Bus Stop, Kerman
My visa has been renewed, I'm bound for the Persian Gulf. On my way south I'm pausing for a few days to explore Kerman, an ancient city mid-way between Yazd and the Gulf.
Getting an extra month tagged onto my stay in Iran was cheap and straightforward, even taking into account the waiting time and irregular office hours kept by the Yazd Bureau of Alien Affairs. Applying for the initial visa to enter the country was so full of fees, waiting, and payment for extra services--such as additional authorization codes--I was dubious that I could get more time here. In the end, it cost me just 100,000 rials--about $10 USD--to get my stay extended by 30 days.
I spent a total of twelve days in Yazd, most of them being diligent and cracking the books. I settled into a routine that was almost too comfortable: Courses in the morning and early afternoon. Sandwich for lunch. Afternoon stroll around the old city, or a visit to some mosque or other site which I hadn't yet visited. An hour-and-a-half on the Internet each evening. Sandwich for dinner, capped off with homework back at the hotel.
Internet access around Iran is cheap and fast, generally costing under a dollar for an hour's worth of time at an Internet cafe. I found it ironic that while staying in the remote, old, desert city of Yazd, I was more connected to English-language radio programming than I have been in years. Today, everything comes as a Podcast download. Each time I logged on in Yazd, voices from the BBC or NPR which I hadn't heard in years automatically downloaded themselves onto my iPod.
It's strange to be in Iran and listening to western programming. Much of the buzz from the U.S. media has been about the potential for military strikes on Iran. Being in the thick of ordinary life here, that's hard to reconcile. Ordinary people everywhere are friendly and open. I don't try to hide the fact that I'm an American. When people ask where I'm from, most react positively: "America, very good!" On occasion, people do complain immediately about President Bush. But even those who do voice disapproval for Bush always qualify their feelings with something along the lines of, "The American people are good, but the Bush administration is bad."
Much as I loved everything about Yazd and spent my days in an easy, comfortable routine, I decided that I'd better move along sooner. I considered that running in the same circles everyday for two weeks might be at the expense of other potential experiences exploring the country and meeting a greater variety of people. I decided that if I didn't move along from Yazd, I wouldn't be able to include points farther south--Kerman, the Persian Gulf--on this trip. I didn't want to look back on my time here after leaving and wonder why I didn't visit a particular area. (I suppose I could look back at it already with the opposite perspective: the fixed routine I had in Yazd, interacting with the same people day-to-day, might have been a fuller way of getting to know the country. Covering more ground, moving on to a new town every few days generally means more limited interaction with different faces.)
Friday Mosque, Kerman
What I've seen so far around Kerman feels much like what I've seen in other cities around Iran: There are several pleasant parks scattered about town, certain to have at least one family taking a picnic any given time of day. Kerman has a beautiful old bazaar--a promenade set beneath a long ceiling of domed brick arches, lined with stalls offering spices, clothing, and cheap goods from China. A large, finely decorated Friday Mosque serves as the central place for prayer. The streets move with traffic, lots of fast food restarurants serve up sandwiches and pizza.
As with the other cities I've visited around Iran, people in Kerman come out on the streets mostly after nightfall. During the day, most businesses close up for a few hours. After dark is the time when everybody is out and about. I've never been to another country where people so like to stroll about window-shopping, pausing in their tracks every minute to stare at another display of jewelry, shoes, or second-hand wristwatches.
There are more places I'd like to explore around Kerman, so will take one last night here. Tomorrow I'll make my way to Bandar-e-Abbas, a city on the Gulf coast. After my time visiting the Gulf I'll begin working my way northwest, ultimately out of the country. Retracing my route, I hope to stay again in some of the places I've already visited: Yazd, Isfahan, and Tehran. If it's not too cold, I'll take some time visiting the coast of the Caspian Sea, then cross into Armenia come early December.