Day 50 (1): Slow travel
Fuman Travel Blog› entry 74 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Majid (Iran)
It was time to slow things down a bit. The last four weeks had seen me make quite a mad dash through Eastern Turkey and the Caucasus and I wasn't intending to keep this pace for the rest of my journey. I didn't have to. For the first time this trip I was faced with having (relatively) lots of time for the sights I want to visit. I had had some advice on which places to visit in Iran and how long for, and these sights totalled to a trip of 16 days. I have 28 days to spend in this country, so that means I can leisurely make my way east without having to hurry.
Well, even if I wanted to, it wouldn't be possible to hurry. Iran doesn't have the same infrastructure as Turkey and even short distances can sometimes take a whole day for lack of efficient bus transportation.
I wanted to travel to the mountain village of Masouleh. For that I would first have to travel to the city of Rasht, 100 km west of Masouleh. From here I might be able to find transport to Fuman and then on to Masouleh. All seemingly very complicated.
From Astara there aren't a lot of buses either. Mohamed, the man I'd met at the border yesterday, was trying to catch the 3 PM bus to Tehran yesterday, which also stops in Rasht. It turns out it is the only daily bus that goes to Rasht from Astara. Had I made a mistake staying in Astara then? Well, no, I don't think so.
And where bus transport is lacking, there are shared taxis filling the gap. The only problem is that for a shared taxi you need other people to share with. So I found myself sitting all by myself at a parking lot at 9 in the morning, waiting for other people travelling to Rasht.
It took almost an hour before the second passenger showed up. A shared taxi won't leave until there are four passengers. It seemed however that the other passenger was happy to pay for the empty seats, because after a short discussion with the driver, I was told to get into the taxi and we left.
The road from Astara to Rasht was very interesting.
After about three hours we stopped for lunch at a nice little roadside restaurant. The Iranian way of eating food is to sit on a day-bed type of platform, sitting cross-legged while eating the food with a spoon. Due to the distance from the plate to my mouth and me not being very used to sitting crossed-legged for a long time, I made quite a mess of things.
I had a nice chat with my fellow passenger, Majid. He spoke some basic English and he seemed ecstatic about meeting a foreign tourist in Iran. I had somewhat expected this.
He asked me if I already had an Iranian telephone number. I told him I'd been meaning to buy a SIM card, but hadn't found any good place yet. I'd probably get it in Tehran.
He pulled out a small plastic sleeve containing several SIM cards and gave me one. âï¿½ï¿½For youâï¿½ï¿½ he said. Wow, that is very nice, but hard for me to accept. I mean, I'm supposed to be the rich tourist here, I can't just accept a SIM card from a stranger. He would not hear of any refusal though. He tested the card, made sure I had the number, and it was mine to keep.
I was baffled. I had heard about the hospitality of Iranians and I'd experienced similar things in Syria and Lebanon. However, this was a guy I'd just met and could hardly communicate with, who insists on giving me SIM cards and lunches.
It got better though. I have no idea what kind of trade he was in, but he travelled to Azerbaijan several times a month so I think he was fairly wealthy by Iranian standards.
He started discussing something in Farsi with the taxi driver and I had the feeling he was trying to convince the driver to drive him all the way to his house in Tehran instead of just to Rasht.
I was right. We stopped in a little village and I was told to a different taxi. Before I could say anything Majid pulled out his wallet and paid for the taxi to drive me to the city of Fuman. Wow, wait, why is he paying all of a sudden. He doesn't have to do that? I turned to the driver from Astara and wanted to give him money for the trip. Not necessary, Majid pushed my hand away and told me I didn't have to pay for anything. Nah, wait, this is impossible. I just travelled four hours in a taxi, I should be paying for the trip. They would not hear of it. I was a guest in Iran and did not have to pay for anything.
I was baffled, flabbergasted, moved, awed, lost for words. I tried to sputter one more time. Majid would not hear of it.
A warm welcome indeed. So I left on a different taxi to Fuman. Not only had they saved me money, this also saved me a lot of time. At least an hour or hour and a half now that I didn't have to go all the way to Rasht. The driver had clear instructions to put me on the right taxi for Masouleh and he duly did so.
My taxi to Masouleh (the first five bucks I spent today) was an old battered Paykan. The Paykan is an Iranian institution. The car is a carbon copy of the Hillman Hunter, the production line of which was bought by an Iranian manufacturer in 1970. During the 35 years of production the design of the car remained virtually unchanged.
You could say it is retro-cool. If entertainment would be allowed in this country, these cars would make excellent cars for track racing or destruction derbies. I can imagine 35 or so Paykans on a race track, battling it out over 25 laps. Especially with the driving style of Iranians I'd definitely watch that. Mind you, watching a busy road in Iran doesn't look all that different from professional racing.
They aren't particularly good cars though. All of them are shoddily built, and even the newest model guzzles up some 18 litres of leaded petrol per 100 kilometres, belching out black smoke as it does so. It is said that 70% of the air pollution in Iran is caused by the Paykans and the situation got so bad that the Iranian government actually paid the factory to stop producing them. The final solution was to sell the production line to Sudan, where air pollution apparently isn't on the political agenda yet, and the factory is now making the Kia Pride, a model only found in Iran.
Other cars made in Iran are the Saipa Saba, another uninspiring model which looks very similar to the pride, and the Peugeot 405, a car they stopped making in Europe in the mid-nineties which is now produces in a less luxury version (no ABS, no airbags) in Iran. The 405 is made in six different versions, bearing names such as the Peugeot Pars or Peugeot Persia, all indistinguishable from one another. Recently they also started producing the Peugeot 206 in Iran.
Possibly the coolest car ever built in Iran is the Renault Piquet. Another obsolete production line sold to Iran, this is the old eighties' Renault 5. However, the Iranian manufacturer does not have the rights to build the original engine, so instead they fit these cars with a Pride engine. I don't think the idea ever caught on and the Renault Piquet is one of the rarest Iran-produced cars you wil see on the streets here.
Today the Paykan makes up for about 30% of the cars you see driving around in Iran (it seems to me they were only ever sold in three different colours). The Pride, Saipa and Peugeot 405 make up for another 60 percent or so.
I liked my first Paykan trip. Even if I hardly fitted in, had no seatbelt and the engine sounded as if it could explode any minute as we drove the steep road into the mountains.