Magic Island

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Magic Island

I’m still not sure whether all of what happened was real. But I do beg, please hear out this incredible story.

It’s even less likely knowing that it takes place in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Which, unfortunately, is not known for things magical and exciting.

Gladly, I wasn’t travelling alone and have someone to confirm all you are going to hear. But perhaps my travel companions were under the same spell as me? I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself.

When we hopped on the ferry to the island, we were planning to leave it on the next day. That is, come, unpack, see everything, sleep, pack & move on. Sound plan knowing that the island is only 30 kilometres in circumference. Yet, in hindsight, this was never going to happen.

Our Turn

The heat is unbearable, as we get out of the ferry. So much so that it is hard to think. Adding to that we have nowhere to go. Reservations are nigh impossible on the island (no Wi-Fi, credit cards and other worldly conveniences).

So, we leave the harbour area and… walk about aimlessly. The sun is scorching, and it seems that the backpacks are getting heavier by the minute.

Fortunately, we meet another European, who recommends us a hostel somewhere in the town. He is leaving and laughs that we are going to take his spot on the island: ‘It’s your turn.’

As we thank him, a riksha-taksi (the main mode of transport here) stops by. The fares are cheap just as elsewhere in Iran, so no point in wasting time walking. Plus, the ride offers a relief from the desert heat.

I am sure you are not interested in our dealings with the hostel staff. Thus, I’ll fast forward a bit to the point where we’re hiring another riksha to take us around the island.

This tour is when it starts.

Landscapes with most unlikely colours: red, white, brown, greenish grey. Spires and cosmic shapes mushrooming all over the horizon. It looks like a fantastical world created by a kid in a sandbox. Except that it’s done on a grand scale.

Awestruck, we make a round across the island. Everything is astonishing. Even the people. And, not because a lot of them are hippies. It’s just that, they seem to be strangely attached to this place. Several of them tell us their plan was to stay for a night, but they couldn’t leave.

When we get back to the hostel, I share with the owner. He only muses: ‘it’s a big trap.’

Town

The first night in the town converts me fully.

Here most of the human interaction takes place on the seaside promenade. With 3 cafes and wonderful views to the Persian Gulf and a starlit sky. The sight is captivating. But what I remember is the talks and encounters we have.

People chatter about things that hardly matter elsewhere. Adventures, secret beaches and rainbow caves.

All that makes me feel more curious still. ‘Where are we?’

One hippie tells us about M beach and the nightly joys there (think tripping under the Milky Way). Too bad the guy disappears soon after… and we never see him again. In fact, this happens with a lot of people we meet here and, usually, in rather odd circumstances. However, our story will get to that in due course.

As for us, we’re keen on getting to M beach. Yet, companions are needed (to show the way at least). Which leads us to one of the cafes.

Even though, no one is up for the trip, the owners – two guys from Tehran – answer our questions about the island. The talk is long, but one of them sums it up: ‘It’s different here. People live in the moment, without your routine problems or rules.’

‘Like in a computer game. You restart every morning. Wake up next to the sea, smile and wait what the day will bring,’ adds the other.

We head back to the hostel late at night. The entrance is closed, so we jump the fence.

Tomorrow

It’s another sunny day (like most of them here). After breakfast, we go to one of the cafes. Yet, the siesta is on and nothing really happens around midday.

At 2:30 p.m. a ferry comes and brings a new batch of souls to the island. Some of them old-timers, some of them new (like ourselves yesterday). The latter look confused and tire quickly. ‘It’s too damn hot, stop and enjoy a sherbet for a moment,’ I catch myself thinking.

How fast one changes in a day! It seems that we’re starting to grasp the workings of this place already. And, they are quite simple (see the hand-drawn map below, that will help):

  1. The island is almost a perfect circle with a perimeter of 30 kilometres. There is one ring-road;
  2. The town is in its northern tip. Everything else is wilderness – canyons, cliffs, clefts, coves, caves, etc.
  3. There is one point of entry and exit – the harbour. The ferry comes and goes twice a day;
  4. People interact in one of the three cafes on the main promenade of the town. They meet, plan adventures and go;
  5. That’s about it.

 

At some point I talk to a German dude. He’s been to the Rainbow Cave and says it’s amazing. To be sure, he disappears right after (just as the hippie last night). Though, I believe I have his contact saved on WhatsApp, so he must be real… Having said that, I didn’t call the number.

This time we quickly find another adventurer, who’s down for the trip to the said cave. A few minutes and we’re in a riksha speeding there.

Our goal has no exact location on the map. Instead locals use natural markers to navigate about. For example, one needs to turn right after a mountain ridge that looks like a face.

Dozen kilometres and a short hike down a canyon, and we are at the entrance. It’s dark and we need to crawl to get further. But, when the flashlight reveals the cave chamber, we’re left open-mouthed. The walls are all rainbow and… they glitter. We revel in silence.

The night before, someone told us that the island is somehow ‘alive’. It’s easy to believe that here.

