THE FAR HORIZONS
CHAPTER THREE: DESERT ROADS OF PERSIA
There was one more place to see before we left Jordan and that was the lost city of Petra, carved out of a valley of rose- red rock hidden in the desert. We had barely got clear of Jerusalem before the blue bus was broken down again, and by now the general theory was that the timing chain was responsible for most of our troubles. However, this time we had company for the red bus choose to break down also, less than a kilometer further down the road, with oil spurting out of her engine.
For a while we played a happy game of musical buses, shifting ourselves and our gear first into one and then into the other as each in turn was optimistically declared nearly fit to go on, and all in all it took us two muddled days to get there.
We camped overnight where the road ended, and before dawn George and I were walking down the last mile of the wide, desert valley that leads into Petra. The moon was out and the sky dripped brilliantly with stars, and gradually the valley dwindled into a tightening fissure between towering walls of sheer rock. At one point it seemed as though the walls were going to close high above us, and in the slit of sky that remained visible the moon floated in serene calm directly over our heads. We had left most of the Overlanders still sleeping around the two buses, and the night was very quiet. Our feet were almost silent on the soft sand.
Abruptly there was a high, wriggling gash in the rock walls ahead, and the fissure opened out into the Petra valley.
Immediately before us was another wall of cliff, and carved out from the rock face was the columned facade and entrance to the Treasury. Behind the columned entrance was a huge square cavern hewn out of the heart of the rock with smaller chambers cut on either site. To the right of the Treasury the valley opened wide again and everywhere the high sandstone cliffs were scored and honey-combed with cave-like entrances to temples and tombs and houses. By now it was almost daylight and the rock was taking on its famous, soft rose-petal red colour.
Petra was the stronghold and treasure city of the Nabataean Arabs, and was a crossroads of the ancient trade and caravan routes from Palmyra, Gaza, Egypt and the Persian Gulf. It was at the height of its glory in the last centuries before Christ, but decayed when Palmyra rose and vanished from memory for over five hundred years. Then it was rediscovered by the Swiss explorer Burckhardt in 1812. It is silent and deserted now, except for tourists and their Arab guides, another ghost city of the past like Karnak, Baalbek and Jerash.
We spent the rest of the morning in exploring the valley. There was a large but crude amphitheatre cut out of the cliff-side, and traces of a Roman road, for here too the Romans had passed in conquest. Where the valley widened out it became a jumble of rugged hills and twisting, dry, white-stoned river beds, scattered with great slabs of rock, and by climbing the cliffs we gained wide overall views. The colour patterns were a rich variety of reds, gold, brown and bronze, all baked under a searing blue sky. It was almost unbelievable the amount of colour shades that nature could weave through the raw materials of rock and sand. We entered many of the larger temples, again with entrance columns and lintels carved out of the cliff face, and we spent over an hour in searching for a monastery which we were told was a must. The monastery was situated at the far end of a steep gorge, but unfortunately the gorge split into two forks and George and I climbed up through the wrong one.
By the time we returned the sun was roasting the Petra valley into an oven and it was time to make the long, dusty walk back to the buses. We had to pass the Treasury again and in the full sunlight the columns were a flushed and polished, rosy red.
From Petra we drove east through the desert. At dusk we passed through Amman, the new capital of Jordan, and although we did not stop my impression was that we were not missing much. Amman was just an untidy sprawl of concrete buildings filling up a black bowl in the hills beneath a darkening, pink-washed sky. All through the next day the landscape was dreary and monotonous; at first it was a stony desert of black rocks, like a nuclear-devastated plate of ugly cinders, and then it became hard brown dirt, depressingly flat as far as the eye could see.
At noon we reached the oil pumping station H4 which marks the Jordanian frontier with Iraq. Here there was an exasperating two hour delay while all the details from all our passports were painfully copied out into at least eight different huge ledgers, and then we crossed to the Iraqi side for a repeat performance. Finally we were allowed to drive on through the unchanging desert, and by nightfall we came to pumping station H3, marked by some silver oil tanks and a drab army barracks.
Here there was another inspection point, and we were to find many more of them throughout Iraq. It seemed that any stupid oaf of a soldier was empowered to stop our buses and dutifully turn the pages of all our passports, and although it was obvious that none of them could read they eagerly waved us down at every opportunity to exercise this divine right. Usually they came aboard the bus in pairs, one holding a rifle and the other checking the passports, quite often holding them upside down until the photograph was reached. Also they would have a little clipboard of papers on which we were supposed to fill in our names, addresses, occupations, ectcetera. We soon tired of these and scribbled anything that took our fancy in the columns. On one occasion the list showed that we had five James Bonds aboard, and on another we were described as Show White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was all a pestering nuisance, but as long as there was something written down the soldiers would solemnly pretend to read it, smile approvingly, and then allow us to continue on our way.
