Big Bear Lake California
Las Vegas Nevada
Abu Dhabi UAE
Kuwait Persian Gulf
Bahrain Persian Gulf
Qatar Persian Gulf
Bangkok again 2/2011
Hello from Kish Island Iran,
The Iranian story starts back in Oman. As some of you may recall from my postcard there, I checked with the Iranian Embassy in Muscat to see if visas for American citizens would even be possible and learned of an Omani travel agent who could make the arrangements "in about ten days." As my stay in Oman would end before the visa could be delivered, I decided to wait and start the process in Dubai.
Walking to the area in Dubai where my (inaccurate) map indicated I should find the Iranian Consulate, people kept giving me conflicting walking directions or advice to take a cab. Eventually I bumped into handsome twenty-eight year old Ali dressed head to foot in a gleaming white candora. He is a member of the Dubai Police Force and speaks excellent English. After hearing my destination he also advised taking a taxi. When I told him I'd prefer to avoid cabs, he looked me over and said he would be happy to drive me as walking the ten kilometers would not get me there before the consulate's noon closing time.
"Is that because I'm a traveler from a foreign land and the Quran commands the faithful to treat us like honored guests?" I wondered aloud.
"No; it is because you are so old." he explained, touching his sideburns to indicate my white hair provided the clue.
"How old do you think I am?" I asked.
Trained to make accurate descriptions of suspects, he considered the question for a minute and then pronounced: "about fifty-eight, I'd guess. How old are you?"
I'm thinking his father must be around that age and his comparison produced the wildly low estimate. "I'm seventy-seven; does that surprise you?" I quizzed him.
"Actually, it does. So, do you want a ride? It is no inconvenience for me to run you over there."
"I'd be honored to accept your offer." I replied humbly, and that is how I stumbled into a ten minute conversation about UAE cultural traditions with one of Dubai's finest.
Learning he had not yet married, I asked how he would choose a bride and he launched into a complex "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." analogy, trying hard to get me to answer rhetorical questions about neighbors asking for oranges and such. "In our culture there are ancient traditions designed to insure harmonious marriage unions. They are different from those practiced in other cultures, but this is the way we do it." It seemed to me he must have been quizzed on the matter by foreigners many times before because he had a logical answer for any question I raised.
"I give my mother and sister specifications for the kind of woman I want for a wife and then they find someone they know will be acceptable to me."
"What if the girl chosen by your family doesn't like the idea?" I probed.
"In a sense the girl actually makes the choice and can reject any proposed union; after all, she knows who I am and I don't know who she is until the marriage day."
"So your marriage day is a big surprise in more ways than one." I venture.
"Next my father and the girl's father negotiate the details; my father makes the final decision for our family." Readers will remember I have been asking questions like these all over the Persian Gulf region and the answers have varied considerably. I'm beginning to think there is no one single Arabian tradition!
Perhaps it is appropriate to note at this point that Persian and Arab traditions are completely separate animals and that there has been hundreds of years of animosity between the two cultures. This is partially due to the schism within Islam in the early days of the religion that led to the formation of the two main sects: Sunni and Shia.
Once Ali dropped me off at the "hidden" Iranian Consulate I again learned that here also there is only ONE authorized travel agent in the UAE which could process visas for United States citizens. The next day, Friday is the "Sabbath" in Muslim countries so I had to wait until Saturday to check out visa/travel possibilities at the designated agency. In barely understandable English the properly covered young female travel agent immediately informed me travel to Iran by an unescorted American would be next to impossible without a sponsor. Her agency could be that sponsor... for a price... which turned out to be at least two thousand dollars for a one week escorted tour. "Any cheaper alternatives?" I asked.
"You could join a group and that would lower the cost to between $250 and $500 for the all inclusive week, complete with guide and air fares." But of course, she knew of no groups being organized in the foreseeable future. Almost as an afterthought she noted I could visit Kish Island without a visa. Kish Island? "That is a little Iranian island ten miles off the southwest coast of the country that is open to international visitors without any visa requirements."
The next day I stopped by the Kish Travel Agency and booked a $165 roundtrip flight to Kish Island. After a mix up on times I did manage to get things straightened out for the eleven AM flight the next day. The agent had actually booked the 13:15 flight, but then proceeded to hand me my tickets reciting the 11:15 flight information and warning me to be at the airport by 09:00. I fought the worry worm for an hour at the airport until the check-in desk opened and an agent showed up and found there were still available seats on the flight I wanted… and checked me in ahead of everyone else in the waiting line.
