Mountains, canyons and kebabs

Our driver was 10 mins late but given he lives in a different town we let him have that. We found this out when after our breakfast stop at a very nice café in Shahr-E Kurd 90 minutes after we’d been collected when Sadj (our driver) took us to his house 200m down the road so we could use his bathroom. Turns out he’d taken us to his local cafe for breakfast.

IMG_1365Our wheels were an old school Nissan Patrol. Complete with snorkel, expedition rack, ladder and really decent off road wheels including on the spare. Built-in compartments in the back held tools and a tent and sleeping bag. We figured he knew what he was doing.

Sadj asked us if we liked Iranian music. Of course we said. So the volume of the radio was turned up and off we went. As we left the town behind and headed towards the hills we did a quick stop at a tyre shop in a village to let the tyres down a bit ready for going offroad. Really all we’d wanted was to take the long route to Shiraz through the Zagros mountains and take our time so we could see villages, meet people, take photos and enjoy being in the mountains. Somewhere in the course of translation this had become we want to go offroading, which suited us just fine, it was just slightly more adventurous than we’d intended.

IMG_1371We entered our first big canyon, the scale of the scenery is impressive and there was snow on the distant mountains. In another month much of where we were going would be under snow. A wind whistled down the canyon. Wind is the greatest risk with wearing a loose hijab as it can catch in the breeze. As we held onto them Sadj told us it was ok, that we could be free over the next couple of days and to just wear it in the city. It felt strangely weird without it but nice to have a break from the continual rearranging. We wore them like a scarf and continued to pull them back over our heads whenever we were near other people.

The landscape opened up into rolling hills with mountains in the background. We dropped into a valley and began to pass our first villages. As we reached the other side we pulled off the seal to go offroading. The track we followed in a zigzag straight up the hill was really rough and had big loose rocks.

IMG_1387Towards the top we hit big holes and slips that had eaten up the track. Sadj asked if we like jungle, when we said yes he said then we’ll stop and pulled off the road and headed steeply down the hill. We could tell he knew the spot he was taking us to well when he turned round and started reversing backwards. Turns out that in summer he takes his family camping there. Quite how they manage to sleep on that kind of slope we weren’t sure. The ‘jungle’ turned out to be well spaced out small trees, almost like an orchard. Not sure what they’d make of real jungle or NZ bush. Sadj collected some sticks and made a fire and we sat on his bivvy bag eating oranges. The wolves only come out at night apparently.

We continued on, crested the hill and then weaved our way down the other side until we hit road again. Our lunch stop, turned out to be his brother’s shop/kebab stall. We took a seat out the front to enjoy the view and watch the mountain traffic go by. Sadj said we could stay for 2 hrs so to just relax, eat and sleep.

IMG_1406The Iranian pattern seems to be to eat then sleep at lunch and then the same in the evening as they don’t eat until late. We’d worn our Esfahan hosts out by not having an afternoon sleep (meaning they felt obliged to stay up with us).

Emma has a cold, so people keep giving her their cold remedies. Sadj’s brother gave her some kind of thick pomegranate syrup to dip her finger in and suck. Apparently she felt much better after…

During the lunch stop we learnt 2 useful things: 1 was how to transfer gas from a large bottle to a small one with no specialist equipment (press them together and hope no one walks past with a cigarette which in Iran is very likely) and 2 that the womens toilets are always on the right. This is very useful to know given they are often just labelled in Farsi and the spelling looks very similar.

IMG_1408We hit the road again at about 4pm. Sadj had helpfully given us a map in Farsi and kept showing us where we were going but it took some reconciling with our map for us to have any idea where we were. When he explained the next leg we figured we had a good way to go. Overall we knew we’d be covering about 300km towards Shiraz but it was going to take all day.

We drove through beautiful scenery and passed nomads, and rice paddies in valleys. Much of the walls of the valley looked like massive slabs of the earth crust had just been pushed vertical.

It just got better as the sun began to get lower in the sky as we passed people returning home from work in the fields, goats being herded back to villages for the night and we could smell peoples fires. We passed a group of a dozen boys playing football in a valley and Sadj pulled over so we could speak to them. He likes kids, when we called by his house we discovered that he has 8 year old triplets. Highly excited the boys quickly swarmed us, they were very respectful and just wanted to interact.

IMG_1432We continued on winding up the mountains. The drops off the side of the road were huge, like we haven’t experienced outside of the Himalayas or the Andes; which isn’t what you’d think of in Iran.

The road condition was pretty good on the whole. The worse things about Iranian roads are the unmarked speed bumps…they are everywhere…

When the sun set we were still a long way off the small city that we were going to stay the night at, so the last couple of hours we had to drive in darkness. Sadj is a good driver but we witnessed plenty of the more typical Iranian driving.

IMG_1410The hotel he took us too was his friend’s, we could tell we must be on a hill and that the view would be good in the morning. It had taken us just over 12 hrs to get there. The rooms were like the Iranian equivalent of chalets. It had a restaurant and we didn’t really need dinner after the late lunch but decided we should eat something so headed there. They were clearly quiet as it was empty and we had a choice of chicken or chicken. We had the chicken.

After breakfast the next morning Marie discovered that the womens toilets are not always on the right. The mens looked no different to womens toilets so she didn’t realise until she came to leave…

When Sadj had finally found his way back on the hotel after staying at his friend’s house (he got very lost), we hit the road again. The scenery wasn’t spectacular like the day before but instead was rolling hills. We were definitely in orchard country. We stopped a few times on route where there were nice views but otherwise it was a straight 4 hr run to Shiraz. At a fuel stop Sadj bought us some local ice cream. It was like white pieces of thin hard noodles in a refreshing lemon liquid. We finally reached Shiraz just after noon.


  • Iranians are very social and they are always on the phone
  • Uranus is super bright and easy to spot in the sky.
  • Every hotel room has an arrow pointing to Mecca. If we knew which way Mecca was this would be a handy navigation device.

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