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May 11, 2002
Prologue: Stromness, Orkney
When I was hitch-hiking around Scotland I sometimes asked the driver why they'd given me a lift. To my tremendous disappointment, the answer was usually along the lines of "because you didn't look as if you were going to kill me."
Some nights I'd find myself around a kitchen table in a hostel talking with other hitch-hikers about their experiences. One of those nights was spent in Stromness, 800 miles north of London. It had taken me two days to hitch there, and one of the other guys there had done exactly the same journey. It had taken him two months.
Again and again, he said the same thing: "man, I just never seem to get lifts." To hear him say this seemed inexplicable. He was a sweet, charming man, with an angelic smile and an engaging manner. But on first sight, he made you wonder if he was going to kill you. He had long, spectacular dreadlocks, and a taste in clothes that dated back to the time of the Black Plague. He was wearing a sack. A fairly dirty sack. The kind of thing more commonly seen housing large quantities of rice and flour.
He seemed to have no idea about how his appearance influenced his chances of getting rides. And this lack of awareness started to irritate me, and gradually I started to regard everything he said as completely ridiculous.
One of the places he was very curious about was Iran, but he was quick to acknowledge the big problem about going there: you could only get a five-day transit visa. And Iran is a big country. If you were going all the way across it, you'd have to spend all five days on buses. "But it would still be worth it," he said, "just for the experience."
And I remember sitting there, looking at this man in a sack, wondering which planet he came from, and if he'd ever manage to score a lift back there. And I thought: what a fool. Spending five days on buses going across a fundamentalist Islamic country would have to be the most ludicrous idea I've ever heard.
Even so, it was an idea ...
Two months later. Dog Biscuit, Eastern Turkey
Yes, there really is a place called Dog Biscuit. It's a small Turkish town a few miles from Iran. Across the border the first Iranian town you come to is Maku, the Persian word for "cat food." And somewhere in the mountains is the capital: Mousetrap.
Yes, my very good friends, for you very special price and the best best special highest quality: one small bit of truth and several lies thrown in free! Hey! Where you going? Wanna buy nice carpet, too? Only 3,000 American dollars but many many cups of sweet nice hot warm tea thrown in free!
So. Let's do this properly. Yes, there really is a place called Dog Biscuit. But it's actually spelt Dogubeyazit, and somehow that just doesn't seem as romantic. And romance is something that, to be blunt, is in short supply in Dog Biscuit. I walked around its dusty streets for hours, and found no romance at all. Dog Biscuit, it seems, is a romance-free zone. If you're fleeing the romantic life, come here. If you're worried that a lingering romance might follow, rest and be peaceful. Bring your unwanted romance, and watch it die. In the dust. Horribly.
In the absence of romance, I had to find something else to do in Dog Biscuit. I walked up to the famous castle, and had a nice afternoon clambering all over it. That exhausted Dog Biscuit's entertainment possibilities. So I started wondering if the town had some kind of motto or famous phrase. Something along the lines of: "If in Dog Biscuit, do as the Dog Biscuits do: eat dry food and woof." I thought about the town's location, on one of the crossroads of Western Asia, and came up with this: "All roads lead to Dog Biscuit, and then keep going to their real destination."
My real destination was India, but that was across three difficult and lonely borders. I was in the process of taking public transport from London to Calcutta, and being in Dog Biscuit made me wonder, for the first time, about the sanity of this itinerary. It was dry and dusty and lacking in romance. And I'd underestimated the time and distance involved.
I'd left London some time before, and had already travelled several thousand miles, and I felt completely exhausted. But India was still a long way away, and the next stop was a large, fundamentalist Islamic country. I had a five-day transit visa, and a disturbingly clear memory of a conversation with a man in a sack in Scotland. "It'd be worth it," he'd said, "just for the experience."
So here I was in Dog Biscuit, paying the price for listening to a man in a sack.Posted by Sean Hegarty at 11:51 PM in the Dog Biscuit category | Comments (0)
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