Second installment of stories about my travels in Iran in 1973, read on Shahrohk Nikfar's KYRS radio program “Persian Hour” in Spokane, Washington, on February 5. See parts (2) .
The road stretched ahead to the East as with the sun at our backs we headed into the country. The landscape looked like it had been arranged by an endless succession of earthquakes with huge boulders and jagged cliffs coming right to the edge of the road. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of a mud-brick village, most easily distinguished by the green of trees. Water flowed down the slopes through the dry land and was directed to the village to make life possible.
Our first stop was Maku, an Azeri town that along the road didn't appear to consist of much, but whose bulk of rock-cliff rose abruptly and seemed to hang over and dominate all around. The houses ascending up the cliff looked mysterious and intriguing to me, but Bernard had stopped only to fuel up and we were off once again.
I couldn't take my eyes off this amazing town in the mountainside and as I watched it fade in the distance, I dreamed of what lay beyond. In my mind the landscape just became more higher and wilder until the boulders grew to the size of mountains, the roads disappeared and gave way to camel tracks, populated by people who had never heard of Nixon or the Beatles.
Before I had left America in 1972 someone had told me that it was 1972 all over the world, but I was still looking for that unaffected place. This was my dream, to find people, as yet unaffected by modern times. Their dress, their music, and their stories still in a world whose recent memories included Genghiz, Timur, or maybe some more recent czarist adventurism. But the wildness of Azerbaijan dissolved in the west and the reminder if this world, the smooth road, carried me into what lay ahead.
A night in the desert under the stars was passing peacefully around the fire when we looked up to find ourselves surrounded by some tribesmen who were evidently camped near enough to see the glow of our flames. We were all a bit nervous for a while until we realized that they meant us no harm and were just curious about who could be out in such a barren place.
We had learned in Turkey to drive until after dark before camping for the night, but this time we must have stopped early and attracted unwanted attention. So after our visitors disappeared into the night we put out our fire, packed up and drove for awhile longer, went off the highway and slept for the night. We would spend another day of unhurried travel and another night out before approaching Tehran. I never really knew why we were going to this huge modern city but as it was, we found ourselves there and decided that we would stay until evening.
Since the truck was open and all of our belongings inside, someone always had to stay behind when the others took off. Even in the hustle-bustle of the city this truck full of travelers attracted a curious crowd. So, for whoever stayed , it was either a time of no rest or an endless source of entertainment.
I volunteered to take the first watch as the others went off to explore the city. Just as I was feeling hungry and a little tired of answering the usual questions, a young boy came to the side of the truck and asked to come aboard. I hauled him up and he looked around in amazement at how these strange modern nomads lived. He asked me something about food and eating and I thought he might be hungry. I told him that I had no food but when my friends returned there would be something to eat. He got this sad puzzled look on his face then rather quickly got down and ran off.
I lay back on the pillows and began to doze in the warm shade when someone began to pound on the side of the bed. I got up and looked over the side and there below was my young friend with a big plate of pilau with a lamb chop and some warm naan to eat it with. He handed it up to me and climbed aboard once again with a broad grin and asking me as I ate if it was good. It was very good and when I was finished I thanked him as well as I could and asked him how much I owed him. He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and took the empty plate and disappeared into the crowded street.
I would see him again on my explorations down the street looking for a hammam, some sort of public bath. He acted most excited to see me and dragged me into the restaurant that my meal came from to show me off to what I assumed was his father. I was then forced, without much resistance on my part, to sit and have a sweet and some tea while I explained with gestures and some universally understood words what my purpose was for being in Iran.
The proprietors biggest concern seemed to be my lack of a wife and I'm sure he could have solved that problem if he would have had the time. But it was getting late so I excused myself and made it back to the truck. I hadn't found the hot bath that I had been looking for but my hunger and thirst had been taken care of and once again no money was exchanged.
It seemed like it still took quite awhile for all the others to return to the truck and the sun had set by the time all the stories of the day were told and we were headed out of town. I rode up front as navigator, while Bernard negotiated the insane traffic. I had ridden with him coming out of Athens and all over Istanbul through narrow streets and over rickety bridges and had much faith in his skill as a driver. But having grown up driving in France, all over Europe and this far into Asia had not prepared him for the perils of Tehran traffic after dark. Traffic in the form of small cars, big trucks, motorbikes and a few horsecarts flew by in directions that seemed to have no bearing to the logical flow of traffic.
We were doing pretty well when going through a round-about we felt something hit our right side about mid-way back. Going slowly, I hung out the door to see a small car that seemed almost stuck part way under the bed. I yelled for Bernard to stop and we got out to assess the damage. The car wasn't really stuck and not badly damaged but happened to drive right into us. The two occupants of the car were out as Bernard and I looked the car over. These Iranian guys were getting all worked up about the slight damage and attracting quite a crowd while the traffic whizzed by, a blur of lights steel and horns.
The yelling went on building to what seemed like its crescendo only to build once again as the crowd swelled. Bernard and I almost became what seemed to be mere spectators to this melee when at the same second we caught eachothers eye, jumped back into the truck and drove off leaving lots of people in the street yelling and shaking their fists.
After that my job changed from reading the map to intercepting cars on suspicious trajectories moving toward the truck. We hadn't been driving for another ten minutes when we heard and felt another crash into my side just as before. As we kept moving I opened the door and stepped out onto the running board to have a look. I assessed the situation and reported back to Bernard. Nobody hurt, car is still running, better just keep going! >>> See Parts (2)