Our driver quit us today. Nadia got a call at 8:00 this morning from yesterday's driver who claimed he'd had an accident and could no longer drive us. Notoriously unreliable, drivers are untrained and beyond a driver's license, unregulated. Nadia, in a panic, placed calls all over and at 10:30 Mohammed showed up. Tall, thin and craggy featured, Mohammed sported a very cool haircut high and tight on the sides erupting into a volcanic mass of luxurious waves on top; a twenty two year old university student, he's studying civil engineering and studying for final exams.
We made a quick first stop at a beautiful and famous mosque lined entirely in Venetian mirror mosaics, most of them 450 years old. We cloaked ourselves in floor length shawls and entered the women's section where ladies,for good luck would touch the cage which encases the tomb of a famous Muslim cleric. Money, in piles five feet deep surrounds the tomb and we watched as two women in chador stuffed cash through the holes and bowed their heads in prayer. Women sat on the floor or knelt praying quietly. As we passed by, a woman waved Nadia over and questioned her sternly. Nadia told me the woman had cautioned her against traveling alone. Another woman did the same thing,repeated the warning and told her not to go out alone at night.
Eyes still glistening from the mirror glitz, we strolled through the bazaar on our way to one of the most famous gardens in Iran, Bagh-e-Delgosha.
In the bazaar, a clothing moment when Nadia discovered pajamas -a perfect match for Richard's shirt.
I talked him out of buying them.
After the garden visit, with his calculus crib sheets stuffed between the seats, Mohammed hit the road at a blazing pace, the radio chattering away, Nadia asleep in the front seat, Richard and I jammed in the back with maps, cameras, back packs and bottled water. Our journey was to be 700 kilometers across the desert. We ate up the highway in the Peugeot driving about 110 k per hour past chalky white dried salt lakes, cement plants, rock quarries and sporadic groves of figs or olives. We stopped halfway for lunch. That's when we learned Mohammed had pulled an all nighter and his red rimmed eyes were not a natural feature.
Exiting the super cold air conditioning of the car, hot air blew over us like a convection oven.
Nadia read the menu and we decided on the Shallot Yogurt 5% fat as an appetizer, beef kebabs for Mohammed and Richard, eggplant stew for Nadia and fried chicken with tomato sauce for me. We shared a large platter of rice. Mohammed, bleary and weary, scrolled through his phone calls while downing a couple of non-alcoholic beers and sprinkling his food with sumac. The platters were liberally garnished with fresh basil which everyone chews along with the food. The food was adequate truck stop food, Iran style. I visited the deplorable toilet and thought about our friend Diep in Vietnam running ahead of her tour groups to the toilets where she'd spray everything with Eau de Fresh Air. While Iran is very clean..hotel rooms, restaurants, public buildings, even the bazaar, the public toilets are awful.
Back into the car and the remainder of the long ride, another 300 clicks to Kerman. Mohammed is like David Letterman...he keeps the car like a meat locker. We aren't complaining because he has to stay awake another three and a half hours.
In Sirjan, at a stop sign, a little kid approached the car with an empty tomato sauce can billowing smoke and fastened to a wire which he waved at Mohammed. "Evil eye protection", Nadia explained awakening momentarily from her nap. I guess these kids are the Iranian equivalents of New York City windshield washer men.
It's not the evil eye we fear but the crazy drivers. Most cars sport numbers of dings if not big bashes here and there. At the very least, cars have a scraped patch along the door. Most of the cars are dirty. Iranians do not appear to be a culture of car washers. As we arrived in Kerman at 9:00 traffic was jammed up. We saw one car pull away from the pack and drive backwards down the road. Backwards! We were agog. Nadia, nodding, tells us, "Yes, this is done here."
Not my photo below but pretty much the way it looks.
Half frozen from keeping Mohammed cool, we popped out of the back seat like a couple of ice cubes.
Tomorrow we visit bazaars, mosques and gardens around Kerman.