch, in a rocking chair like the Cubans, with a small glass of rum and a cigar (ok, maybe not the cigar. But definitely the rum) and watch sunsets. But I also wanted to ride horses; I'd not done much of it in years, but going horse riding in Cuba made me realise how happy it actually makes me. So, I headed for the Viñales Valley in the Western end of the island, the most beautiful, tranquil part of Cuba where even I, a fairly seasoned traveller, adamant in being hard to impress, was impressed. Viñales is a karstic depression, measuring roughly 50 square miles, meaning, to those who had to google "karstic" like me, a landscape made of porous substances such as limestone and dolomite, which forms sinkholes and underground drainages. In this valley, the whole ground has sank, leaving stark islands of mountains dotted around the area where the original highland was. Driving into it made me lean out the bus windows, just so I could take it all in, and on arrival, I knew Viñales was exactly what I wanted for my last week; two main roads and a few smaller ones, a quiet plaza with a church, around which the tourist tat sellers congregated much like in every single tourist-friendly destination in the world. The further you walked, the more the houses thinned out- I had someone waiting for me, a friend of a friend, a nice, middle-aged man who, along with his wife and their son, ran a casa particular at the edge of town. I was given a little room with a bathroom at the top of the house with my own entrance, and, the best of all, a massive roof terrace which overlooked the valley. As I unpacked, little chittering birds settled on the rocking chair as the sun started to set over the ancient limestone clifffs all around me.

The next day, I set off to find a horse. At this stage, I wasn't really thinking of buying one, just maybe renting one for a week or so. My lovely landlord had called his nephew the night before, and I went off to find him, the impossibly beautiful (they are all impossibly beautiful, and impossibly relentless) Rodrigo who owned six horses and frequently took tourists for riding trips. I found him easily, with his horses grazing by his house in a small enclosure. We talked for a bit, and he suggested we go for a ride to the nearby cave systems, passing by tobacco fields in the bright morning sunshine. After I asked him how much a good horse might cost, he nodded gravely and said they were pricey, from $150 upwards. I didn't dare to tell him that's how much I paid for my leather boots the winter before. Suddenly, his face brightened up and he told me that there was a breeder who was looking to sell a beautiful sorrel stallion for $250. He was cheap, but he was cheap because he didn't much get on with the other horses. Rodrigo said he was keen on it; he could keep it at his uncle's house, separate from the other horses, but he didn't quite have enough money for it. We sat by the cave, in the absolute stillness, waiting for the midday heat to creep up on us, me frantically re-applying sun cream and drinking water like a camel, when I asked him how much he could pay for the stallion. Apparently, $150, but the breeder wouldn't sell for that price- even $250 was low for a young stallion. I plucked a few bits of grass and thought for a moment. The water bubbled along slowly in the caves, and a cool breeze wafted up from the dark depths. I said, How about, Rodrigo, if I bought the horse, and kept it, for free, at your uncle's enclosure for the week I was in Viñales, and then, as I left, I would sell him to you for $150? Would you loan me a saddle and bridles for the week? I looked up to see him, grinning, and so we made a deal to buy a horse together.

My horse is called Tequila. A lot of horses are called Tequila, Whiskey or suchlike. I'm not entirely sure why. The lovely dark bay mare I rode on the first day was Marguerita, also a common horse name. I wouldn't be surprised if the government gave people a list of suitable horse names they were allowed to use. No paperwork was completed; everyone in Viñales knows one another, and so the horse went on "loan" for a week- after I'd leave, I would give my $100 to Rodrigo who would then go and complete the deal. So, officially, Tequila was never mine, but he was a fantastic horse and I sorely missed him after I left. I was a bit apprehensive at first- a young stallion is hard to ride in the best of times, but in a terrain I wasn't sure of and after several years of not much horse-handling experience, I thought it would be a real challenge. However, the first time I went along with Rodrigo's tour group, and the next I went alone but followed much of the same route. Eventually, I ventured further and further afield, even climbing up to the surrounding hills where the posh hotels were. They were rather surprised to see a foreign blond girl on a horse that seemed to be doing a side-stepping dance as soon as I pulled the reigns the slightest bit, but waved cheerfully at me anyway. Tequila was eager and energetic; and my heart nearly broke as on the last morning when I came to meet him, carrot in hand, he trotted over to me. And there I was, leaving the next day.

