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We put the bank card into the ATM and nothing happened. We tried another and still nothing worked. Then it suddenly dawned on us that we had American bank cards and we were in Iran. Definitely a schoolgirl error. ‘There must be a Western Union, we can do a transfer,” said my husband. “Sorry sir, the internet isn’t working,” explained our worried looking guide.
“How long do you think it will take before it’s up again?”
“Maybe tomorrow?” He added.
But our guide wasn’t concerned about our need for cash, he wanted to drive us up the mountain. “We need to go now otherwise it will get too dark,” said our driver. “There are no lights on the mountain, so we need to go immediately”.
Once we got into the car we could see why he was so keen to do the journey in daylight. The traffic was moving like it was being chased in Hollywood movie and you half expected Tom Cruise to come rushing past you at any moment War of the Worlds-style. As our driver switched from lane to lane at high speed in a race to get up the mountain, we tried in vain to search for our seatbelts. So we hunkered down a little further into the footwell, ready to take the brace position should the need arise.
After an hour of squeezing between cars, changing lanes and avoiding other cars coming the other way, we made it to our destination of Shemshak. It wasn’t the hotel we’d booked or the resort. The reason for the brisk relocation was lost in translation. Other bemused guests had their own theory about it involving an argument between a hotelier and the person that owned the road, which for us only added to the quirkiness of our adventure.
The hotel that the driver took us to was still on the mountain – albeit a different one. All we needed was a power shower to ease those muscles and the ability to catch the last lift up then ski to the back door.
Our new hotel had taken inspiration from an alpine ski lodge. The room was clean and there was also a comforting sign in reception that said it was the duty of a Muslim to look after a traveller and reimburse him if any of his belongings go missing.
There was also a restaurant, albeit the mountain fare was minimalist. “Meat or chicken,” said our smiling waiter giving me the menu. “What’s the meat?” I ask. “Meat,” he says. So I order the chicken.
The whole ski resort had a cosy and welcoming air. It looked like a French ski resort from the 1970s. As seeing this is when the lifts were installed, this is probably why, as nothing much had changed since then.
An old bearded man sat at the bottom of the lift, charging you around USD$10 a ticket. He rolled them off a book like a set of raffle tickets. You didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in any electronic turnstiles here.
A piste basher had managed to cough and splutter its way out of the ski shed, but had conked out within sight of the base. Someone had obviously kickstarted it in the vain hope that it might be able to reach the top of the first piste, but after a few hundred metres it had ground to a halt and that’s where it remained for the rest of the week. A few metres of well-groomed corduroy piste lay in its wake, but the rest had turned into an impromptu mogul field as the skiers and boarders had carved their way down the mountain.
The young treated it as their playground. Unlike previous decades when men and women used different pistes, the two sexes are now allowed to whisk down the slopes together. Women must have their heads covered, but this is quickly remedied with a beanie. But there would be no doubting the sexes anyway, due to the thick kohl eyeliner and lashings of mascara that can be spotted on the younger female ski addicts.
The resort is known for attracting more advanced skiers, than the larger resort of Dizin. And this was probably fortunate as until someone is able to bring the piste basher back to life, the steep and deep runs of Alborz mountain could prove a little testing for a beginner. But the blue skies and acres of snow could urge anyone to keep practising their parallel turns.
After we wrapped up our day on the slopes, we went in search of apres ski. There was a small glitzy bar in the village that was run by two Iranian hipsters who were delighted to see us enter their new establishment. With chrome covering every surface, they stood out against the more traditional shops and cafes lining the streets. In a dry country, we weren’t quite sure what they would offer us, but the barman asked us with a knowing smile if we would like to try a Mexican drink. Still not sure what this would involve we asked if we could have two and then waited for our ‘Mexican drink’ to hit the table. Fifteen minutes later two steaming cups of yellow liquid were placed in front of us, with an excited waiter saying: “Enjoy”. At first it was hard to distinguish what this Mexican drink was. It had notes of vanilla, egg… could it be eggnog in a Muslim country? No, it can’t be. We slurped down the rich, yellowy liquid until it suddenly dawned on us what it was – it was custard. The Mexican drink our waiter had rustled up was two mugs of custard. However, we had to say that while confusing, it was very warming after a day on the slopes. And who knows, since we’ve left Iran it might be the new cronut?
But Iran to the outside world can seem a little confusing. But once you actually see up close what it has to offer, you can’t help but go back for more.
Photography: Flickr and Shutterstock
From $8,500 pp
- Search for polar bears hunting seals in the pack ice on an arctic safari
- Explore historical sites including early whaling camps, trappers’ cabins, deserted coal mining operations, and an abandoned polar research station
- Sea kayaking near tidewater glaciers and icebergs
- Look out for humpback whales from the outdoor decks
- Take advantage of the included photography program and learn alongside the onboard expert
When to go:
From $5,610 pp
- Whiz through Lapland on a snowmobile to visit a reindeer farm
- See Finland’s winter scenery from the back of a sleigh and meet excited husky dogs
- Try ice-karting and make friends with some Finnish polar bears
- Stay in a cosy glass igloo offering potential views of the Northern Lights
- Get the chance to meet Father Christmas and his cheeky elves!
When to go:
From $14,420 pp
- Enjoy a trekking excursion with magnificent views of Annapurna South
- Interact with teacher and pupils at a local Nepalese school
- Float past forested valleys on a rafting adventure on the Seti River
- See the flora, wildlife and birds of the Nepalese jungle on a safari trip
- Dine with a Shepa summiteer and hear stories about climbing Mount Everest
When to go: