PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1974 - JULY
1 July, Rijeka
Yesterday was like those days at Butlins, Maja and me playing as children and talking of wise things. Today is like the last day at Butlins, we walk and talk all the morning. Maja tells me more of Mira and Igor and her lonely days and happy ones. This year she says was not good (by comparison with the last year) but now she is much happier because of Mira. I leave around midday, catch the Proga 6 and join the other hitchers. I'm so sad I cry for a while. Maja said she wants to come to Australia but I will have left by February. Two jolly guys take me to Rijeka; then a neurosurgeon takes me right across the town and buys me a beer - he is happy with his lot - a flat, a wife, two kids and a car and two months holiday. After Rijeka, this weird guy takes me to two villages and buys me two drinks - but the ride is only 5km. I doss quite early.
2 July, Sibenik
THE BLUE AND BEAUTIFUL ADRIATIC
The day is dominated by the Adriatic Sea. I first saw it yesterday but I am too illiterate to describe it properly - it is so blue and so beautiful - all the way down the coast there are islands never more than a kilometere from the mainland. The sea is calm with few boats. The road winds so slowly along the coast, two or three times the length as the crow flies - receding away from the coast are hills of rock and trees - the area reminds me of Spain. The villages and towns are few to start with, but soon there are endless signs saying 'Sobe, Zimmer, Chambres' or 'Autocamp'. More than half the cars on the roads are tourists. Lifts from a middle-aged couple in a Merc with all the fittings; four kids in a van; and a younger couple with good English. I learn that Split is a very old Roman town but that the Huns destroyed all. In one lift we pick up another passenger, a tortoise He starts peeing all over the lady. Further south, the rocks are steeper - little toy villages with toy harbours and toy boats. Late in the evening I sit in a bar by the sea in Makarska drinking a third beer. I sleep in a cherry grove.
3 July, Dubrovnik
A SWIM IN DUBROVNIK - TWO CANADIAN SPANIARDS
I am hitching by 4:30, but without much success. Eventually a French couple picks me up, but I don't arrive in Dubrovnik until about mid-day. The city centre is within castle type walls - there seems to be one main street plus tiny little alleys leading off it with dozens of steps to the city wall. It used to be a republic of its own, like Venice. I swim a little in the blue sea. I eat a little goulash (cold and expensive), buy cigarette papers and send postcards to friends. It is so hot stumbling up the hill out of town. Two Yank speakers give me a lift, they are going all the way to Skopje! Too much. Mark and Leslie have money from their parents, so they bought a new car in Spain and are just travelling around. They are the fastest car on the road. There is beautiful scenery - we travel through miles of mountains and tunnels, and there are crystal clear rivers in deep gorges. We stop for a swim, a beer, petrol, a slivovitch, a meal and terrible music, but we don't make Skopje. There are no houses or Zimmer signs on the road, so the rich guys sleep in the car, and I with the ants.
4 July, Thessalonika
A GREEK DOCTOR, A GREEK PIG FARM AND A GUT CONVERSATION
Apparently today is some sort of festival in Yugoslavia and most places are shut. We reach the border by mid-day. No hassles - we change money and taste some real nice ice cold water on tap. Before long I am on my own again in Thessaloniki. I walk and walk looking for something to eat with bread I have bought. I buy fish in a can but have no opener! A nice guy lets me use his water; then I get a lift with a Doctor, who speaks good English. He collects some pig food and takes me to his pig farm where we stay a couple of hours. He's a weird guy, he keeps on stalling about moving on. Eventually, I walk back to the road myself. Then he catches up with me again, and buys me a loaf of bread before disappearing; then he comes back again and insists I go to the local bar for some salad and yoghurt with the locals. After, he disappears to give some injections. I wander off down the road for miles. I make up a song:
LISTEN TO THE GRASSHOPPERS SING Listen to the grasshoppers sing; Singing to the sun; Singing to the trees; Singing to the moon; And singing to the grass Don't you feel happiness all over; In your mind and body; Running up your spine; Flowing out your eyes See the sheep run; Running from their master; Running from the cold; Running to their homely abode Don't you feel happiness all over; In your mind and body; Running up your spine; Flowing out your eyes Smell the wind blow; Blowing from the east; Blowing to the night; Blowing the cloud away Don't you feel happiness all over; In your mind and body; Running up your spine; Flowing out your eyes Feel the sadness grow; Growing on your own; Growing with the time; Growing with the travelling around Don't you feel happiness all over; In your mind and body; Running up your spine; Flowing out your eyes
After dark, a volkswagen takes me to Xinthe. Conversation flows even though the driver doesn't speak English: Wilson gut, nichts gut, Brazil gut, nichts gut etc. for hours. He is going on to Alexandrouplous tomorrow and will pick me up. I sleep in the grounds near a bread factory.
5 July, Istanbul
A SIX IS THROWN - THE TRAVEL BEGINS
I am dying for a crap when I wake - fortunately there are some huge holes in the ground, and I use the paper around the bread I chucked out last night. Real relief. On the road by 5:30, a lot of waiting, a shortish lift, then, about 10, my GUT friend picks me up again. The conversation continues to Alexandropolis. The beaches are not so good but I swim a little and mend my trousers. Meat balls and chips for lunch. I sit a while in the shade and write but I am impatient and move on, still in the heat of the day. A lift takes to within 3km of the border - I walk and then Germans in a VW take me a little way into Turkey. Tall thin columns on churches - camels and wandering people. Three young Turks offer to take me to Istanbul for 500 L, I decline. But again I am super lucky, as the sun is going down two Italians squeeze me into their car. As we approach Istanbul, the traffic builds up - to a stand still. There is a beautiful red moon above the Aegean sea. ISTANBUL WOW! It's teeming with people - I try for half an hour to find a room, and end up on the roof of hotel Utopia for 5 L. I go for a meal and a drink with two English guys who arrive after me. We talk about hitching and drink chai. The night on the roof is fine, 5 L as good as a dormitory for 10 L.