The Fokker-50 two-propeller 48-passenger aircraft took off fifteen minutes late, but the flight only took 45 minutes, getting us into Kish at 12:15. The preflight safety instructions delivered first in Farsi and then in the most ill pronounced unintelligible English I have ever heard could have been omitted. Our in-flight meal consisted of a packet of peanuts, two packages of cookies plus a soft drink all pleasantly presented in a little see through plastic box. One of the stewardesses scowled at me every time she passed, but another smiled so sweetly I wondered if she might be flirting.
This short flight warranted an onboard stern faced sky marshal who sat at the front of the passenger compartment facing the passengers and took an interest in every slightest bit of cabin activity. Young Indian men made up a majority of the 40+ passengers.
As I exited the bus transferring us from the plane to the terminal I stepped out of line to take a photograph of the “Welcome to Kish” sign, prompting one of the security guards to frantically dash in front of me waving his hands and commanding urgently “No Photos!” I tried to explain the sign hardly seemed like a sensitive military object, but the friendly guard hustled me on back with the herd of other passengers heading into the passport control area.
Only one emigration station had an agent processing passports for about forty arriving passengers. A small band of potentially dangerous thugs like me and others with suspicious countries of origin were directed to wait in an area to be photographed and fingerprinted as soon as the others had been processed, including dress code lectures for some of the foreign ladies.
Eventually the rest of the passengers passed inspection and the security people got to us. Two very friendly uniformed guys ushered us into an interrogation room and selected me as their first subject. Each hand and then each fingertip on each hand had to be placed on a fingerprinting glass and then I got to smile for a digital camera.
Satisfied our dead bodies could now be identified should the need arise, the time had come to examine our REAL reasons for visiting this land of the Ayatollahs. “Why did you come to Iran? What hotel are you going to stay in? Do you know anyone on the island? How long will you stay? What work do you do? Etc.” I resisted the mischievous temptation to state my occupation as nuclear physicist, though at one time it would have been an accurate characterization!
As the questioning continued I treated the whole thing like a friendly game with light hearted banter to fill the silent pauses. "Who are the two bearded guys in the pictures on the wall? They look like the Smith Brothers on cough drop boxes when I was a kid." I noted.
"The one on the left is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the one on the right is the founder of the Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,." he replied. His pronunciation of the ever so slightly different last names sounded almost identical to my foreign ear.
"Which one is the top guy right now?" I asked irreverently.
"Ayatollah Ali Khomeini is spiritual leader of our country, a very wisdom man." he replied sincerely.
"A very wise man..." I offered helpfully. "A wise man has wisdom."
"Ah, yes. He is a very wisdom man and has wise. I love you." he responded, confusing me thoroughly and leading me to wonder if the guy might be gay or dyslexic and then concluding our complex language must be causing the odd response.
"Then the other one is like a vice-president?" I continued.
"No. He is dead. He is founder of our Islamic Republic... like your George Washington, I think." he added with obvious pride.
I imagined much had been lost in the translations so I let the banter end. A second agent joined us and seemed to think he had better command of English than the first guy, but his irrelevant interjections only added to the confusion.
As my grilling approached a climax a very friendly woman clad head to toe in black that made her look a lot like the nun who taught my fifth grade class appeared and made it clear I had become her personal responsibility. I learned that she worked in the Emigration Department and needed to keep track of me for my own protection and must know the hotel I’d be using before she could authorize me to leave the airport area. When I insisted on my plan to start walking toward the center of town some five kilometers distant while hotel shopping she came unglued and summoned one of the male agents with whom she had an animated conversation in Farsi, obviously about my unorthodox intentions.
Flanked by agents on either side we headed for the arrival lounge exit door as she explained in a slightly exasperated voice of resignation that I could go, but the male agent stayed by my side yelling at passing cabs and subtly impeding my anxious progress toward the airport entrance gate and road to freedom (relatively speaking).
Finally, one of the cabs stopped and a protracted conversation in Farsi continued for several minutes, the agent periodically pausing to translate some of what he had been discussing with the cab driver. “The driver wants $5 to help you find a hotel.” As I only had some dirham and no dollars I pulled out a twenty UAE dirhams note (about $5.55) and indicated I had only that for payment of a cab fare. The agent translated and the driver seeing my twenty dirham bill nodded his ascent.
