|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia||
By Steven Abrams
19th October 1968
Khalil being a returning Iranian citizen was given a very thorough once over by customs, and as we were travelling with him we were also included in this search. The car had to have customs duty paid on it, which Khalil settled with loads of traveller's cheques, and the German number plate was exchanged for an Iranian one.
While Khalil sorted out the formalities we changed money at the bank. Louis changed a £10 travellers cheque, and the cashier handed him the money. He should have received about 1790 rials but we were not able to distinguish the value of the notes as they were printed entirely in the Farsi script. We were trying to work out their values when the cashier called him back and asked him if he had the correct amount. Judging by the smile on his face we could see that he was having a laugh at our expense. Our assumption was proved correct when he took out another bundle of notes and gave them to us. He then patiently explained the values of the notes, and wrote out a list of the numbers and their English equivalents for us. This was to prove very useful as we passed through both Iran and Afghanistan, as both countries use the Farsi (Persian) language with it's Arabic looking script.
The delay seemed to go on forever. We met some British lorry drivers who had been there for a day and a half. They had TIR plates and seals on the lorries, but that protection ran out when they left Europe. The Iranian customs had completely unpacked the lorries, and the drivers were now reloading them again. They were headed for Saudi Arabia but were unable to pass from Turkey into Syria as the border was closed, so they had to take a diversion through Iran. They expected to have to go through the same rigmarole at every Middle Eastern border they passed through.
As we were about to leave, John and Chris and the Land Rover guy arrived. They intended to spend the night at the border and get an early start the next day. It had taken us 2 hours to cross the border, and coupled with a 1½ hour time change (Iran is 2½ hours ahead of UK) the time was getting late.
I drove out of the border compound, through the archway on the Iranian side. As the car passed through the arch the headlights caught the reflectors at the side of the road and revealed a superb tarmac road heading off straight, into the distance as far as the lights could reflect. Compared the dirt road that we had driven on for the last 50 or so kilometres in Turkey, this was heaven to drive on. I enjoyed driving the 100 km that I had the wheel for before Khalil asked for Louis to drive.
Louis drove for a while until we stopped for some fuel. Petrol in Britain was about 6 shillings a gallon, (equivalent to 1/4 per litre, although nobody sold petrol by the litre in 1968). By comparison, petrol in Iran was only a few pence per litre, less than a shilling per gallon. The nationalised Iranoil petrol was the only brand available, but at those prices who cares!
Once we had refuelled, Khalil decided to have a go at driving himself, despite his lack of a driving licence. He didn't have a clue and was terrible and wandered all over the road whenever he changed gear to the accompaniment of grinding noises. As luck would have it he drove right into a police checkpoint about 5 km down the road stalling the car some 50 yards before reaching it. While the policeman was walking towards us Khalil did a quick swap with Louis. Fortunately for all of us the policeman had the lights shining in his eyes and didn't see the changeover. Once the policeman had inspected all the vehicle's documents as well as Louis's driving licence and passport he allowed us to go on our way. Now Louis was doing the driving.
Shortly after midnight we arrived in Tabriz, which is 7000 feet above sea level and not surprisingly for late November the weather was very cold. We were a bit worried about finding somewhere to sleep at that late hour. We didn't relish the thought of spending a night in the car, but fortunately Khalil found us all a hotel room that cost 70 rials (7 Tuman) for which he paid. Thankfully we at least had somewhere comfortable and warm to spend the night.
The next morning we woke up at 0645 to find that Khalil had already gone out. We were concerned that he had driven off with our luggage in the boot of the car leaving us behind. Luckily this was not the case. Looking out of the window we saw Khalil driving the car up to the hotel front door. He had only gone out to practice his driving early in the morning while there wasn't so much traffic about.
One thing we discovered about the hotel was the toilet down the corridor with a glass door. I don't know what you were supposed to do about privacy. Maybe the whole idea is to give everybody a good view; at least nobody would have an excuse for barging in while you were there. We also got our first sight of what Iranians use instead of toilet paper. They have a jug with a very long curved spout that enables you to trickle water down your backside. There is one of these in every toilet in Iran, you never see toilet paper. We were glad that we had brought our own toilet paper with us. I could never immagine myself mastering the art of using one of those contraptions.