6 July, Istanbul
A BOSPHOROUS BOAT TRIP - FRIENDLY TURKS
I wash, which is nice. WOW WOW WOW Istanbul - I walk around the Sultanahmet Mosque, the grand bazaar - endless arcades of shops selling leather, rope, shoes, carpets, souvenirs, clothes, everything - the owners on little stools in front - everywhere there are boys and men selling chai, fruit, water, cigarettes, sweets, shoe cleaning services, bread rings. The little waiters in the little cafes carry dozens of chais around to the storekeepers; porters carry fruit or packets of paper on their backs and swing from side to side (like a walking right angle). It is a dirty city; the drivers are really mad, and there are mosques everywhere. I catch a boat day-tripping up the Bosphorous - three hours - almost up to the Black Sea - stopping at loads of places. I meet a Norwegian. We eat expensive sardines in a very nice cafe overlooking the Bosphorous The return journey takes four hours. Later, we watch Poland beat Brazil 1-0 for third place in the World Cup. I haggle for ages to buy a watermelon for 3 L, but it wasn't ripe. To Yenners for a meal with Mike and Simon - then backgammon and dominoes in a cafe. At another cafe we are besieged by Turks who bring us chai, give us cigarettes - not many of them seem to drink alcohol -- and there are never any women. Ayran is a cool drink of yoghurt and water with a pinch of salt.
7 July, Istanbul
MUSEUMS - OTTOMAN BYZANTINE AND SELJUK - TURKISH DELIGHT
I don't get up until well gone 10, the first time since London. I wash thoroughly everywhere in a cold shower - a few clothes see a little washing powder. I visit the Topkapi Palace - an Ottoman building with many fine museum pieces - Ming pottery, kitchenware, sultan's clothes, relics of Mohammed - some enormous diamonds and so much gold. For some reason I am very very tired. Next I visit St Sophia's Mosque - a Byzantine remnant of the Christian era - pictures of Christ on the roofs - such huge domes and pillars - long and narrow galleries, beautiful frescoes. Sis Kebab (bits of meat with a chapati basically) for lunch. Later I visit the underground cistern - an enormous cavern below the earth, for water storage in case of siege, with 330 Corinthian columns all in a line. It's breathtaking to think of the work that went into it so long ago. With Simon I find a secondhand book market, and visit the Museum of Turkish and Islamic works - carpets and Koran stands and Korans from the Seljuk period. We watch the World Cup final, Holland-West Germany 1-2.
8 July, Ankara
THE GRAND BAZAAR - A LONG LIFT - ANKARA
I walk all around the Grand Bazaar with Mike and Simon. At the Post Restante I collect a letter from Mum. In THE Pudding Shop I collect a note for Simon. I buy a passport money bag for 25 L - quite cool. Decide to leave Istanbul - Simon will follow tomorrow. I take a ferry and then the bus to Kortal, walk down the road from the stop and wave my thumb out. Within 15 minutes I get a lift - the driver speaks no English, but I manage to find out he is going to Ankara - fast car - slow driver. He picks up an oldish guy, a creep, and then haggles with two others - I think he is charging more than the bus fare and they won't accept his price. It seems common practice for drivers to give lifts and charge for them. There is Turkish music blazing from the cassette all the time - boring scenery and some fog. At one point in the nine hour journey, the driver and the old man haggle for ages over potatoes and onions - the old guy gives the driver some money. We stop for a meal, and the driver pays for me. Afterwards he asks for money for the lift; I plead ignorance; but he is only joking. I walk a while until about 3:00 and sleep behind a wall.
9 July, Ankara
BERNARD, TWO TURKISH GIRLS - LOTS OF HISTORY
Fact of the day: Attaturk means father of Turks and was the first surname in Turkey. Attaturk was a real hero - removed the last of the Ottomans, made Ankara a capital and Turkey a country. I find the Student Hostel 15 L - real rip off. I meet Bernard who has come from Atalya and Cyprus and Israel. He's a type who hitches onto people. He's heading for Sebsun next. The Roman Baths are 2 L so we don't enter - but we do see the third century Julian's Column and Corinthian walls of Alexander from 2BC plus a real nice mosque where Bernard chats up two Turkish girls with whom we spend a few hours. I walk to the archeological museum up near the castle with its old city walls and a beautiful view over the semi-ramshackle rooves and new office blocks and few mosques of Ankara. This museum is well laid out with large maps of Turkey and clear signs. Neolithic age (flints, tools and some cave paintings); early bronze age (stags on stands); Assyrian trading period (big urns with four cows' heads on the outside and inside); the Hittites (with their double jugs and famous stone carvings of three soldiers or chariots and a man shooting his own horse); the Phygians (with their marvellously ornate brown line patterns on white pottery); classical times (with some old gold, silver and bronze coins). Walking back I buy a comb and scissors, a few peaches, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, some cheese and bread. Here the Turks are really friendly. Also, I visit the Alsanhane Mosque built in 1290 - Seljuk wooden columns over a foot wide and very shiny. Back at the hostel, I read through a book about Turkey, write a little and fall asleep. My first Asian crap today - not so bad, it just leaves your hand and arse wet. I sleep in sheets for the first time in three weeks.
