Hogmanay was a holiday in Bandar but not for the same reason. Though surprisingly a subdued affair in Iran so I was told, it was the festival known as Eid-al-Azha, commemorating Abraham's threat to sacrifice his son Ishmael according to Allah's will so he thought. Allah intervened at the last moment though and commanded that a ram be slaughtered instead, and so this was traditionally the done thing for those who could afford it. The streets were renowned to run red with blood on this occasion but I saw not a single incidence of it in Bandar. The only discernible difference to me was that the shops in the main were shut for a third day running and that included the post office. It was the fourth city where I had tried to get rid of a parcel home without success, what a ridiculous state of affairs.
I had planned a day trip out into the Gulf to Hormoz Island and fortunately the boats at least were still running, a thrilling ride in a high speed open top speedboat got me there in half an hour at what must have been at least 30 knots. With not a cloud in the sky and down to upturned shirt sleeves from the 3 layers required for Kerman, it was a beautiful balmy day with the sun glistening off the deep blue of the Persian Gulf. As the name suggests, this was actually the strategic Straits of Hormuz, crucial link for world oil supplies and it was remarkable to think that Oman and the UAE were only a stones throw away over the horizon. It seemed crazy to be passing by Dubai only 60 bucks away, but then it would invalidate my single entry Iranian visa so I didnt have much choice. Hormoz Island wasnt long in appearing either, a jaggy disc of sun scorched rock with a circumference of perhaps 15 miles, ringed by a single road but ostensibly no cars. Though the silence was broken by tearaway kids on motorbikes the streets were lined with boats instead, some of which acted as sunshades for wandering goats. The boat dropped me at the sole village on the island, naturally enough called Hormoz, a quiet boxy affair straddled around the northern tip. Most fantastically, like a cherry on the cake, a ruined Portugese castle claimed the most northerly point, it was quite a place. Built by Lusitanian big cheese Alfonso da Albequerque after his conquest here in 1507, it was one of a string of fortresses he eventually established in order to sew up trade with the Orient, other notable ones being Goa in India and Malacca on the Malay peninsula. In gratitude the Portugese royals promptly gave him the sack. Though heavily weathered its walls are still largely intact and the landward facing side is still very high with the remains of a tower on either corner. Its 2 very small arched entrances had been built in enclosed nooks so that they were defendable from 3 sides. It was just before entering on the seaward side that I saw a weasel like creature remarkably close, I guessed it had to be a sea otter but its face was not of that ilk. Partial renovation had secured what used to be the prison, and one of the many arched chambers which ringed the interior of the defensive wall might have been the church. Unexpectedly impressive though and perfectly preserved was the underground reservoir, a very large basin with immense columns supporting a vaulted ceiling. It would have originally held enough water to see out the seering summers and scupper any siege that might arise. More discernible here than at any other point was also the unusual building material of mainly coral, cemented together with red ochre mortar. Even at the top of the highest tower I made a souvenir of a seashell I found, the beach must have been used as ready made aggregate. So it wasnt just 2007 around the corner, it was the 500th anniversary of this place and with it the first acts of a new global strategy which would pave the way towards colonialism and globalisation. What an adventure it all must have been for them in 1507. A few cannons still lay around but sadly too corroded to reveal any markings, also a couple of engraved stones in a chamber over-ambitiously dubbed a museum, still easily readable as Portugese.
It was here that I met Houman, an ethnic Persian civil engineer who had lived the past 25 years in Vienna and who had hoped to spend the night on the island. The place was so laid back though that the few small shops were barely discernible from the houses, and in asking around no-one had the acumen required to make a few easy bucks by letting out a room. There would have been many takers, it was a very nice spot. Hassled by barefoot raggamuffin kids, we made our way back to the jetty where very large traditional Dhows sat tied up, they were waiting their turn to offload at Bandar and were reputedly worth 300,000 Euros each. The local owner had 3 of them and yet still lived a very humble life on the island. We later took the boat back together, the same one I had come across on as it happened, and with the wind up and the sea noticeably choppier it was a real bone-jarring ride back to Bandar. Sat in the middle where the high bow met the water, we both looked at our feet, sure that the fibre glass hull would split under the punishment. We were both glad it was only a half hour trip and upon arrival back at Bandar with the sun now just starting to go, I suggested tea and qalyan on the waterfront to settle our nerves. Originally from Tehran, Houman had come there to visit family but wanted warm weather too, and at this time of year that could mean only Bandar.
Pretty soon it was time to grab my bags and head out to the terminal for the apparently 1 daily bus to Bam. Upon arrival though one of the ever quick off the mark touts dropped the bombshell "farda" (tommorrow). I had queried the time upon arrival at Bandar and could only guess that the boys English had let me down when he said 7 in the afternoon, he must have meant morning. Whilst it wasnt exactly ideal anyhow, I had wanted to travel daytime for once to catch some desert scenery and 7pm would have got me into Bam at around 2.30am, it meant that I was stuck in Bandar with apparently no better option. If the hotel I had stayed at had been better I might have settled for another night in Bandar, but in hindsight it had been one of the few places I should have downright declined so bad was it, and the taxi fare back into town wasnt cheap either. The touts had given up on me and the bus company desks were distinctly unhelpful too, until possibly the last one remaining told me to stick around. I couldnt be sure why, and it seemed they werent sure either. With clearly nothing going to Bam that night, a quick look at the map told me the only other option was to head back to Kerman, it was only 2 and a half hours from Bam after all. Incredibly, I found myself on a coach to Kerman within half an hour, it was as though they hadnt been sure of its operation but a big orange coach left with me on it nigh on full. With Hogmanay passing by unnoticed here, they had a different calendar after all, midnight came and went quietly, as did half past 3 when everyone back home would have been shaking hands and chinking glasses. I spent the New Year slumbering on a bus, cramped and baked alive, and I really wanted to be back home with my pals. Off the bus half an hour later, all I could do was get out my wee compass and raise a tin of Tuborg alco-free "Near Beer" directed North West towards them. I must be aff my heid.