July 28 Sabzevar, Iran
Yesterday we visited the Alisadr Cave, a huge water cave near Hamedan. It was only supposed to be 60 km but we got lost of course so it took us much longer to actually find it. We were glad we took the time to see this spectacular sight. When you enter the cave you go down a wide staircase into a well light cavern and hallways and you wind around eventually coming to a dock. The water in the cave is from 1 to 15 metres deep and most of the cave has water. At the dock they load you into small plastic boats that hold 3 or 4 people each and 3 of these boats are towed by a guy on a peddle boat. They offered Calen the seat next to the driver but he wasn’t feeling very well so I took it. The tour goes all through the cave from large cavernous rooms to passageways so narrow you can touch the walls on either side. After a while you come to a dock and you get off to walk up about a hundred steps into another huge cavern and then down the other side and back into a different boat back to the starting point. The whole tour lasted about an hour and a half. Again whenever we were in line people wanted to meet us and talk to us and otherwise treat us like celebrities. When we got back to the parking lot some young girls came over to our vehicle and asked if they could get a picture with the “boy”.
From Alisadr we headed off toward Esfahan again taking a road that we thought would save us lots of time and ending up doing a 200 km circle back to the road we were trying to avoid. Navigating these roads is kind of difficult because there aren’t any highway numbers on our map and the signs are only sometimes in English. We made it as far as Delijan before it was too dark and I was too tired to go any farther. As we began looking for a hotel we saw lots of people camped out around the central park so we thought maybe we could camp out too. When we went to investigate we met an Iranian who spoke very good English and he told us we would be absolutely safe camped out with everyone else. Right in front of where we parked our car we put down our mats and sleeping bags on the sidewalk just like everyone around us. Some people had tents set up but most just threw a carpet on the sidewalk and slept on that. We wondered why no one set up on the grass and were told that the gardener would kick you off. Beside where we set up was a family from southern Iran and they invited us over for tea. We spent a couple of hours on their carpet talking through our new found translator and even pulling out the laptop and showing them the pictures of our trip. Again the hospitality of Iranians is quite remarkable. We eventually returned to our mats and went to sleep there on the sidewalk. Even on a foam mat it wasn’t the most comfortable place to sleep but it certainly was a unique experience.
In the morning Calen was feeling worse so he took some medications and I made up the bed in the car for him. He slept while I drove to Esfahan about 2 hours down the road. Estafan is a historic city with several 500 year old brick bridges spanning the river. We walked the bridges and visited an art gallery and then it was off north towards Turkmenistan. The route we chose took us through the central desert and man did it ever live up to its name. Our temperature gauge read 60 C this afternoon the hottest temperature either of us has ever seen. The desert was completely flat from horizon to horizon in every direction and there wasn’t a living thing to be seen anywhere. We did however see a sign warning us to watch for camels crossing the road. Sure enough when we got closer to the northern edge of the desert we saw someone on a motorcycle herding about 25 or 30 camels. We stopped to take some pictures as he drove his camels past us. The landscape at the edge of the dessert was quite spectacular as is so much of Iran, High craggy hills and mountains all carved up by erosion. Calen says it looks like a relief map in 3D. Everywhere we go we see small, mud walled villages with anywhere from a few to a few dozen houses. It’s like walking into the pages of a National Geographic magazine. I wish we could spend a lot more time in Iran but it’s time to head for Turkmenistan. Tonight we are in a hotel room with internet so in the morning Calen will try to upload these last few blogs and get us up to date.