10 July, Nevsehir
BEAUTIFUL ARID TURKEY - HOUSES HEWN IN ROCK
At about 11, I start wandering out of town. A short lift in a lorry whose driver wants me to do some work, and another, then a long lift to Kaman (with apricots) - the land gently undulating and getting harsher and more arid. In Kaman, children swarm around me, bring me apples and smiles. One woman shows me some French writing and is disappointed that I can't read it to her. Two Turks in a German car take me to Kirsehin; a friendly guy on a motorbike takes me 20km; and then a family bring me to Nevsehir. Women wear white scarves around their heads and across their faces, and very baggy slacks.
This is a fantastic area. The rock around is so soft that, since a long time ago, people have hacked their homes out of the rock; doors and windows in the rockfaces can be seen everywhere. There are places near here where whole towns for 20,000 people were hewn out of the stone underground. I hitch out of Nevsehir past Goreme, a town with an outcrop of rock in which people still live. At dusk I am dropped off near another similar outcrop which gives me a chance to investigate - huge rooms and square doors and windows - they must have taken years to carve. Standing on top of this outcrop, all around I can see smooth white chalk stone moulded and sculpted by the wind to round cones with branch-like smooth indentations carved by running water. I stand till it was nearly dark. It's a very touristy area with a motorcamp and hotels. A taxi gives me a ride into Ugurp, which is very alive. I wonder around and around, find an interesting bar and - mind blowing - there are Simon with Danielle and two Germans. They got here by train. Later, I say goodbye again, walk out of town and sleep in thorns.
11 July, Adana
A REAL SIS KEBAB - CHERRIES IN ADANA
I rise early this morning thinking perhaps I should have spent longer in the area. Another two Turks in a German car pick me up. The mountains are arid but in the valleys there are many ploughed fields and hay. Then suddenly a ginormous plain, flat as a pancake, comes into view with 3,000 metre mountains around. In the middle, a river, three roads and a railway meet. Here, even in this dry season, trees flourish. Marmots play Russian roulette across the road. The houses are made of mud bricks with rooves of sticks and twigs (rarely tiles). Beyond Nigde a range of mountains (Toros Daglari) confront us - craggy rocks and pine trees. There is snow on the mountain tops. Grapes are sold on the wayside. Up in the mountains, some villages are alive with grills and teahouses. My two friendly Turks pull up at one and we eat a real sis kebab. The meat is chosen from hanging then cut into small pieces and burnt on the grill. Tomato and peppers and chapatis are served with it. Ace. After the driver haggles with a baggy-trousered guy who wants some sheep transported. For a while, they try to get the sheep into the lorry. Eventually, the sheep owner himself walks onto the lorry making a strange noise and the sheep follow like sheep. There are now four of us in the cab. As we approach the sea it gets hotter and hotter. I realise it was so pleasant in Ankara and Goreme because of the altitude. The lorry turns right on the coast road towards Merun instead of towards Adana, but I think it is coming back. But then, after the sheep are unloaded, it continues to Mersis, where it stops. I have a long walk out of town and a slow lift back to Adana, which I reach by 5:30. Here, near the sea, water seems more plentiful and many crops are growing. Aubergines are common. I visit a Roman bridge that looks about 50 years old and an open mosque. Now, I'm sitting in a pastry house eating a cheese type strudel, a plate of cakes, cherries, and some cherry juice.
12 July, Antakya
THE 1ST CHURCH - ANTIOCH - DONER KEBAB
I trundle into Antakya before 8:00, and hesitate before booking into a hotel. 10 L for a bed - I can't really complain. I walk a mile, first to St Pierre's Church - after Christ died, Paul came here to Antioch, a depraved city, and shared bread, with a few other christians, in this grotto cut into the rock. Thus, it was the first church. There were many tunnels in the rock, I think, but they are all blocked off now. I have a typical English bad cold and a 1,001 mosquito bites. I walk around town - quite fascinating because each house has its own industry: teashops, restaurants, pastry shops, general stores, bicycle repairers, electrical, copper beating, shoe-making, chair-making, drug stores (always the cleanest). A doner kebab - slices of meat, parsley, onions and cut up chapati - really tasty. Tomorrow Syria.
13 July, Damascus
SYRIA - A LONG BUS RIDE AND AN ARAB FRIEND
After a cold shower, I'm up and out quick. The bus driver tries to rip me off 40 L for a ride to Syria, so I hitch - 8km of no mans land signalled by barbed wire. A visa costs me nearly £2 - big rip off. I should have got a transit visa. By 10 I am in Syria. I hitch a ride to Aleppo and take a bus to Damascus S£5. There is an English couple on the bus, but I take an immediate dislike to them. We three English are befriended - given cucumbers and nuts and asked our names. One of the passengers, a teacher, speaks English so we talk for a while. Several little girls are always smiling. The journey is long - five hours sitting and standing. At first, all the land is ploughed, but dry-looking with something growing but later it becomes arid and desert-like. I see many soldiers, and tanks shunting backwards and forwards. On the bus, Khald befriends me. We arrive by 6:00. Khald takes me to his flat which he shares with his brother and a friend. In the evening, we stroll slowly around the town, stopping to talk to friends, and always shaking hands when meeting and leaving them. Many boys walk together with arms or hands joined, very strange - everywhere is very lively - a glass of ice with lemon juice - a chapati with egg and mayonnaise and tomato, and another with meat and cucumber. I sleep well on the floor even though I sweat a lot at first.