Driving in Tehran was terrible. There didn't seem to be any pattern or rules for the traffic flow with cars, buses and lorries all fighting their way through without any regard for anybody else. Cars would pull out into your lane without any warning, would pass through any gap that was available if you were not quick enough to fill it yourself: in short it was chaos. At one point I was driving in heavy traffic and was eager to shoot into a gap quickly. I grabbed the gear lever to change down, but by habit I mistakenly grabbed the indicator stalk on the left side of the wheel instead. An indicator is not built to withstand such force and it just snapped off in my hand. Not surprisingly Khalil was not very happy and promptly took over the wheel. For once his bad driving seemed to be an advantage. He drove us to his house and on his arrival was greeted with hugs by all his family while we waited in the car for him.
After all the greetings were over Khalil and another man who spoke a little bit of English came back to the car and drove off. They took us to a youth hostel that was run by the scouts, but it was full. He then drove us to another youth hostel but that was also full. He then tried for a cheap hotel near to the centre that cost us 40 rials for the room for a night. We said good night and Khalil and his friend drove off after promising to come back the next day to show us around Tehran. It turns out that we couldn't have landed at a better place to stay. Staying in the same hotel were some other overland travellers headed for Australia, an American, an Argentinean (Geoff Gough), a Japanese and some other Liverpuddlians (Mike Swanson and Alex McMullen).
By now we felt quite hungry, so the whole group of us headed off together to find somewhere to eat. We settled for a local restaurant that had a television set on, so we could watch some of the Olympic games, but all that was on was a weight lifting event that an Iranian probably won judging by everybody's excitement it. Once the report on the Olympic Games was finished the television programme was just people talking.
Part way through the meal an Australian we had met in Istanbul came in and joined us. We spent a very enjoyable evening eating, chatting and comparing travel notes. Louis and I were the only hitch hikers in the group. Although the others had hitched for a bit, they were mostly travelling on public transport which was quite cheap. We all sat around talking until we were thrown out just before midnight when we returned to our hotel to write some letters. We were feeling quite happy with ourselves at getting this far so quickly and relatively free of problems. In fact the only problem we had was that we had travelled much quicker than our estimate. We had allowed ourselves a month to get to Tehran and we were almost two weeks ahead of schedule. This would have been fine if our families hadn't been writing to us at American Express and we would be gone before the mail had arrived.
I woke up very early the next morning and made an immediate dash to the toilet. At first I thought that the dreaded tummy bug had got me, but fortunately it was just a one off run and my stomach settled down again quite quickly.
I knew an Iranian family from Tehran whom we had met on holiday many years ago. Their son David had visited and stayed us in Liverpool on more than one occasion and I was hoping that if we could find them they would repay the hospitality. For this reason we decided not to check into the hotel for a second night and to leave our bags with the hotel porter for safekeeping.
Khalil arrived in a taxi being driven by his brother and took us for a drive around Tehran. We ended up in the bazaar where they searched out the shop belonging to the Yadegar family. Mr Yadegar was there, but he didn't speak English so Khalil's brother translated as best he could. He told us that the family had all emigrated to the USA and he was the only one left in Iran. He had remained until the sale of his business had been completed, and would then be going to join them. Needless to say I was very disappointed at not having the opportunity to meet them all again.
We then said our goodbyes to Khalil and his brother and headed of for the American Express office which was inside the Park Hotel. The clerk told us that the post restante facility was at another office about 1 km away and gave us a map to show where it was. We walked there with an Australian who was had also come to collect his mail. As we got near we saw signs to American Express in a number of different languages including much to our surprise in Hebrew. There were two letters waiting for me at Amex and a whole bundle waiting for Louis. His girlfriend was obviously missing him and had written to him every day.
Our room mate for the night was Paul. Talking to him we discovered that he had also met Laffayette Bosman and had worked for him in Ankara, managing to achieve exactly the same success rate as ourselves.