We made desert camp after leaving H3 and the next morning crossed the first loop of the Euphrates, a broad silver flow that was quite unexpected in the arid landscape. The country immediately became greener with large, dusty palm groves, dotted with rough brown buildings. There was a small town and then we crossed the river for the second time, and by mid- afternoon we were crossing the Tigris to enter Baghdad. Here we stopped for two days, staying at a small hotel where Roger and Janet haggled with the management to agree upon a rate of four shillings per head for the privilege of sleeping out on the flat roof. It was cooler up there, and as we all had our sleeping bags and camp beds it would have been a waste of money to take rooms.
The centre of Baghdad revolves around Tahrir Square. The word means Freedom Square and all Arab cities seem to have one, although freedom from what is rather vague. This one was dominated by a massive monument of modern art, rather like great raised stone hoarding with black iron figures on the white background. It was quite impressive and in Paris or Copenhagen it would have looked grand, but here in Baghdad it ruined all my preconceptions of what an ancient desert city should look like and I disliked it intensely. In fact, for me Baghdad was mostly a sense of uncertain disappointment. I hadn't expected to find the Arabian Nights in full swing, but I had looked forward to something a little more rewarding than just another drab Arab city. There were two forbidden mosques, gold-domed and reputably very beautiful, but they were so forbidden that we could not go anywhere near them, and Baghdad had little else to offer. The Caliphs and their harems had all faded into the past, and it seemed that even the thieves had stopped stealing. I felt cheated by the dull, modern atmosphere, which was no atmosphere at all.
By night the city improved, for the lights made a riot of colour in flowing Arab script. The area behind Tahrir Square had become alive with bustle and gossip and the streets were jammed with a host of tiny stalls and barrows that had appeared out of nowhere. Arab vendors were selling sticky cakes, steaming meats and stews, sweets, pomegranate, melons, yellow dates, grapes and green oranges. Others sold cigarettes, socks, old clothes, knic-knacs and all the bric-a-brac of the market place.
Flickering paraffin lamps cast moving shadows over the dark, passing faces, and there was a whole range of mysterious and exciting smells. Here was the timeless eastern flavour that I sought, and the police patrolling in pairs with holstered guns and vicious two-foot lengths of steel piping as makeshift truncheons helped to add the spice of possible danger.
Our stay in Baghdad ended in more confusion. The blue bus needed another operation to define why it was incapable of starting without either a push or a tow, and also there was some grave doubt as to whether we would be allowed to cross the next frontier into Persia. There had been a cholera scare in Baghdad shortly before we arrived, and nobody seemed to know for sure whether the border was open, (least of all the Persian and Iraqi authorities!) There was talk of a five-day quarantine delay, but the only way to find out what was happening was to drive on to the border and see. Finally the blue bus went into a garage and the red bus ran the bulk of the party up to the border at Khanaquin in two trips. We were stranded there at the Iraq customs post for the next six days while Janet and Roger flew vainly up and down in the red bus in an effort to find out what was happening from the abysmally stupid authorities on either side. The border was closed but no one could tell us why or for how long, but while we had to wait for the blue bus to be repaired we were immobile anyway.
The customs post was simply two fort-like buildings standing side by side in the otherwise empty desert, with the actual frontier, which we never saw, a mile further on through the yellow hills. There was a large square compound where we made ourselves comfortable. It was roughly a sixty-foot square, faced by small rooms and offices that formed the four sides, and containing one small tree, two small bushes and a water tap. There was also a small watchtower in one corner complete with sandbags and pockmarked bullet holes that looked out over the arid sand. We were told that the Kurd tribesmen who roam these parts were hostile and warned not to sleep up on the roof in case they sneaked out of the desert to take shots at us. However, the compound stank of drains and most of us preferred to risk the Kurds.
The next morning Janet and Roger went up to the Persian frontier post again to enquire as to when it would be opened. They were given the cholera story once more and it was suggested that they telephone the local doctor. He had told them to contact his superior in Baghdad, who had told them to try the World Health Organization, who had suggested the local doctor again.