I climbed in and off we went… to where I had no idea… except that cab drivers are notorious the world over for hustling foreigners to establishments offering them a commission, according to my brother who owned a taxicab company. What to do? Actually, it felt like no alternative existed, that I’d need to play the first hand the way it had been dealt. After three clearly inappropriate offerings the driver finally took me to a place I had myself pointed out as a likely candidate, the Jaam-e-Jam Hotel. It turned out to be adequate, just barely and I took a room for my first night in Iran.
The hotel staff speaking a smattering of English seemed genuinely interested in my plight and tried to help with my orientation efforts. The room has two single beds and a folded sheet laying on top of each dingy blanket. The bathroom is equipped with a noisy fan that can’t be turned off, a shower stall with no door and only a single small flimsy bath towel, more a hand towel. While this is only a two star establishment, I should think they could do better for the 320 dirhams ($90) I paid in advance.
With my bag stowed safely on the floor of the closet, I dashed out for my usual hike of exploration and some serious hotel shopping, not knowing what might or might not be permitted. It soon became obvious that I would have a good deal more freedom of movement than I’d expected.
Hotel rates are even higher here in Iran than in the UAE, but I soon found several candidate houses of clearly better value than my first forced selection. Conversations with reception desk staff at several candidate hotels made it clear people would be as interested in me as I in them. They seemed to understand my questions about hotel accommodations and rates were partially a pretext for asking more important questions about Iranian culture and politics and eagerly stretched their infrequently used command of English to the opportunity.
Just before returning to the Jaam-e-Jam Hotel to call it a day I spotted several smaller nearby hotels/motels. The place with the “motel” sign turned out to be a “massage parlor” and my questions about lodging in English confused the attractive young ladies I met in the lobby. Finally, with sleeping gestures I made everyone understand I wanted a place to lay my head and not some place to get laid and a young man who had been watching me the whole time off to the side (the ladies’ pimp?) approached with sketchy broken English offering to help and walked me through the back buildings of an adjacent five star hotel which I had already examined and rejected earlier.
When that became obvious to me I waved him off and continued my investigation of the other possible nearby places. One turned out to be a hostel for Philippine immigrants and they offered me a dormitory bed with a group of young workers. I didn’t ask, but that probably would have been a really cheap option.
As darkness approached I cautiously examined the last of the nearby places I'd spotted and found the lobby particularly appealing. All of the people at the reception desk spoke some English and my enquiries produced truly understandable answers for a change. “Yes; they do have room. The rate will be $100 or the equivalent in Iranian rial or UAE dirham. Yes, breakfast is included… and lunch! Yes, there is free WiFi in the beautifully furnished commodious lobby. Yes, you may see the room.” And what a delightful room it is, complete with a king size bed, something all of the other places insisted did not exist anywhere on Kish Island.
After four hours of sticker shock, Asian toilets, massage parlors masquerading as motels, migrant worker dormitories and other overpriced or substandard accommodations, I had stumbled on what appeared to be an excellent value, albeit a bit pricy for this frugal fool. The large beautifully furnished room is quiet and the bed is oh so comfortable; everything is purple which makes me wonder if this might be the Iranian idea of a bridal suite.
The next morning I hustled over to the new digs with its king size purple bed. Breakfast here is unusual, to say the least. First, coffee has been replace by tea with hot milk offered. Second, everyone takes heaps of bread with several kinds of jams and honey so thick you can form it into miniature sculptures. Sliced tomatoes, cubes of feta cheese and sliced cucumbers seem to be favorites every morning, too. An unusually flavored omelet smashed thin like a pancake is offered along with hard boiled eggs and miserably fried eggs. Obviously, this is not my favorite hotel breakfast, but it is an adequate and filling way to start the day. The free lunch is always rice with chicken or fish or beans accompanied by a "house" salad and a soft drink, pretty much what one might expect in a prison dining room. but, it is filling and free!
After getting settled in my new hotel I headed over to the Lari Exchange where Internet rumors suggested cash might be available from international banks. None of the public ATMs on the island offer the service, so if you don’t have an Iranian bank account, you are out of luck. That could be a problem for me as the only cash I brought to Kish was about a thousand UAE dirham, enough for three nights in these over priced hotels.
So, I hoped Lari Exchange would be my salvation. However, the first thing I heard from the young male staff member shattered all hope of a simple financial solution. "There is no way to get funds from a non-Iranian bank here in Iran," he announced in unambiguous terms.
"That is a real problem for me." I blurted. "It looks like I will need to cut my visit to the island to three nights." I added turning to leave.