14 July, Damascus
DAMASCUS - THE OMAYYAD MOSQUE
This morning I walk for a few hours - it's very, very busy with numerous street sellers, and a lot of smoke. I pass by several long narrow covered streets selling mostly clothing, shoes and fancy goods, handicrafts, copper, wood - rickety overhangs balanced on bent beams provide the shade. Everywhere, there are old buildings, once beautiful, but now falling down, and much building of modern blocks too. I visit the Omayyad Mosque. This is the most beautiful place I have yet seen. As you enter through the arches of a vast courtyard, there are the most fantastic mosaics of bright colours far above, with enchanting pictures of villages. To one side, there is a vast edifice with two beautiful altars of mother of pearl in wood and very detailed wood carving. People come here for cool and rest and prayer. In the middle is the tomb of the Prophet Yehia (John the Baptist) with a velvet cloth covering. So beautiful. For S£1 I go next to the El Azm Palace, the 18th century home of The Pacha - one of the ruling class, a typical rich man's house - here too are many lovely things. The rooms are smallish with the most beautiful wood carvings on doors and ceilings - painted so intricately with dour colours and gold in square patterns. The courtyard is very pretty, with many green plants - but this is usual. There's a folkloric museum here too.
Later, I sit in a cafe drinking real lemon juice and watching a game of chess - everyone plays chess, backgammon or cards - a lot of water-pipes being smoked - iced water is free for all - shoe cleaners takes people's shoes and clean them while they play or smoke. Khald is very happy because he has money. We all eat chicken brought to the house. They sleep, but I go out to walk a long way up a very steep hill. I turn and see Damascus - a panorama. Hot and weary I return. Khald goes to the cinema with his girl, while I walk in a pleasant garden in a mosque. I play a little chess with someone who claims to be the fifth best player in Syria. Khald is happy; but sad that I am going.
15 July, Jarash
BORDER HASSLES - JARASH - JORDAN - OTHER TRAVELLERS
I buy foods to make breakfast, then leave my friend Khald with a kiss (which makes me feel very awkward). It takes a long walk, a free bus ride, and several lifts to get to the Syrian border (past many soldiers). A taxi costs S£3 to Ramtha, with a lot of hassling at the Jordan border - the officials search all the baggage and under cars, even to the extent of opening packets of biscuits. In a back room, I am charged one Jordanian dinar for a visa. Here in Jordan, the soldiers are handsomely dressed in red and blue berets. From Ramtha I get a lift to Jarash - an unbelievable place - a remarkably preserved Roman-Greco town with pillars, arenas, forums, temples - the stone roads still have the ruts of chariot wheels. I make up a chorus which I sing to myself over and over again: 'Have you seen, have you seen, this old old city.'
Apparently the land here has recently been made fertile again by use of irrigation channels first built by the Romans - mind blowing. Two lifts into Amman, a city built on seven hills. I walk to the centre, accompanied by three arabs, looking for the youth hostel and tourist information. A policeman eventually helps me find the Ministry of Tourism, but it is closed; and after more hassle I find the youth hostel. For 20 piestas or 200 fils I have a bed - a pleasant place, mosquito netting and tourist info. I learn that it is impossible to get a visa for Iraq - so, either I must go back to Turkey, or I must go to Kuwait via Saudi Arabia. I meet Phil, a Liverpudlian, who has been all across the Middle East for a couple of months, and Tim who has come overland from Singapore (he liked Laos and Nepal best). We eat yoghurt, water melon and drink shai - the hostel closes at 10.30 so everybody retires by 11.
16 July, Amman
AMMAN - EMBASSIES AND MARKETS
A walk with Phil to the Kuwait embassy. They say they will give us visas for two days if we come tomorrow. The Quatar embassy gives us a nice map and book but says we can't get a visa for one month. Saudi Arabian embassy will give us a visa when we have the Kuwait one. We drink date juice. Phil goes back to the hostel, I walk around looking to rent a car and to buy tobacco. I find neither. The amphitheatre is still used because it is in such good repair, very worn but well preserved. Also I visit a tiny folk museum - the ticket-seller shows me around - costumes from different parts of Jordan. To the hostel to wash clothes - Phil sunbathing - talk a little of writing and poems - then to market. I buy tomatoes and egg and an arab head-dress. We talk much about getting to Kuwait and the four day hitch across desert. It's 140 degrees there, about 85 here now - and that is hot enough for me. Tim beats me at chess.
17 July, Amman
KUWAIT VISA - SUNBATHING - PHIL'S CRAZY IDEAS
First thing Phil, Hans (a 30 year-old French travel agent) and I hand our passports in at the Kuwait embassy. After one hour they give us a form to fill in and tell us to come back at 1.00. Which is a pain - I had planned on having both visas and catching the 1.30 bus to Petra with Tim. So we walk around town - eat a sweet melon and drank tea with nutsellers in a nutshop. By the time our Kuwait visas are ready it is too late for the Saudi Arabia embassy. I buy some food and sunbathe in the nude on the hostel roof. I cook fried onions and potatoes with bread. This small Italian fellow joins us - we walk into town, sit for a long time in the amphitheatre, and drink tea in a chai shop. Phil and I talk long into the night, until well after 3:00, about religion mainly and his many phases and crazy ideas - pyramidology and ley lines.
