WELCOME TO HORMOZ ISLAND
This little charmer of an island packs a big punch. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty and atmosphere. There‚Äôs only one road and virtually no cars, just motorbikes and tuk-tuks; there are no showy resorts, just a smattering of simple homestays. Most of its visitors are day trippers from Bandar Abbas or Qeshm, so even the only settlement, Hormoz, is a sleepy little village that kicks off its shoes each evening and relaxes into mellow contemplation of the setting sun. The rest of the 42-sq-km island is virtually uninhabited. The rugged interior is a scenic geological wonderland of different-colored volcanic rocks and soils, while the coastline is a stunning mix of golden beaches and awesome bluffs.
HORMUZ AND ONE OF THE LOCAL PEOPLE OF THIS RAINBOW ISLAND OF IRAN
The far smaller island of Hormuz is facing tough economic times. While Oman and Iran again harbour closer diplomatically, Khasab remains shut tight to Iranians. Unemployment is rampant on Hormuz and I notice drug addicts in the street, a rare sight in Qeshm. There are also almost no cars. ‚ÄúOnly a few dozen people own them here,‚ÄĚ says Ali.
The island has only one small medical clinic, where a general practitioner works a few hours each day. The sick and pregnant must travel by boat to Bandar Abbas to see specialists.
‚ÄúMost people these days get by through fishing, but there‚Äôs less of that than there used to be, or driving around tourists but that‚Äôs only in the winter and early spring – then it gets too hot,‚ÄĚ Ali tells me. ‚ÄúIn the summer, we just hang out indoors all day and spend from our pockets [what has been made in busier times]. If you haven‚Äôt earned enough, you‚Äôre in trouble.‚ÄĚ
Hormuz has been trying to get in on the riches of the free trade zone, Ali says, but each time the plan has gone awry. Most recently, in February 2015 Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, announced that adding Hormuz island to the free trade zone was under consideration in parliament.
The promise alone made real estate prices skyrocket. ‚ÄúI bought 100 square meters of land by the Persian Gulf ten years ago,‚ÄĚ says Ali. ‚ÄúBack then, it was 30,000 tomans a metre ($10.50 or ¬£6.70 at today‚Äôs exchange rate). Now, it‚Äôs more than 400,000. I wish I‚Äôd bought more.‚ÄĚ
Each time there is news of Hormuz joining the zone, says Ali, businessmen from Tehran and Isfahan come and buy land. Still, 400,000 tomans (¬£ 90, $140) is cheap compared to prices in Tehran, where a typical house or apartment in downtown sells for at 9m tomans (¬£2,014; $2,700) a sq m, or the northern regions by the sea, where development land costs 1 to 3m tomans.
The house Ali has built by the water is humble, made of cement with no facade. But it is located by luscious beaches. There are no guarantees that such scenic landscapes will remain unscathed if business starts to thrive on the island.
Hormuz is best known for its ochre, a red-colored earth pigment that has made miles of this land look majestic. Traditionally, the ochre was used in everything from decorative arts to wedding ceremonies and even as a spice for fish and torshi (pickled vegetables). Now the ochre is transported by the truckload and exported. Out in the countryside among the multicolored mountains, the dirt of tractors and trucks belonging to the mining facility can be seen from miles, razing the land, and emptying dirt into the nearby water.
The ochre is mined by a company whose primary shareholder and owner is best known as an outspoken government critic following the June 2009 protests. But residents here care little for such things, or for his denial that he owns the bulk of the company. They call him the ‚Äúearth thief.‚ÄĚ
Unlike those on Qeshm, Hormuz island inhabitants are in no way wealthy, and so it will be capital brought from outside the island that will dictate the rules. As I walk on the island‚Äôs beaches ‚Äď possibly the most serene and untouched in the world ‚Äď I cannot help but wonder what this place will look like once the townspeople get their wish and resorts are built nearby.