Hormoz – the island of the rainbow mountains (Iran)
It is only the giant wings of a pterodactyls that could cast a shadow over the rugged mountains of Hormoz and relieve them for a second from the searing sun of the Persian gulf. Although the landscape, reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle’ Lost World, and the still air make us anticipate each moment the arrival of the mighty pre-historic beast, surprisingly, it never flies over. We walk amused and indifferent to the heat, the receptors of our brains rather busy with the queasy-impossible task of processing the view spread in front of our eyes. Like jewels in the crown of a fairy-tale king, an array of peaks embellished in white, blue, violet, black, pink, red, green or brown glitter majestically under the sun, competing to secure an eternal photograph in our memory. Dried out salt lakes, deserts of summer ice, blind the senses in a bubble of sharp white, posing like fields of snowdrops in the void. Chador black beaches sprinkled with volcanic ash, glow in silver reflecting the moon. Next to them sanguine red sands dye the foamy waves travelling to the shores, colouring the edges of the ocean.
A playground of a heavenly artist, Hormoz is a tiny barren piece of land clustered in a constellation of bizarre islands, thrown in the waters between Iran and the Arabian peninsula. Barely supporting any vegetation, but blessed with an spectacular scenery, it is more of a natural jewel, than a place suitable for settled life. And yet Hormoz, has been inhabited for years. Known also as Jarun, the island was populated in the 14th century in the wake of a number of infamously notorious Mongol raids. The 15th Amir of Old Hormuz, an important port and a principality, was firmly convinced that the best place for his head was on his shoulders, rather than in the hands of Timur, and moved his palace to to the tiny island of Jarun, just 6 km off-shore, renaming it to New Hormoz – which soon came to overshadow its predecessor. That well-fortified city flourished for several centuries, beautified by the wonders of and wealth brought by trade. Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo both visited the island, describing it as the bustling commercial capital of the region, populated with merchants from all around the world. Well-aware of the strategic importance of Hormoz the Portuguese incorporated it into their growing Empire in 1507, building a fortress of colourful stones, that currently erodes in ruins graced by the ocean and the sun. Just a century later the Brits aiming to consolidate the foundations of their own Imperial design, assisted the Persian navy in recapturing Hormoz. The significance of the city slowly dwindled. Hormoz was neglected at the expense of the mainland port of Bandar Abass once the Mongol treat was a monster from the history books.
Now, the settlement located on the tip of the volcanic island consists of a few mosques, many one-story houses with thick walls and around five thousands locals equipped with noisy motorbikes. We make it to the village on a crowded little boat, where Marta happily giggles enjoying the company of a new-found travelling friend, while I desperately scan the compartment for an un-existing toilet and, like an impatient kid on a long travel, ask hectically everybody around how long would it take to board off. Every two minutes I enquire if ten have passed already and, eventually, the crew decides that I won’t be allowed to sink the boat, and I am invited to pee into the straight of Hormoz. A critical moment has passed and we avoid a disaster.
Hormoz is sleepy under the scorching afternoon sun and disturbed only by the buzzing of flying insects. At night life in town awakes and a myriad of ‘businesmen’ rush towards the shores. These contemporary merchants, still following the traditional local lifestyle, are labelled ‘smugglers’ by the conventions of international law. All sorts of commodities circulate from the nearby countries to Iran and the way around. This phenomenon, a result partly of the international economic sanctions on Iran and to an extent due to a prohibition of certain goods in the country is characteristic for all the border regions of the Islamic republic. Philippine beer, soft drinks and candies from the United Arab Emirates, dates from Bam and tax-free cigarettes, to list some, make life on a waterless and unarrable land perfectly possible. We have set our camp in a tiny canyon near a black sand beach quietly observing the spectacle of off-license trade. The roar of motorbikes and the engines of invisible boats are an unusual lullaby.
The next morning, eager to explore the alien landscapes of the island, we decide to take a few hours circular walk around it. Unwisely, we trust in the estimations of the locals regarding the time one needs to complete the hike. We forget that they live on two wheels, and although might know very well each curve of the road, they barely step on it – not to mention covering the thirty km of its scenic and only road. Running out of water midway threatens to evaporate our adventure enthusiasm, and jumping illegally naked into the salty waters of the Persian Gulf quenches our thirst for summer baths but does not help with dehydration. Luckily, after three years roving together, we have learnt the recipe for unexpected occasions – ‘Ask (the road) and you shall be given’. As the path shifts from grey to blush red, matching the sunburn on our cheeks, we wish for shadow and water- a brave desire at the uninhabited part of a treeless island. Few turns later, a palm shelter perching on the rocks overlooking the Oman sea, supplied with a pillow for additional comfort invites us for a rest. As our heads slowly cool down we agree that a bottle of water would be re-vitalising and decide to hurry up towards the village ignorantly unaware of the distance separating it from the shelter.
As the day progresses the sun and the sea hold us tighter in their warm humid hug. Suddenly, like in a mirage, two dark-skinned and mustached men hand us a bottle of water and invite us to the shadow of a flower garden in the yard of a building standing alone, guarded only by the bastion of colourful peaks. Several minutes later we enjoy a gift straight from the humps of the camels crossing daily the deserts between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.’The hash goes transit through here aiming for Oman, Yemen, Dubai, Saudi…’- contemplatively remarks Mohammed waving us good-bye while we ponder about the vegan implications of this sort of trafficking and the travelling skills of the loaded camels. Smuggling knows no borders and regards regulations as a mere nuisance.
Light like a feather, we keep on walking the dusty path, passing by ‘frozen’ salt rivers and ever-changing lunar landscapes. Few km down the road the hot breeze carries a vision of neighbouring Baluchistan. A woman wearing a red mask and colourfull shalwars with beautiful patterns, totally oblivious to the unbearable heat, dries dead fish in a cloud of flies. Her friends sitting around smoke shisha and calmly observe her flipping the fish with a wooden stick. We sit for a while in between the smell and their smiles, and get told of their origin with words and gertures pointing east, before we move on reassured that the village is getting closer. Soon we reach the end of the circle and get lost in the crowd of Arab turbans, black Farsi chadors, East-African faces and Baluchi attires. Hormoz, the island of the rainbow mountains, has sheltered all those people that walked the sea paths and its relentless sun has melted colours and ethnicities.
We have reached for a short while the south most point of this long travel. If we were willing to take a leap to Dubai and Oman, we could easily reach India – our purposed destination. It takes just about fifty dollars to avoid the roads of Baluchistan and fly over the Ocean. Instead, we choose a longer road that will take us north – crossing Iran to the deserts and oasis cities of Central Asia – and we wonder if India is now more an excuse or a destination. But let’s not anticipate, and let’s not hurry, the roving snails have yet to collect a whole bag of visas and many nights still separate us from the next border.