Viñales has been one of my favourite places ever, and not just because of the lovely family I stayed with, or Rodrigo and Tequila, but for the amazing scenery and for the fact that I very much got to live out my Cuban dream of rocking chairs, lazy days and neat rum in little chipped glasses. I had to leave and go back to Havana, but a little of me stayed in the valley. But I had a plane to catch, and a long trek to Medellin which would take me another five months, was about to begin.
Tomorrow, I would be in Mexico.

maaret in cuba

maaret in cuba

Posted by Ofelia 06.03.2013 04:47 Archived in Cuba Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises animals horses cuba horseback_riding Comments (0)

The Great Cuban Visa Run

(Yes, I know this is a year late. More than a year. But sometimes you have too much fun travelling to write, and not enough internet- so you scribble on paper like in the good olden days. Sigh.)

After three weeks of touring Cuba, with varying levels of success, I was back in Havana. In that time, the city had transformed from a lovely, breezy, sunny and romantic coffee-table book of "best places in the world" to an impossibly hot, stifling and sticky city where the smell of rubbish competed with the stale ocean stench. Summer was coming, fast, and the uncomfortableness of the heat was already settling in for the next eight months or so. I stood on the pavement at one of the largest intersections of Habana Centro, trying to fend off an amorous Cuban young enough to be my son, and scanning the street for a usually-ubiquitous fruit juice stall. I felt more than just hot; my plastic flip-flops seemed to have melted onto the pavement, rooting me as a part of the Havana street scene forever. It was time to shift cities.

I had thoroughly enjoyed my tour of Cuba; the small, provincial towns appealed to me far more than the famous night-life spots on the coast, sleepy cities such as Las Tunas and Bayamo. I had travelled with a 70-year old Australian lady who spent the night dancing on the street with an impossibly beautiful 19-year old Cuban, whilst a man played a piano in the middle of the street; hitched a ride with a slightly mad German who used to shout at lingering pedestrians things like "did you want to die today old man? If so, it's your lucky day!"; and got utterly lost in my favourite of cities, Camaguey, whilst queuing with the locals to buy a cheese pizza for 10 local pesos (that's about 30 pence) through some entrepreneuring lady's living room window. And I had ridden a lot of horses, drank lots of bad, tepid lager and talked to locals who were incredibly patient with my slow Spanish.

But back in Havana, I realised it was hot. And the day before my visa expired, I realised it was about to expire. Goody. I had had no internet, no phone and thus, as a modern Very-Busy-And-Connected person, I had completely lost track of time. I had been to Cuba a month and my visa needed a further stamp. So, after speaking to a few people who had done The Visa Run (they were all slowly going mad, going in and out of the immigration office which is, of course, ridiculously far from anywhere useful, and were now ready to just swim to Mexico to avoid going back to the office), I decided to head to Matanzas.

Really, I'm not sure why everyone wants to renew their visa in Havana. The queues are long, they get very arsy (one guy was sent back because he came in wearing flip-flops) and you are lucky if after an eight-hour wait they actually manage to see you that day. So I decided to head to Matanzas, because you can, actually, renew your visa in any of the state capitals. Matanzas was the closest, and it also held another appeal to me- I could go there using Cuba's only last remaining train line. Now, I like a nice train trip, even if I could do the same journey in a fraction of the time in a modern, air-conditioned bus which left on time and dropped you off in centre of town. Instead, I thought it might be fun to spend a whole day doing an 80-kilometre journey on a rusty train which anywhere else in the world would be in a museum, and would be likely to break down at any point. I had to take a bus and then a ferry to the start of the line, which in itself was absolutely nowhere. But it looked like fun. Apart from a few other tourists, all looking unreasonably exited to do a journey like this, there were a few Cubans, who must have spent their journey wondering why on earth anyone who can afford a nice, comfortable bus would opt for a rickety train through the thickest bush of Cuba? I bought a half-melted pot of strawberry ice-cream, purchased a ticket and sat on the wooden seat of the train.

After stopping everywhere, even at places that seemed to have no human habitation, such as a stable or a cow enclosure, we approached Matanzas after several hours. The train had progressed at a walking speed, huffing and puffing, cutting across the lovely green Cuban terrain, with occasional glimpses of the ocean between trees. I immediately liked Matanzas. Possibly, or very probably, because there was nothing there. The town was pretty but not overly so; people peered out of their doorways to see me pass (I got a little lost- what else is new?) but in a curious, non-threatening way. There were very few attractions for tourists, so few come- but I found a casa, paid for two nights and got settled.

