Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Working Holiday - Iran

Decoupage decoration in Isfahan 
Azadi Tower in Tehran
It has been a while since I updated this blog. I was in Iran for 12 days....a combination of work and holiday trip from 15th to 26th of May, 2011. The travel was finalized in just less than two weeks before the travel date and the preparation was the least I had ever done. It was actually a mixed feeling of to travel and not to travel. The recent development in the Middle East has been the major concern since Iran is a neighboring country. Although certain parts of Iran are considered as risky area….advice and concern of the people I know in Iran were taken due consideration. It has been a marvelous journey into a country which is not easily accessible due to political and language barriers but yet has a lot to offer the world for a most enriching experience!

I wish to extend my gratitude to friends and associates in Sanandaj, Mazandaran, Ahwaz, Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan for their overwhelming hospitality and kindness during our presence in Iran. Though I was skeptical about the security and safety especially in Kurdistan but the journey has somehow changed my whole perception about the country. In my heart I sincerely thank the strangers I met on the streets who have offered us a warm welcome to their beautiful country.

The youths and kids on the streets anxiously approached us asking, “Where are you from?” and the next line would be, “Welcome to our country” or “Welcome to Iran”. Though the conversation did not go any further due to language limitation but it truly touches my heart. Getting invited to homes for tea is nothing strange in this country and sincerity transcends in their eyes! It is a country where English is hardly spoken and foreigners are rare in some remote areas, yet generosity and smiles are abundant. And Kurdistan almost brought me to tears!

Kids on the streets of Shiraz posed for us

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From Jakarta to Bandung - Indonesia

The Sumatran Hippo
Staying in international hotels in Jakarta requires some tedious security checks like the airport. All these are done with security reasons so tolerating it, is in your best interest. What I dislike about Jakarta is the macet (traffic congestion) but with a population of 9.6 million, macet is almost unavoidable. It takes so long to get across from one place to another. I had a brief stop in Jakarta to meet a dear friend before leaving for Puncak, a highland about two hours from Jakarta…but again depending on the traffic. 

Every time we come to Jakarta or Bandung we usually hire a driver to drive us around and the service is really not expensive, considering we are free from the hassle of driving. We stop over in Puncak to have lunch and the restaurant has a fantastic view overlooking the tea plantation. After lunch we proceed to the driving Safari not far from Puncak. On the way, we made several stops at the local stall for grilled corns and coconut drinks. It is obvious that many of these stalls are run by young kids and when asked, they told us that they are helping their parents after the school session.

Wide open ready for the thrown bananas 
Approaching the Safari, we made another stop at the fruit stalls to purchase some bananas and carrots for the animals. The Safari is very interesting and there are many wild animals wondering around and we could get pretty close to the animals. There are opportunities to feed the animals and some of them come really close to our vehicles for carrots and bananas. It is very entertaining to watch the animals and kids would definitely love this place. You can stay at a hotel in the Safari if you wish but you have to book ahead. 

After the Safari, we continued our journey to Bandung for some shopping. Bandung is  an interesting city packed with tourists and locals from Jakarta who come to shop here.  It is well know for its multiple factory outlets which offer good bargains.

Refreshing view of Puncak Highlands
Puncak Highlands
Lunch at Puncak Restaurant
Carrots for sale
Enterprising Carrots Vendor

Bananas for sale
Corn Stall
Hippos swimming
Sleepy lions
Feeding the deer
Beautiful head gear :)
Our faithful driver
Shopping spree in Bandung

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Fes Tannery - Fes, Morocco

Vessels filled with several dyes
The first soak in the acidic pigeon excrement 
A tour in Fes would not be complete without a visit to the tannery. The famous and oldest leather tannery in the world is located in the northeast of as-Saffarine, a quarter in the old Medina. This tannery dates back from the 9th century and the old production method of producing leather has not changed much since then. As we climbed up the small winding stairs to visit one of the leather shops, the stench pungent aroma filled the air but we braved ourselves through just to have a look at this ancient tannery. It is almost impossible to have a view of the tannery without visiting the leather shops since all viewing galleries are part of the shops.

The tannery actually comprises several stone vessels filled with vast color of dyes and the men would be working in the vessels soaking the hides (skins). The first soak is in the vessels of diluted acidic pigeon excrement, cow urine, animal fats and brain…no wonder it stinks! Then the hides are transferred into vessels of vegetables dyes of henna, pomegranates, turmeric and others to give the colors. There is no machine or what so ever equipment used in the process… it’s just plain laborious male job. Men squash, scrape and stretch the smelly skin, while donkeys are still used to transport the skin like in the good old days. I imagined the working condition must be unbearable in the peak of summer when it’s extremely hot in Fes.

After the sheep and goats skins have gone through the tannery process, they are made into bags, shoes, slippers and coats which we can see in the stores. It is mass production without modern technology. The leather products are cheap but your fate lies in your bargaining skill. And for the Muslim visitors, the vendors will always say, “We are brothers and sisters, we give you the best price (halal)” well…unfortunately I don’t buy that after being conned several times J!
The tannery in the middle of Fes neighbourhood

Drying the hides
View from the balcony
The tannery after a long day work
The leather goods in the viewing gallery