It’s early in the morning when I wake up in a shelter in the idyllic nature of Harandeh. The world is already light, but I’m not sure if the sun has risen yet. My mind feels confused as to go out and figure it out, or to turn on one side again to get some extra sleep. As usual I opted for the last and dream away one last time. When I wake up again, the sun is already above the sandy mountains across the river. And the sky changed its color from blue to gray. It’s cloudy. There’s still that certain freshness in the air that comes along with the morning, but the feeling of an approaching afternoon sparks a rush in me that I’d wish to avoid. If only I wasn’t so lazy and got up in the morning! It would’ve been a very relaxed start!
I wake up Amir and start preparing breakfast. We don’t eat too much, as we plan a long walk. Egg, bread, fruits, veggies and cheese are packed for later today. Good preparation is half the work 😉
As there is no shower we just freshen up quickly. We are lucky as the sky changed back from gray to blue, with the sun energizing our bodies by spreading a comfortable warmth upon us. Shaking off the feeling of rush.
Fully active we started our first walk of the day; a 45 minute hike up to the Burnik cave. The trail started the same as yesterday but quickly led to another direction, exciting us with new views of the stunning surrounding. In the sunny daylight the area looks different; a combination of fresh green grass and dry dessert rock. The mountains slightly covered with low, young vegetation and a single colorful flower every once in a while. The trees in the valley look stunning; they light up against the clear blue sky. Their colors so bright that it looks surreal. Small stones break under my feet as we follow the small trail up to the mountain. I soon notice the lack of stability from my sandals, but the trail seems doable and our spirits are high. Returning now just to change our shoes will take so much out this day that we rather keep going. It’s warm today and I soon start to sweat. The sun is burning on my face when I also realize I forgot my sunblock. So much for preparation today! I look for places to cool down in the shadow, but the mountain is harsh and offers us no ease. It brings me back to other times I was surrendered to the elements. Life isn’t always comfortable, but that doesn’t make it less enjoyable.
We walk higher into the mountains and the trail gets smaller. Lose rocks, sand and a staggering depth bring fear to my mind. I slow down and take a minute to observe the situation. It’s only a small crossing. I’m sure I can do it, but I need to be careful. It’s harder than usual to get a good grip as my feet are sliding in my sandals. Returning to get proper shoes might have been a good idea after all! I’m in doubt to take off my shoes to conquer this trail bare-feet but decide to just keep going. I lower myself to the ground, grab hold on small rocks and move my feet cautiously. Pressing my foot a couple of times to secure its stability before I move on to the next step, and repeat this a couple of times. A minute or what later I’m on safe ground again. What a relieve! The trail gets more and more challenging rapidly and I tell Amir I would’ve never walked up here on my own. How great is it that we are here together. Supporting each other. Giving each other strength and energy to challenge our fears and to conquer this trail.
A mix of feelings pass while we are here. The great feeling of being in the mountains. The fresh air, the great views. A feeling of freedom and solitude. And the challenge of walking sometimes. The freight when the trail gets difficult or narrow.
In the shadow of a single rock we pause one moment to rest and take in the view. Not too long, the edge here is uncomfortably close. And we need to fold our bodies to fit in the shade. When we start walking again I adjust my hijab to protect my skin from sunburn. Making it a functional item rather than an obligatory necessary. It’s great how things can be turned into your favor sometimes.
Instead of 45 minutes it takes us more than one and a half hour to reach the cave, where we meet a young man, Mr. Mehrshad. He informs us we’ve taken the wrong path. Apparently there’s a safe path on the other side of the mountain. This brings instant relieve for the way down and an extra boost for our accomplishment! We first take a moment to look at the stunning views, it’s rewarding! The mountains ahead of us look like a sea, waving under the cloud filled sky. And far down the valley below I see a huge flock of sheep drinking from the river. From here not one house is visible, just nature.
We follow Mehrshad into the cave, where he prepares a fire and treats us to tea. I love how Iranians carry small teapots to make fresh tea everywhere. Mehrshad has knowledge about plants and herbs as well and brings us several greens that smell and taste wonderful.
The sky darkens while we zip tea in the cool cave. Building up for a storm, or for rain. But we are comfortable in this cave. Burnik, which means ‘safe’ in Persian, is said to be one of the longest virgin caves in Iran. It’s been used as a safe place since ancient times, as there’s evidence that cavemen used to live here! Due to its importance as an archeological site, the place got registered as national heritage in 2002. Yet it’s still possible to visit freely. How interesting!
Mehrshad tells us it’s possible to explore inside the cave and offers us a large portable light. Enthusiast to learn more about this place we follow the stairway down, into the mouth of the cave and stare with awe as we enter the dark space. Hundreds of playful stalactites and stalagmites await us in fantastic formations. The deeper we get into the cave, the more interesting it gets. We climb our way over cold, wet rocks until all the outside lights are blocked. Then we switch off our lights to enjoy the darkness. Pitch-dark it is. With only the sound of dripping water left and right of us. I don’t even want to imagine getting stuck here without a light as it will be so hard, if not impossible to find your way back. The ground is uneven, the walls are sharp. There’s only one thin string connecting us to the outside world, but it will be impossible to follow. We switch on again and slowly make our way back to the light.
It’s a long way back. I’m surprised how far we went. The temperature inside is cold and my fingers are starting to feel numb. Making it harder to get a good grip for climbing. The difference in temperature between outside and inside are remarkable, although I can’t mention exact numbers.
I’m happy when we reach the stairs up again. And climb one last time. Outside the weather has changed drastically. It’s storming! Heavy wind blows left and right and rain pours outside the cave. A single lightning surprises us. Mehrshad starts the fire again and I heath up around it. All of a sudden we are stuck in a cave! I can see the fun of it. Especially cause we have food, tea and fire. We eat and drink around the fire, sharing stories about travel until the wood is finished. Now that the cold sets in it’s time to start moving. Into the rain!
The rain invites Mehrshad and Amir to get in touch with their creative side. They fabricate a rain cover for me with all the plastic bags they have. I look like a plastic-monster, but at least my upper body will be dry. Heroic as my man is he gives me his pants to protect my light pants from mud and rain. One last check and we are ready to go. To face the weather!
It’s a fun way going down as most of it is mud and dirt. More than ever I’m happy the ‘easy’ trail exists as otherwise we’d really be stuck in the cave. We slip and slide our way down. Trying not to fall. It’s so much fun and such a mess! Just a couple of times we need to be very serious about not slipping and falling off the mountain. Needless to say those times were a bit on the scary side again! Apart from that the child in me feels very satisfied today!
Down we take the off-road back to the shelter where we change into dry clothes and get one last –sad- surprise of the day. One passenger must have loved my backpack as much as I do, and decided to take it with him or her. Luckily most of my valuables were with me, but still. My home for the past 19 months(!) has been taken. I feel a little sad, and a little sour but in the end it’s only material.
I’m thankful for all the great adventures I had with this backpack accompanying me. And I’m grateful for this wonderful day, which was challenging, interesting and fun.
And so it happened that my first solo-together adventure with Amir started with a beautiful walk in heaven followed by a lot of adventure climbing up the mountain, getting stuck in a cave, sliding our way down in the mud, and saying goodbye to my dear friend –the backpack that is!-
If you like to visit this beautiful place yourself; be sure to check out this this page For a roundup of this trip.
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