The bus ride that wasn’t

Looking up at its entranceIn the dark and freezing cold we cycled our bikes to a square on the edge of Tabriz, propped our trusty steeds up against a wall and waited for the bus to Tehran. We’d been assured several would appear from 10 o’clock. “Tehran?” we asked some bystanders when a large bus rolled up. “Yok,” the crowd replied in unison, using Turkish to tell us this bus was going somewhere else. We have yet to meet anyone in Tabriz who claims to be Iranian and not Turkish or some other minority group. Even the city’s most famous poet wrote in Turkish.

A momentary silence ensued and then chaos broke out as several men tried to tell us something in a language we couldn’t understand. It didn’t take long for us to get the distinct impression that there was no bus to Tehran at all. “Hotel,” one man said over and over, putting his hands together and next to his head in a sleeping pose.

This couldn’t be. We’d been told by several people that buses to Tehran pulled up one after the other all the way to midnight. We’d spent all day walking around Tabriz, killing time, and now we were tired, cold and counting on a warm bus to whisk us away. We crossed the road to seek another opinion and happened upon a newstand owner who spoke English. At first he was positive. Yes, the buses came here every night, not to worry. But less than a minute after we thanked him for his help he whistled at us to return to his stall. “I forgot,” he said. “There’s been so much snow there are no buses tonight. They’re cancelled.”

What bad luck. Not speaking Farsi, we’d been completely oblivious to the snow storms hitting much of the country. There wasn’t a flurry in the skies above Tabriz. By now, after standing around in the cold, we could hardly feel our fingers or toes and the thought of a half-hour bike ride back to our hotel was quite depressing. Two security men who’d been watching us from the their little hut on the street corner waved at us to come in and warm up. Of course we accepted, squeezing into their shelter which was hardly more than a meter long on each side. Small it might have been but it was cozy and they had a pot of tea on which they kindly shared with us. We shared a few minutes of chatter about the cold, the snow and gas prices (always a popular topic – petrol is rationed here but costs only about $0.10 a litre) before we said goodbye to start the journey back into town.

We’d just crossed the first intersection, cycling at top speed, when one of the security men appeared in front of us. How did he do that? This man was quick! “Hotel,” he said, pointing to a building just ahead. He must have run in the dark for a few blocks to point out a place where we could stay. We thanked him and checked the price but it was out of our budget so we returned all the way into Tabriz where the staff of Hotel Mashad were surprised to see us again. Happily they still had rooms so three hours after our adventure began we collapsed back into the very same bed we’d slept in for the previous two nights, hoping for clear roads.

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