On the second time round the local doctor had recommended that they ask the Persian Embassy who had referred them back to the World Health Organization. The situation was unchanged, and as we were obviously in for a long stay we decided to do something about those awful drains.
We borrowed some shovels and dug out the drainage channel from the water tap to the drain itself, and shifted the foul- smelling mud a healthy distance away from the fort with a chain of fire buckets. Then we sloshed down plenty of diesel and added a burning match. The resulting wall of flames was very impressive and satisfied us that any remaining germ life must surely be destroyed. We refilled the channel and drain with fresh stones and gravel to complete the job. Meanwhile the girls had busily picked up and burned all the scattered litter that filled the place, shooed out a pack of mystified dogs, and then swept out the recess under the stairway to the roof where they set up a primus stove and kitchen. These combined operations were watched with blank bewilderment by the resident customs officers and soldiers. The drain had probably stunk for centuries and they just couldn't understand these mad Englishmen who suddenly rushed in to dig up the place.
The days that followed were spent in lazing around and waiting. The only interruptions were daily trips back up the road to Khanaquln to buy supplies, and once a special visit from a member of the Persian Embassy in Baghdad. All that gentleman could tell us was that they wouldn't let him through either, which wasn't much help.
We were rather like foraging P. O.W. s in our attempts to make ourselves at home. Nearby there were two new houses being built for the customs officers, and Derek returned from a tour of inspection in that area with a newly-acquired shower-head. A broom handle and a length of hose were found and lashed up- right to the compound tap, and behold we had a shower. A tent made a makeshift curtain but unfortunately we found that we were flooding the compound, and the girls unfairly objected that the men could look down behind the curtain from the top of the compound walls. A toilet was the next project, but that too was abandoned when the girls unanimously decided that they preferred to risk going out into the desert at night. Rape by hairy Kurd warriors was no doubt a better proposition than being trapped in a collapsing tent toilet. We wished them luck and went to play an improvised game of cricket, and later I immortalized the whole story in deathless poetry.
THERE'S A LITTLE DESERT FORTRESS
ON THE FRONTIER WITH IRAN.
Full of stranded Overlanders
With their cans of stew and spam.
They have occupied the compound
Like a swarm of refugees.
And hung their flags of washing
From the one and only tree.
They do not even give a damn
For the Kurds out on the plains.
And they've frightened all the natives,
By digging up the drains.
They've even rigged a shower up
Which terrifies them more.
A dreadful white man’s totem pole
(What else could it be for)
They tried to add a toilet too
Such a selfish congregation.
When there's miles and miles of sand outside
In need of irrigation.
They really are the strangest lot
The border’s seen by far.
But then, of course, they‘re English,
And the English always are!
After six wasted days we finally had to accept that we would not be allowed through the border at this point, and with the red bus running a shuttle service again we all returned to Baghdad. The blue bus was still on the sick list, but after another day of delay we had both buses on the road again and started driving south to Basra where we hoped we would be able to enter Persia. The position there was as uncertain as Khanaquin had been, but as nobody could tell us anything definite the only course was to drive down and find out. The Iraq authorities were so hopelessly incompetent that they couldn't even tell us whether there was a bridge to cross the Euphrates at Basra, and by now the whole thing was getting beyond a joke.
Our first attempt took us ten miles, which included two more of those ridiculous inspection stops, and then the blue bus had yet another breakdown and we had to turn back to the garage in Baghdad. The soldiers who had stopped us to peer at out passports and demand that we fill in their silly questionnaires stopped us again at each roadblock and demanded a repeat performance but we drove them off with massed howls of protest. Nobody had any patience anymore.
Back at the garage another conference was held and it was decided to shift all the luggage into the blue bus, and all the passengers with just sleeping bags and necessary hand luggage into the red bus. Janet and Roger and a few volunteers stayed with the blue bus and the rest of us drove on in the red bus to Basra. It was in fact the last that we ever saw of our long suffering blue and yellow bus. The cylinder block was cracked and as far as I know it still sits in that garage in Baghdad.
The party had now shrunk a little, apart from Janet's volunteers, for Phil, George and Malcom had already hitched south to try and get through Kuwait, and three of the girls had decided to quit the trip altogether. Even so the red bus was still overcrowded as we drove down to Basra in the general direction of the Persian Gulf. We were following the parallel courses of the Euphrates and the Tigris, which merged together at Basra, and the road passed through many palm groves and mud villages. When we came to the river crossing on the second day we found that mercifully there was a bridge, although it was only a pontoon affair built across a line of floating steel barges. The bus lurched across slowly in low gear while all the passengers had to walk behind.