18 July, Karak
ANOTHER VISA - MOSAIC IN MADABA - CASTLE AT KARAK
First thing, four of us go to the Saudi Arabia embassy. We decide that Phil and Carlo will hitch together but Hans, the French geezer, doesn't like the idea of going with me so he's going to Damascus today. I mention Petra once too often and find I've committed myself to going - so I run like hell back to the hostel, pack some of my stuff, change a fiver and whiz out of town. First to Madaba - mosaic map of Palestine 6th century - partially ruined and partially covered but colourful and beautiful. Getting to Karak proves a hassle as there are very few cars on the road. After a two hour wait, I catch a bus but the good people don't make me pay. In Karak, I look lost and kids befriend me. They show me around the crusader castle even though it is locked up - the hangman's pits, the theatre, slit windows for bowmen. One can just see the Dead Sea, which is cool. I want to sleep in the castle but the kids won't let me. They get me out by promising a place to stay, but then none of them can fufil the promise. I walk out of town - a kind man picks me up, takes me to his home. I feel rough and go straight to sleep until 10ish - then I'm sick - whereupon he gives me some special tea, as well as bread and cheese. What a bad night - I desperately want to crap but am afraid to get up because I think the dogs will bark and wake the household. Not till 4:00 does desperation get the better of me. Diarrhoea.
19 July, Petra
A COLLEGE AT SHAWBAK - PETRA - THE BEDOUIN
I eat very little breakfast and take my leave. Such a long wait on the roadside in the morning - unfriendly soldiers, hot sun, hundreds of taxis. Eventually I get a lift to Quatran and another to Shawbak - 30km from Petra. Here I am besieged for about three hours with groups of boys from the agricultural college. First they take me in for water, then a teacher gives me shai. One boy finds me a Pepsi and another wants to take me home. After a couple of lifts and a lot of walking, I reach the Siq of Petra, a long narrow winding canyon - the rock is sheer, sometimes to 300ft and wow, suddenly the Treasury, like the face of a temple carved in the rock face, hits you. It's carved at least a meter in relief with ginormous pillars and ornate decoration. Many temple-face-like-buildings as you walk on but it always appears as though, when the mould was made, there was never enough mixture. Then I come across the caves, many hundreds of them, in some of which the bedouin still live. There are traces of the Romans here: an amphitheatre built out of the rock and a temple in ruins and a few columns. Petra is very touristy. I am so exhausted I collapse on the sand somewhere. A Bedouin child finds me and takes me to his cave/home where I am received with Arab hospitality. First, I'm given a mattress to sit on, then the father joins me. Shai is brewed - it is difficult to make them understand when I've had enough. I talk and then write a little. This man tells me he often has people from Europe in his house. King Hussein is good. Later, I am brought freshly made bread with eggs, meat and tomatoes - my first real food for two days. All the time the man and I sit and never move - the wife or children bring the water to wash our hands and the food to eat and the second cup of shai. I think the wife and children eat the leftovers, the same as in Karak.
20 July, Mafraq/H4
MOVEMENT - A LOT OF WALKING - H4
I get up at 5:30 but I've already missed the one bus to Amman, so I hitch. After walking 10km, I get a lift on the back of a lorry carrying branches; another lorry carries me all the way to Amman. The driver buys me shai and food and lets me sleep in the bunk at the back for an hour or so. He picks soldiers up too, and they seem to talk about me. At the hostel, I crap, shower, pack my bags, tell a few people where I'm going, and leave for town. I meet a small guy who speaks good English and wants to be a jockey. I buy a water bottle but no salt. I get an easy lift to Maraq, where a few people are waiting to go to H4 (the border town of Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) including a custom's man who speaks a little English. We go together to H4, a five hour ride, both of us sleeping mostly. Apart from near Amman I have seen nothing but sparsely grassed rocky land slowly turning into sand desert. I am bought some weird meal, like thin tomato soup with roast potatoes and aubergine.
21 July, Raftha
A DAY IN THE DESERT WITH SOME LEBANESE
I sleep in the customs house from 3 till 5, and waited till around 10ish before my group of lorries (the one that has adopted me) arrive. There are 100 lorries this night, all going in convoy as far as the Jordanian border. An empty gravel truck takes me across 120km of no mans land desert without a road. My Lebanese driver is the ring leader for six other such lorries, and he keeps chasing down colleagues who are getting lost. He finds them by following the trail of dust. This is a really rough ride - the roughest in my life (I have to use the full force of my hands to protect my head from hitting the cabin roof) - but ten times better than anything at a funfair. At one point, the driver lets me drive, but I can't double declutch properly so I don't go very far. We reach Saudi Arabia at 1:00, wait half an hour for a pass, then I change trucks to one carrying oranges and lemons - the drive speaks some English. Now three trucks travel together to Quatar. We are driving through the desert all day, a long straight road with a long straight pipeline by its side - there are towns every 250km or so. We stop every two hours to eat or drink - all the drivers have little fridges and water containers and carry food their wives have cooked for them - chick pea stew, beans, aubergine and potatoes. I have a bad nose bleed before I sleep.
