Up early the next morning to take part in what was a pretty extensive breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Khalidiya in Abu Dhabi. I know this place doesn’t get the best reviews on FT, but between the Platinum Suite upgrade, a great buffet breakfast for two, I really can’t fault it at all. On top of it, the staff were fantastic and helpful. Two thumbs up from me!
Got a cab, and 90 minutes later we were pulling into the Le Meridien Al Sondos (chosen for being near DXB and the subway) to drop our bags before the daytrip to Kish Island. Checked in pretty quickly, bags dropped, and it was off to the Chaos of DXB T2 to begin the adventure to Kish.
Flight was at 11:15 and we were in line and waiting to check in by 9:00, but there wasn’t an agent in site to help us. At 9:45 the finally showed up, only to send us away because our Kish Air tickets hadn’t included the tax. We weren’t the only ones, it seemed most of the line was getting sent away. Ok, wander through T2’s back rooms, find the Kish Air office, pay 15 Dirhams each, back to the check in, get boarding passes and off to security.
Security was a complete non-event, and soon we were in the rather unimpressive T2. Quick brunch at Cafe Nero (not knowing when we might find somewhere to eat in Kish) and off to the gate. To wait. And wait. 11:15 comes and goes. No agent, no plane. Wait, wait. Wait. Around 11:45 an agent finally shows up, and a mad dash to the bus gate ensues…we had no idea what type of plane or anything awaited…
Kish Air 7143
Dubai, UAE (DXB) to Kish Island, Iran (KIH)
11:15 am, flight time 45 minutes
Aircraft Registration: EP-LCC Fokker F50
Seats 7E and 7F
Now, perhaps one of the biggest worries of this part of the trip was the reputation of Kish Air itself. It’s not known for being the safest airline out there, and has a bit of a questionable safety record. Actually, someone on Flyertalk before the trip called me crazy because Kish Air was in their words a “flying death trap.” Well, plane took off…and we even got little pre-departure candies.
Every seat was fully, mostly with Filipinas working in Dubai who were clearly off to Kish on a visa run. Up in the air, and even on this 45 minute flight we got something you’d never see in the U.S…a snack box!
Soon we were descending over the crystal blue waters of the Persian Gulf and landing on a barren dusty island…we were in Kish! Taxi up to the terminal…where we were able to walk from the plane into the terminal. This is obviously a well-run operation – right in the terminal was a coat rack full of “Borrow-an-Abaya” for the immodest Filipinas who showed up showing hair, ankle, or arm….how thoughtful…and all at no charge. Mr Ahmedinejad’s Full-Service Visa Run Island at your command!
There was an immigration person checking return tickets before you got to immigration. Lots of people with a 30-60 min turnaround, obviously already had UAE visas and just needed to leave the UAE to re-enter on them. Others obviously came to Kish to get a visa, and they queued. However, our 8 hour turnaround really puzzled them. Why does anyone come here for 8 hours? Not long enough to get a visa…but too long to just turn around…we just kept saying “tourism tourism” and eventually got pointed to the immigration line.
Immigration guy kept looking at our admittedly suspicious looking 168 page passports (48 page passports with another 5 inserts of 24 pages each) and finally pointed us to some chairs and made a “sit there” motion. Ut oh. Nobody else was getting this treatment. This can’t be good. After everyone had been process, we got the “come with me” universal motion, and off to some back room where who knew what was coming.
Now, in retrospect we probably read far too much into this, but nobody spoke a word of English, we were in Iran on U.S. passports, and being brought to some back room for who knows what. Yeah, I admit I was frantically checking my iPhone for pictures, e-mails, anything that might possibly offend.
A series of drawings, one and two word phrases, and we finally managed to explain we just wanted to see Kish and be tourists. Clearly an unusual occurrence here. Fingerprints were taken digitally, over and over, using technology clearly out of the stone ages, photos taken, forms filled out, etc. Thankfully nothing in Farsi to sign…I’m not sure I would have been ready to sign some random document stating who knows what. This went on for over an hour and the tension gradually got less and less, before a final “welcome Kish!” and a wave out the door. Phew!’
Out of the airport as fast as we could and a short walk brought us to a taxi rank with a driver who spoke a bit more english…we’re talking maybe 100 words instead of 10 😀 This was going to be an adventure.
We managed to communicate to him that we wanted to see two famous sites that were supposedly in the same area – the Greek Tree Park (blank look on his face until we drew a tree which he seemed to recognize) and the ancient city of Hariereh. After pronouncing Hariereh about four different ways he knew exactly where we wanted to go, and were off. One phrase he had down: “how much?” “20 dollars” SOLD!
This is where the drive got interesting. He seemed very eager to practice his limited English:
“Barack Obama! Yes! Bill Clinton! Yes! Ahmedinejad CRAZY!”
We weren’t about to get in a political discussion with someone in Iran we’d only just met so lots of smiling, nodding, and laughing.
