Day 11 – Lambasar Castle & Driving North

17 May

After a cool night sleep in our homestay,  I awoke to the sound of a single dog barking once, and only one cockerel strutting its stuff. It’s a very quiet village.

Breakfast was “bread” with cherry jam and apricots.  Skipped the butter and cream cheese.

We took off before the bus for a nature walk around the outskirts of town before the bus picked us up.  First real stop of the day was to Ovan lake, which we were unable to walk around due to flooding. There were many tadpoles, unknown birds, a woodpecker and pedalos.  Yes, pedalos!  Unfortunately the keeper of the pedalos only opened up as we left at 9am.

Driving on through literally hundreds of hairpins bends, we were lucky that the driver only answered his mobile on one of them. Must have been the wife – she phones every three hours. On some of the bends we found graffiti of Quran verses.

Stopping off for lunch supplies in the small, one road town of Rajee Dasht, we were unable to buy bread quickly as the inspectors were in. So I settled for a banana ice cream called “sticky”. Yup, it was on a stick. The young boy tried to practice his English but the mother was obviously in charge of the money. Lavash bread was available in another shop and we were able to taste it in its fresh state, rather then the normal cardboard state we were used to. Seeing the process of making it was fantastic.  10 seconds on a revolving wheel in an oven and it’s done. One in, one out, using a pillow shaped object to spread the dough and slap it on. (10 minutes later it was cardboard.)

Further on, a man diverted us from the already narrow but tarmaced road onto a dirt track. Past groves of walnut and cherry trees, swaying side to side, we survived off road in a minibus. The rice paddys were photographed from every angle as the woman were passed the rice from the man holding the donkey.

We picked up a local and gave him a lift to Lambasar Castle. A swift walk up some more steps, thankfully this time based on steel girders rather than scaffolding and we reached a much smaller pile of ruins.  Only 50 soldiers were based here between the 10th and 13th centuries.  Even then they were just for show as Alamut Castle was the only one worth attacking.

Took a shortcut back and were greeted by three donkeys walking themselves along the road.

Crisps and water were a poor substitute for a complete change of clothes and a paddling pool. Ah well.

As we passed through even the smallest of villages, we were reminded of the soldiers from that area that died in the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. Their pictures are displayed in the middle of the street. David Beckham was also spotted in a far more recent, and larger,  poster in a shop window.

Lunch was inevitable. Shade was not. Lightly toasted cardboard with tuna, olives and lemon crisps, topped off with melon, some vanilla and orange cake and a local kitkat. Apart from the lack of shade, the main problem was the bright orange and red man-eating locusts that attacked us. Well, crawled nicely on me, and bit George.  He stamped it to death.

Back in the bus, bright red, I was offered the front seat to witness the driver crawling along in 1st or 2nd gear at a top speed of 25mph. The farmers, who are used to driving at much faster speeds on far worse roads, were getting frustrated.

We hit the motorway and most of us rested our eyes for a substantial amount of time.  I was woken by the driver asking if I liked Persian girls – but I replied that I couldn’t see much of them!  He has a sense of humour and salutes all the manned police speed cameras, of which there are many. His choice of Iranian pop music is as good as can be expected.

We passed through Rudbar, the home of olives and every shop was selling them from large barrels and jars. It also had a hydro dam and large wind turbines. They realise the oil will run out soon!

Just before Rasht we were stopped at another checkpoint to check the driver’s records and that he hadn’t been speeding.  No chance of that! However they found a reason and gave him a ticket anyway.  He now calls them dogs and doesn’t salute anymore.

Following a stop for petrol, the English stereotype was reinforced when the call went up of “anyone for tea?”. The only answer heard was “only if it’s Earl Grey”!

Stopped, again, in Fouman for the traditional cinnamon buns – well worth it. The size of the men in this town testifies to that.

At last, after a long journey, where at times I severely doubted which side of the road Iranians are supposed to drive on, we arrived in Masouleh and our guesthouse for the night. The couples had a room each upstairs.  Carolyn had a room to herself, and I got to share with Max, Aydin and the driver.

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After a quick shower to wash away the sweat of the day I headed to the bazaar. The town is built on a very steep hill so that  the roof of one building is the courtyard of the one above. The shops were on at least 3 levels and sold a strange mix of handicrafts for the tourists and groceries for the locals. Unusually, I was persuaded to purchase some items. I also made friends with a man who introduced me to everyone and showed the restaurant we were to meet at.  One if his friends was making osh – vegetable noodle soup and adding yoghurt, garlic, mint and onion in a very attractive way. Before I could try some, he had an argument with his neighbour.  It’s not all sweetness and light it seems.

Meeting the group at the restaurant, I opted for the sour lamb kebab – Cous Cous is out of business when I get back – I don’t want to see another kebab again! Or rice. Thankfully we were spared the cardboard bread with a bakery next door that we used to substitute the bread provided.

Discussions of home towns turned into an explanation of crowd funding and the relative merits of marmalade.

Thankfully Max provided dark chocolate to finish with.

Now to pack my new purchases safely in a bag. This could be harder than it sounds.

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