We left the hotel very early the next morning before the hotel porter could catch us, and caught a bus to the outskirts of Tehran so we could start hitch hiking south. It wasn't easy trying to find our way as all the signs were in Farsi and it was difficult to find anybody who could speak English so we could ask. I couldn't help noticing how many beautiful girls there where who were not covered up in the traditional Moslem way but were wearing western style clothing. I remember thinking how western Iran was in its' approach to women's behaviour.
We then had a quick series of rides. A lorry took us to Saveh, then in a Land Rover took us another 40 km to a tea house where we were picked up by a husband and wife in an Opel. They took us to just past Delijan and dropped us in the desert outside a pipeline construction station. At the time they were laying a pipeline across the desert and it followed the track of the road.
Our last lift that took us into Isfahan was in a Willyx Jeep driven by a man with a large bushy moustache and while driving along he took out a cigarette to smoke. I had the cigarette lighter the staff at work had given to me and decided now was the time to put it to use. I held the lighter under the cigarette and pressed the button. The lighter that had been unused in my pocked for the last two weeks had probably been knocked out of adjustment. When lit it sent out a sheet of fire, not unlike a flame thrower, setting the poor driver's moustache alight. The car veered all over the road while he struggled to put out the forest fire that now raged just beneath his nostrils. Fortunately there wasn't too much damage and all credit to him he didn't dump us at the side of the road as we would have fully expected him to do.
In Isfahan we had been recommended to the hotel Ferdowsi and we soon found without too much difficulty. We even managed to bargain the price down to 40 rials for a room but unfortunately it appeared that in the room we were shown to the previous guest had taken the light bulb with him when he checked out. There was no other light, the porter didn't have a spare bulb and there were no other rooms available so we decided to look elsewhere. We went into an air freight office where we found some boys who spoke good English. One of them offered us a place on the floor of his flat and we gladly accepted. As he still had over an hour to work we left our bags with him and went to find somewhere to eat.
Not too far away we found a restaurant with a British registered bus and car parked outside and so we decided to give it a try. Inside was a group of tourists who were travelling to India by bus with a company called Sundowners. The passengers were a group of mostly Australians who had stopped for their meal and were all very friendly. The car, a Morris Minor, was also owned by some Ausies who were taking it home with them. We had a meal for just 22 rials and enjoyed meeting everybody until we were introduced to the driver of the bus.
The bus driver was an Australian who called himself Bluey. He had driven the route from London to Delhi and back at least half a dozen times before, being one of a number of tour bus operators travelling the route at that time. He expressed his surprise "that we had got this f...... far by hitch hiking and frankly didn't give a s... for our chances of getting to India in a month of f...... Sundays". (That was the clean version.) He told us that "we didn't stand a chance of getting over the Iran/Afghanistan border. The only vehicles that passed that way were tourist buses like his or oil tankers, and he wouldn't give us a lift. The oil tankers would charge us US$10 just for a ride on top of the tank." His best advice was to give up while we were ahead.
With these words of encouragement ringing in our ears we went back to the air freight office just in time for them to close for the evening. The student, Faramaz Faramazi, who asked us to just call him Farey had a flat at the north end of the city. He was the son of a former Iranian diplomat and had travelled with his family on postings to various parts of the world. He was 20 years old and had spent 15 of those years abroad. His flat was full of English and American magazines and books, and he had a superb record collection. While we sat and talked, Farey's friends started to arrive and they all spoke excellent English. It was almost like a party that night.
Up to now we have travelled 4211 miles and had 37 lifts
Wednesday 23rd October we got up quite early, mainly because the boys in the flat had to get to work and we were sleeping right in the middle of the living room. Before going out Farey made us some tea and we had a short discussion about what we should do that day. He gave us a list of things he recommended for us to see and do in Isfahan and told us what bus to catch to the main tourist area and shortly afterwards, we set off to find the bus stop.
We decided to head back to the flat, walking along the centre of the dual carriageway while I played my flageolet as I walked along. When we eventually reached the flat there was nobody there and Louis was desperate for a toilet. We were lucky enough to find a policeman who directed us to a petrol station who allowed him to use their hole in the ground. I too had wanted to pay a visit but I was struck with instant constipation on seeing what served as a public convenience.
