I had already resolved that in spite of my continued interest, I wouldnt be taking the train the rest of the way to Quetta after all. It was a blow that consequently the last day or 2 of build up had been a hassle filled dead loss for nothing, but with at least another 24 hours to go and thus another whole night to endure, I had to question whether the trip would have been survivable let alone sufferable. I considered myself pretty tough, nae stubborn under such circumstances but you had to draw the line somewhere. Getting ill when on the road was not something to foster but I managed an ironic chuckle as I took my anti-malarial pill, there couldnt have been a mosquito within hundreds of miles. When I was coaxed back towards the train that morning, the distant driver seemingly oblivious to my plight, I resolved though that I could at least ride it the remaining 15Ks to the border, you had to cross on foot anyhow and I would simply find a bus the other side. What I had not known the night previously however was that my carriage was split in 2 with the other section being the mail car, 2 Pakistani posties had been with me all the long. Though their lot was not much better in the morning chill, they at least had had bedding and a gas burner to see them through the night, and as I shared their compartment for the short trundle to Taftan, I had my introduction to hospitality Pakistani style. Notably less hygienic, I got my first taste of the indiginous scummy, supersweet milky tea, all boiled up in the pot together, into which you dipped dry bread. It wasnt going to become a habit. Their manifest showed them to be hauling mail from Australia and Indonesia amongst other exotic places, but with direct UK-Pakistan flights, no Royal Mail this time. With refreshingly at least a bit of English between them, they explained that altogether they had 14 kids and earned 10,000 Rupees a month, without benefits they impressed. That meant about 70 quid and no healthcare or education for their family.
At the very quiet Iranian border post a gentlemanly figure of some official capacity showed the way and gave advice in a refreshing manner. The passport inspector was also suitably relaxed, bizzarley he only wanted to know the meaning of "Red sky at night, shepherds delight", it must have been a grammar exercise he was working on. After explanation and recitation of the second verse "Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning", he seemed none the wiser though. It didnt matter to me though, I got my stamp without incident and again there was no bag check. I'm not sure that a bottle of Johnny Walker would have lasted a month in Iran but I could have got it through all the same. It was a very short, grubby walk to the Pakistani equivelant with moneychangers and a bus tout hassling along the way. It was a bit busier this side, they had been open longer after all, what with the unusual 90 minute time difference, but fortunately the same friendly service was mirrored the other side. I got my photo taken by webcam which was a first, then the stamp, the road into Taftan the border village was only a dusty trail and half the place resembled a giant scrapmerchants yard. First impressions then though mixed, were still like a breath of fresh air after Iran, with suitably stuffy colonial influenced signs becrying various bureaucratic institutions in English. Full of filth and open sewers, wandering goats had their balls shrouded in bags and grubbily clad locals played cricket in the main street. The money changers bartered hard for every last Rupee and in what I had presumed to be a goat pen in the main square, older men prayed towards a mihrab contrived out of roughwood and cardboard. I hope it was to Allah's approval.
It took hours for the bus to fill up and eventually under way I was pissed off at not getting a window seat, I guessed the locals had seen enough of the desert and so wouldnt have missed it. It was totally flat Nullarbor in the main with just a climb up to lofty Quetta near the end. Junctured by several rest stops, at one point we stopped so that the hardliners could kneel down into the sand to pray in the middle of nowhere, the road here ran dead straight to the horizon and looked for every bit like Australia. It was bitterly cold as I jumped off the bus at 2am in Quetta, and with the town asleep I spent another insufferebale night variously in a forced march around the streets, sheltering in ATM booths and finally resorting to sharing the makeshift brazier of a pavement dwelling wildman in search of heat. In traipsing between full and still slumbering hotels I eventually stumbled upon an excellent brekkie of eggs, Paratha (ghee coated flat bread) and Tor Chay (black tea) where another parasitic wildman scrounged the price of what looked like pureed swede and almonds off me. Though not my first choice, the Zulfiqar Hotel proved to be my salvation. It was only a little over 3 quid a night for a small but clean and comfortable room with ensuite, and most amazingly a gas fire and English speaking TV, nirvana. I had never been so glad of anything. I later learned that it had been minus 9 that night and halfway back towards Iran a woman and 2 kids had died of hypothermia. It was no joke.