We got up at 4.30am to load the ANIMAL and be on the road by just after 5.00am. Akbar, our host at Akbar’s Tourist Guest House (US$30), got up to see us off. We had carefully packed the gift of famous Bam Dates he had given us the night before, for our long desolate journey through the desert. We were afforded the opportunity to watch the magnificent sunrise over the Iranian desert…..very romantic and special.
The 440km trip from Bam to the border at Mirjaveh (Iran) and Taftan (Pakistan) was hot (41.5 degrees Celcius) and very dry. The hot wind off the desert was like a blast from a furness. We saw a bus on its side along the way…not sure what had happened but we saw lot and lots of Camel Warning signs…..no actual camels though!
We stopped for a checkpoint just before Zahedan (390km from Bam)…this was a bit scary as there were armed guards everywhere and our passports were taken from us….always stressful for me when I don’t have my passport! Vince was called in by the big boss and they took him to a locked compound…..this really stressed me out as I waited with the ANIMAL. But my fears were unwarranted….they had been just chatting about our plans and the cricket! The big boss had offered us an armed escort to the border but Vince had politely declined (as he had heard that they really slow you down). Our passports safely returned, we stopped in Zahedan for fuel. This was of great interest to the locals, who have no idea of personal space or boundaries, we found ourselves quickly surrounded with hands and heads being very inquisitive so we got out of there as quickly as possible. Just out of Zahedan there was another checkpoint, and again Vince disappeared into a locked compound….but I was much less worried this time.
As we got closer to Mirjaveh we could see the mountains that have Afghanistan on the other side, and land mine signs all alone the edge of the desert…..no stopping to take a toilet break here! Not for the faint hearted this adventure travel!
About 4km short of the border we were stopped at yet another check point and the guards were very nice, giving us chairs, water and shade….but at the same time insisting on an armed escort to the border. We had to wait a little while but before too long they arrived….4 guards with AK47s….two in the front of the vehicle and two riding shotgun in the back. We had to keep a relatively close distance and if we got to far back they would put on their hazards to make us come closer. The younger military officer in the front had our passports and carnet and helped organise our exit from Iran by getting our passports stamped and although it took him about and hour and a half to finally find the correct customs office to stamp our carnet du passage…..it was all eventually in order. Vince through the whole experience was amazing…I found it much more stressful …. as I watch our documents slip continually out of sight and at one point some Inspection officers (with guns) were insisting on our passports and carnet….which we didn’t have……but luckily the other armed escort returned for us and sorted out the problem. Thank goodness for those blood pressure tablets of mine! We were exited from Iran with military precision and professionalism by the armed escort officers. However, there were a few at the final exit who treated our passports with disrespect….passing mine around like a dirty picture and handing it on to other guards who really had no need to see it……Vince thinks its because they don’t see pictures of women without their Hijab and my passport photo shows my hair. It made me very uncomfortable…but as they all had AK47’s I wasn’t going to argue the point!
The contrast with Pakistan on the other side of the gate was astounding. People came up and welcomed us….helped us go to the front of the passport line…change our money without hassling us at all….they showed us the customs office for our carnet (although it turned out to be the wrong one). The official at the small Customs Office explained we need to go to the big Customs House for our carnet and he instructed an armed officer to go on motorbike so we could follow. We did this but it took us to a tiny building with a dirt floor and several military uniformed people. They spoke little English but we managed to explain we needed a stamp….they got us to fill in about 4 different registers…including a from for Levies Protection….none of which was explained to us. We got our carnet handed back unstamped and I quickly picked up our passports they had just left on a desk as we were ushered to follow another guard on a motorbike….supposedly to get our carnet stamp.
We arrived at a secure compound with double walls. I disembarked the bike inside the first gate and was ushered into the second gate which was locked behind me, leaving Vince on the other side….I was very uncomfortable. When I turned around I realised I was in a male prison…..I quickly followed the guard who was making his way to an office….but no one was there. He disappeared into another room and I was left standing, carnet in hand, looking across the quadrangle at a multitude of prisoners in the yard, some in cells, some in chains….but most just sitting on the ground in the oppressive heat. I felt panic setting in but then the gate opened and Vince rode in on the ANIMAL. It was a relief to see him….but neither of us knew what was going on. Eventually one of the armed guards indicated for us to come into the guard room where we sat on the hard concrete floor as a prisoner made us some tea. No one spoke much English so it was very difficult. I was not at happy camper at all, and the sounds of the guards “extracting” confessions was not helping, but at least it was now clear we were not actually prisoners as we were on the “good” side of the yard. One of the guards, who could see I was stressed tried to explain we would go to Quetta tomorrow….it was only 12.05pm ….not a happy thought!
After what seemed like a lifetime, a guard came and took us to the next room where the Assistant Commissioner, who could speak English, told us that we were under Levies Protection and would go to Quetta early in the morning. He apologised for the basic conditions in accommodation but as it was a remote outpost it was all there was, and we were safer inside than outside. I asked about our carnet….and he said he would get one of his officers to sort it out (this eventually happened in the evening but only after I spoke with the Governor of the Jail and he got two Guards to take Vince to Customs House). Despite the language difficulties and very poor conditions the guards made us a comfortable as possible. They shared their food with us (lunch at 3.oopm and dinner at 11.15pm) and the hot brackish water they have to drink. There was one squat toilet, and to get to it you had to walk through the yard with the prisoners, and in a cell next to the toilet a man was crying and in chains. We could not shower, or even brush our teeth! We slept on the concrete floor of the guard room with only a light mat flooring and used our jackets for pillows. It really was one of the most difficult situations I have ever had to face in my life, but I must admit it was also a very unique opportunity to see things in action in the Levies Compound, as that night over 200 Afghani prisoners were brought in due to trying to cross the border without papers. It certainly is a busy place and the staff work extremely hard there. The Levies is a paramilitary role within Balochistan that keeps law and order in the rural communities (Area B). Within the cities (Area A) the police have responsibility for law and order.