22 July, Kuwait City
ANOTHER DAY IN THE DESERT - BAD NOSE BLEED - KUWAIT
My nose is bleeding a lot, just like yesterday - I am sleeping and reading mostly (and crapping liquid all the time). The drivers (who really like it when I called them Hoffo and Gabrad) stop for three hours in the afternoon which pisses me off a bit. Eventually I am dropped off at the first main road and junction since H4. In Saudi Arabia there is no alcohol at all - it's strictly forbidden. Women have to be covered - whereas in Lebanon, Abram was saying, it is really good now because you can sleep with a girl before marriage and drink etc. Nevertheless, he added, it is still better to have sons because they carry on your name. It takes a couple of lifts and a couple of waits before I get to the Saudi border. The customs officials check over my passport slowly two or three times - I take shai with the Saudi police - a 3km walk, and a lift to within 20km of Kuwait City - the roads are good - one can see the oil and gas flames everywhere, the sky is alight with a red glow. Nearly every car stops and takes me a couple of kilometres - eventually a young guy, in his Dad's expensive car who was chasing around with his friend for no reason, takes me to his home for shai. Later he buys me an egg sandwich and, after a little gentle persuasion in pigeon English, he takes me to the youth hostel. It is 6 in the morning when I arrive.
23 July, Kuwait City
FIND AMMAN FRIENDS - KUWAIT CITY - AND SLEEP
I sleep well but still have diarhoea. Good to see Phil and Carlo here - they arrived last night and slept outside. After a shower, the three of us go to the Blood Bank. Phil has to hassle a bit because he sold blood six weeks ago - but he gets away with it. After only one hour, an orange juice and biscuits, we are £14 better off. We walk around a but it's not a pleasant place - everywhere is either rubble or new buildings - American cars - the heat is unpleasant. The centre of the city doesn't seem like a centre and the whole place seems pseudo. I buy a big melon, fish and fruit. Astonishingly, this is a free hostel with air conditioning and cold water! A few people are living and working here. I eat and then sleep all afternoon and evening. Only one other person here is going east like me - it's time to get out of Arabia.
24 July, Kuwait City
HAGGLING IN THE DOCKS FOR A DHOW - A SWIM
I feel good this morning after a shower and a crap. I pack my bags and go with Carlo and Phil to the docks in a taxi. Hans decides he wants to stay a few days longer. There is a rough road along the sea and this morning the beach looks dirty and not so cool and inviting as it did yesterday. It's all to do with the tide I think. What a hassle in the docks, the owners of the dhows (small cargo boats) do not speak much English. They are doing nothing and we establish that none are leaving for Abadan today. The first to go, we think, is one with four cars but it wants to charge 4 D minimum. We establish that there is a Canadian going with a car and a Frenchman, but we think it's a rip off. We hang around all morning - Hans joins us. The wind is up a little today and the boats don't want to go. I find a man and a boat who says he is going tomorrow and will charge 3 D. It's so hot - we drink and eat and bus back. I write postcards. Philip is learning Italian and Hans is sleeping and Carlo is wandering around in his white pants. In the bazaar the women are completely covered in black except for a slit for their eyes. In the late afternoon, four of us hitch to a small pleasant beach with thousands of black crabs, pretty shells and bits of coral. We didn't swim for long because small jelly fish were stinging.
25 July, Persian Gulf
CUSTOMS - THE PERSIAN GULF AND IRANI SAILORS
We manage to get up early and to the harbour just after 7:00 - the haggling starts all over again. I get really angry at several points - Hans and Carlo find a small boat for D 2.5 - we give them our passports and one of them stands around holding them casually - our boat captain comes along and takes me to the customs and want D 0.25 for stamping them all. I think he is trying to bribe the official for me - but it seems not. We bring our bags around, pay the money and settle on the boat. I am very pessimistic about it really going today - there is no cargo on the boat. We buy food, and we play cards until the tide comes in. I swim a little in the harbour; and then, wow, the boats begin to move. But then they wait again for hours - and again I am worried about our passports which haven't yet been returned. At about 3:00, a police boat, with officials sitting cross-legged on the deck, come out to give us our passports back. Finally, we - and a whole group of other dhows - are Persian Gulf bound. The boat with the cars leaves just before us. The sailors on our boat seem very friendly, they give us fish and rice. We are all happy to be at sea. (The toilet is a metal bucket with a hole roped onto the back of the boat.) I am sitting at the fore as the sun goes down with three Iranians around me - it is pleasant, warm - we eat water melon. Later we anchor and then everybody passes out.
26 July, Tigris
SMUGGLING, SHOWERS AND HAPPINESS AS WE MOTOR UP THE TIGRIS
After 12, my boat begins to move off, but I am onshore so I have to clamber across several moored dhows and swim - I am happy to be in the water, because I've been sweating so much. Once on board, though, the sailors tell me there are sharks in the water. For breakfast we eat freshly made chapati. To make bread on board: roll dough into balls an inch or so in radius - slowly flatten them out with your thumbs and then quickly roll them around your arms from one to the other till they are very flat and thin - cook, on a piece of concave metal supported above a hot fire, on each side for one minute or until spotty brown. Normally, in a bakery, the flat dough is slapped onto the roof of stone ovens. The sailors ask us to hide clothes in our packs while they themselves wear several pairs of new jeans and jackets - this is to get them past the customs. The boats dawdle all morning at the entrance to the estuary with the other dhows, occasionally the police come and search the boat. At one point they take some things away in a sealed sack - I think it's mainly shoes.
Now it is middle afternoon - the sun is beating down on my white body - I sit on the cabin roof as we motor up the Tigris river. We are nearest the Iran side of the river and there are endless orchards of palm trees and wide irrigation channels - grass or some crop grows on the mud banks. I see a few big tankers. We are still motoring in a group with many dhows - the sailors occasionally shout at each other and pass water melons across to each other. It is so peaceful cruising up the Tigris, only a purring engine and a little swishing of water - the palms are beautiful - the red, green and white Iran flag now flies from all the dhows.