Some Trees Beach

I’m obliged to fast-forward again. Not that nothing has happened in the meantime (the best seafood dinner of our lives is not a little nothing). However, I would like to let the story flow, thus saving your time.

Talking about time, I’m not sure how many days we’ve spent on the island. I remember the adventures we’ve had. But their chronology is somewhat obscure. It’s possible that some of the things I’m still going to describe happened before some of the things I’ve already told about. I’m not trying to sound mystical, yet time obeys different rules on the island.

Not just the time, but also… you and your things. For one, my phone’s sim card stopped working. With no Wi-Fi around, that meant total separation from the outside world.

At first, I was feeling uneasy. And, would grab for my phone every now and then. Soon realising there is nothing to look at. Eventually, I had stopped. This might sound like a cliché, but it was easier to appreciate without constant peeking at the screen.

Anyway, let’s continue.

Right after the rainbow-cave trip, we go to one of the cafes. Which is brave on our part. As we immediately get signed up for another adventure – an overnight camping at “Some Trees Beach”. Yes, that’s its actual name (see the difference between “One Tree Beach”).

We hit the road in pitch dark, but the headlights of our riksha are not working. This doesn’t seem like a problem to our driver – Sale, who speeds ahead. However, after a quick risk-assessment we make him pull-on a wearable headlamp (used by miners & campers alike). In such fashion we make it to the beach with some trees (although, it’s impossible to confirm that at night).

Whilst people are setting up their tents, Sale sets up an improvised bong, called chillum. He lights it up, passes the thing around, takes a few hits and leave. I’m hoping he drives (and sees those massive potholes in the dark) better when high.

If he disappears, other will simply assume he went on a pro-longed camping. Which happens on the island. Someone has just told a story of a hippie, who lived for 1.5 years in the wilderness.

Gladly, our camping takes less than that. Yet, it’s no less extraordinary. Fresh espresso was served, and we had Christmas lights on.

At the same time, I got to know the others better. People who left the lives elsewhere to come here (temporary or indefinitely). Some of them escaping from something, others looking for happiness. The island is like a sanatorium to them. Or rather like a drug, a legal high. Cheap, sweet & powerful. So, how not to get addicted?

The night finishes with a sunrise. And, we go back to the hostel (as the bugs will eat alive those sleeping without a tent). Luckily, a random riksha is passing at the exact moment we come to the road. We don’t see any other vehicles this early.

Lost Czech

Next day starts late. We go to one of the cafes and wait for something to come up. Though, as usual it’s too hot to do anything at around 2-3 p.m. Thus, we just hang out.

I feel like writing something and find a quite spot under the shade of a palm tree. Several minutes pass and I can see a fresh set of creatures skulking from the harbour. One really stands out.

It’s the whitest human being I’ve seen in days. He has no hat, no hair and no cover. His great backpack adds extra absurdity. Unsurprisingly, the fellow is sweating like hell.

He comes to my direction and we greet each other (as is common for two Europeans far away from our home continent). The poor devil turns out to be Czech. He starts asking about the island, while I give him the answers.

However, I feel it’s best for him to get to know the place himself. ‘You’ll see. I don’t want to spoil,’ I cut short.

Finally, we say our goodbyes. And, the Czech goes to find his way here. Sweating incredibly. This chapter is going to be about him. But first, I need to tell more about our adventure.

Back at the café, two guys are about to go to M beach. Without thinking we offer our company and friendship.

Once again, we’re grossly unprepared for the trip and only take water. If there is anything essential anytime anywhere, that must be it.

Our riksha drops us on the road some 10 kilometres away from the town. The rest must be done hiking. Over a mountain ridge, a canyon, a near vertical descent and other natural hurdles. It’s good that our companions have a map. Sure, it’s a stick-it-note with a few drawings on it (which has a striking resemblance to a treasure map made by a six-year-old). The upside: we do feel like explorers (or, simply kids).

Expedition starts with distribution of the stuff to carry. There is a lot for everyone and I’m wondering how they would have done it without us. Perhaps the plan had always counted on getting friends here, or maybe it’s the island that matches up the right people.

Because the path is not easy. Imagine steep climbing with your hands full. Sinkholes are also plentiful to all sides. Which just confirms my theory of forever disappearing hippies on their way to M beach.

In the beginning we get lost a few times. So, one of us must head up to a high point to scout. ‘That way!’ he shouts.

Getting over a mountain ridge is slow. Yet, the scenery of a majestic valley below is worth it. It ends with a sudden crack in the surrounding cliffs, which reveals a ravine leading down to the sea. This gap looks like jaws of some fantastic beast (I believe our map uses similar description).

Once at the bottom, we need to find a mountain that looks like a camel. M beach is just beyond (or, so the map says). In high spirits we push forward until we see a lone mountain resembling… a camel? It’s not exactly that, but with some imagination one could say so. And, surely, lack of imagination isn’t a problem on the island.

We go past it and reach M beach.

The famed place is good-looking, but to be fair, I was hoping for something extraordinary. I curse high expectations quietly.

Yet, it’s secluded and feels miles away from any civilisation. I reckon not having a road-access, has its benefits.