Matanzas

Matanzas

I arrived on Wednesday. I fully expected to spend all of Thursday at the immigration, queuing, waiting, doing my rare routine of patience. So I went sightseeing a bit, took some photos and crossed the river to see some pretty cool Che Guevara- inspired wall paintings further afield. Then I sat down at the terrace of a beautiful, hacienda-styled restaurant, completed with colonnades and grand mahogany door, bought a beer, and pretended to read a book but instead, just people-watched. I can do this for hours. I'm forever being asked, What did you do? What do you do on your own? I watch. It's not every exciting, no, it's not like ticking off really cool stuff like shark-cage diving or racing your personal dolphin against a great white shark or whatever it is that these younger backpackers seem to do, but I love it. I can watch people pass by for hours- and sometimes their greatest enjoyment is to watch this odd foreigner with her luke-warm beer.

So, Thursday I was up early, had a coffee strong enough to make my hair stand up, fried eggs, bread and fried plantain, gathered my documents and armed with a book, water and snacks and mentally ready for a long wait, I went to the immigration office. I entered at 9.01. I left at 9.15 with a new stamp, my passport and a nice immigration lady wishing me a nice day. So, I was to have a whole other day in Matanzas, which, despite being nice, is rather sleepy. But I ought to explain. It wasn't really meant to be that easy. It all came down to a piece of gum.

I was called in immediately after getting in to have my documents assessed. The nice lady, along with her stern-looking supervisor, looked through my tickets and passport. It's always good to appear non-nonchalant in such circumstances, so I reached for a piece of gum and casually offered one to the lady processing my application. She looked at me, horrified and declined, with such conviction that for a moment, I thought I was in Singapore. The supervisor sauntered off, and suddenly, the woman, under her breath, whispered, "I'll have that gum now". I passed one, still surprised. She said she hadn't wanted to take one in front of her supervisor, in case he thought it would affect my application. I had never known a piece of gum to be used as a bribe, but there you go (I did use a torch once as a bribe, but that's a whole other story). She looked at me, saying she would need a registration number and a copy of the person's licence who's casa familiar I was staying at. I had no idea where I was staying; not the address nor the name of the person, which I had promptly forgotten. She brought up a database of all casas in Matanzas, and winked at me. "I think you might be staying with Diego. I happen to have a copy of Diego's licence. Is that correct". Yes, I answered. I had no idea who Diego was. She winked at me again, stamped my passport and tourist card, wished me a good day, and walking up to the door asked me for another piece of gum for her daughter.

So. Should anyone ever need tips on what to do in Matanzas for two days, I'm your lady. I had a pedicure by a small woman called Rosia, and went to the local cinema to see a wonderful Cuban film which cost me 3 local pesos- that's just over one UK penny. I walked to the edge of town and back, ate at a courtyard which was ambitiously named as "Food central- Matanzas" and consisted of 3 fast-food style stalls. I eyed the pricey, air-conditioned buses back to Havana, but as Friday came, I trudged the three-kilometre walk back to the tiny train station and took a rickety train back, watching cow sheds, sitting next to a goat and eating rapidly-melting ice-cream.

lady in Havana

lady in Havana

Posted by Ofelia 22.02.2013 02:59 Archived in Cuba Tagged trains visa train_travel cuban_visa Comments (0)

Cocktails in Havanna

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The cab spits me out onto the narrow pavement and speeds away angrily, just because I dared to make him look for the right address instead of letting him dump me in the right "general" area. I sigh and pick up my new, shiny, untarnished backpack. Taking taxis in the developing country is, despite 20-odd bungyjumps and other adrenaline activities, still the most extreme of experiences.

I am standing on a backstreet of Havanna, in the fading orange late afternoon light, surveying my surroundings, scenes plucked out of a coffe-table book - kids playing games on the pavement, using mandarines as balls; they land by my feet with a wet thump while the cars negotiate the kids and the kids negotiate the rules. I nudge it back to the smallest boy. He looks at me, confused, so I smile, and in reward, am rewarded by the most brilliant smile ever. In London I would have been knifed. At the street corner, a man is selling braids of garlics so white they are almost blue. A young woman stops to talk to him, providing a delicious contrast in her blue dress against the yellow wall. She laughs, loudly, cacklingly, and immediately changes her tone to berate a little girl lagging behind. The old man sitting by his door has pulled his armchair out onto the street to sit in and is quering after my well-being - his face is a wonderful map of deep wrinkles and his clothes tell a story of better times. I tell him I'm fine, just fine, I am, after all, in Havanna.

