I started off the week travelling further North to a place called Jolfa. I had read that the scenery in this part of Iran was not to be missed. This place is really interesting as it boarders Azerbaijan. It rarely sees tourists and because of the boarder there is no public transport and I was warned about hitch hiking and taking photos as the area is known to be quite dangerous. I took a quick detour to visit a monastery up in the mountains. I spent longer than expected up here partly because it was seriously stunning but secondly because we found a wild mulberry tree so we stocked up on the most delicious fruit.
The drive from Jolfa to Kalybar passes through the Aras River and is a sight for sore eyes. Simply stunning. Myself and Hussain (my driver) immediately hit it off which was lucky as I spent 8 hours with him. We took regular pit stops during the day for ice cream, kebabs and some more mulberry picking.
The 6 hour drive featured insane scenery from start to finish. We eventually made our end destination to Kalybar a small little village perched in the mountains. I got collected by Babak my couch surfing host who lived in the most idyllic house on the side of a mountain. They too had walnut, mulberry, cherry and apricot trees. They made alcohol out of drying mulberries in the sun which is a v common custom over here. His family owned a bakery and ice cream shop so I questioned would I ever be able to leave this quaint little village. The main attraction in Kalybar is a trek to the top of the mountain to view the famous Babak Castle.
On my first evening I was invited for dinner with Babak’s family. I was instantly greeted with kisses and hugs and pure joy from his mother. Again despite the language barrier we immediately hit it off and I was treated to the most stunning array of Iranian food. That night I opted to sleep outside on the garden terrace in due to its perfect climate. Despite the frogs and ants it was idyllic.
After Kalybar, I wanted to check out the Caspian sea craving a swim. I ended up doing couch surfing with the intense Mohammad. As a rule I have only been couch surfing with girls or families but on this occasion his reviews were excellent so I gave him a chance. I arrived into steaming Ramsar in the middle of the night and Mohammad kindly collected me in a taxi
The next day we went swimming in the Caspian sea which is surrounded by the jungle a little bit similar to Tyrona in Colombia. It is such a shame it has such potential to be beautiful but in reality is was very dirty. It was a sad sight seeing all the men swimming in the sea and the women just watching from the shore. I inquired was I allowed to swim and was told yes but that I must go in all of my clothes. I didn’t even have to consider this and was in like a light bulb (this shocked Mohammad). After a while there was a guard screaming at me frantically I was worried as I had lost my hijab in the sea and was afraid there could be some problems. In fact he was warning us that swimming in this area is really dangerous due to water holes and that sadly three people died there only last week. We made a quick and lucky exit. It was only then I figured Mohammad was a funny fish (to be fair to Iran there haven’t been many compared to SA). He really wanted to brush my hair, massage my fingers and take my photo so I knew I wouldn’t be hanging out with his chap too long…..
I made an escape and decided to go camping in a cool village in the mountains called Javardeh. The weather up here was cool, cloudy and all in all pretty perfect. I instantly befriended a family who fed me with fresh chicken kebabs. It is a really authentic village experience with lots of families venturing up the mountain to escape the heat. But, there is absolutely nothing to do up here except eat and I was a little skeptical about camping as I would have been completely alone. I opted to hitch hike off the mountain with a kind couple and make my way to the big city of Qasvin.
Back in Ramsar I bonded with a few men over some Islamic beer and sesame seeds. We eventually shared a taxi to Qazvin. This city is generally used as a good base to go explore the Allamut Valley. At this stage I was looking disheveled, rough and dirty and my couchsurfing hosts happened to be living in a luxury apartment in Qazvin so I definitely was not their typical clientele.
I was greeted by the gorgeous couple Maryam and Peyman who treated me like a queen. The next day after an incredible breakie spread I went exploring and shopping with the glamorous Maryam. A large majority of the day was spent browsing for diamonds and teapots (anyone looking for real diamonds come to Iran they are ridiculously cheap!!!). We tasted the local sweet delicacy of baklava flavoured with pistachio and saffron a divine combination. This is excellent with a coffee.
In the afternoon we cooled down with some saffron ice cream, this is the best I’ve tasted so far which had frozen chunks of cream mixed through it. I even got to crash a movie at an Iranian cinema. Interestingly, in Iran they are only allowed to display Iranian movies in the cinema, Western ones are strictly forbidden. I was also treated to the famous dish of Qazvin; Gheymeh Nesar. It contains rice with meat, saffron, barberries, orange zest with almonds and pistachios. I forgot to take a picture it was that delish.
Next on the agenda was a 3 day trek to the Allamut Valley for my birthday with a French couple I met in Tabriz. Maryam equipped me with some home made saffron juice, and lots of delish snacks so I was good to go. As expected the Frenchies were an hour late but I’ve learned not to sweat the big stuff and I was just so delira to eventually find some travel buddies for the up coming adventure (generally speaking tourists have been non-existent here)