6-1Wiki Info Semnan Province & Abr Forest
Go to Abr (meaning cloud) forest...not a cloud in the sky today, very clear for a change. Our driver, Unis, was a 23 year old student and at first we thought he was doing a lot of unnecessary stuff (Mehdi hadn't asked him to do anything other than drive to the 'forest'). First thing he did was gas up the car...this time it was only 4000 rials/4 toman per liter ($1.30/gal. US) instead of the usual 7000. I asked Mehdi about the difference and he said everyone can receive a certain ration of gas at this lower price each month. Of course, remember less than 2 years ago the standard price was only 1000 rial ($.34/gal.US)subsidized by the govt. Next Unis went to a shop an had his tires 'balanced' - this means they put an equal amt. of air in each tire. Finally, before heading out of town he stopped home and got food (rice chicken, bread, greens - dill, basil, & onion greens - and tea) + all necessary cups, pot, ax - for chopping wood - & 2 watermelons) and then 6 liters of water! This was all on his own initiative. He speaks practically no English but is very responsible it seems. He's a big guy, Mehdi says he's a wrestler, and is studying agriculture in school.
I am sure this trip to the Abr 'forest', we'd call it a woods but it extends quite a ways so..., was a first for both Mehdi and Unis because they looked at their map several times and as we got closer they asked direction 2-3 times, once from a truck driver who turned out to be Turkish and knew nothing about the place, ha! The pavement, if you can call it that, lasted less than 2 km. then it was dusty, rutted gravel/dirt all the rest of the way with a number of steep hills. But the countryside just got more and more beautiful. This being Friday - 1st day of weekend - there were lots of cars and crazy kids on moterbikes (no helmets of course), even some couples or 3-somes "heading for the hills"! It was a grand exodus of sorts, and as we were to discover later, grander than we first imagined. It took close to an hour driving to arrive at a spot where Mehdi and Unis determined was a good stopping point. The road continued on as we saw later on a climb up into the mountains but the road got even rougher and Usis' car was just a small, front wheel drive with balding tires.
Unis had even brought a blanket and as we hiked a bit we saw many family groups camping or picnicking the same way with blanket, small fire, and pretty minimal belongings. Once we were situated, Usis hunted for wood with his ax and Mehdi settled on the blanket. Bon and I starved for the hiking/out-of-doors, quickly hiked up the nearest hillside to see what we could see. Wow! Wildflowers blooming everywhere we looked, and great vistas opened in all directions. We cut our exploring short when Mehdi called us to have tea which also tirned out to be lunch as well which is when we discovered how much preparation Unis had done. After a fine lunch which ended with watermelon, Bon & I took off for the higher peak across the ravine from our picnic spot. See the photos thats all I need say. We returned 1 1/2 hours later after some tricky descending over scree and through brush having been fully rejuvenated by our 'exploring'! While having our last cups of tea and sharing our photos a group-crowd-expedition of perhaps 50-60 hikers from nearby Birjand (Golestan Natl Park)began passing by. I was called away by Mehdi/Unis to a group of 3 guys Unis' age to smoke a bit of sheeshah to which I gave in for appearances sake but they proved to be a jolly sort and I puffed several more times before the usual 'where you from, do you like Iran, how is Obama, etc.' came up. A good time was had by all and meanwhile, back at our picnic site right next to the hiking trail a large group of previously mentioned hikers had settled into the shade of the oak tree and several had engaged Bon in similar banterings. Time was ticking away for Mehdi (he never seems to just relax and has a penchant for saying 'no problem, lots of time' but really would like to move on, ha), and he did make the suggestion to Bon about leaving which never sits right with her when she is otherwise engaged in conversation. Apparently, she had to 'scold' Mehdi a bit, her words to me later, but Mehdi being Mehdi took it all in stride and we headed back refreshed. As I said earlier, we had no idea the vast numbers of Iranians coming to this woods for R&R! Fully 3-4 big bus loads had either arrived since 10:30 or we passed on our way out! This was in addition to many, many more cars and motorbikes! We felt like we do when we get to some historical site or ruins early enough to avoid the tour buses! No kidding, we had these beautiful mountain landscapes all to ourselves the whole time we were up there. Bon said, 'Just think, and we are in IRAN!' Meaning, we could easily have been in our Montana mountains with very little imagination...other than the very glaring fact that these trees are all old oaks and beech, ha! Dontcha just love it! What a great ending to a wonderful tour!
Tomorrow's bus leaves for Tehran at 9:30am.Wiki Info Environmental Issues in Iran