Dancers on the street

Dancers on the street

If there is one word to describe Havanna, it is romantic. The city is like an old cabaret singer, once glamorous, still full of attitude, and having never quite made it, it's now clinging onto its fading beauty and the nostalgia of what could have been. I love cities like this. They look lived-in, almost like all the life that's taken place inside the walls couldn't be contained, and the facades are bursting at the seams. In fact, the peeling paint and missing railings give the city a feel that the next storm from the Caribbean might just make it tumble down like dominoes. No one seems too worried though. A bit of Unesco money goes a long way in Habana Vieja, but I am in Habana Centro, where roads smell a bit more of pee and kids have slightly raggier clothes on.

Soon I make new friends at the hostel and they feel like the best friends I've ever had- definate upside of travelling, this quick bonding. We venture out to old Havanna, walking along the derelict seaside walk, the Malecon, where waves beat the city fortification, old pink and green cadillacs saunter along cos they won't go faster than 40 miles an hour, and hopeful makeshift bands do their buenavistasocialclub -repertoire for tourists in hope for a few cucs. We walk the town, through the four main squares, taking on a church and a plaza after another. The tout-to-tourist ratio is higher here than anywhere I've been, and I get fed up within an hour. We escape onto the rooftop of a grand hotel, watching the sunset-lit view over the town. I make a rookie mistake of ordering a Cuba Libre just for the name, forgetting its only rum and coke; a bit wiser, I follow it with the strongest mojito I've ever had. My new best friends have piña coladas and daiquiries and we swap and change our drinks as the sun disappears behind the posh hotels far way in the Vedado district. Yep, I think I'm going like Cuba.

Havanna's Malecon

Havanna's Malecon

Posted by Ofelia 31.01.2013 08:54 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Press the Pedal

The comfort of home and the awkwardness of leaving

So here we are again, at the brink of another long trip, over 3 years after the last one finished, I let my blog die and tried to live a conventional life instead. Or the brink of something, certainly. Why? Because for a long time, my life hadn't quite felt like my own. All the pieces of the puzzle fit, but the picture made no sense; I've often thought life to be a Monet painting- sometimes you need to step back quite far to see the bigger picture. And going away was my chance to make a break with circumstances, and quite frankly, I had been slipping away for months before I decided to go- reading books about the Amazon and conjugating Spanish verbs, so much so that the decision to leave fell somewhere in between the chapters of my books.

And so my fickle-ish decision took on a life of its own; I'd been sitting in the same old traffic light, staring at the red that never changed, and I was relieved to be lead. And when everyone around me started to get excited about my trip, I thought they were talking about someone else; so much so that I envied this person who was going to take on Latin America (or wherever else her fancy took her). So I packed bags for this person, I searched internet sites and guidebooks; reviewed the best travel towels online, cancelled her direct debits and packed her shoes into neat storage boxes. I ate cereal for dinner so this much-envied woman could afford her trip, I walked to work, declined invitations to go to the pub, I duct-taped my old Nokia together. I watched the steady increase of pennies onto a savings account which I'd never had before, and felt more removed from the trip than the people who were listening to me go on about it. So when January finally came, I felt like a novice soldier sent to war- perfectly kitted and emotionally lost.

Oh well, such first-world problems. Like a friend of mine said, she knows no one who evokes as much pity and envy simultaneously.

But I also felt a bit rebellious. I am, as a 33-year old woman, frequently being told to start living in the real world, much to my amusement. The real world, which doesn´t, obviously, involve talking politics in a tiny cornershop in Shiraz with an elderly Iranian, sharing a meal with a Cuban family or sitting alone at the top of a Cambodian mountain. Real life has nothing to do with letting three giggling little girls braid your hair at an African village, racing a drunken gaucho at the Andes or skydiving through a circular rainbow. Oh well. I went travelling again because I wanted to delay the onset of real life as long as possible, and because I like racing drunken gauchos almost anywhere in the world.

So lets see how it goes, shall we?

Posted by Ofelia 23.01.2013 19:35 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged backpacking preparation Comments (0)

Drinking Beer in a Burkha

Off the beaten track in Iran

“Would you like a…beer?” asks the guy in a hushed voice. I’m boiling. It’s about hundred degrees Celsius outside, the red plastic chair feels uncomfortable and I’m about to rip off my burkha in a fit of childish temper tantrum. I look around. The small kebab shop in middle-of-nowhere, Iran, doesn’t seem like the likely place for a secret drinking den. In fact, it and the dusty road dotted with small huts looks like just about anywhere in the Middle East. However, my companion, a burly bloke who’s been talking about beer non-stop, answers enthusiastically for both of us. Tomorrow, I’m getting rid of the burkha. I feel slightly silly wearing it; no modern or fashionable girl in Iran wears one, and as a foreigner, they are slightly bemused by me wearing it. At the border crossing a middle-aged woman pulled my hair covering off, and seemed disappointed not to encounter blond hair; nevertheless, she insisted on a photo of me- the first of many.

