Monday, 30 November 2009

Iran: Shiraz to Isfahan with an unexpected detour

Saturday Part 2
We went out in the pouring rain to visit the castle called Arg-e Karim Khan which was built in the mid-1700s. The castle has high walls and 4x14m high watch towers. One of these towers has a “Pisa” style lean to it as its started subsiding into the area that was once the castle bathhouse. The castle was used as a prison during the reign of the Shah. Inside the castle walls is a large courtyard now planted with orange trees. In one of the buildings is a very interesting display of photos of Shiraz over the past 100 years. We went back to the hotel to collect our bags and have a final coffee with Mr Abbas before we went to the airport for our flight to Isfahan. The tv in the foyer was showing local soccer being played in a heavy snowfall and the receptionist told us that the game was being played in Isfahan. Mr Abbas rang the airport, was told that flights to Isfahan were unaffected so we headed out.

Shiraz airport is modern, clean. We checked in our bags for our flight which was bound for Tehran with a stop in Isfahan where we'd be getting off. We farewelled Mr Abbas who had by this stage adopted Jess as his 'daughter'. Once on the plane our departure was delayed as a big pow-wow took place between the pilots, the cabin crew, a couple of guys in vizi vests and another mystery guy in his late 20s who was trying to look normal while eyeballing all the passengers – even the children. Mystery Man wore the same style of jacket (lab coat meets safari suit) favoured by Mr Ahmadinejad. We eventually took off and Mystery Man sat in one of the crew jump seats at the front of the plane like a teacher watching errant students. As soon as we were at altitude Mystery Man stood up and continued to watch the passengers like a hawk. After 30 minutes we were served a meal of a bread roll containing what appeared to be a cold chicken McNugget together 1.5 slices of pickle per roll, a faux Bounty Bar called a Nori and a box of juice. Together with the meal came the captain's announcement that cabin crew should take their seats for landing in Isfahan, the announcement was made in English.

Nothing happened.

We didn't descend we just kept on going....and going. Eventually there was a long announcement in Farsi, but none of the other passengers seemed overly concerned by its contents. The cabin crew got out of their seats and wandered round collecting rubbish. Colin asked one of the crew whether we were overflying Isfahan and she happily answered “Oh yes, that's what the announcement was saying. Isfahan airport's closed and the plane's landing in Tehran.” She said we'd probably wait there 5 or 6 hours and then fly back to Isfahan. On landing, all the Tehran passengers left the plane while the Isfahan-bound crowd, which was nearly ½ the plane, stayed on board. Mystery Man had disappeared by this time. After a while an announcment was made in Farsi and all the Iranian passengers got up from their seats, hauled their luggage out of the overhead lockers and stood in the aisle waiting. After 5 minutes or so, another announcement was made in Farsi which resulted in the Iranian passengers putting their luggage back into the overhead lockers and sitting down again. After a further 45 minutes we were ushered off the plane. Thankfully Colin met a helpful Tehrani who from that point translated all the announcements. We got into an airport bus and were deposited at the terminal where we were hustled into a huge room with dozens of 2 and 3 seater sofas lined up in rows. This was to be our home for however long it took until Isfahan airport reopened, we knew by this stage that the runway there was frozen. The crowd of irate passengers gathered round the only Iran Air employee who ventured into view and the volume rose steadily. Long story short, many of the passengers, us included, decided to go to the bus station to catch a scheduled long haul coach from Tehran to Isfahan. The last coach left at 2am and that's the one we wanted to get. We got into a taxi with another friendly Irani who had been on the same flight. Our 3 suitcases had been put on the taxi roof and were held by a single bungy cord (occi strap for Aussies). There were no seatbelts and unfortunately we had Death's Personal Driver at the back when I was young and stupid I've been in cars where the drivers have been drunk as a skunk but every one of them has driven better than this guy...he was all over the road, cut off cars and trucks with impunity, missed motorbikes by inches, he hit the kerb while cutting across 4 lanes on the freeway, he didn't know where the gears were, almost into the side of a huge truck, I could go on and on without mentioning how he cut off a police car and then tooting his horn at the them. We arrived safely at the bus station which was a miracle....I was so tempted to fall on my knees and kiss the ground, but we had no time. The bus station is high volume chaos; there are bus company touts yelling at potential passengers, passengers yelling at taxi drivers, which is what our friendly Irani taxi mate was doing, cars unloading people, suitcases everywhere. Our Iranian friend found the bus to Isfahan and we all threw our bags into the luggage compartment. The compartment was also open on the other side so we just hoped that our bags didn't disappear as soon as we put them in. Jess and I were given the front two seats, as we were ladies travelling together, Colin was behind us. All the while the bus tout for our bus was on the bus-off the bus -yelling-pointing-yelling some more, whew this boy was wired! Eventually the bus left at about 2:30am fully loaded including some Army guys who seemed to be having a low level stoush with some of the other passengers in the back of the bus but it was all very refined up in the ladies department. The girls in the seat opposite us asked for a Persian soap opera dvd to be played and then promptly went to sleep for the rest of the trip. The trip went smoothly, the driver knew what he was doing and was a real pro, bless his little Turkish cotton socks. There were lots of stops for toll roads and it as we got further away from Tehran the outside temperature started dropping. At one point we were driving through areas covered with thick snow. How the guys who were travelling in the compartment with the luggage managed I don't know......oh, didn't I mention them?

We arrived in Isfahan at 7am, retrieved our suitcases from the guys in the luggage compartment and were met by our guide Mr Zanadi. He took us to our hotel and we all hit the sack for a couple of hours.

One day late, but hello Isfahan....the city a French poet said is “...half the world.”

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