Lights begin to twinkle from many small villages around me, stars emerge from the twilight, the last of which reflects off the snow on the peaks beyond. The dry, dusty plains stretch out towards the Caspian Sea and rugged brown hills block the way to Azerbaijan. The rocks beneath me strut from the earth in rolling formations while scrubby bushes cling to life on the barren tops. Lizards dart from crack to crack as birds soar past on a graceful journey to their nests. Our tents gleam like jewels in green, red and yellow, accenting the beauty which surrounds them. A small gravel road weaves through fields of golden wheat, slowly making its' way back to civilization.
As darkness falls, headlights appear on the horizon, growing steadily into a roar of engine noise as they near. My stomach growls as I await the feast which they have promised to bring.
The 1980's Landrover bumps into view, with a final bounce and a short toot of the horn it comes to rest some meters from my tent. I'm introduced to a new member of the entourage, the rest of whom we met 2 hours earlier. The smell of alcohol on his breath explains the slightly erratic driving, they bring with them roast chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, pickles . We add our watermelon to the feast. In a gesture to show their gratitude, these gentlemen drove 25 km back to the town to buy us dinner after we turned down their offer to take us to their places to sleep for the night. Our reason being that this was certainly the most beautiful camp spot so far on the trip. Our acquaintance, Hanif who we had been introduced to by a lone cyclist who found us looking lost in Tabriz two days earlier, was run off his feet translating long sentences of gratitude stated in every possible manner. The theme was mostly what an honour it was that they could meet foreigners like ourselves and to serve us as best they could. The more they drank, the more they repeated themselves, finally they agreed that they must take us to the hot springs the next morning. After telling us that we meant so much to them and applying a soppy kiss to both cheeks, they left us to sleep in peace. They did not turn up as planned the next morning which, for better or worse, allowed us to move on, Hanif back to Tabriz and Stefan and I on towards the Caspian Sea. Before he leaves we make a quick call to Mohammad, as we had done two days before as we entered Ahar.
His car stood still in a large roundabout, he greeted us with a warm smile and a few words in English. He insisted that we stay in his home which we accepted. We followed his car the 3 or 4 km to his home. After a short introduction to the rest of his family, they left us for religious reasons. His wife not feeling comfortable to have us in her home while she was there.
For us, this feels very strange, but that's just the way it is. After sharing dinner on Persian rugs on the floor we all slept in the living area. Being a mountain man himself, Mohammad invited us to join him to a castle the following day by car, we kindly accepted. Situated on the peak of mountain, it is easy to understand how Babek Castle withstood decades of attack from invading Arabs. This picturesque monument is very significant to the Azari people of northern Iran and Azerbaijan.