We then tried to find a tea house for a drink and were invited home by a charming gentleman who was a school teacher who spoke very good English. He entertained us well, offering us tea, grapes, figs and dates. He was a stamp collector and he also gave us some foreign stamps. We enjoyed his company and talked about many subjects until almost 11 o-clock before heading back to the flat where the boys had been getting worried about us.
Thursday 24 October was the first sign of tummy trouble and so I decided to skip breakfast. Before long I was feeling a bit better so we decided to pack and carry on with our plans to head off to Shiraz, some 300 miles to the South. We said out goodbyes to Farey and his friends and left to catch the bus to the southern edge of the city. This time we caught the bus in the correct direction and once we started hitching we didn't have to wait long for a lift in a station wagon that took us to Shahreza. I slept all the way but felt a lot better for it when we got out.
We walked through the town hitching as we went and inadvertently managed to stop a police car. The policeman was not amused and directed us to the bus station where we would be able to travel to Shiraz the way everybody else does. Deciding it would not be wise to continue to hitch immediately he had departed we headed for a tea shop for a glass of tea. That proved to be a big mistake as the tea made me feel ill again and shortly after that when we started walking I soon had to stop and sit down outside a shop. The shop owner noticing me flop down on one of the chairs he was trying to sell came out thinking he had a potential customer. When he realised that I had only stopped for a much needed rest he kindly brought me out... yes you guessed... a glass of tea. I politely refused it but Louis not wanting to see it go to waste drank it for me.
Tea in Iran is served in small tulip shaped glasses. It is never served with milk but there is always plenty of sugar to go with it. Iranians just pop a lump of sugar into their mouth and sip the tea through it until it disolves. The first cup of tea costs 2 rials and the second cup comes free, as does the sugar, which is just as well because Louis used to go through about a pound of sugar with each cup. The sugar is not like normal sugar lumps but comes as one large cone shaped lump, probably weighing about 2 kilograms. The waiter just hits it with a mallet and serves up the irregularly shaped lumps.
While I was sitting down Louis managed to get a lift from a passing family
who spoke a little bit of English. They managed to squeeze one of the
bags into the boot but the other one had to come in the car with us. They
gave us a lift to Abadeh that is a bit over half way between Isfahan and
Shiraz. Their English was only basic and our conversation mainly consisted
of asking our names and exchanging pleasantries. They dropped us on the
far side of Abadeh so we were in a good place to start hitching again.
The only trouble was there were no cars. Louis stayed on hitching duty
while I had a good sleep at the side of the road.
When Louis woke me over an hour later there was an army jeep stopped and waiting for me to get in. Louis claimed that I had been snoring while I slept. All I knew is that I felt a hell of a lot better for having had that sleep. The driver of the army vehicle kept giving us nuts to eat, and not having eaten anything all day I gladly accepted them and they stayed down. By the time he dropped us after about 75 miles in a small village I was feeling a lot better.
Once the truck had gone we became surrounded by a large crowd of about 100 children who followed us as we walked out of the village. Louis decided to have some fun and suddenly
The truck driver took us to Sivand and then asked us for money. We had not expected this and refused to pay. He then started to shout at us and when we still didn't pay him he walked off in a huff into a nearby building. Over the next 10 minutes or so he and a few of his friends came out to try to get us to pay. Although nobody threatened violence we started to get worried that they might start to get nasty and it was a great relief when a truck stopped. The driver took us the rest of the way to Shiraz, dropping us at the truck depot. We helped him to unload the few parcels he had on board before heading off to find somewhere to stay.
Farey had given us the name and phone number of a friend who lived in
Shiraz and we tried to telephone him but without success as there was
no reply. We decided to have a meal and give him a bit of time to get
in. This plan was successful and after we had eaten we tried him again
this time he answered his phone. He invited us around and gave us his
address, recommending that we took a taxi. We tried a number of taxis
we found that either they didn't know where the place was or they didn't
want to take us. In the end we gave up and decided to find a hotel.
We managed to find a room for 80 rials, but after seeing the room we found that the sheets were dirty, probably not having been changed for the last few guests. It was getting late and we were getting tired. We didn't feel like wandering around the streets looking for another hotel so we decided to bargain the price of the room down and managed to get 20 rials knocked off the price. We then pulled the dirty sheets off and used our own YHA sheet sleeping bags.
