Monday, April 2, 2012

Cattle Class to Kuwait (T 7 - Iran 1965)

Seventh travelogue for the granddaughters – December 1964

In the middle of winter, well out of the tourist season, we were just about the only strangers in town. The shopkeepers were anxious that we stay around and buy something, and pressed free drinks on us. But midway through some heavy negotiations, a higher duty called. There was another pair of hitch-hikers in town, and watching foreigners meet and gabble away in their weird languages was an entertainment never to be missed. "You really must come!" This way! This way!

We allowed ourselves to be dragged off to the other side of the town centre, into the shop where the others were. As it happened, we surpassed our escort’s hopes. “Hullo,” I said; “I thought you’d be in Japan by now.” “Yeah, we got caught up in Lebanon”, Graham said. He was an old schoolmate of mine who had left London long before I had, yet here he was in Shiraz, Iran, still half a world away from whichever place in Japan his friend Yoshi came from. We delayed their departure for thirty minutes with idle chit-chat, then they hit the road again. It wasn’t till many years later that I met up with Graham in Brisbane and learned all his news. He signed my Passport application form, then, and we marvelled at how long we’d known each other.

Shiraz was out of the way for Linda and me, but I had wanted to see Persepolis, the ancient capital of Darius’s Persian Empire. At high school I had been wonderfully impressed with the poem Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land 
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert...

...Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away. 

Persepolis lived up to my expectations, despite the fact that the poem was set in Egypt. You can’t have everything. After taking our few pennies’ entrance money, the ticket-seller disappeared, trusting us not to steal any of the ancient stones. We inspected the ruins at leisure, but once the snow began to fall, we disappeared too, jumping on the first truck headed south. The day after the others left us, we walked to the western edge of town and flagged down a bus to the nearest port to find a ferry to Kuwait. There were no ferries, for some reason, so we haggled for a passage on a boat carrying cattle.

Quite a contrast to our arrival in Iran. At the Turkish border we had fallen in with a convoy of returning expats in almost-new Mercedes Benzes driven down from Germany for resale. Two days further on, one of the drivers nearly drove off a cliff, so he was fired in favour of the team’s new emergency backup. We two drove into Tehran in as grand a style as a couple of young travel bums ever did. The cattle-boat was a bit of a comedown.

A vivid memory of mine from the voyage is the flash of a pearly white bottom as Linda perched warily on the pooping seat way above the poop deck (what else?) before I joined the five crewmen and faced the bow until we got the all-clear. It was a rough sea, and I’ve never known how she managed. If she’d fallen off, it might have been five minutes before any of us discovered the loss. Inch’Allah, we all muttered – “It’s in the hands of God”.

We got in at three in the morning, and slept on the porch outside the Immigration shed until the men arrived for work. Those were early days for Kuwait. The arrival-procedures have probably been brought up to speed since then.