The next step after Erzurum was to be a relatively short coach ride to the town of Dogubayazit – last stop before the Iranian border, lying in the shadow of Mount Ararat….. the legendary landing place, as everyone kept reminding us, of Noah’s ark.
Perhaps fittingly, it was pouring with rain when we arrived; and since we didn’t much like the look of the hotel by the bus station where it was assumed we would want to stay, we were receptive to the suggestion of an Iranian student who had also been on the bus, that we should all three of us share a taxi to the border, which he assured us was not far away. Once across that hurdle we would, apparently, find ourselves immediately in the town of Maku, right next to the frontier on the Iranian side, where we would definitely find a better hotel to stay in than the one we had been shown in Dogubayazit .
Our student friend’s information was not the most accurate: Dogubayazit was still thirty kilometers from the border; the Turkish border was already closed for the night; and Maku was another thirty kilometers from the Iranian border on the other side – but we are racing ahead of ourselves.
Stepping out of the taxi into the pouring rain, we looked around and saw the border post nearby, but it immediately appeared that there was something wrong. Our student walked over to what seemed to be the office – there was a short conversation – after which he returned to us with the news that because of the trouble in Iran, the Turkish border was these days closed from early evening till the following morning.
Trouble in Iran! Yes, as far back as Istanbul we had been hearing stories about an Iranian cleric who was living in exile in Paris, and who was the figurehead of a growing protest movement within Iran against the rule of the Shah. But, preoccupied as we were with our own grievances concerning the plight Europe-wide of street culture in general, and street musicians in particular, we had not been paying much attention to the newspapers, as they frequently seemed to be just another arm of the force that oppressed us anyway.
We found a derelict building which offered partial shelter from the rain, had a slight grumble at the Iranian student, and settled down to an uncomfortable night’s wait.
Suddenly two large Range-Rovers with Teheran number plates arrived out of nowhere, the driver of one of them greeted us in American-English, and we told him the border was closed. “We’ll see about that”, he said, marching over to the office. He knocked loudly on the door, produced a 100 Deutschmark note from his pocket, and waved it slowly backwards and forwards across the window pane. The response was electric. The light in the office went on, we saw the guard straightening his cap, jumping to attention, opening the window and having a quiet word with his important visitor – who then walked back to us: “OK guys, it’s all fixed. 50 Deutschmarks each, and we can all go through.”
Mike and I were not so impressed with this deal as was the Iranian student, who immediately jumped in with one of the drivers. But as for us, with no clear idea of how we would be earning any further money for the foreseeable future (street busking in India and other countries of the sub-continent not having been recommended to us as a very profitable activity) … well, frankly, 100 Deutschmarks between the two of us looked like quite a high price to pay simply to cross a border a few hours earlier than otherwise we would anyway. We therefore declined the offer. The Range Rovers roared off with the Iranian student, and we settled back into our temporary shelter.
After about 5 minutes the Turkish border guard walked over to us. “Sen Turist?” (Are you a tourist?), he addressed me . “Tamam” (Yes) I replied. “Gitmek. Parasiz” (Go. No money) he announced, and motioned us across the border.
We had left Europe behind.
We walked slowly across the hundred yards or so that divided the two borders. On the Iranian side the lights were all on, and two guards stood waiting to question these two strange-looking travellers, carrying a large bag, a guitar and a set of bongo drums between them, who had managed to filter across from Turkey despite the border being closed.
“Aah, British”, they said on examining the passports, as if that explained everything. “Where are you going?” “We’re going to find a hotel in the town here”, we replied. “The next town is thirty kilometers away, over that hill”, said one of them, pointing in the distance. “First bus in the morning.”
We stood where we were, running out of ideas for managing the ever-deteriorating situation. “What is this?”, one of them asked, pointing at the guitar. I told him. “So you are musicians. Maybe you can sleep here, if you play us some songs.”
Taken into the office, we were shown where we would sleep…underneath the desk of an official who would not appear until the morning. We then took out our instruments, to satisfy our side of the bargain, and would have started off with – I feel certain, though my memory does fail me – our version of “Candyman”, one of those songs any self-respecting folky could reel off in those days, maybe followed by Mike’s song “Kilburn Station”, and probably rounded off with our perennial favourite “It’s a Crime to Play Music in the Streets”…
And so we slept peacefully, under the above-mentioned desk, but suffered a rude awakening early in the morning – a kick up the backside announcing the arrival of the desk’s daytime incumbent. We walked out in the drizzle, and stuck our thumbs out once again.