We have now covered 4521 miles and had 42 lifts.
The next morning, or should I say the next afternoon we got up, both or us having slept until just after midday. Louis was the first to wake up and while I got dressed he went out to find somebody who could tell us what there was to see and where it was. He returned shortly after, having found a Jewish boy who spoke good English and he was prepared to act as our guide. His name was Asher and the first place he took us to was his Shule (Synagogue). We were shown around the small but beautifully ornate building and then after seeing his Shule he took us to another one. It turns out that our hotel was right in the middle of the Shiraz Jewish area.
We were up bright and early the next day, and after enjoying a glass of tea in our room we checked out of the hotel shortly after 7 o-clock. We started walking to the edge of the town and on the way managed to get a lift to the city gates. Within 5 minutes we got a lift in a jeep to Persepolis.
His family lived in Tehran and he was going to visit them. His school classes had finished for the day and he had an idea to set off for Tehran that afternoon and drive through the night. The only problem with that suggestion was, firstly his car lights didn't work, and secondly our washing still hadn't come back.
Not long after lunch the lady brought our washing back. Some of the things were still a bit damp, so while Louis hung them up to dry, I tried to fix the fault with Nasser's car lights. I spent more than an hour trying to find the fault before eventually admitting defeat. It was obvious that we were not going to head off to Tehran today, so we decided to set out at first light the next morning. Nasser prepared an early supper for us and we all settled down to sleep by 8pm so that we could be up bright and early.
Reza came in to wake us up at 5.30 just as the sun was rising. Before we left Nasser left Reza a number of letters to be given to be given to his superior officer should he decide to pay a visit during his absence. Each letter said that he had gone to visit the library in Shiraz and would be away for the day. Each letter was dated for a different day and Reza was trusted to show him the correct letter in case of a visit. Obviously Nasser was taking a bit of French leave.
We were on our way less than an hour after getting up. Nasser drove like a maniac and we reached Isfahan in only 4½ hours where we stopped for an early lunch and to fill up with petrol. I don't know what kind of car it was, probably something made locally as the name badge was in the Arabic alphabet, but the engine was a two stroke. When we had filled the tank with petrol Nasser poured in half a can of oil. We then had to shake the car from side to side to ensure that it was thoroughly mixed before restarting the engine.
We left Isfahan just before noon and headed North at 120 KPH (75 MPH). This may not seem very fast when you think about British motorways, but on the narrow desert road in car with a two stroke engine it was very fast.
We passed the holy city of Qom (pronounce Gom), home of the Ayatollah Homeni, who at the time was still unheard of internationally. We could see the beautiful blue dome of the Mosque but as we bypassed the city we were not able to visit.
We arrived in Tehran just after 4pm and Nasser drove through the traffic like a kamikaze trainee. Both Louis and I were terrified and were glad to get out of the car at the American Express office. We said good-bye and thank you to Nasser and went in to check for any mail. There was nothing for us. On the way out we bumped into some of the Sundowners and another Australian girl who was heading the same way as us. We talked for a while before heading off to find a cheap hotel on the North side of the city so we could head out quickly the next morning.
We managed to find somebody who could speak English and he directed us to a hotel that sounded just we wanted. Unfortunately we couldn't find it, and having walked for what seemed like miles we gave up looking. Somebody else told us to get a bus to Tehran Pars. They were also kind enough to give us both bus tickets, put us on the correct bus and tell the driver where to put us off.
Our destination turned out to be about 10km out of the city with not a hotel to be found. We managed to find a partly built building without a roof and decided to settle down for the night behind the shelter of corner wall. Our evening meal consisted of some bread and a some of our dwindling stock of processed cheese from Dover before settling down for another freezing cold night.
We were both up at first light, or should I say that we both decided to abandon our efforts to get to sleep. Both of us were feeling very cold and miserable from what must have been the coldest night since we left home. The first thing we noticed was a sprinkling of snow on some nearby hills that had presumably fallen overnight.
What we had thought the night before was a partly built building turned out to be a partly collapsed building. There was plenty of bricks around from one of the collapsed walls and we used them to build an incinerator. We filled it with anything we could find to burn and within a few minutes we had a roaring fire going with which to warm ourselves.