About 20 minutes later we pulled into the car park next to several large tour busses (??!!) and after making sure he understood that we wanted him to wait, we headed off.
Now, the “Ancient City of Hariereh” didn’t look very ancient, and unlike any archeological dig I’d ever seen. Actually, it looked suspiciously well-restored 😉
From there, we walked maybe another 100 meters to the real site all the tour busses had come to see – the Green Tree Park. This tree sits on the sheltered northern side of the island, which is the only place on the island with any real humidity which is what enables it to grow. It’s supposedly been here for over 500 years, and was brought from India. Many people believe it’s sacred, and come here form all over Iran to tie wishes and prayers to it.
This was about the only place on Kish we encountered what I would call “everyday” Iranians, and everyone was smiling, asking us to take their picture, and very welcoming. I really hope to get to mainland Iran sometime soon to experience the legendary hospitality.
A sign explaining the story and history of the tree:
Tourists milling around the actual tree:
After that, we tried to explain to him we wanted to see the shipwreck of the Greek ship that was on the island and supposed to be a tourist attraction. He had no clue. We drew a picture of a boat, and that seemed to make sense…so off we were. Unfortunately, we got brought to some sort of a marina, lol. All was not lost, however, because there was a very nice corniche here, with lots of little cafes along the beach.
We picked up a couple of Diet Cokes and sat around with lots of other folks just enjoying a nice late afternoon on the beach. We ended chatting with a couple of Filipinos who had come here seeking visas, and now were unable to get back to the UAE and were stranded. It all felt a bit suspicious and shady, but overall that’s the feeling we got about Kish.
Late afternoon on the beach:
After this we attempted to go to the “Kish Paradise Mall” to wander around and see what that was like. “Closed, closed” was what the driver kept telling us. Sensing we wanted to shop, he took us to some sort of hypermarket which was interesting for about 15 minutes, but we were soon bored.
We were getting hungry by this point, and very curious to see the famous KFC – Kish Fried Chicken. This he knew! We drove there, but unfortunately, it was closed:
Kish Fried Chicken – Trust Every Bite!
After that, he brought us somewhere he knew would have food. I know you’re going to be shocked but guess what….kebabs! Probably some of the best ones we’d had on the trip, but I suppose that’s not saying a whole lot. A couple more Diet Cokes (amazing how easy that is to find in Iran) and less than $15 later we were on our way back to the airport.
We settled on a negotiated $40 (not bad to hire a driver for 5+ hours) and walked into the airport where the head immigration guy had obviously been waiting for us. “YOU! COME!” I swear I’ve never been more scared. My first thought was that he had sent the prints/pictures to Tehran, and something had come back. We started to walk with him towards the back again, and he motioned me away and to the other Mr ironmanjt “YOU ONLY COME”
It was at this point, I started having thoughts. “Ok, if he doesn’t come back and I can, do I get out of Iran?” “Are they coming for me next so they can compare our stories?” “What might we have done that upset them?” I admit it, I was seriously freaked out. Of course, I wasn’t nearly as freaked out as the other half who was actively planning just what he was willing to do to get out of this situation. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up all my “come with me on another crazy trip points” …for at least a year 😉
30 minutes later he returned to the check-in area…seems all that was up was some of his fingerprints didn’t register, and immigration guy was obviously worried some superior would be upset he had unregistered Americans wandering Iran on his watch…whew!
Over to the “duty free” shop to buy some Iranian candies (gaz) to bring back to the co-workers, and let the young guy running the shop practice his English a bit. Everyone was very nice and I did feel a bit bad we had such negative thoughts about the situation. That said, officialdom doing scary things and not being able to explain it….esp when we’ve called their country the “Axis of Evil” well, I can’t blame them.
Next up: passport control. No worry at all, quick stamp, and we were out of there into the gate area. Right on time, boarding was called and as fast as WE rushed to that plane, all the Filipinas were faster – they couldn’t wait to dump the Borrow-a-Abayas in the amnesty bin and get back on the plane.
Kish Air 7138
Kish Island, Iran (KIH) to Dubai, UAE (DXB)
08:00 pm, flight time 45 minutes
Aircraft Registration: UR-CBN MD82 ex-Continental Airlines operated by Khors Air with a Ukrainian Crew
Seats 12E and 12F
Despite the flight being no more than half full, it was made clear NOBODY was to switch seats. The plane featured the most painful seat pitch my 6’3 self had ever seen at around 29″ probably . Even sitting mostly sideways, it was painful, especially since all three seats in our row were occupied.
That said, the flight was quick, we got the same snackbox again and 45 minutes later we were back in Dubai safe and sound. Back to the hotel for an early night before the next day’s adventure:
Renting a car, navigating the roads of the UAE, and trying to drive around all the Emirates!
Next Up: Part VII. Drive through the Emirates of the UAE