When we drove into Basra we promptly got lost, and saw most of this sprawling Arab city as we drove round and round in circles trying to find our way. It was a maze of crowded mud streets with open-fronted cafes and cluttered shops. The people were like Arabs everywhere, noisy with dark brown faces and staring eyes. The men wore a mixture of shabby European clothes or djellabah robes and sat in great numbers in the cafes to sip tea or smoke hashish through their hubble-bubble pipes; while the women were the invisible black-shrouded figures who would look curiously as we passed but never dared to speak. The side streets were bare dirt with a drainage ditch running down the centre, where grubby children played in bare feet and frequently no trousers.
We finally found the river again, and a bridge that led to an island park in the centre where we were able to camp for the night. The next morning we crossed the other half of the bridge and soon ran out of the town and the palm groves on the other side. There were no road signs, just a faint track across flat hard desert, but eventually we found the border. We got through the Iraq frontier post after the usual muddled delay, but again there was no recognizable road to follow We just kept going hopefully across the desert. After another two miles we found the Persian frontier post, which consisted of two officious brick buildings, a shanty town of white tents, and a large white caravan that bore the depressing words, Iran Quarantine Service.
Gloom descended upon the coach, but we cheered up when we found that the quarantine delay was only for one day. We parked the bus and made the best of it by rigging up a canopy of tents to protect ourselves from the fierce heat of the sun. The whole thing balanced on a veritable forest of poles and ropes, which repeatedly blew down in the hot, gusty winds. We were sweating well by the time we had finished hammering pegs into the iron- hard ground, and our particular section of the desert looked like a movie set from The Flight of The Phoenix. Meanwhile the girls, in true and undefeatable British tradition, had made tea.
A doctor arrived in the middle of the afternoon and we all trooped over to the quarantine van for a bend down smear test that would decide whether anyone had cholera. There were a number of imaginable jokes and wise-cracks, but the best came from Derek who remarked that the girls had all been done with no hands. The results of the test were fortunately all negative and when they were known twenty-four hours later we were all allowed to travel on into Persia.
We drove north east all through the following day, and although we had all the doors and windows open the only draught was a rush of scorching air. The road crossed dreary desert with nothing but a few thorn bushes and a line of orange-painted telegraph poles to break the monotony. Towards evening the terrain became more rugged with rising hills and cliffs of red sand, and when we stopped to camp for the night we were close to a shallow river running through a rocky ravine. A large group of us climbed down to go moonlight swimming, which can be thoroughly recommended to any dusty travellers after the heat of a Persian day.
That night it rained for the first time in weeks, catching everybody out in the open. I rolled my airbed and sleeping bag underneath the bus and went to sleep again, and when I awoke at about six o'clock the next morning I opened my eyes to the most fantastic sight of the whole trip. A line of camels were plodding past about twelve yards away, and behind them a whole race of nomadic tribe people were on the move. They formed a slowly moving river of humanity that sprang from a pass in the brown mountains to the north, and drove before them their cattle and vast flocks of sheep and goats. Most of them were mounted on horses or donkeys, and led more pack animals loaded up with baskets and clumsy blanket or carpet-wrapped bundles containing all their few possessions. Chickens squatted precariously on top of all the loads, and rangy dogs ran in and out of the shuffling hooves.
We were watching the annual migration of the Luur tribes coming down from the mountains of central Persia to spend the coming winter on the hot plains to the south. They came in seemingly endless waves, a cheerful looking people, ragged but smiling and upright. The men were dark and slight of build, mostly garbed in long eastern cloaks and skull caps, while the women were thickly swathed in colourful dresses and long turbans wound about the heads. Some of the women were mounted and some on foot, but most of them had a small baby slung Indian-squaw fashion across their backs. The older children were all armed with sticks and did most of the work in chasing after the straying livestock. Their shifting lifestyle probably meant that they had very little in material things, but they smiled as though their cares were just as few. It took well over an hour before the last of the stragglers went past, and then when we started to drive away we saw yet another long column beginning to wind down from the same cut in the mountains.
Apart from that, and a hike over to the ravine where Stan and I went to fill a jerry-can with water for the engine and caught a bunch of the girls romping in the nude, it proved a dull day. We were driving up into the mountains and the skies became grey and drizzly, almost like dear old England. Once we even saw a faint glimpse of snow on one of the far peaks.