At about 7 o-clock we started hitching and managed to get a lift after only 10 minutes. The driver took us just 3 miles up the road and dropped us off at a tea house where we were able to have breakfast. We bought a loaf of bread and some tea and had some more of the processed cheese. Iranian bread is not the same as the stuff you buy in England. It is oval shaped being about 15 inches long and only about ½ an inch thick, not unlike the Indian nan bread. It is baked in an oven lined with small stones and it is not uncommon to find a small pebble stuck to the bottom of a loaf, so in order to avoid losing the odd tooth it is wise to inspect the bread on both sides before eating it. It is also very cheap costing just 2 rials wherever you are in the country.
We got plenty of lifts that day, but like Bulgaria, all the lifts were for short distances from one small town to the next. Up to now we had been averaging 250 miles per day but from here we would only be covering about 50 miles each day. We eventually arrived in Gorgan late in the afternoon in the back of a lorry loaded with bags of rice and pears and we got down from the lorry in the depot. We walked next door to a tea house and took some refreshment before starting to look for a hotel for the night. We managed to find a hotel above yet another tea house and managed to bargain the room cost down from 50 to 40 rials each.
Once the deal had been struck I had to visit the local police station with both of our passports to register for the night. I was presented with a form to be filled in that was printed in Farsi, without an English translation. The visa that was rubber stamped into the passport was in two languages. I spent the next half hour comparing the Farsi on the stamp with the questions on the paper and somehow managed to complete the form after a fashion. Even though I had answered the questions in English, which the policeman couldn't read, he still seemed to be happy with my efforts.
I have already mentioned that the hotel was situated over a tea house so we both went downstairs for our evening meal. Because we had managed to successfully bargain down the hotel price we decided to do the same for our meals. They served a fixed menu for 30 rials each and we managed to get both meals for just 50 rials. I became the centre of attention when the waiter noticed my watch and called all the staff over to have a look at it. It was a divers watch with a timer bezel that you could rotate to mark off a period of time. They were quite common back home but judging by the excitement it was causing they had obviously not been seen very often in this area. They offered to buy it from me, and even offered to swap it for various items without success.
Back in our room we used one of ground sheets as a curtain to cover the windows. The other one we used to block the view through the wide gaps between the planks that went to make up the door. I then settled down for the night and fell asleep while Louis was still writing letters home.
About 4am we were rudely awoken by the sound of somebody hammering on the door and shouting to us in Farsi. At first we thought the hotel was on fire but as neither of us could smell smoke we decided that this wasn't the case and tried to ignore it. I don't know what it was all about but whoever it was they kept the banging and shouting going for quite some time before eventually giving up and enabling us to get back to sleep again.
The next morning Louis got up at about 7am and went out by himself. He wanted to get to the shores of the Caspian Sea that he presumed wasn't too far away for a quick run there and back before breakfast. I decided that I would much prefer to stay in bed and catch up on some of the sleep I lost during the night. He returned an hour later having gone off the idea when he found that it was about 12 kilometres to the nearest part of the sea. After breakfast we made a point of saying good-bye to the hotel staff, hoping to get some sort of explanation for the disturbance during the night, but none was offered.
Our first lift was from in a jeep being driven by and Iranian who spoke excellent English, but with an American accent. He had been living in USA for 12 years and had married an American. They had both returned to live in Iran but she wasn't settling down in Iran and so they were making plans to permanently return to USA in the new year. He dropped us off in Ali-Abad where we soon got a lift in a Mercedes Lorry to Shokarpasand. There then followed a series of short lifts. We finally ended up in a Land Rover driven by a Cossack who dropped us at the roadside when he turned off into his farm.
We waited over 2 hours without a lift before a British registered jeep passed by. I shouted out to him and he stopped. He told us he was being sponsored by Lord Montague of Beaulieu to drive to India and back. He wasn't able to give us a lift because he didn't have any room inside, not even for one of the bags, let alone two of us as well. Even so, we did have a good chat for the next half an hour. Not long after he had driven off, the Cossack came out from his farm and gave us two very large watermelons. They were delicious and we enjoyed tucking into one of them for our lunch. While we eating the melon, a jeep stopped and took us another 5 km. Maybe we looked hungry, because when he dropped us off he gave us 2 sheets of bread to go with the watermelon.
