Istanbul to India by Bus
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Most of the next day was spent on hold, drinking tea, snoozing, washing under a hose, and playing backgammon. This was to be no 63 hour ride. It was clear: we were beginning an odyssey. Of our four-man Iranian crew, only one was capable of driving a bus. The Pirate would drive the rest of the trip alone, and we'd have no more all-night rides. Gene, who looked like a youthful Simon waiting to meet Garfunkel, and I, with a Maynard G. Krebs beard and my "I'm not a tourist, I live here" T-shirt, were the only Americans on board. Even with Gene's freshly-pressed degree in religious studies from Stanford and my strong-willed wanderlust, we felt pretty green compared to our (mostly third) worldly bus mates. Brits, Spaniards, Belgians, a Russian, an Iranian student, some Muslim women with children and a few others rounded out the gang.
After a ten hour stop, the bus was bolted back together, pushed off the median, and we continued our eastbound journey. Checking our progress, Gene and I stretched our Turkey-to-India overland map from the window over two seats to the aisle...and felt disheartened.
During the third night of our trip, the driver stopped and found us hotels (change "t" to "v"). We were somewhere in eastern Turkey. My bed sheet was a police line-up of hairs and body odors. When I complained about my dirty sheet to the hotel man he came up, apologized, and turned it over. Many of our busmates were downstairs in the bar. We didn't go in...loose stools.
We set our alarm for 7 am but before dawn we were awakened by the Pirate. Oops. Departure time was 5 a.m. He scolded us in Iranian all the way back to bus and virtually hurled me up the stairs by my hair. I managed a cheery "good morning" to my fellow passengers who had been waiting for nearly an hour.
As the road got worse, tea stops became longer and more frequent. It was clear that the Pirate was going to take his time. By mid-afternoon we stopped by a riverside. Our scar-faced leader stripped to his underpants and, with soap in hand, we went for a bath and swim. Like a wild kid he rolled in the sand and splashed back into the river. Then he urged everyone in, insisting, "No bath, no Tehran."
We were slow to catch on but soon all the men were floating down the refreshing river in their underwear. I washed myself and my dusty clothes. Long after we had drip-dried, the Pirate was still frolicking in the river.
As he finally got back to the bus I scored a point with the driver by offering him a piece of my honeydew melon. He said "Thank you very much. OK! ah-LAH! Hurry up!" and we were off. As we neared Iran our Pirate seemed to feel the gravity of his homeland. He ran a tighter ship and we made good time.
The border crossing was uneventful. By 10 pm we were barreling into Tabriz, just in time to witness the armored riot squads bracing themselves for another bout of student trouble. The Shah's portraits hung brittle on walls everywhere. He was about to fall.
Eager for this ride to be over, everyone cheered when we learned we wouldn't be sleeping in Tabriz. We stopped there only to replace our half-wit with a capable second driver who could drive us through the night to Tehran. Spirits picked up. This journey would be over in the morning. The Spaniards sang and clapped La Bamba, the Russian did opera while the smiley Iranian kid directed with a cigarette. The Pirate washed his feet, spayed everyone with cologne, made up his bed behind the rear row of seats, barked out orders for silence, and slept like an angel.
Our long bus ride ended at dawn. After four nights and three days we had traveled from Istanbul to Teheran...about a third of the way to the end of our rainbow, the Vale of Kashmir.