That night it was really cold and a whole crowd of us choose to sleep inside the bus. The lights went out but almost immediately there was a yelp and a crash as one of the girls fell out of a camp bed she had balanced across the engine. The first dramatic reports from up front claimed that she had broken a leg, which was then modified to a broken ankle. Either way a nurse was needed and although we had several nurses on the trip the most willing of them all was Nuree, the little Pakistani girl to whom everybody turned when in trouble. Naturally Nuree was sleeping right at the back or the bus and had to climb over everybody to reach the patient. There she scornfully treated a merely dislocated toe.
Nothing exciting happened the next day except that the silencer fell off and half a dozen of us went chasing camels across the desert while John and Jim made repairs. When the silencer fell off for the second time they ignored it and we continued with a roaring clatter that must have been heard all over Persia. The mountains were closer now and the rock formations showed some beautiful coloring, pale green, purple, red and fiery yellow. Then late in the afternoon we reached Isfahan.
Here we stayed for three days to see the famous blue mosques, and incidentally to wait for the blue bus that never came. We used another hotel but this time there was no flat roof and we camped in the garden. There were showers at the hotel and it was difficult to recognize some of the strangely clean and dustless Overlanders who emerged.
Isfahan was one of the great cities of Asia, and once capital of Persia before that honour was transferred to Tehran in the north. The centre of the city is the spacious Kings Square, with the beautiful blue-domed kings Mosque at the south end and the equally splendid golden-domed Mosque of Sheikh Lutfullah on the east side. Both buildings, their domes, gateways and minarets, are tiled in blue, pale green and gold mosaic, and are listed among the present marvels of the world. They represent the finest of Islamic architecture. In the square itself the Kings of Persia once watched lions, bulls, rams, and jousting noblemen fighting to the death from the balcony of the Ali Qapu Palace on the west side, but now the centre of the square is a quiet, cool lake that merely reflects the beauty of the mosques.
There is also a Theological School, built in the form of a mosque with yet another superb blue dome and tall, blue-tiled minarets. Inside a long pool of still water ran the full length of the tree-shaded courtyard. These are but the three main mosques and there are many more tucked away in odd corners of this fascinating city, some dating back a thousand years.
Isfahan’s second source of fascination lay in the vast maze of the bazaars, and here it was possible to wander and wonder for hours on end. The city was especially famous for its fine silver, but in the little side-alley shops the local craftsmen could be watched working at anything, from tapestry, wood, copper, brass or gold. The covered streets throbbed with colour and movement and from the back of the shops came the endless music of tapping hammers and sharp steel chisels that cut and shaped and carved.
We found the dye market down a narrow alleyway where a large camel was harnessed to a massive concrete grinding wheel. The camel was blindfold with heavy leather pads over its eyes, and pulled on a heavy wooden bar that passed through the centre of the grinding wheel. A short chain lashed to its neck turned the ugly head permanently in to the right so that the poor brute has no choice but to plod round endlessly in slow, right- hand circles. Beneath the wheel yellow coloured rocks were crushed into powder to make the dye, and the workers there looked more like Chinamen than Arabs with their dust-yellowed skins. Deeper inside the gloomy workshops was another camel chained to another wheel, but here it was red-coloured rock that was being ground into powder.
We also watched the skeins of wool being dipped into vats of steaming dye, and then we were taken up on to the brown mud rooftops where the skeins were hung out to dry over wooden frameworks. The roofs were a vivid picture of red, green, black and yellow wool, all draped in hanging coils like multi-coloured fishing nets. At intervals the flat expanse of the rooftops would be broken by rows of brown domes with circular holes in the top, and when we looked down inside we found that we were looking down into the crowded bazaar streets again.
Our next stop was in a sugar factory where we watched the sugar being melted down into a liquid and then poured into cones which were then placed into a fast-spinning machine to cool and harden. The end result was solid cones of an extra sweet sort of candy sugar.
From there we went on to watch coppersmiths at work, tinsmiths, and carpenters and weavers. We were being led by Veronica, who in the short space of her first day had managed to make friends in practically every little workshop in Isfahan and I don’t think she missed a single aspect of the local industry. How she ever managed to find her way back into all those hidden corners for the second time I can't quite imagine, but she gave us a more all-embracing tour than any professional guide.