"Just a moment;" says the young man between interrupted conversations with the older guy who turned out to be "Lari!" "Please have a seat." motioning toward one of the guest chairs. I didn't want to sit down. I wanted to start searching for a solution to my now urgent dilemma.
As I hesitated, the young guy says: "Just have a seat. Mr. Lari wants to help you." Wants to help me? Now confused, I couldn't imagine HOW he might be able to help me: a sleeping bag in the back of his pickup truck, maybe? As I waited and the two men exchanged comments in Farsi between tending to business with other customers, I could see something in the way of a solution to my problem was under discussion. "Are you going back to Dubai?" the younger guy asked.
"Yes I am, perhaps sooner than I'd planned." I added with resignation.
"How much do you need?" asked Mr. Lari in perfectly understandable English.
Thinking for a minute, I guesstimated enough for five more nights in addition to the UAE cash I had on hand should be adequate and replied: "About five million rial should be enough."
"Mr. Lari will give you the money." says the young guy with a totally straight face glowing with sincerity.
Dumbfounded, I stumbled over the verb: give. "What do you mean, give?" I asked incredulously adding: "How could I pay it back?"
"You can get the funds back to him when you return to Dubai. Are you sure five million will be enough?"
I reconsidered my situation for a minute and then replied: "Yes, enough for another five days should be O.K." Whereupon the young guy reaches into his drawer and pulls out a double bundle of crisp new one hundred dollar bills and peels off five handing them to me in one smooth motion: adding "Hotels on the island will prefer US currency and a hundred dollars is equivalent to one million rial."
Still stunned and uncertain what had just happened, the younger guy starts telling me how important it is for nations to trust one another and that building trust between individuals like us would be a start. For the next five minutes we explored the theme, touching briefly on the economic sanctions now being enforced on Iran by the UN at the instigation of the United States.
As we examined the purpose of economic sanctions it became clear that such measures inconvenience individuals who have no international political concerns at all and who don't even have much influence on the Government officials who are responsible for the national policies causing other nations so much concern.
When the Second Gulf War debate raged on involving America, many of us wrote or called our Congressional representatives to no avail. If the UN had imposed sanctions on the United States in that instance, my opposition to my government's policies would have been next to meaningless. Still the hypothetical sanctions would have been an irritating inconvenience to me and everyone else I know, just as it is for the average Iranian here.
More than one Iranian with whom I've spoken here has declared a dislike for the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who many believe "stole" the last election just as it is widely perceived in these parts that George W Bush did in his 2004 reelection. I spoke to no one willing to zealously support the bellicose nationalistic stance the current president has taken with the West, nor even willing to unreservedly support the more understandable assertion that the country has a sovereign right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. My guess is that the average Iranian citizen doesn't buy that subterfuge any more than does the IAEA, especially given the belligerent face he shows to the West. An ex-pat Iranian I met in Dubai suspects, as do I, that President Ahmadinejad and his advisors know full well that once the technology for enriching fissionable materials is perfected, it can be used for making weapon grade material should that decision be made at some point in the future and is maneuvering to keep his options open. That same ex-pat suggested there might be an unrevealed hidden political agenda concerned with Iranian foreign policy toward Israel.
The only English "news" I get here is a rolling banner at the bottom of the Iranian sports channel. Any reference to the U.S. reinforces the notion that America is responsible for ALL the troubles in this region and references to Israel always use the term Zionists to characterize the nation. I'm guessing, based on other things I've learned from several people with whom I've spoken, that this is an accurate reflection of the propaganda to which Iranians are subjected on a daily basis.
During my wanderings I have visited several shopping malls. The first thing I discovered is that the prices marked on merchandise is in "toman", one tenth the actual price in rials. Sam explained the historical reasons for this preposterous practice and it still doesn't make any sense to me. Next, I am astonished to see how many stores are devoted to women's fashions. You would think that with basic black being the uniform of the day there would be no need for fancy togs. Sam tells me the elegant duds are worn during private house parties. There must be a lot of them in Iran because all anyone sees anywhere in public is black, black, black.
At breakfast this morning I had the feeling I had awakened from a coma in a Roman Catholic convent hospital ward. Black cowls covered bowed heads all around me. A mini-bus system covers the island and rides are only 3500 rial, about thirty-five cents. I have ridden several as my cheap answer to expensive city tours. Stubble beards are popular with Iranian men and I have wondered if that is because the president favors them.
