Yazd itself is the center of the Zoroastrian faith (apparently) and before Zorastor's legacy is said to have witnessed human activity for the last three to four thousand years. Zoroastrianism, just a Lonely Planet reference here, is really the first monotheistic religion based around the idea of an omnipresent, invisible great being/ God of sorts. They're somewhat hippy in that elemental stuff is sacred: not wanting to contaminate the earth with burial or the air with cremation, they leave (left) people who've passed to the vultures atop the towers of silence (thundercrash). They maintain an eternal flame, apparently it's been burning since the 5th century CA.
Anyway all corpse-picking pyrotechnic old stuff aside, Yazd is the sort of place I'd like to retire in. I can see myself perched on the roofs smoking Galean (Hookah/ hubbly bubbly/ water pipe) and watching sun set over the mud brick metropolis. Numerous minarets and mosques dot the horizon. In the distance the view gets an extra bit of umph from a vast expanse of desert and the sudden eruption of mountains that catch the shifting hues of sunset. Excuse me, excessive bohemian outburst back there.
The Orient hotel is nearly as effective as Buchara in terms of being a tourist trap: you will inevitably go there for either a late dinner, water pipe, or lodging at one point, but it is nevertheless an amazingly well done tourist trap. I could go on about views and stuff but I'll spare you.
We spent a few days in Yazd meeting up with various other tourists whom we've been continually running into over here. Friday, the day of rest, in particular, was eerie in the absolute silence that fell over the city. We ran into Sam, Chris, and Yuki all by accident either in the Orient or somewhere out in the maze of alleyways that sprawl through old town. Aside from the occasional gathering of youngsters playing football or utilizing concrete ping pong tables we were some of the only people out in the streets. The Iranian siesta also helps add to the feeling of running around in a ghost town. At dusk the loudspeakers are fired up and the duet of prayer between Imam and the local congregation echoes through the city. We sit on the rooftop of the Orient, eating fesinjun (pomegranate and walnut-sauced chicken, awesome... considering I hadn't ever eaten a pomegranate before anyway...) and smoking. The latter becomes a bit of a ritual in a country where it is the only form of legal substance abuse. Shisha is a wet tobacco mixed with dried fruits by the way. I get the idea the 'high' is a result more of oxygen deprivation than anything else.
Saturday, however, the city comes back to life and this is what I have begun to appreciate about Iran: it has the mosques, madrassas, and old-school bazaars of Uzbekistan, but they're all in use here. I also serve a utilitarian purpose for a few individuals: one asks me to carry a letter for him to Australia (he gives me his relatives address, he's in no rush but it'll be cheaper and he says I'll be welcome in that community etc. etc.) Another, Hassin, gives me 40,000 rials to buy him a copy of the latest Lonely Planet Middle East. I suspect it's for piracy purposes, and it's probably easier to get a hold of over in the States or Oz, but I'm not sure why the hell he puts so much trust in random foreign stranger off the street. Thoughts of potential scams even run through my head but later in the day I run into him and he's in a rush to chain up his bike and hop on his friends motorbike. He sees me "can you take this to the carpet shop across from the Orient?" he asks. Fair enough. Once again I'm expecting cops to surround me in the hope of recovering a stolen bicycle from an opportunistic foreigner or find drugs strapped under the seat (i have a bit of a feel around in the more obvious places with no success for fulfilling my ambition for danger), but after a few minutes of creaking down the street I deliver the bike to his brother and explain that Hassin put me in charge of getting it back and he had to jet. He's a bit confused, broken Farsi doesn't help, he then recognizes the bike and shakes his head "Ha! Ok. Hassin." He then offers me tea. Still, no cops or revolutionary guard. I sulkily sip my tea.
We spend three days in Yazd. I could have spent more. Like the island of Calipso, minus hot scantily clad Mediterranean women. In several years I'm sure I would have been rallying for the installation of a shuffleboard on the roof of the orient and the founding of a bridge club. But we needed to move on.
We intended to bus down to Shiraz but after 20 minutes of fruitless argumentation with the bus drivers (also horrible people, right after cabbies) we took a stand for foreigners in the future. I shrugged with a frown, "ok, too bad, 15,000 rials or no rials" the dust swirled around my face, probably still bearing that same smug 'you choose' look and we found ourselves questioning our righteousness in the Yazd bus terminal. Another driver asked us if we were going to Esfahan and this time did gives us a reasonable deal for transport of the bikes and we were off.