We take a dip. The water is salty, and the wounds (we’ve got while climbing) bite. It’s also refreshing. So, we swim for a long time. In the meanwhile, our companions are pitching their tents. Eventually, they call us to the shore: ‘Come, see the sunset!’

Whilst we are looking at the descending sun, I play Iranian techno music (much recommended: https://soundcloud.com/aqqqa/bahramji-feat-mashti-my-life).

It gets dark quickly, and we decide to head back. The way is certainly more challenging now. Perilous even. So much so that our friends offer us one of their tents. We go regardless.

Navigating is hard and we are unsure whether our path is the right one. The starry sky is also distracting. You want to look up, while you need to look at your feet. Falling down a sinkhole or getting your leg injured would indeed make it unpleasant.

Soon we find an entrance to the cave we haven’t seen before. Inside the sounds of the crushing waves are deafening… but strangely attractive. We look at each other and go in.

A short walk, and the passage ends at the sea. The walls glitter. It looks magical.

We turn back. But the way is much longer this time. The glitter is a lot like the stars in the night. ‘Something is not right,’ we are realising. Yet, there is only one way. And, we keep to it.

When we come back to the surface, we’re surprised. It’s no longer M beach, but the ring-road of the island. Meaning the cave went under the jaws of the beast, the valley and the mountain ridge. It seems impossible, but here we are. A shooting star flashes overhead.

Standing on the road, we’re surprised once more. A random riksha appears. We stop it and race back to the town.

I can’t stop thinking that for some reason luck is on our side. Taxis don’t just go around the island all day long. Secret caves also don’t always lead you where you need to be. In fact, they do so very rarely.

My deliberations end abruptly, when we see the sweating Czech next to our hostel. He is looking the same – very lost, huge backpack and that blinding whiteness. Once more we greet each other (like Europeans do far away from their home continent). And, he asks me about the accommodation on the island.

I’m surprised, since we’ve talked about it in the morning. However, I show him our hostel and suggest that maybe it’s time for him to stop looking.

The Czech thanks me, says he will, and… strolls back to the opposite direction. We can only stare at the absurd motion of his white shape.

He makes me wonder, perhaps the island has a soul. And, it might reward you. Or, make you wander in circles and sweat forever.

Another Day

The next day starts in one of the cafes. Come to think of it, that could be the reason it’s hard to grasp our timeline here. All the days could be set in random order and my story would not really change.

Anyhow, we sign up for a boat ride around the island. The time is set for 4:20 p.m. and when we meet, it’s a group of Iranian youth, us and a Greek, who joins in the last minute. Lucky fellow.

All of us head to a small harbour for fishermen, just behind the Portuguese castle (yes, there is one, but I’m afraid that’s all I can tell). The speed boat is waiting for us.

When we hit the water (and go a few kilometres away from the town), people relax. The girls on the boat let their hair fly, guys take off their t-shirts. Remember, it’s Iran and that’s already a big deal. Of course, Islamic rules hardly matter on the island. But on our boat, they don’t exist. It’s a little speck in the sea belonging to the freest of people.

Who smile, laugh, sing, dance even. We play in the water, explore the beaches and caves. And, admire the island. Which is ever so imposing.

At the end we stop to dive. Yet, something spectacular happens. A flying fish jumps out of the water. Soon it’s all around us – hundreds of fish flying. I start laughing and think to myself about the utter magic of here.

I’m grateful to the people around. I’m also grateful to the island. And, life that brought me to it.

Escape

The next morning, we realise our flight back to Europe is in roughly 12 hours. It’s from Tehran. This means hopping on a ferry and then catching a domestic flight. In other words, we must quit (our growing addiction) and do it fast.

Instead of going to one of the cafes, I head towards the cliffs overlooking the town.

The climb is way steeper than it seems from afar. Yet, eventually, I find a perfectly comfortable rock to sit on. I breathe and relish the morning sun (I suppose one gets used to burns). At the same time, I try to take in the view.

Deep down I know that I’m not going to see this place – as we got to know it – again. And, there are good reasons for that.

The locals told us that the island is changing constantly. Whenever it rains. Once the water dries up, there will be new caves, sinkholes and secrets to look for. While the old ones might be gone. That’s great, though – next time there will be totally new adventures to live through. With new people perhaps.

On the other hand, development is coming in. New hotels are being built as I sit there on the cliff edge. To be sure, that’s sources of income for the islanders. But also, mass tourism. With all its upsides and downsides.

Yet, don’t think I do not wish others to see this place. On the contrary, I do hope your travels lead you here (that’s why I share this story after all). However, I believe that the island rewards those seeking adventures. So, come with the right attitude and feel its magic. Otherwise, you might end up like that Czech.

On my way back to the town, I notice massive sinkholes. I look down at one and cannot see its bottom. That makes me nervous. I’m hoping the island has no plans on swallowing me whole… and keeping me forever.

It does not.

When I board the ferry, I smile. In my mind, I’m telling goodbyes: ‘You’ve been so much to us, but it’s time to go.’

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