The beer arrives, and to the disappointment of my companion, it’s tepid non-alcoholic beer, mango-flavoured. I don’t care; the sweat is now mixed with dust from an earlier sand storm and I’m ready to drink anything.

Women in Esfahan

Women in Esfahan


Tea and cake break

Tea and cake break


Two girls chilling out at a mosque

Two girls chilling out at a mosque

Travelling in Iran has helped me understand how animals in zoos must feel. Everything I do is a source of amazement to locals- is she ordering that? What kinds of shoes is she wearing? Do people from Europe like ice-cream too? Really? I am both the paparazzi and the celebrity; I’m endlessly taking photos of doors or kids to the amusement of Iranians, and they constantly ask me to stand in photos with them. I was afraid that I might not be able to visit the amazing mirror-covered mosques of Shiraz as a non-Muslim, but the resourceful women pulled me into the back room and covered me head to toe in a chador, and guided me through the sights, explaining everything enthusiastically in Farsi. The west might have shuts its doors on Iran, but the Iranians are opening all possible doors for me.

Mosque in Esfahan

Mosque in Esfahan


...and a mosque in Shiraz

...and a mosque in Shiraz

I’m painfully aware that two weeks in Iran is nothing. The country is vast with so much to offer that I feel like a child in a sweets store. The itinerary is focused on the south; Esfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis and Yazd, and when I’m asked what my favourite place is, I genuinely cannot answer. In Esfahan we stumble upon a few western tourists, all with a guide on organised trips. I leave my travel buddies to haggle over carpets, and escape to one of the unassuming looking buildings next to Imam Square. Inside, a peaceful and lush courtyard completed with a fountain, goldfish and tortoises awaits, and I sit on a colourful Persian rug and order a spiced cinnamon cake. I have no idea where I am. Maybe at a museum? A palace? It’s hard to care when it’s so relaxing. Even the sellers in the bazaar around Imam Square and it’s majestic blue mosques only make a half-hearted attempt in flogging their goods to me. I’m left completely alone to marvel at the intricate turquoise and yellow walls.

So peaceful

So peaceful


Detail of a wall- so beautiful!

Detail of a wall- so beautiful!

In Shiraz, I encounter a small doze of reality- one of my friends get a mild case of food poisoning, and we need to find an English-speaking doctor from the government-run hospital. When we get refused entry at the palatial foyer, I’m a bit stunned; an armed guard guides us to a small door at the side, covered with a heavy curtain- the women’s entrance, mixed with damp and sweaty smells. A stern woman looks at us disapprovingly, and we get veiled to our fingertips- my friend’s a bit weak so I’m holding up her chador as well as my own. We look like two rubbish bags floating through the hospital corridors. My friend gets a doze of antibiotics and a drip on her arm for the morning, and we escape the formality of the Iranian government back to the streets where girls wear jeans and their scarves bob along at the back of their head, showing highlights and red lipstick.
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Being touristy

Being touristy

The one concession we decide to make is to go on a guided tour of Persepolis and Necropolis, mainly so that we are able to get something out of it. As lovely as people are, they sometimes forget that we have no idea what they are saying, and so most things we just agree to by nodding and smiling. Persepolis, though, is somewhat of a let-down; there are only a few bit standing. I had expected some sort of reconstructed pictures of what the place had probably looked like, but none were presented. On the upside, Necropolis, with its massive rock-carved tombs is breathtaking. The sun is merciless and the giant rock face in front of us vibrates in the heat, as the guide, interestingly enough, seems to just read out the notes already in place.