I'll save Esfahan for later. We spent a day and a night there before heading south to Shiraz, the launch pad to Persepolis.
Shiraz has a reputation in Iran for being rather laid back, lazy by other city standards. The traffic is still an exercise in the near-death experience but the pace of the city otherwise is seemingly slower than what we had seen in either Masshad or Esfahan. Shiraz was fantastic in that out ability to locate Chaihanas (tea houses, Galian-equipped) had improved a considerable degree. By the end of our three days down there we had managed to locate more than enough to keep us occupied in the unfortunate event of any sort of momentary boredom. Shady windows in the upper floors of a building, a red back light and billows of smoke swirling around behind the windows acted as a beacon for an opportunity to kill time. Climbing up the stairs we didn't expect to be welcomed in such a way, but we soon found ourselves tangled up in conversation with a number of individuals a number of whom, get this, were female! I could hear the tut-tuts of disapproving clerics echoing in the distance. The hang out turned out to be one of the stranger nights we've had out in Iran, but not necessarily in any bad way. Aside from the excessively grabby nature of Ali, the kilogram-endowed individual to Dave's right, the night was rather pleasant. I passed around my phrase book and honed my charade skills, others "I LOVE YOU!" and "You're very great". As much as I'd like to believe they knew what they were talking about, this should probably be taken as an example of how limited their English ability really was. My point is that we were able to communicate enough (comprehension doesn't really take much when everyone's smoked up and a number of the customers are probably on drugs, another unfortunate scourge in some Iranian circles). Good times.
Shiraz is also famous for the Shiraz grape and subsequently the Shiraz wine... which wasn't to be found. Fresh out of happy hangover juice. Yay revolution.
I should probably dedicate a lengthy amount of time to intricate descriptions of Persepolis and how it truly deserves a place as one of the wonders of the world but there's not much to say aside from the obvious. All of my middle-school ancient history obsessed giddiness came up like a rising flood and within minutes of arrival i was hailing my tributaries, addressing my loyal Persian citizens, languorously giving orders to members of my harem and trying to put out the flames started by Alexander which eventually consumed the roof and melted the iron fasteners, bringing my beautiful metropolis crashing down around me. DAMN YOU ALEXANDER! Fair enough, Persia torched Athens some years before, we had it coming. Still, it was a breath of fresh air from all the post-Mohammedian fanfare I've been running into over here. Believe me, I dig it, but a review of my camera gives me countless pictures of Dave looking up at magnificent architecture and floral patterns, or me utilizing the timer on my camera to take pictures of me looking up at magnificent architecture and floral patterns. Like that last sentence, it's a bit repetitive. It was what I expected, but well worth the trip. Large packs of parasol-ed Americans in tour groups squinted in unison and commenting on the scene around them: on graffiti dating back to the 17th century, some of the most important figures and explorers of their day, creating history as they went by tagging these ancient monuments with their names and dates of a hard-earned visit via donkey or unruly camel across the desert... Robert from Texas "you know, graffiti in a place like this, I'd like to have a gun and just... anytime someone started to graffiti this stuff... just blow 'em away" I understand he was referring to more contemporary abuses of name-writing but I'm sure Napoleon's boys at Giza would have had something to say to that "eh...quoi?".
Our last night in Shiraz Dave and I utilized one of the many Chaihanas and got into discussions about family and being home. From the bus Iran looks so much like Utah, the relative scale throws me off a bit. West of Shiraz on the return to Esfahan where we had left our bikes, the mountains are enormous. Valleys plunge below us and stretch out across countless kilometres of steppe or desert before shooting skyward again as dominant and solid masses of stone. Powdered now with snow at the top the light brown sweep from snow line to valley floor is that much more impressive and krass. At the same time, I'm left wondering why I need to come all this way to see a high desert that resonates a landscape of home. But the Iranians themselves answer that question. We are the subject of numerous goofy and awkward greetings from passing individuals but we feel pretty welcome here. Nevertheless, being within a mile of home is one of the most emotionally volatile positions someone can find themselves in. We have another week until the train leaves for Istanbul, a city I will not be able to do any justice for lack of time. I look forward to the sprawling and apparently liberal behemoth of Tehran but really I'm focusing on home. Patience patience patience.