If my alarm sounded that morning I had failed for an hour to hear it, I was aware I hadnt even had the energy to roll over in the night. The phone rang from the reception at 7, which I thought was good of them to remember, until I realised that the Raja state police guy and 2 soldiers in the lobby were there for me. As ever, with no common language and no ulterior explanation forthcoming, I just had to presume that these guys were an armed guard allocated to escort me to the border, though I failed to understand why half a K down the road I was transferred from one police car to another with a different Raja guy and soldiers. Big brother had obviously been watching but he wasnt listening however, they took me to the taxi rank where I had to explain that no, I was taking the train to Pakistan. They clearly had no idea that there even was a train and it seemed they had to apologise to the apparently acquainted taxi shark who had obviously been promised the lucrative foreigner. They then suggested the airport, yeah just stamp rich man across my forehead why dont you, they just didnt get it. Perhaps the powers that be thought they were doing the responsible thing but in so doing I was merely treated as a commodity with no say in my own destiny, and it was this kind of crap which had landed me in Kirkuk "for my own safety". At the train station, according to who you asked, the "no train today" scheduled to leave at 0830 would now leave at either 3pm or 6pm, take your pick. At least I had half known to expect it, the shadow of Asia was nearing totality and systems seemed to run according to the phases of the moon, which way the wind blew and how often some bureaucrat was getting it off his wife, the post office being another prime example. You always had to look for the good in every situation though, and with the hotel checkout generously not until 2pm I managed another kip before, by hook or by crook, I was going to get rid of the now shoebox sized infernal parcel. Another side of Asia was also apparent in the writhing crowded chaos that I was presented with at the post office, but thankfully before long the guy whose job it was to wrap parcels to size in cardboard noticed the funny white redbeard in the melee and ushered me OVER the counter! Eventually I got the attention of what must have been the office manager, and hallelujah, with some faffing about my parcel was finally accepted. Parcel post was supposed to be cheap in Iran but at over 4 kilos I still had to shell out a whopping 21,500 Toman (about 14 quid) for surface mail back to Blightey. In the process I saw a mail centre which put Dunfermline's to shame, and a newly arrived blue sack marked Royal Mail, Great Britain. Clearly there was no escape.
With little assurance of food on the train I stuffed myself with kebabs and at last found a net cafe to reassure home that I was still alive. Upon check out at 2 the guy at the reception first of all tried to say I hadnt paid, then he was adamant that I would have to wait for the police to arrive again. Whilst distracted, I eventually managed to slink out the door thinking stuff it to all that, and what were they going to do, arrest me? I arrived at the small modern station to find it disconcertingly very quiet but there were a few friendly souls about, notably some with no concept of personal space, and against all expectation a Pakistani train trundled in a little before 5. It was mainly freight cars but had one passenger wagon attached at either end. It was my instinct to take a photo of it but a guy appeared from nowhere on a motorbike and made me change my mind. That was just so damned Iranian. It turned out that the half dozen or so congenial guys at the station all worked there in some capacity, they treated me to chelo kebab and then sold me a small stub ticket for so little I miscalculated it at first due to the Toman factor. Stupidly, it wasnt possible to buy a through ticket to Quetta and so the 111Ks to the border would cost me precisely 7p. I wondered why passengers were worth bothering about. Doggedly, I had wanted to take the train for several reasons though, even if it was far quicker by road. Not only was it generally a better form of transport but it was far safer, a serious consideration in lawless Baluchistan, its more difficult for gunmen to stop and hold up a train than a bus after all. Usually suffering from underinvestment, I also tried to support such parochial services lest they die out completely, as so many had before. The main incentive though as both the guidebook and Ant had said was the opportunity to meet some fascinating people. Imagine my incredulity then when I was finally shepherded onto the rear passenger carriage, the lone passenger on a service covered in dust, devoid of heat and light and absolutely freezing. Half of the windows had no glass in them and it was up to me to close the heavy door and lock it manually or leave it open as I cared. Not exactly what I had expected.
At last, with a blast, we trundled out of sleepy Zahedan at 11.30pm and the dream seemed to have gone sour, I couldnt believe that they would happily allow me to endure this. As the sandhills loomed past under a clear starry sky, it was like being in an icebox with a fan on you and despite my thankfully newly purchased hat and gloves, 2 pairs of socks, 4 layers and my face scarf, I was in for a horrendous night. Another concern was the approaching border. My limited Farsi hadnt allowed me to establish what the score was but I expected the border to be closed at night and so left me wondering. Either the train already had its clearance and so wouldnt stop, thus making my crossing illegal, or it would stop there for the night and not only would I freeze but I'd freeze for nothing. 1-2 hours were prescribed for the trip to Mirjave, the last town before the frontier, though it took fully 3 and the train halted at the small modern station, as dead as the train. After half an hour I had to guess that we were stopping here for the night due to the border closure, and so I sought refuge which in part I found. A lone figure in the darkness ushered me into a prayer room where a few souls slumbered under blankets with a small paraffin heater for company. There was no spare blanket for me though and the heater was barely perceptible even sat right up to it, I tossed with the cold the rest of that night all the same.