To relieve the boredom we played at throwing stones at a signpost. By the time the next car stopped I was winning 21 hits to 19. The car that stopped was a Volkswagen Beetle with Australian number plates. Unfortunately it was going the other way so it wasn't much use to us for a lift. It was being driven by two Australians who were headed for England. We had a chat with them for another half an hour. Although there were not many lifts to be had in this area, the social life was beginning to look pretty good.
Not long after the Aussies had driven off we got a lift in another jeep. The driver dropped us off in Galikesh, where we started to hitch again on the road out. After what seemed like an endless wait for a lift another British registered car stopped for a chat, this time it was four people in a Volkswagen. They were Ugandans and they were headed for Pakistan. As it was now getting dark they decided not to continue and to spend the night in Galikesh. Thinking that it was probably not very safe to travel on these roads at night we decided to do the same, and walked back into the town.
We checked into the same hotel as the Ugandans and managed to get a room for 25 rials each. We decided to get an early night so that we could make an early start in the morning, so after our meal we settled down to sleep by 8.30pm.
At 6am we awoke to find that 3 other people had moved into our room during the night while we were asleep. We packed quietly and tip toed out of the room so as not to wake them up, had a glass of tea. As there was nobody around to give us our bill, we made up our own. We then paid the man who made us the tea, and set out for another hopefully more successful day of hitch hiking.
One of the first vehicles along was a Volkswagen Combi van. The driver stopped, but the van was too full of luggage to fit us in. The German couple inside said they were headed for Kathmandu and apologised for not being able to give us a lift. Half an hour later and we got a lift on the back of a tractor, to a road junction 5km down the road. While we waited at the junction for a lift we saw a group consisting of a number of vehicles with various European countries' registration numbers go past. They had a sign that said "International party, England to Australia".
We did try to get out of Bodjnord that night, and while waiting at the side of the road a crowd of children came out and stood around staring at us. They started to throw stones at us so Louis tried to chase them away. He didn't have any success until he shouted "go on - shoo!" The children all ran away laughing and calling out what sounded like they were repeating what Louis had said. We later learned that Borro Gumshoe, or something like it, is a swear word in Farsi, which is probably what they thought Louis had said.
By 7.30pm it had got dark and was also getting very cold, so we decided to call it a day and headed back into Bodjnord where we spent the night. We met the International Party while we were having a meal and chatted to them for a while. We even tried to cadge a lift without success.
Although Bodjnord was a bit bigger than most of the other towns along that road, it was still only a small town. The sort of town that you would pass through without giving it a second look. It was to hit the International headlines some fifteen or so years later when a massive earthquake flattened all the buildings in the town. Many people were killed or were missing in the aftermath and the death toll eventually rose into the tens of thousands. When I saw the news I couldn't help thinking back on the place I remembered from 1968 and wondered where so many people could possibly have come from.
Friday 1st November. We woke up early feeling freezing cold. The room was so cold that we both felt as though we had spent the night sleeping outside again. We had some tea in our room to warm ourselves up and then left the hotel. We refused to pay the bill because of the bitterly cold room.
As we walked out of the town we saw the Sundowners bus filling up with fuel in a garage. We tried to cadge a lift from Bluey, the driver, but he refused. He again expressed his opinion that it was highly unlikely that we would get much farther, and that it was only very good luck that had got this far. Eventually he agreed to take us to Mashhad for 100 rials each. We thanked him very much and then declined his offer.
I suspect that most of the people on the bus were Pilgrims, visiting the tomb of the Imam Riza in Mashhad. Every now and then a young boy would shout out what sounded like a prayer in Farsi or even Arabic. All the passengers on the bus would reply with, "Alah-u-Akbah" which means "God is great". Our English speaking friend declined to translate any of what the boy had shouted out.