Down yet another alleyway, through a dusty courtyard, and up a twisting flight of rickety stairs she led us to a small printing factory she had discovered. Here some of the profusion of brightly decorated tablecloths which we had seen in the bazaars were being simply and effectively printed with rubber stamps. The cloths were passed around a circle of low tables, and at each table a squatting workman carefully inked his stamp with the appropriate colour and stamped in his own section of the finished design. Some of the rubber stamps were quite large and they all needed a sharp, rhythmic smack of the fist to ensure that the design printed clearly. The printers were all brisk and well-practiced, and we decided that this must be where all the post office and customs officials went when they were pensioned off.
Nearby, just a couple of balconies away, we were invited into another small shop to watch miniature pictures being hand-painted on to white strips of camel bone. The bone had first been powdered, and then solidified again into the flat, smooth strips. The finished paintings were then framed against blue or green silk, and were both beautiful and expensive.
After three days of exploring the bazaars and the mosques we finally heard that our old blue bus was not going to appear. Some of Janet’s volunteers hitched in with the news, and we learned that Roger had stayed with the bus in Baghdad, and that Janet and the rest had travelled up to Tehran with all of our luggage strapped on to the roof of a local bus. So we all clambered aboard the red bus again and drove north to Tehran. When we arrived we found that the luggage had already been sent on ahead to Meshed, the last Persian city before the Afghan border.
Tehran failed to compare with Isfahan, despite an impressive backcloth of snow-capped mountains which looked deceptively as though they must begin at the very end of the main north- bound streets. Persia’s new capital was too modern and westernized, and even the dark rabbit warren of the bazaars was rather like a vast underground Woolworths. There was colour and life in plenty, but the goods on sale were all vacuum flanks, electrical fittings, pressure cookers, and hideously familiar objects of tin and plastic. However, we only spent half a day there, so perhaps my impressions were too fleeting, and in fairness I must say that the city looked far more attractive when we drove out at night. The streets were massed with people and flooded with flickering neon. We had arrived only a few days after the Shah’s birthday, so there were extra lights decorating all the squares and public buildings, flags were draped everywhere and the city still had a festive, Christmas glow.
Our route now led across the top of the Great Salt Desert and it was the worst road yet, just a wide dirt track of parallel ruts where it seemed that the bus must surely rattle itself to pieces. We kept going until midnight and it was exciting night driving. The dust clouds swirled into a dense grey fog that filled the twin beam of our headlights, and twice we found that the road was washed away and the bus had to lurch axle-deep through running streams that crossed our path. When at last we stopped to make camp we were in a flat moonlit valley between two threatening mountain ranges, but though it was all coldly beautiful we were much too tired to show any appreciation.
For the next three days we travelled across that bone-jarring, unmade road to Meshed, and it failed to improve until the last hundred mile stretch. On the way the bus broke one of its springs, the exhaust which had been repaired in Isfahan broke off again, two windows were shattered and shaken out by the constant rattling and we had to change one wheel. The passengers were all smothered by dust and fumes, and although morale remained remarkably high I began to have grave doubts about our combined sanity. We were all glad to reach Meshed.
Here we were once again rejoined with Janet, her small group of helpers, and the main bulk of our long-lost luggage. We made an overnight camp south of Meshed, and here the party broke into two opposing groups. There was a bitter argument over whether the bus was fit to drive on into Afghanistan with its broken spring. Janet wanted to push on, and John and Jim were willing to continue driving, but the majority demanded a return to Meshed for repairs. Janet was stubborn and refused to even discuss the matter. She had had a lot of bad luck and lost a lot of money over the blue bus, and now it seemed that she simply wanted to shut her mind to any new problems.
Unfortunately Gerald, who led the opposition group, was demanding an instant decision. Gerald was the oldest member of the party and seemed to think that this gave him extra responsibility over us all, and at six o'clock in the morning he was rushing about in great agitation with a petition to support his views. Janet ignored him, and so then he resolved the whole argument by crawling underneath the bus with a pair of pliers to sabotage the brakes. It was an extreme and silly act, and it was done before any of us fully realized his intentions. However, once done it was done, and there was no alternative to a long delay while the bus was towed back to Meshed.
Janet and Jim promptly caught a lift back to Meshed with the ominous intentions of reporting this vandalism to the police and the British Consul, and Gerald was last seen chasing frantically after a lift back to Tehran to tell his side of the story to the British Embassy. Most of the party stayed with the stranded bus, but a few of us choose to push on under our own steam. I had been two months with the Overlanders, and although I was sorry to see the trip breaking up it was time to leave.