INGULFED

In Shanghai

Archive for security

Iran’s Long Island — جزيرة الطويلة لإيران


Qeshm Island lays 75 miles along Iran’s southern coast at the mouth of the Straight of Hormuz. Every day, more than 15 million barrels of oil are squeezed through the tightly regulated waters. For many tourists, especially Americans, the beauty of Shiraz and the history of Persepolis are all but off limits — “One percent chance,” the man at the embassy told me on getting approved by the Ministry of the Interior. He was laughing. But for all the mainland’s regulations, this Iranian island has a different policy: visitors welcome.

A thirty-four minute hop from Dubai in a Yakolev Yak-42 and you’ll be there, landing over the shocking desert moonscape: sharp-sided mesas snapped like Lego pieces onto completely flat ground, fire burning over the oil refineries. That is, of course, if you can get on the plane.

Our journey to Dubai’s Terminal 2 for Forsaken Airlines began early in the morning on an empty bus that would get a flat tire somewhere on the emptier stretches of desert highway from Abu Dhabi. The driver, who had been in an accident a week earlier, was attempting to wind the car jack without using a protracted index finger the size and shape of a large carrot. At the airport, the flight was unlisted. The airline had no counter. We waved our paper tickets collected (as they must be) from a travel agency and representatives at the Miscellaneous Desk directed us to a back office where we paid a fifteen dollar “airport fee” and tried to confirm that the island still existed. (“You fly in here,” said the agent, pointing to the one of Qeshm’s two airports that was abandoned years ago.) We waited by the gate, though it never appeared on the Departures screen. After hours without announcement, other passengers assembled as if secretly in tune, and we filed in behind them onto the bus to the plane, underneath the sign that read “Basra.”

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On the Grass — على العشب

FIFA Club World Cup
Abu Dhabi, UAE

A Berry, Good Trip

100th Post!

(*not including all the photo ones)


The road to Kunduz, the last city stronghold of the Taliban, before they fell in 2001.

Afghanistan: Epilogue

After four hours on our way back from Bamiyan, we took a detour at a car wash/berry stand for a detour into the heavenly Panjshir valley. We had just passed a convoy of military trucks and emerged from the dirty, windy roads of Taliban territory onto smooth highway. Gull, my guide and the founder of the new Rah-e-Abrisham tour agency, looked infinitely happier. We waited while two boys meticulously sprayed and scrubbed the car back to white, and looked out at the road ahead: the road to Panjshir was safe, controlled only in parts by mafias — those who dealt in drugs, not people — and most of them could be bribed.

The berries were outside the town of Charikar, and we ordered them from the mechanic by claiming a woven dish of many thousands of white, pink, and purple fruits that resembled mini raspberries, and popping them into our mouths with scientific precision. The darker berries were the sweetest, sometimes too much so. The whitest were tart, and the pink and multi-colored could be anywhere in the middle. Gull and Ali Akbar, our fearless driver, were experts. Flitting across the surface with their fingertips, they avoided the mushiest and would put together a cocktail of two or three berries of different colors to toss back in the cup of their palm. Only I ever put four together or had one alone. After half an hour, in the pile wider than a large New York pizza, we had made respectable damage and returned the basket to its roadside table, where it waited under the shade for the next hungry travelers.

There is a checkpoint somewhere along the silver Panjshir river. The jagged walls of the gorge shoot up almost vertically, and a guard waved from a booth chiseled into the rock face for me to display my passport. There are small towns along the road, or by the wrong turns we took, but most of this detour is uneventful. For brief moments, with early afternoon light just right, wide open fields are golden with grain. But the big pay-off comes suddenly, right around one final turn…


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Checkers

Nationalism is left outside the gates of the FIFA Club World Cup, where the winners of all six continental confederation cups (plus the host nation champion) are gathered in a kind of mini-Olympics. Inside the stadium, Pakistani and UAE locals go crazy for Inter Milan, watching as they demolish their Korean opponents. Sometimes its nice just to be on the winning side — many fans still wave FC Barcelona flags at the jumbotron cameras (last year’s winners, not even in the tournament).

Also left far outside the gates is the self-evident truth that all bags are created equally likely to be checked. No, here, bag-checking is a sophisticated process that involves profiling on many levels, bolstered by the analysis of “is this really worth it” on the part of the checkers. You never know whose father bought that bag.

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