Smoke curls towards the end of the straw, the red hot glow of the metal is extinguished as it passes over the button sized blob of opium which is carefully placed on the end of metal pin. The 5 seconds of smoke are then exhaled into the room, the metal implement is placed back in the flame of a small gas stove in the middle of the room. Once glowing, a quick tap removes any residue and the process is repeated, and repeated and repeated. Each time the lump becomes smaller as the insidious smoke is inhaled. The man tells me that he is wasting away, smoking is unhealthy and how sad his mother is that he is doing it. With that comment, he carefully pierces a new ball of opium with the pin and molds it with his fingers into the optimal shape. several friends come and join, each offering for us to try. The more they smoke, the more uncomfortable I feel about being there. None the less we are treated with great respect and provided with hospitality far beyond their means. We accept an offer to be taken to Persepolis which is near by. Early the next morning, at break neck speeds, we race through town towards the ancient civilization. In the 45 degree heat, everything seems an effort, we gulp large amounts of water and try to grasp the scale of the place along with hundreds of local tourists. Only a few brave foreigners can be seen in Iran at this time. Lunch is served back at the house, but not before the stove is re-kindled and the smoking ritual is taken up again. Stopping precisely long enough to gulp down a minimal lunch in order to return to the cravings of an addiction. Our host, who had told us that he doesn't smoke, joins the group of friends who gather daily at his home to 'socialise' in this manner, cigarettes he tells us later. His wife remains out of site in the simple kitchen, only appearing on demand to deliver tea and take the odd picture. The lunch she prepared is presented to us, after refusing to eat everything, we see that as suspected, the left overs are her lunch. If we were to eat everything, she would have to find something else. After Stefan is accosted by the local drug dealers when he tries to go outside to use the phone, we feel really uneasy, but keeping our calm we wait for 2 hours for the hottest part of the day to pass, then ask our host to escort us out of town on his motorbike should the drug dealers have other plans. Our nerves are not eased when, after 2 minutes flicking through a Persian-English dictionary, he warns us about thieves on the road. We leave without incident and arrive a few hours later in Shiraz where we are met by a hoard of very friendly soldiers who want signatures and, of all things, a drawing?? in their notebooks. With many laughs and a pathetic attempt to draw one of them, we are collected by our host who is a friend of an Iranian cyclist whom Stefan had met in Turkey some weeks before. Time to relax for a couple of days before the madness of India.
On the 23rd I will fly to Delhi, India via Bahrain where I will wait a few days for my friend to arrive from South Africa to begin the next part of my adventure in the north of India.