Monday 8th October 2007
The day began with a fairly standard breakfast of bathmat bread, cheese, honey and a boiled egg which I kindly donated to my girlfriend who was lacking in this department. After gathering the bags it was time to hit the road and head for Esfahan, one of the places in Iran which was of particular interest in the group and was to be the centre of controversy and betrayal within the Ozbus!
We arrived in plenty of time checking into the hotel and had an afternoon to ourselves, once we were settled we headed into town and walked to the bizarre for which Esfahan is well known. We crossed the bridge mentioned in various travel guides including ‘The Wrong Way Home’ and NSITT by Peter Moore where there is a tea house under the arches at one end and carried on into town. Many of us thought we had spotted various impressive landmarks only to discover that these were in fact banks, when you have a high denomination cash-based economy the bank is a very important place. We also read with great interest some of the teachings of Islam which are posted on signs outside the banks around the city.
We reached the bizarre and were initially confronted by shoes, shoes and more shoes. With the women being forced to cover up, the shoes are the only item they can use to individualise themselves hence the need for so many different shoe shops. On further exploration we discovered the bizarre was split into sections, shoes, spices, pots and pans, nik naks and so on. The nik naks section was the main focus for us with my girlfriend deciding she liked the look of a camel bone painting but was not willing to pay the asking price and me buying an impressive triple hip flask which I managed to get for 90,000 under the asking price (sounds impressive but is actually only £4.50). We continued our tour and found one stall owner engraving Farsi writing on metal plates, this very kind man agreed to engrave one of my hip flasks with ‘Ozbus 1 2007’. This made my hip flask from a dry country the perfect souvenir from Iran.
After more exploring we eventually ended up in a carpet shop, chatting with some locals. The girls had a chance to get their head scarves off and we enjoyed a cup of tea and a chat. Soon we steered the conversation onto alcohol and how hard it was to get hold of this in Iran. The response was classic, ‘In Iran only impossible is impossible’. We were told that if we returned at 7.30pm we would be able to sample some local homebrew called ‘Grapa’, brewed from raisins. When 7.30pm came around the suspicious minds of the group had scared most, including me, off. One Irish man and his South African companion decided to give it a go anywhere and by all accounts had a great time. They even managed to acquire supplies for the group but that is a story for another day.
My night back at the hotel, destined to be a quiet, uneventful one, was not to be. We began by heading out to find some dinner with little success. A round trip over the bridge revealed the Iranians are partial to a quick snog in the archways of the bridge when they think no one can see. We also met a couple of chatty locals keen to practice their English. We then headed back to the hotel to eat and after being told that pretty much everything on the menu was off and that our veggie dinner companions had no chance we ended up in the hotels coffee shop eating pizza and then it got interesting!
Being a reasonably nice hotel (not four or five star like the Ozbus 2 people seem to think it is, but reasonably nice all the same) internet access was available and the discovery of a Guardian article on ‘Mutiny on the Ozbus’ occurred fairly early on in the evening. One of our group had written a tongue in cheek email home to the folks but it appeared that any humour contained in the email was lost on the recipient. As many concerned Mums would have done, she forwarded it to the media. The media jumped on the story and reported to the world that we were stuck in a hell hole without a bus and lots of other negative crap that only serves to give the wrong impression about our trip. We are pioneers and are doing something for the first time (even though I hear that the Independent thinks I am on Ozbus 2- second place is just the first person to lose – the cheek of it). There are bound to be teething problems but we are a very close group (according to our tour leader, she had never seen a group bond so quickly), we all look out for each other (bar one) and while it is impossible to keep thirty eight people happy all the time I think the majority have a smile on their faces most days. As my Mum said to me in a text, this is where it stops being a trip and becomes an adventure (screw you Ozbus 2).