Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Crossing the Hormuz Strait

"We were sent for. Yes. That’s why we’re here. Travelling."

We spent three hours in Port Khalid, Sharjah going through Emirates immigration and a standard crowded, tepid waiting room experience along with hundreds of Iranians. -- Families with children, babies and nappy bags, arguing with UAE immigration officials. Young daughters, jeans under tunics, wielding huge beauty boxes. Tiny tribal tradesmen wearing all kinds of exotic multicoloured headgear, dragging oversized packages, barrels, boxes -- animal feed pellets, maize, rice, wheat trickling from punctures in cardboard and sacking.

Finally we were let through to board a bus that would take us to the ferry ramp. Equipped with non-alcoholic malt beverages, cigarettes and adrenaline pumping from the excitement of authentic, analogue travelling, we boarded the aged, four-deck car ferry, Hormuz 14 in the dusk a little after six o’clock. Securing myself a bench outside on the passenger deck, beverages were opened, cigarettes were lit.
The excitement took the edge off the oppressive heat and we would soon be out on the open sea. The melancholic sepia lights of the port and its cargo ships set the proper tone for a voyage into the darkness. Huge cranes were doing their work on surrounding quay berths – off-loading freight containers with goods that the lazy, SUV, racehorse and Golf-crazed desert country cannot supply on its own. That is everything but oil.

At nine o'clock the ship hadn't moved an inch. Lines were still keeping the vessel firmly in place. I was at the bottom of the non-alcoholic malt beverage stash. Workers had only just started to load cars on to the two upper car decks. This was done by way of a hydraulic mechanism, sounding a piercing siren when in operation. Two hours later cars were still being hauled up on decks. South Korean KIAs as well as BMWs with no license plates bound for Pakistan and Iran, a passenger let us know. All covered with a dense layer of desert sand.
The night heat was just as insufferable as the daytime edition. With no wind moving in the port, adrenaline subsiding and drowsiness setting in, the depression of inertia crowded out the last traces of excitement.

I briefly drifted into a sort of consciousness around 2 to see the big moment slowly pass by as in a dream. The tips of cranes, lights passing by our vessel. Somewhere a voice urged me to open the last can and light another Benson & Hedges but I had become another person by then.

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