We asked the English speaking passenger if he knew where we would be able to renew our visas because they only had one day left before they expired. He asked the bus driver, and when we arrived in Mashhad we were shown into the bus company office where he made us a drink of tea. When we had finished he directed us to the police station to renew the visas. Before going to the police station the driver took us to the office of the bus company that ran the service to Herat. There was one bus daily, and it was fully booked for the next three days. We put our names down for the Tuesday bus then went with the driver to the police station. On the way we met a young boy who spoke perfect English; His name was Ahmed. He told us that we couldn't renew visas at this police station, and took us to a different one but the place was closed. He then took us to a hotel and arranged to meet us in the morning.
For supper we had some bread straight from the baker's oven. It was so fresh that it still had some hot pebbles attached, and we ate it with some of our dwindling supply of cheese. We met two Americans who were staying in the room next door. They were also heading for Afghanistan and like us, were also looking for transport across the border.
In the morning Ahmed came to our room at 8am to take us to the police station. Before we could leave the hotel the manager wanted our passports to take to the police to register. As we were also going to the police we agreed to go together. On the way we called at the post office to post some letters while Ahmed and the hotel manager waited for us. When we reached the police station we were not allowed in and we had to hand our passports to a man standing in the street to take them in for us. At first we were reluctant to give them to a stranger in the street until we met Scottish guy there who was calling to collect his passport. He assured us that it was the normal procedure to hand the passport over in the street, and as though to prove it was OK he was now calling to collect his.
The Scot, whose name was William was travelling with his girlfriend Sandra to Afghanistan in the back of a van. They were sharing petrol expenses with the owner and agreed to introduce us to them. The van was a Volkswagen Combi, and it was painted with flowers and psychedelic colours. The owners, an American couple called Robert and Trish, agreed to give us a ride to Herat for 400 rials. After a bit of haggling they agreed to accept two Canadian dollars and the remainder of our Iranian currency - 110 rials. They were ready to leave but agreed to wait until 12.30 the time when we could collect our passports from the police.
While we waited in the van the vehicle became surrounded by children. When we tried to leave to collect our passports they surrounded us and pulled at our clothing as though we were two pop stars. Robert threw a cup of water at them and they scattered, leaving the way clear for us to leave.
William, Louis and I went to collect the passports that were handed over without any problems. Today was the last day of validity on our visas, but as we were on our way out of the country it was no longer necessary to have them renewed. William went to the bank to change the last of his Iranian money. Instead of going into the bank he struck a deal with a man outside to buy some Pakistan rupees at a very advantageous rate of exchange.
We got back to the van at 1pm and immediately set off for the border. As soon as we set out William and Sandra started to smoke hashish, which in 1968 was quite acceptable in Iran. A few years later they introduced the death penalty for possession of any drugs, but for the time being there was no problem. We stopped in a small village to buy some bread and the van became surrounded by people who were all staring in. It was an ideal opportunity for me to practise my newly acquired skill of swearing in Farsi, and it worked quite well.
Robert had been briefed on the route beforehand and had been warned that Iranian immigration was in a small town some 20 kilometres before we reached the border. He pulled into a small compound where there was a tent erected for the immigration officers. We went through all the red tape of leaving the country, getting our passport stamps and clearing through customs. One of the customs officers offered me 500 rials for my camera, while another offered me five dollars for my jacket.
By the time we set off for the border proper it was dark, and the road was not lit. The road was just a dirt road that was very hard to follow in the dark. At one point a fox ran out in front of the van and Robert was not able to avoid it, in fact I don't know if he wanted to avoid it. He stopped the van and went back to retrieve the dead fox, cutting off its tail to tie to the radio aerial.
Robert was driving along the dirt road at a good speed when he suddenly slammed on the brakes sending all of us in the back flying around the van. When we looked to see what he had stopped for we saw one very frightened border guard standing just in front of the van. He had been standing in the middle of the road in his brown uniform, no torch, just his hand held up to signal us to stop. Robert had nearly smashed into him and the chain behind him. This was the border, in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing else around, not even a building.
Another man in uniform loomed out of the darkness and advised us that we must go back 20 km to get our passports stamped. He was quite disappointed when he found out that we had already done so. Nearly everybody else we later spoke to had missed out the immigration tent and had been sent back to get their passports stamped. After checking the passports he removed the chain and let us out of Iran.