After the Lari Exchange drama I began paying closer attention to other effects of the sanctions. Grocery stores carry almost no name brands common in the West; not a single Mc Donald's or Burger King in sight, no CNN or BBC or any of the major American satellite tv networks, and of course, no MasterCard or VISA credit card facilitated commerce of any kind. Surprisingly, American hundred dollar bills are still commonly used here. In one of the farther out shopping areas I stopped at a small restaurant for lunch and discovered Pepsi available along with other American soft drink brands... all made in Iran.
I see many large buildings under construction, with work apparently currently suspended. There are partially paved roads going nowhere, someone's aborted subdivision dream. The large completed structures look pedestrian, apparently none of the outstanding architects responsible for Dubai found time to apply their skills to this Iranian island, despite the government's wish to create some serious competition for Dubai here. With the economic sanctions in place that is going to be next to impossible until they are lifted in any case.
I've seen no grand mosques anywhere in the vicinity of the hotel, but I did run into a small nondescript building on the campus of a university around noon. A tinny voice sang out the call to prayer without much amplification. The few muezzins I've heard seem to be trying to outdo one another with their "performances." The calls to prayer are limited to three times a day in Shea Iran. While walking an outlying district at noon on Friday I discovered a cluster of mosques; all had blearing amplification of the muezzin's call to prayer and the following sermon, ending with what sounded like "responsive reading." I have been walking a lot as usual; today in pouring rain for the last hour of a four hour hike, getting thoroughly drenched before eventually reaching the sanctuary of the hotel.
I also don't see much female hair as EVERY woman covers it with a scarf. Sam, a thirty year old Iranian guy who lived a decade in Canada until two years ago and speaks perfect American English, told me the Persians deliberately chose a Shea version of Islam to distinguish their culture from that of the Sunni Arabs. That prompted an Internet search of the history of the two main branches of the faith. According to Sam there remains today an undercurrent of animosity toward the Arabs who conquered Persia around the time Islam began its program of expansion. He also says there are many Iranians who appreciate the teachings of the mystical Sufi sect founded by Mevlana Rumi.
When I asked him about the attitude of women to the forced wearing of the hijab he pointed out that for most women he knows it is not an issue - it is just something women do like wearing dresses in other countries. There are a few occasional protests, but the government prohibits big demonstration rallies for any issue including women's rights.
During my stay in the ANA Hotel I have been approached three times for impromptu English language tutoring. A well dressed middle aged woman with her husband hovering off to the side asked to practice her English until their airport taxi arrived.
Later, while Sam and I discussed contentious Iranian political and religious issues a very intense ten year old girl plopped herself down at our lobby table and paid close attention to our irreverent explorations, unbeknownst to us that she understood English.
Nearby, off to the side her ante who spoke perfect English and her father, a university professor of Islamic jurisprudence(!) who clamed to speak no English watched as the precocious young lady carefully interjected herself into our conversation, making it clear she just wanted to practice her English. Super intelligent kids always fascinate me and this little girl could hold her own in a group of university educated adults.
I started off with inane banter one might find appropriate for rank beginner students of a foreign language, but it soon became obvious this kid could and wanted to handle more weighty subjects. Late in the session I learned of her father's occupation and recall how the guy closely monitored our exchanges, at the time thinking it was pride in his daughter rather than interest in the subject matter. Now, I am less sure as he vigorously denied even the most elementary knowledge of my language... which seems very unlikely now that I think about it.
Last night Sam had me help with his English tutoring class. He wanted a native speaker to provide some conversation experience for his students. Two young women, "Mona" and "Betty" entertained me with their efforts to formulate understandable expressions while Sam provided suggestions to the ladies in Farsi between our struggling English exchanges. "Do you drink viskey?" asks Betty.
"Whiskey" I correct. "I do sip whiskey on rare occasions, but I prefer cognac brandy." I continued, the understood answer eliciting giggles from both young women students.
Like all of my postcards, this is only a small highly prejudiced glimpse of a vast, complex array of Iranian things and ideas. Imagine learning about the United States by visiting San Clemente Island off the coast of California, or learning about Japanese cuisine from a taste of green tea. Hopefully though, you may have seen something unexpected or entertaining through my lopsided filtered vision.
More in the next postcard, possibly from Qatar,
Fred L Bellomy
PS: I'm sitting in the departure lounge of the Kish International Airport... finally. Before I left, the hotel receptionist indicated 15 dirham should be adequate for taxi fare to the airport... or 20. Not wanting to add complexity to my already complex adventure I put one of my two remaining 20 dirham notes in the plastic pocket protector for easy access and walked away from the hotel toward the airport planning to hail a cab after a little conditioning exercise.
