A Day in the Desert: A Chance to Get Away

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We left the hotel at five am yesterday, to meet a bus full of Tehranians and take an excursion out into the desert. The bus rolled through the light traffic of central Tehran and out into an exquisitely flat open road, unbroken by anything except distant hills, we were bound for the salt lake southeast of Tehran.

Because of the early hour, we were groggy, and relieved at about 8 am when we pulled into a roadside restaurant for breakfast. This meal is the hightlight of the cuisine here, it includes the salty feta cheese, bowls of steaming lentils, pita bread and a variety of egg dishes like fritatas. I didn’t come here for the cuisine, but didn’t realize that we’d have an identical meal every dinner, so the breakfasts have become favorites.

In the small city of Aran, the biggest building for miles around is the elaborate walled mosque compound, at night lit up in bright green. In front of the mosque is a graveyard, with upright plaques that memorialize the war dead from the Iran-Iraq war. We changed to an older beat-up bus for a 60 km ride over a desert road. A man leading a pack of camels crossed in front of the bus, and big trucks zoomed by, trailed by clouds of dust.

We got a chance to walk a salt lake and at the end of the trip we found ourselves at sunset sitting on high dunes, the sweep of the brown sand undulating, and the light perfect for photos. I sat with a young woman in the tourist business who said she wished that politics didn’t interfere so often in people’s lives. I could sense that she, like many of her contemporaries, are growing weary of life dictated by Mullahs based on ancient traditions. None of the young people I met care about politics, or listen to the Ayatollah’s Friday night speeches. “We watch movies, read novels, drive around, but we don’t care about them,” they told me again and again.

I told her that since there are so many more young people here and the leadership is very old, things would inevitably change and loosen up. She can’t imagine that, but seemed hopeful that someday no one will be telling her what to wear, how to live, and blocking Facebook and Myspace on Iran’s internet.