Around dusk we stop for more police - this doesn't take long but, after, all the dhows start racing each other. Then there's a collision. The bows of two boats are slightly damaged - but, because one of them didn't cut its engines quick enough, it pushed the other around and into a third boat, the one owned by the man we call the moneymaker (he's the one transporting the vehicles and charging the highest prices). This didn't hurt the boat, but has seriously damaged some of the vehicles it's carrying. On our ship, everyone is laughing! While we wait for the other dhow owners to sort this out, we take showers in the refreshing river water and play solo whist. When the sun disappears, the many lights of the Abadan refinery are visible. The whole line of the river is now moored with fishing vessels and tankers. Finally, we reach Khorramshahr where our passports are stamped - but we are not free to leave till tomorrow when our baggage will be checked. So, for a second night, we sleep on board the dhow.
27 July, Behbehan
IRAN - GOODBYE TO FRIENDS - IRANI DESERT
Saturday. By 7:00 we are free - though the owners of the damaged cars are going to be delayed for a long time yet. The four of us walk out of the port and head for a bank. We take a taxi to the town centre, but then have to ask the driver to wait, since we have no local currency. The bank won't change Carlo and Phil's travellers cheques (because their passport signatures don't match). By the time we get back, the taxi driver has gone. But then he returns very very irate. A loud argument follows - many locals join in - eventually he agrees to take 50 rhials (for a 20 rhial ride). Later, we find a nice taxi driver who takes us to the Abadan post office for 20 rhials. We walk around, drink melon juice and eat Irani: rice with sauce, beans, spinach, potatoes, lumps of sheep meat with cucumber, tomato and onion salad in a vinegary sauce, and very thin bread. Tasty and filling. Bruno has joined us. He and Phil decide to hitch to Esfahan and then through south Iran to Pakistan. Carlo and Hans will take the bus to Esfahan, leave their stuff there and then travel in a circle around south Iran. Me, I decide to hitch to Shiraz (since there is no bus until morning). It is 44 degrees. I take a shower and say goodbye again.
So far the town seems pleasant, with wide roads, plenty of roundabouts and greenery. The shops are fairly clean and interesting - some girls wear Western clothes. After half an hour, a lorry picks me up, but it's uncomfortable because there are three others in the cabin already; and the driver wants money. At one point they stop to sleep but, when I say I'll carry on hitching, they decide to drive on too. They carry ice cool water in a large thermos. The land is very flat and desert-like with several oil pipelines wriggling along the side of the road. After a couple of hours we enter a landscape that looks a little like that at Goreme, but is still very dry and arid. The driver stops to wash and pray - we all eat water melon. I am a donkey, they make fun of me, I don't mind. They drop me in Behbehan. After some hassle, I find a place to sleep on a roof for 20 rhials. An Irani tourist befriends me - buys me ice cream, bread and sausage.
28 July, Shiraz
A BUS THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS - A SHRINE IN SHIRAZ
I stand around for ages hitching but people are very slow and much less forthcoming about their inquisitiveness than they were in the arab countries. At 8:00, I return to the TBT office and, for 200 rhials, take a small bus to Shiraz. It is fairly comfortable, and, though the bus is jam packed, I am glad to have taken it. I sleep for most of the journey. Occasionally, one of the men bursts into a long drawling song, probably a religious one. One guy who is quite friendly buys me an ice cream. There is a very popular ice cream, here, like iced noodles - white and thin with lemon juice - some shops sell only this. One place we stop is very pleasant with a fast bubbling river and trees everywhere. Everybody eats, I am contented. The road goes through fertile plains and more rocky mountainous areas.
I have a map and walk and bus to the camping but they want 40 rhials just to sleep on the grass. I am very stubborn - a scooter takes me back into town and I walk and walk and walk - 400 rhials here, no room there. A young guy finds me a place for 50 rhials but I decide to go back to the camping. The taxis are very cheap, five rhials to anywhere. It's a nice place, lots of set-up tents, a swimming pool, trees and grass. I walk back to town along the main street to find a place to eat - really nice spinach and rice, the same sort of thing as before. There are many neon lights and lots of Western products, especially jeans. People sell walnuts, grapes, melons and bananas in the street mostly - I walk through what I think are the arches to a mosque and there are hundreds of people sleeping and sitting around. There are two shrines, they seem very holy - people walk in kissing the door and walk all around the shrine feeling it and kissing it. There is an old man reading from the Koran - the place is incredible, it is a mosaic of mirrors, tiny pieces of mirror on the walls and ceiling - some parts are like honeycombs making fantastic patterns - it is dazzling. The floor is marble. It seems like a small Mecca I have never seen anything like it - I am awed. I look for a chai shop or ice cream place but they are all closed. Before sleeping, I write a birthday letter to Gwenda.
29 July, Shiraz
TOMBS, GARDENS AND MOSQUES
First thing, I walk a mile to the Saadi Tomb - a beautiful garden, though the pools were empty - lovely hand painted tiles - but basically a 10 rhial rip off. Saadi was a very famous poet. Next, a long walk to the Hafez Tomb, again the same thing. A porch with columns and tiles and a box of plaster with some unintelligible scrawlings. It's getting hot. I walk down through the covered bazaar built by Zand and along to the main street. I buy a paper in English - Turkey still disputing over Cyprus, farmers causing trouble in France, Heath edged ahead in popularity. Then I walk around two mosques, again some lovely tile work, but nothing startling - the mosques are different to the Arab and Turkish ones - the courtyards are large but only small areas with a few carpets are used for worship. I visit the shrine again. Grapes, cheese and bread for lunch back at the camping place.