Climbing up to Persepolis

Climbing up to Persepolis


Standing guard in Persepolis

Standing guard in Persepolis


Necropolis, the grand burial ground of dead kings

Necropolis, the grand burial ground of dead kings

During our last night in Esfahan, a man invites us to dinner. No one knows who the man is, but he seems to be a friend of the receptionist in our hotel. We vote, and decide to go along. As we are six, he bundles three of us into his car, and three into someone else’s car. We slalom through the traffic and the host pays, worryingly enough, more attention to us than his driving. His house is tucked away on a back street, opulent, but in almost hotel-style in its clinical tidiness- wonderful rugs, paintings and ornate but uncomfortable high-backed chairs. His family, son, daughter and wife, usher us to sit down. We sit on one side of the large living room. They sit in the other. We are given endless bowls of fruit and nuts, halva, sweets and gaz, a sort of nougat with pistachios when the questions begin to flood- which of you are married? Where do you work? How much do you earn? – questions which we are, to say the least, mildly uncomfortable in answering. I reach for an almond and ask where the rest of our friends are.
“Your friends?” our host asks, “Your friends? They are probably dead by now”.
My hand stops halfway between the bowl and my mouth. I look at the two people I’m with and become painfully aware that I a) do not know where I am, b) have no idea who this person is and c) I really didn’t want to die before getting to North Korea. Our host stares at us, silently, before bursting to a hackling laugh. His whole family join in. He slaps his cousin in the back, and says, “Iranian humour, you see”.

Spices at the Bazaar

Spices at the Bazaar


Chai being served at the bazaar

Chai being served at the bazaar


The non-tourist part of the market. Even got my bum pinched here. Very unusual for Iran!

The non-tourist part of the market. Even got my bum pinched here. Very unusual for Iran!

Yazd is a different world compared to Shiraz and Esfahan. We move from the luscious and green cities to a brown and sandy town, full of narrow, winding roads reminiscent of North Africa, a skyline dominated by wind-catchers, ancient and natural air-conditioning systems. We get lost, but it doesn’t matter; everywhere is beautiful. We give up on the very old guidebook and just flow through the streets. General good mood prevails- people smile at us, we smile at them; they shake our hands and welcome us to Iran. I never thought I’d feel so comfortable being lost in a city where I can’t read the signs or understand anyone.

Windcatchers on top of buildings

Windcatchers on top of buildings


Zoroastrian Tower of Silence, where the dead were left so vultures could dispose of the body

Zoroastrian Tower of Silence, where the dead were left so vultures could dispose of the body

Yazd is a centre for Zoroastrianism, the first monotheist religion in the world, and we visit some of the holy sites as well as more mosques and bazaars; it is a very pleasant few days. On the night train to Tehran I chat to a middle-class chap in the next row, and he points at a picture of the Iranian president, “The donkey of Iran”, he declares. A bold statement, and even I look around nervously. “Please tell people in the west that we are very nice people, not terrorists”, he says. His wife and I talk about the scarves and the hijab. Iranian women are feisty things who are keen on hearing my opinion on the scarf. In the restaurant car, I order chicken with rice, a staple dish, and the man answers, 75,000 fish. Fish? Fish. He points at the money. Ah. I draw a picture of a fish, and say, “This- fish. That (pointing at the money)- Money”. It takes a while to sink in. Finally, the man bursts into a laugh. Actually, he’s laughing so hard he has tears in his eyes. He realises he’s just asked me for fish. He tells this to everyone in the restaurant, still laughing, and soon all the tables are laughing. I point at my purse, faking stunned, and show, no fish. The man is in stitches. I offer him 75,000 rials for my dinner, and he waves it away. No need, it’s on us.

Typical dinner

Typical dinner


Typical tea break

Typical tea break

The day before we cross the border to Turkey we realise we still have, like, shed-loads of money. We’ve spent hardly anything. We sit down for a strawberry beer and contemplate. Unfortunately it’s Friday and most stores are shut. We try to tip the nice boy in the juice bar, but he insists we take our change. We insist back. The store is humming with various coolers and fridges and sports the same ubiquitous red plastic chairs. As we are leaving, he chases us down the street with our change. We cannot get rid of this money, it seems, so we flood a tiny chemists, one of the only shops which is open. We buy just about anything we can- I buy two pairs of socks and a deodorant, because, well, you always need them. One of the other girls buys hairclips. The shopkeeper is an elderly man, who probably didn’t expect six westerns to buy his store empty, but he keeps his cool. I’m the last person to pay, and he insists, no, these are on me. I’m desperate, I want to give him money, and finally he agrees. At the hotel, I leave a tip for the room cleaner and tell my friend to clear out quick before the cleaner realises and tries to give it back. We flee to the street and hail a taxi to the Turkish border.

And of course, just like all good backpackers, we then haggle on the taxi price for ages.

Street Vendor

Street Vendor


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Scenery from along the way

Scenery from along the way

Posted by Ofelia 19.04.2012 05:01 Archived in Iran Comments (2)

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