February 28th, 2005 – by: Aopaq
Fishing nets at small village.
After spending some time in the big city of Tehran, I headed off with my Iranian companion to the south. In particular, Maryam suggested we check out the island of Qeshm, via the city of Bandar Abbas. After a full day exploring the island, our plan was to return to Bandar Abbas to catch the night plane to Shiraz.
So we spent the day driving around the island and seeing many interesting sights. Our plane was at 8:10 pm, so we figured, catch the 35 minute speedboat ride back to Bandar at around 5:00 and then a half hour to the airport and no problems.
Friendly boat driver who took us on tour of the mangrove swamp.
We ended up having an incredible late lunch at a man's house we met at the mangrow jungle on the island and got a bit carried away with the family having fun. So by the time we headed back to Qeshm city it was a little late. Well, we pulled into the dock area and were told that the place was closed and the last boat had left. No problem said our excellent guide and a friend of Maryam, you can still get to Bandar. It was around 5:30 pm now. So he drove us a little past the ferry terminal to where men were hanging out and we could see some boats and people past the stretch of tidal flats. After negotiating a price, we took our stuff and hopped on some 2-wheeled carts and were pushed over the flats out to one of the boats. After a little more palm greasing we were in the boat with a young boy, a middle-aged man and two women dressed in colourful chadores but with the face masks on that are characteristic of the area.
An excellent seafood lunch.
They soon started chatting with us and we quickly realized that with all of their parcels, these were in fact smugglers. They were bringing cheap goods from Dubai to sell at the market in Bandar. But they were all very nice, the older man from Iraq, the two women from Bandar , the young (12 years old) Afgani boy and of course the Kurdish boat driver. Interestingly, they kept telling us if we were stopped to say that they were all just poor people trying to make a living. We returned their smiles and agreed although neither of us were sure who they wanted us to tell this to. However, this became more apparent as we slowly started off, but in the wrong direction....we were just hugging the coastline. Then at one point a fast speedboat headed in our direction and our driver headed to shore and pulled up his motor.
This is when we learned that the police patrolled the area for smugglers....and that was who the smugglers wanted us to plead their cases to. So now it was very obvious we were running with the smugglers whether we liked it or not.
Since we missed the last official ferry back to Bandar Abbas, we had to hitch a ride with a group of friendly smugglers in a boat driven by a nice Kurdish fellow.
So we sat a while watching the police boat that had returned back down the shore a ways and once it got darker, our driver finally started off again. After continuing to hug the coast a little, he finally turned up the throttle and we headed out to open sea. And as it got darker I realized I was in a boat with no life vests, no oars and no running lights. I guess the only positive was that it was pretty warm so we would be able to survive in the water for a while....a reassuring thought.
The boat cruised along and as it got darker the lights on the Bandar side became even brighter so at least it wasn't really that dark and the driver could see other boats fairly well.
As we skimmed over the water avoiding the wakes of other vessels, my friend found out more about our fellow passengers and we even became all quite close. Amazing how that can happen so quickly...maybe stress helps the process. As Bandar seemed to get closer, I was feeling better and thinking that we definitely would make our flight. At that time, we also learned that for their efforts these smugglers would only make about $5-7! And as for the 12 year old, he was supporting his family including three sisters and three brothers. One of the Bandar ladies was also divorced with 6 children. Their stories were unbelievable, but so too was their spirit and friendliness. In fact, at one point one of the woman motioned for me to sit beside her. I was really surprised at this as she was originally wearing a veil and was, I assumed, quite religious.
The quiet, 12 year old Afghani boy smuggling goods to help support his family. Fortunately, after being stopped by the harbour police, we were released without a problem and even made our airline flight time leaving Bandar Abbas.
For a man to sit beside her really was forbidden, so I thought....maybe it was ok because she was the divorced one.
Maryam and the smugglers. The two ladies in the back were from Bandar Abbas and the gentleman was Iraqi.
So I was feeling not too bad until, the driver turned off the motor suddenly and pulled it out of the water. My heart sunk. Was their something wrong? How would we get to land? Would we be out here all night? But thankfully, he was just checking the prop and we were soon underway again. But then shortly afterward, a bright light was directed at us and the others scrambled to get out of sight. Too late....the Bandar side police had spotted us. Everyone was silent as they approached and just before they pulled alongside, my friend told me to make sure to speak only English.
Soon the police boat was right next to us but the initial conversation with the driver was relatively short and calm.
I looked into the other boat and could see two figures in the back and two standing in the front. But it was pretty dark so actual faces were not really discernable. I sat quietly talking to my friend once in awhile as the others now started talking with the police. My heart was definitely beating quicker now as my thoughts of making the flight definitely took a back seat. Suddenly, one of the police jumped into our boat and started up the motor and we were off again.
Ferry dock at Qeshm Island
Eventually, my friend started talking to the policeman who told her nothing would happen. She relayed this message on to me but I was not really convinced nor even certain where we were headed. Our boat now followed the police vessel in complete silence. However, eventually we came to the local docking area where some other boats were and we pulled up.
The Afgani boy was first out with his parcels followed shortly by my friend and me. And we climbed the stairs and just kept walking as quickly as possible. We had made it! And the best part was that even though we had been on the water for over 1 hour, it was only 7:00 pm so we would still make our 8:10 flight.
View of the Strait of Hormoz in the Persian Gulf
As we continued from the dock, we ran into the Afgani boy and chatted briefly with him. Later we also saw the Iraqi man who shook my hand and thanked us as my friend explained that he was convinced because of us that they were all let go without problem. I don't know if that was true or what happened to the driver (if anything). But as my heart returned to its normal rate, I was just happy my first, and last, run with the smugglers was over.