We are winding our way eastwards along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. To our right are the Alborz Mountains where the Tehran elite ski in winter and more menacingly, was home to the 11th century Assassins. For us it's rather like driving up the West Coast from Haast to Greymouth: there are lagoons near the sea fed by streams from the mountains and deep green rain forest courtesy of the weather systems that roll in from the north over the Caspian dumping rain here but leaving Tehran (Canterbury) dry. Unfortunately, the New Zealand comparison ends there. It is difficult to see the water even though it's close. There is an almost unbroken line of scruffy towns interspersed with stretches of unbridled development of the cheapest kind, much of it appears abandoned or half built, and all made worse by the rubbish and pollution. This has been a great disappointment to us as everyone in Iran speaks wistfully about this region and we were expecting a lot. It is clear that the lush greenness which contrasts so starkly with the dry and dusty central plateau of the rest of the country is responsible for this misrepresentation. However, there are things of interest. There is a sense that the mountains separate this area from the rest of Iran. The chador is less evident, certainly among younger women and they look at us (Matt actually) with shy smiles. We have seen rice and tea plantations (it's a steamy 30 degrees today) and the area east of Rasht grows the best tea in Iran. We stayed in Masuleh, a tiny beautiful traditional village 35kms up in the mountains where the pale cream houses are stacked on the sides of a valley like limpets. The village streets are often the roofs of the houses below and everywhere, the thick evergreen trees. The Caspian is the largest lake in the world, five times bigger than the next, Lake Superior in the US/Canada. It is 1200 kms long and about 300 kms wide (NZ ?) and being fed by the Volga, Zhem and Ural rivers it contains 44% of all the water in the world. It has an average depth of 170mtrs (nearly twice as deep as the Persian Gulf. Its surface is 30 mtrs below sea level. Naturally it is being irretrievably polluted. It is home to vast numbers of fish, migratory birds, turtles and the Caspian seal, but the caviar producing sturgeon is under the greatest threat (from illegal fishing and smuggling in addition to habitat destruction). With five countries claiming a stake in this magnificent inland sea it is hard to see how it will be possible to avoid a similar fate to that suffered by the Aral Sea in Turkmenistan. As New Zealanders we find all of this, at the same time, amazing and depressing. We may to press on more quickly than planned. Plus Oultre. G&M.