Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ghesm Island, Iran

Flying from Shiraz to Ghesm showed amazing lines of dry mountains and winding riverbeds slowly turn into drastic cliffs and scrubby desert.

We landed and were impressed by the tourist information booth ('Seven wonders of the Persian Gulf') and the on site diving incubator! We joined the swarm for a taxi, finally getting in one, we pondered how much it would cost as there was no meter. How hard to bargain? Then we saw that it was 45km to town and were glad we hadn't asked as it would probably have just shocked us! However, as is reasonable Iran, it ended up only being $15.

The view from the Diplomat Hotel in Ghesm town. Hormuz Island is on the horizon but difficult to see.
We got to the Diplomat Hotel whose tiny zoo-like lobby was a fascinating look into the travelers of Ghesm. A sign on the wall warned that all women must wear Islamic dress including the hijab, but a glance around had three very heavily painted women: one with a bandana tied scarf and stray hairs poking out around her bare neck (forbidden), one African looking woman with all purple (colors are frowned upon), and short Capri pants (legs!), and while the third was properly covered, her casual seat on the front steps and her flouncing around in her flowing abaya showed she felt very comfortable around all the many men that overflowed the well-used seats. At first we thought they were prostitutes but then we discovered their plight: they are all women from Dubai on visa runs. We later discovered that one was a Nigerian woman who had been stuck here for a week waiting for her visa and trapped like a prisoner with no money! She told us of someone else who was stuck here for 3 months. They are at the complete mercy of the Dubai government bothering to send them the visa letter fax, and often get stuck with no money and no hopes on this island and more famous Kish Island, both Duty Free ports. They all thought we were insane to be tourists in what they considered a god-forsaken place. It was interesting, if tragic, nevertheless. This is also the first time in a long while that I've had a squatter toilet in my room.

Wow, what a forgotten corner of the world this is! It was touted to be like the gulf was before the oil boom and does seem like it, and we had no idea how large the island was until we got here. 160km of very little except spectacular land formations and wild deserts that must be awfully hot in summer. We sat in our hotel watching the (smuggling) speedboats zip across the harbor contrasting with the newly constructed mosque with half -finished zellij tile decorations going up the 4 minarets, preparing to go to the Portuguese fort here in ancient-but-you-wouldn't-know-it-Ghesm-town.

The stew that is dizi... the mixed vegetables before and after!
We ate a scrumptious local dish for dinner from a little cafe because we couldn't be bothered waiting for the restaurants to open at 8pm. The eating of 'Dizi' is best summed up by the Lonely Planet:

"Getting dizi
Known alternatively as abgusht (or as piti in Azerbaijan, though I never saw it there) dizi is a cheap soup-stew meal named for the earthenware pot in which it's stewed (ours was metal). It's considered by many Iranians as the old of the poor. But assuming you're neither a vegetarian nor obsessive about cholesterol, it's actually a delicious and filling dish. There is, however, an art to eating it. First, drain off the soupy broth into a bowl full of bread that you've previously ripped into bite-sized morsels. Eat this stew the turn to the main ingredients: chickpeas, potatoes, tomatoes, and soft-boiled mutton. Grind these together using a provided metal pestle that looks disturbingly like a stylized toilet plunger. Do include the inevitable chunk of fat; it might look unappetizing but adds to taste and texture. Eat the resulting mush with a spoon or bread."

Day 2

A day to go around the island and see the seven wonders of the gulf. We started off at the dhow yards where we contrasted the wooden ones with the fiberglass ones. It was interesting to see how fiberglass is made. This was the period when Iran was testing nuclear missiles in the Gulf and threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz. We saw many military jets zooming overhead while we criss-crossed the sand piles.

Then we went on to the town of Laft where they are still using the ancient system of air conditioning, the wind towers called bagdirs. It was lovely to see the boats lined up in front of the town as it unfolded down the hill. The mangrove forests were amazing. 9000 square hectares, with dolphins, storks, pelicans, seagulls and other birds. We even prevented our boat driver from pulling a nest out of a particularly old tree.

The view from Khorbas cave.

Valley of the Fallen Stars.
Valley of the Fallen Stars.
Chah Kuh Valley.
The two geological formations we visited, Chah Kuh Valley and the Valley of Fallen Stars were spectacular. Water erosion has created spectacular winding valleys to walk down and climb up, and we all got as dusty as we could. We finished the day at Khorbas cave which was a couple of houses carved out of the cliff whose tunnels we explored in the dark as the sun had already set.
Day 3

We took a tiny speedboat ferry across to mainland Iran, making bets as to whether they would check our passports (we were thinking of the ladies at the Diplomat Hotel making their escape!). They didn't. No jets or missiles either! We arrived into Bandar Abbas, one of the many bandars (ports) along the coast, and taxied to the little town of Minab, which has a famous Thursday market. Anyone else would think we were crazy to go so far just to see oranges and abayas on sale, but it was a fascinating mix of people, with a snake charmer, toothless old ladies, and an amazing collection of people going about their business.

Day 4

White caps on the sea cancelled our desires to ferry across to see the large fort on Hormuz Island, which we could see in the distance at sunrise and sunset. Instead we lazed in the sun and read.

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