Entering the Silk Road hotel in the old town of Yazd, it's clear that the tourist industry in Kerman and Bam is struggling. According to Hossein, the guide who took me to the Zurkhaneh, tourism, since the earthquake, went down in Kerman with 90% as Kerman is now only a stopover, if at all, for people going to or coming from Pakistan, no longer on the way to Bam or a reason to visit in its own right.
We were actually three, visiting the Zurkhaneh. Myself, Hussein, and a English vegetarian chick who also was at Akbar's in Bam. I paid for the taxi's, the cookies we gave to the men performing as a token of our appreciation and I invited Hossein for dinner. Afterwords, I asked him what we owed him. "I say thank you". I interpreted that as him being courteous, also seeing that he was taking the English chick on a two day tour into the desert the next day.
But later I realised that, more likely, he was too proud to ask for a fee and, looking back, there seemed to be several subtle but unintentional hints that, indeed, these were hard times. I suppose that if I were bettered versed in the 'game' of ta'arof, (something of an ingrained politeness) I had felt it coming, but as it was, we left Hossein with not even enough cash to buy a packet of cigarettes. Disturbing to realise that for a man with such qualities the clientele simply does not exist to make a living.
In Yazd, I tried convincing a group of tourists to check out Hossein's options for staying in the desert.
Meanwhile, Hossein also had helped me get a ticket for the 6:30 bus to Yazd. I left the hotel at an ungodly 5:30. The streets still dark and empty, but since every car is, in theory, a taxi, made it to the bus station in time.
Two police checks on the way to Yazd where, for the second check, all passengers sleeping were woken up by the bus driver's attendant. I survived both checks by reading an English book. They don't (normally) mess with tourists.
The Silk Road hotel is set up like a caravanserai, rooms around a courtyard, where food is served. Currently, the courtyard has a plastic roof, partially to keep some warmth inside and rain outside. No luxury since the nights are already very fresh and it started raining as soon as I got off the bus.
Forced to wait for the rain to subside somewhat, I bunkered down a camel in the hotel's courtyard. Not the cigarette, but an actual camel. Well, part of it anyway.
Half an Italian circus occupies the dorms. All vegetarians, the type of people where the men have dreads and the women wear rings on all their toes and have dreads too. On their way from Italy to India, their bus broke down in Ankara, where half the troupe went back. I tried to strike up a conversation with the only good looking, nay stunning, chick in the bunch, "I am the clown", until she cuddled up snugly with the most hideous creature of the group.
Yazd itself is, again, more mosques and bazaars. But, so far, Yazd is also a bit more attractive than the few cities I've seen this year, so far. The first thing I noticed, while taking a cab from the bus station, was how relatively clean and decent the streets were. The old town, with it's narrow winding lanes in between mud brick walls and mysterious buildings, nooks and crannies is very enticing. And it has a structure which, it is said, was built by Alexander the Great as a prison.
The second day in Yazd was not spent in Yazd, well, mostly, but on a tour that took me to…
The nearby town of Meybod, with an old mud brick castle, a restored old post office and caravanserai, a pigeon house for collecting shit and a quite amazing ice house. In the ice house, ice was collected in winter to be used in summer. For cooling, but also to make decadently cold sherbets. Central Iran is the home country of qanats, underground channels transporting water from the mountains to the cities. In winter, water from the qanats was collected in shallow pools close to the ice house. At night, the water easily would freeze and then, in the morning, transported to inside the ice house.
Chak Chak, an important Zoroastrian site in the middle of the desert. The buildings aren't to write home about, and there is an ancient tree and a stream coming from the mountain, both sealed off by an interesting brass door. The setting is impressive, however.
Kharanaq, a relatively recently abandoned mud brick village, where layers were stacked on layers with tunnels and passageways passing through, going up and down and up and down… It also has a minaret which you can shake, like the shaking minarets in Esfahan, but here you can actually do it yourself.
We also pick nicked here. Carpet, gas heater, tea, and bademjan. Curious locals continuously stopped by and would stay for a minute or two to watch. Inviting them for lunch or tea didn't help, they would just keep on staring.
The Zoroastrian towers of silence on the edge of Yazd, two towers on lonely hilltops where dead Zoroastrians were left in a sitting position until their bones were picked clean by vultures, after which the bones would be brushed into the hole in the middle of the towers. Air, water, fire and earth are all holy for Zoroastrians, which makes it a bit of a challenge to get rid of your dead bodies.
In the evening, I went to school. The tour guide we were with had asked me on my first day in Yazd if I'd be interested to lead a conversation class at the English language school where he also teaches. Tired, but a very pleasant experience as we talked about the Iranian president, Nuclear weapons, America, flowers and everyone's favourite subject: me.
On the last day in Yazd, waiting for the afternoon bus to Kashan, I took the hotel's bicycle and peddled over to the Ateshkadeh, the Zoroastrian fire temple in Yazd where there's a fire burning which has been going strong since around the year 470. The whole thing is a bit of an anti climax, but it's still kinda cool, I suppose. Although I can easily imagine that once or twice the caretaker might have forgotten to put up another log. This is, after all Shiraz (the grape) country.
I also climbed the Amir Chackmaq mosque, for enjoyable views across Yazd.
Who am I
Several times, I've now been told I look like "Kurdish people". It certainly explained why the Turks so easily thought I was one of them. Also, on a few occasions, I was asked what my name in Holland was, assuming my Iranian first name would surely be too hard for those stupid foreigners.
About those stupid foreigners, it's surprising how easy it is to spot foreign women, even at a distance. Not only are they generally hideously dressed, they often walk like either cows or men.