Nearly all the women are dressed in very thin black cloth with flowers, some in greyer lighter cloth, even the girls of 10 or 11 - they talk and laugh and quarrel just like the men. I laze the afternoon away reading science fiction stories by Robert Heinlein, watching people swim, and writing a letter or two. I go by tractor to town in the evening. A young boy latches onto me - he shows me an interesting part of the bazaar - silver work and handicrafts, then he takes me to the Vakil mosque and, although it is dark, I can that is the most beautiful mosque here in Shiraz - lovely tiles everywhere - and curly wurly columns. He rips me off a sandwich - the Iranis are not a touch on the arabs.
30 July, Esfahan
PERSEPOLIS MORNING - ESFAHAN EVENING
As the sun is rising I take a taxi to the centre and wait for a bus to Persepolis; but I am in the wrong place. I walk a mile and then hitch - no sweat, a student bus picks me up and then some Germans take me to Persepolis - the ruins of an ancient Achaemenian city from the 2nd century BC. Apparently it was a show city and only lived in on occasions. There are huge doorways of stones with stone carvings of lions - statues of double-headed horses. Columns of stone many crumbling but some restored - all over one metre thick. Mud banks signify the lay out of all the rooms. In the mountain to the east is a tomb, the rock has been hewn right out - there is a small entrance, above which is a carving on the rock face of the maker being carried by 28 people and looking at fire. A couple of really big halls, which would have had vast wooden rooves, are indicated by the hundred or so columns. I think the most beautiful things here are the two grey staircases leading to the Palace of Darius and the Palace of Xerxes - the fine carving of Persian soldiers and officers and people bringing gifts and trees, beautiful trees - to think someone patiently carved these designs some 2,000 years ago! Most of the people have their beards and hair carved with whirls.
I don't go to the museum for 20 rhials, or the tent city; instead, by 9:30, I am on the road again. A nice man gives me a melon but I have a long wait for a lift. Late morning, a fast Mercedes butter van pulls up. The driver takes me to Esfahan for 100 rhials - mostly through vast plains with mountains all around - small villages and mud huts - many groves of fruit and veg with long mud walls surrounding them. Also, I see many weird and wonderful mud-shaped buildings, mostly in ruins, but some large complexes. The mountains are beautiful and, at one point, make me think of the moon. Nearer Esfahan, we come across a river which cut through soft rock. Here are huge fields and many people, and half the town seems to be cut out of the rock too -I really couldn't tell where the rock stops and the houses starts. Abedeh and Sheraza are the two biggest towns we pass - both have long avenues with trees and green roundabouts with statues and fountains. Sheraza seems to be a brick-making centre - many kinds of bricks stacked up, and lovely pottery being sold on the street - all the shops had there window frames painted purple. Esfahan lies in a huge green plain. I walk a long way looking for a hotel but end up at the youth hostel/camping for 40 rhials. I spend the evening talking to an Aussie, though most of the people here are rich Germans travelling in vans.
31 July, Esfahan
ESFAHAN BAZAAR - A GREGORIAN CHURCH
First thing a thorough wash of me and clothes. I wander into town to Maiden-a-Shah, a large square of grass and trees surrounded by modern looking shops (metal workers and pottery and handcrafts). The Bazaar is at one end, and, at the other, the Masjid-a-Shah, a huge mosque of tiles and some mosaic work. The lay-out is beautiful; there are two Iranis sitting underneath the main dome and singing their hearts out. If you make a sharp sound in the centre, there are supposed to be seven echoes. Much arabic writing on the tiles - plus patterns and flowers, dark blue and yellow always being the most prominent colours. To one side of the square is the Masjed-e- Sheykh Lotfollah - a small mosque built exclusively for the Safavid royal family - beautiful tiling again - the domes are so nice - the pattern that circles the lower point of the dome repeats towards the centre and gets smaller, and then in the centre is a very fine pattern of a different nature.
In the bazaar: magnificent carpets, beautiful silver and copper work, and some very lovely miniature paintings on small pots and wood and paper-mache boxes. I am ripped off 25 rhials for bread kebab and tomatoes. I read a paper in the tourist office and pick up a map of Tehran. I sleep in a park by the bridge of 33 arches. The river is low but running freely among the rushes and grasses - some people swim. A long walk to the most fabulous Gregorian church in the Achaemenian section of the city Julfa-Shah - Abbas the Great brought the Christians to Esfahan and told them to build churches. All that remains of this one is the centre room and altar, but it is fabulous. These walls are covered in oil paintings of Christ's life, of Old Testament stories and the life of St Gregory - really beautiful paintings, all in order around the church. I read for a while in the library - National Geographic Magazine about Damascus. Taxi to the Khaji bridge - Shah Abbas the second, many arches providing shade again. A walk and taxi to the Friday mosque and bazaar around. The mosque is in rubble but there are various periods of Islamic architecture to be seen. I walk back to the campsite along a hot dusty road. I buy bread, cheese, cake and melon to eat. Carlo arrives - he and Hans have been staying three nights in a 100 rhials hotel but they had a few things stolen. Poor old Carlo has been ill all day - he saw Peter in town and also Phil and Bruno.
Paul K Lyons
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