Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.One year ago: I had just completed the 5-day trek in the Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. Today, I am back in Malaysia. After deciding that I should take a break from my wandering ways, I will try to return as the wondering worker. It still takes me too long to write each blog, so I have to either change my blogging style (as I have said that before), or it will go back on an indefinite hiatus…
Qeshm Island is the largest island in the Persian Gulf, and is twice the size of Singapore. I arrived in Qeshm in the morning after a 16-hour train ride from Tehran, and a short ferry from Bandar Abbas. After a magical month hitchhiking around Eastern Turkey, I thought that I could try to do more of the same here to circumnavigate the island, and see all the beautiful natural sites that had been hyped up to me. My friend Mehdi in Tehran had said that Qeshm is how he pictured heaven to be like.
Without a plan to see the island, I was lugging my backpack and camera bag around while half-heartedly looking for internet and guesthouses. The heat and humidity was starting to get to me, and I took several short breaks in the shades hoping that a plan will just form itself. So around 10 o’ clock, while continuing on from another of my short breaks, this supposedly “heaven” on an island seemed to have sent a bearded representative in tradtional white Qeshm/Bandari garb. Habib came by in a Toyota Hilux pickup truck, and started speaking to me in as much English as I could speak Farsi (and it is a stretch to even say I speak some Farsi).
I had heard of the reputation for hospitality of the people in Qeshm, and Habib was certainly setting a good example. After taking me to the couple of places I wanted to go in Qeshm city, we went to buy seafood from some fishermen who had just came in that day. We then went to his house, and I was invited into an air-conditioned room. Habib and I ate the delicious seafood lunch cooked by his wife. The prawns was spicy, which was a deviation from the total lack of spicy food in the Iranian cuisine that I was used to – not to mention the lack of seafood in general in the rest of Iran. This delicious homecooked meal was not the only different experience that I had. It was only here, after 40 days in Iran, where I can say I first experienced the more conservative part of Iran.
In my private room, his youngest son and daughter came curiously to meet his strange guest. I soon realized that these would be the only family members that I would be meeting from his family of seven. Being a guest in a conservative (Sunni) Muslim house feels very confining actually. Whenever I wanted to leave the room to go to the washroom for example, I checked with him to make sure the coast was clear before leaving. I never got to meet Habib’s wife, and never had the opportunity to thank her for her hospitality, especially the nice meals she prepared. One time, I got into the frontseat of his car, I noticed his teenage daughter was in the backseat. Neither of them said anything acknowleding she was there, and once we got home, she hurried into the house, and dissappeared into a different room. On another occasion, while I was leaving the room with him, his daughter was coming in at the same time, and he swiftly nudged her out and closed the door before I could leave the room.
As precious as this cultural education that I received was to me, it really should not detract from what this alluring island had to offer. Habib had run into some problems with his business because of the severe depreciation of the Iranian Rial, so he seemed happy to drive me around the island for two days, and refusing to take any of my money for gasoline or food. (The Iranian Rial fell from 17,000 to 33,000 for 1USD in five months since I first flew into Iran.)
My favorite place was the Chahkouh valley, where I was walking around these landscapes that seem to be from another planet. I half expected to see some ewoks, but there were only goats and camels hanging around. The dare-ye-setareh, or valley of the stars, was the most popular spot on the island, and it did not disappoint with its tall rock formations carved into a mini plateau. I like quaint villages, and the historical Laft village with its tall badgirs towering by the fishing boats certainly whet my quaint village appetite. I know I am shortchanging the beauty of the island because I have not mentioned the Namakdan caves – supposedly the world’s-longest-salt-caves; Jazeerah Naz, which literally translates to beautiful island; the old Portuguese Castle that overlooks the Strait of Hormoz; or my boat ride in the Hara Marine Forest – with 1.5% of the world’s birds; the camels wandering the desert island, the burqas of the Bandari women, the surreal rocky desert landscape…
I guess this is in line with how my traveling interests have changed since last year, whereby sightseeing has become secondary to my primary interest which is to meet the locals and trying to learn more about their cultures. I have “seen” more in this sense in these 5 months than I did on my 2011 year-long journey last year.
Last note: It is interesting what channels you can get with an illegal sattelite dish. On an Iranian island on the Persian Gulf, on top of the many gulf sports channels, there are Kurdistan, Vietnamese, Thai, Spanish, Italian channels, and even a Jewish news channel…