Monday dawned thickly overcast which rather reflected my sombre mood, and it had obviously rained during the night too. I was rather at a loss as to my next move as a consequence, I had come this way to visit the difficult to reach Ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil, another UNESCO gem but now had to wonder if it was going to be worth the trouble and expense considering the gloom. Struggling to find transport to anywhere, in the end I forgot about sights and ended up taking a fast taxi to Ahwaz, a reputedly sprawling, grubby city which had been hammered during the Iran-Iraq war and notorious for topping 50 degrees in summer. I had wanted to avoid the place but it was the regional transport hub, and I was glad to go no further than the bus terminal where a tout sorted me out with a ticket to Bushehr. Though touts were as big a pain in the arse as taxi sharks at least they came in handy occasionally. Consulting a map there, I could see that Andimeshk had been right at the point at which the mountains receded and a perfectly flat plain eased my passage to Ahwaz, with the turn offs for Shush and then Choqa Zanbil showing them tantalisingly close, signed 25 frustrating Ks away down deserted roads. It was all an unpretty affair with mud wallowing, litter strewn villages and masses of electricity pylons and petrochemical works on the way to Ahwaz, and an area I knew to be ethnically Arab in the main. Harking back to my involuntary tour of Kirkuk, the Yanks had remarked how notably cleaner and more orderly the Kurdish sector had been compared to the Arab areas, it seemed to be a common attribute.
From Ahwaz I was glad for the quick connection and looked forward to Bushehr, a port town on the Persian Gulf which I had not imagined being able to reach so quickly. So much the better then as we crossed an unexpected major milky brown river perhaps 500 metres wide which lead to flat swampy scrub in the main, with pipelines running over it and gas flares lighting the horizon. A sign declared the Persian Gulf Highway 30Ks from Bushehr and I was surprised however to be dumped 15Ks short of the town but I guessed the coach was going much further, perhaps Bandar Abbas. A taxi from the turn off then took me into the city no problems, but the problems were just about to begin. I had been forewarned by the guidebook that getting knocked back by the cheaper hotels happened as a matter of course in Bushehr and in winter it said I would be lucky to find anything at all. Sure enough, the couple of places I tried were "full", even though it was obvious they were not, I was apparently just the wrong flavour of human being. I vented a fair bit of my anger on both establishments at their apartheid, especially when the guy at the second place wouldnt even let me leave my bags while I did the only thing I could, go to the police. It was milder here now on the Gulf and it did half cross my mind just to find a quiet spot on the beach to lay up, but then this was Iran not Pafos in Cyprus and I had to watch my step. Of course it was at the behest of the police that such institutionalised racism was in practice in the first place, I simply had to go through the rigmaroll of making my presence and intentions known in order to have them waive the restriction. Presumably due to the proximity of Iraq or perhaps the sensitivities of the oil industry, big brother paid special attention in Bushehr.
As luck would have it, on the way to the cop shop I bumped into 3 older Norwegian guys together with a local business partner, the first Anglo Saxons I'd seen in days. On querying their sleeping arrangements (oo-er!) the Iranian guy by mutual consent happily agreed to help me out and so we tried the only other cheap joint in town remaining. Even with his influence however I initially got the raised eyebrow treatment which was a standard Arab knockback, but eventually they agreed to squeeze me in if I got a permit from the police and paid a rip off 9 bucks equivelant into the bargain. The room allegedly wouldnt be available till 10pm either but I was in no position to argue. So with me in tow the businessman (whose unpronouncable name bounced off me) arrived at the police station to be stopped by the teenage guard on the door brandishing an AK47, who just to continue the racist theme only sought to enquire as to my religion. Unexpectedly then finding that one of the 2 officers on duty was a friend, that stroke of luck nonetheless surely meant that the deal was in the bag, but the other more senior guy sporting 4 star epaulettes still wanted to give me the cold treatment. With the assured businessman departing my subsequent escort in a police car with 2 cops more akin to soldiers then ended in brow slapping dismay as I was taken not to the prescribed hovel but an edge of town chandeliered palace instead. In despair I instinctively refused to even begin to play their game and so just started one more heavily laden hoof back to the road, but that obviously wasnt allowed to pass uncontested. And so the charade continued with me consulting the thankfully English literate hotel desk clerk in short shrift. After citing 150 bucks a night I offered him 10 which he predictably declined, and so I asked him to relate to the cops that I wasnt rich and that if they wanted me to stay there then they would have to pay for it. Quick recourse back to the station needless to say didnt endear me to the big wig and his scruffy ignorant manner only served to epitomise what had been bugging me the last few days. I had struggled to put my finger on it at first but it had been further demonstrated on the earlier bus when one of the bus company rabble, a low browed brute of a man, had persisted in shouting at me despite it being obvious that it wouldnt make me understand any better. Later on, he strutted arrogantly down the aisle at one point with his jacket perched over his shoulders like a cloak. As the arms and corners flailed they slapped every passenger in turn over the head and woke them all from their slumber. It was pure ignorance.
But then as I tried to temper my frustration I reminded myself, this was Asia after all. It was too late to see anything of Bushehr that night beyond a hamburger joint and a couple of skin tight, grey clad sailors holding hands walking down the street. Whilst par for the course in this part of the world it really did look very gay and not exactly macho military! Appeased with my police letter, and after another round of bureaucratic bullshit to check me in, I got a 4 bed room to myself and one of the old boys at the mosferkhaneh (lodging house) unusually offered tea. In turn I was able to reciprocate with 25p Sterling for his coin collection, my god it was almost civilised. The earlier Norwegians had also related how they got regularly overcharged for everything and were equally dismayed at some of the attitudes here, the environment being a major one. Despite being in Iran as technical advisors, they explained that the Iranians were still intent nonetheless on operating as they had done 50 years ago, and the waste was astounding. They said with the resources available to it, Iran should be a highly developed country indeed one of the richest in the world but it was all just going down the pan. I knew what they meant.