Although for my first day in Mashhad, with my uncle Husheng, we had initially planned to take it easy in town, I was woken up at 7:30 by my uncle, saying we'd go out and visit Sarakhs.
The town is on the border with Turkmenistan and one of the two border crossings between that country and Iran. The Lonely Planet is in a bit of a rave about it, but that's not too reasonable as there's only one minor site in the city, Gonbad-e-Sheikh Loghman Baba, the reasonably impressive but very run down mausoleum of a 10th century story teller.
Some 50 kilometres before Sarakhs, there's the Rubat Sharaf caravanserai, one of the biggest of Iran's caravanserais, but no longer in the best of states, although not too much is left to the imagination. We were unlucky, though, when we found the place closed, but after hanging around a bit too long, the caretaker drove past on his motorcycle by accident, and we were allowed in.
As with most monumental buildings in Iran, both the sites we visited were being renovated, but as with many monumental buildings in Iran, the exercise seemed rather pointless, as both seemed to have been under repairs for years and, at the current rate, will be for many decades to come.
On my last full day in Mashhad, we went to Kalat, another village on the border with Turkmenistan. Driving there, we had to cross a mountain range and, in doing so, were looking down upon the clouds in the valley right before Kalat. A very pretty sight, but once inside, the clouds made for a cold and wet day.
Kalat isn't too bad, with a rather incongruous 'Khorshid' (Sun) palace, a pretty mosque and an unfinished poem inscribed in one of the stone walls of the valley.
Before driving back to Mashhad, Husheng wanted to drive around a bit, away from Mashhad, probably fully knowing that we'd end up at a waterfall. Fatema, Husheng's wife, and I went up, but I soon lost Fatema. And when the walls got steeper, I become more and more determined to climb all the way up and, an hour or so later, ended up in a wide, snow covered valley. Rushing back, over confident, I nearly broke my legs before encountering an short and o-legged old man with a walking stick (who never could have made the whole climb anyway), sprouting bucket loads of gibberish, from which I concluded Fatema and Husheng had sent the bugger up to look for me. I'd been away for too long.
The lost son returned, Husheng was quite angry, but not at me, at his wife, who'd 'left me on my own', or something, as I couldn't exactly make out the words. Then, in his anger, he almost drove us of a cliff.
Never a dull moment.
I'd left on this trip with two pairs of pants. The first one quite suddenly deteriorated quickly last weekly and finally died on me three days ago. In Kalat, with nearly breaking my legs, the second pair of pants also ended up almost beyond repair. I was almost walking around half-naked, not something really appreciated in the Islamic Republic of Iran. And since I'm a bit more, ehm, bigger-boned than most Iranians, it was quite tough to find a replacement pair.
The nearly destroyed pants I fixed stylishly with the ever useful role of duct tape I carry around. I felt a lost calling.