The guy I haled spoke only money, but as soon as I produced the 20 dirham bill and muttered "airport" he nodded and off we went. When I spotted the airport entrance I gestured my desire to get out of the cab before entering the airport grounds which confused the befuddled fellow. I wanted a chance to take some previously "forbidden" photos before anyone could interfere with my clandestine activities. As I walked toward the cluster of buildings a hundred meters away, I spotted an appealing flying peacock sculpture and immediately began snapping pictures.
Satisfied with my photographic efforts I headed on toward the departure lounges. Naturally I missed the English signs among all those in Farsi. In the domestic departure terminal no one spoke much English and it took a while to figure out I needed the other buildings. The "information desk" lady could not understand my questions until finally I pulled out my return flight ticket and confirmation slip for Dubai, where upon she muttered "domesti. Go." pointing off towards the corner of the lounge.
Seeing no Kish Air signs in the modest lobby I wandered around until she approached gesturing toward the entry door continuing toward it and motioning for me to follow. Outside she pointed across the landscaped area next to the parking lot to another cluster of buildings and thanking her I bolted away. There is still no marked Kish Air check-in counter, just a bank of waiting chairs and customs gates off to one end. There does seem to be some one size fits all check-in counters and it is two hours before the scheduled flight, so it looks like all airlines use the same set of counters and they will eventually be marked for Kish Air passengers.
As the time for our flight approached we were called for the departure emigration interview. A friendly young woman behind the counter (the same one I believe who wouldn't let me leave the airport when I arrived without specifying a hotel name) checks her computer screen, grins at me and asks: "Why did you change hotels?"
"Because the first place turned out to be awful." I replied.
Still smiling, she continued her interrogation: "How did you find Kish? Did you enjoy your visit? How about the food? etc."
I answered each question candidly with no answer being all that flattering. Her smile must have been pasted on her face because it didn't change as she heard each of my honest answers delivered without emotion. Finally the interrogatory ended and she stamped my exit visa on the passport page containing the entry stamp and I proceeded to the preflight security screening station where the most perfunctory examination I have ever endured quickly took place.
The departure waiting lobby is modest with only two shops, one selling perfume and the other snacks. It is clean and modern, but simple and built for utility. When the airline staff announced the flight ready for boarding I noticed my assigned seat number: 22H. On the plane I found only two seats on either side of the isle and no "H" seat, of course. One of the stewardesses dashed to the rescue and escorted me to one of the many vacant seats. The flight did feature another sky marshal sitting up front watching all of us passengers during the short half hour trip. F
This story would not be complete without closure on the bizarre Lari
Exchange episode once I got back to Dubai.
You will recall how Lari Exchange saved me from financial oblivion with his
casual "gift" of five crisp one hundred dollar bills over on Kish Island. My
first concern once back in Dubai involved an urgent search for his UAE
offices. The little business card provided by Mr. Lari contained only
cryptic Dubai office location information and I worried I might never find
them. So I checked the Internet for better references and then conferred
with the concierge in my desperate emergency $165
Dusit Princess Hotel for better directions to any one of his several
PPPS: "Why Kish?" one reader asked. I checked several information sources for Iran travel possibilities, but in the end, Kish looked like the only acceptable compromise for me on this trip. I couldn't see spending two thousand dollars to be handled by a baby sitter for seven days, going where and when my keeper dictated... after waiting 30 days for a not guaranteed Iranian visa. Kish Island may only be a mild form of the culture, but after the harassment at the airport, it turned out to be completely unfettered... my preferred way of exploring any new territory... much to the chagrin of the befuddled emigration lady who was supposed to monitor my where-abouts while on the island.
While there I ran into that thirty year old English tutor, Sam who had just returned from ten years working in Canada. His jaded views of the Iranian political regime and religious cultural practices complimented mine almost perfectly. We had several great conversations... after which he asked me to sanitize any writing containing references to him specifically. "This is a very small island and everybody knows everybody and I wouldn't want to get into trouble for having such a frank exploration of the contentious issues we explored." he cautioned.
I have learned enough to know I'd still like to arrange a real tour of the mainland at some point in the future when I can make time for the required long planning horizon. I hate to travel like that, preferring instead to trust in serendipity for the most part. FB