Baghdad, May 8, 1973 (Tues)
Dear Father and Mother,

The bus trip from Shiraz to Abadan was spoilt by Iranians who disgraced themselves by fighting (literally) over seats and a traffic incident and arguing vociferously at intermittent intervals throughout the night. I thought they were much more level-headed and reasonable.

Until the last moment there was doubt about whether we could cross the border at this point, as there is a cold war between Iran and Iraq. However, after taking about three different taxis out beyond the next town, we came to the Iranian border post and then had to carry our swags 3-4 km across a howling wilderness to Iraqi Customs. Formalities were no problem but there was absolutely no traffic in sight and the Customs man tipped off the local taxi-driver who rolled up in his old American bomb and demanded the equivalent of $4.40 US for the 15 km ride to Basra. We had to pay with the remains of our Iranian money. That was perhaps the bitterest experience of my whole trip - to be entirely at the mercy of that shark. It demonstrates the evil of monopolies.

Our next bitter experience was to find it was Friday, the banks were closed, money-changers are illegal and we hadn't the price of a drink in Iraqi fils (one thousandth of a Dinar, which I have just realised is almost equivalent to £1 Stg.) After a very frustrating time (which I won't dwell on), I managed to change $10 cash with two young French travellers I found.

Anxious to be out of a place that had treated us so unkindly, we took a taxi and bus to Zubair, where we paid 550 fils for a bus to Nasaraya (nearest town to Ur) and waited about 3 hours only to be told it wasn't going after all. So, another bus across an almost "trackless wild" to the nearest railway station, where we waited till 2120 for the train to Nasaraya. Our seats were a few square feet of passageway and when we arrived after midnight we just rolled ourselves out on the lawn beside the station. I tell you all this so that you can judge my initial reaction to Iraq - the most agonising day on record. However I have found that there is no trouble that a good meal and a sleep won't assuage.

On Saturday we found the taxi drivers wanted D2 for a return trip to Ur (about 10 km away). Being both impecunious and parsimonious, we rode in the backs of some very dirty trucks, for nothing. The excavations at Ur are most interesting, though it is difficult to say what is original and what has been restored. In parts, original bricks and bituminous mortar are extremely well preserved. It is not allowable to take photos of the site from the highest and best point, because the donkeys have built a military airfield right nearby. It puzzles me why anyone would think of building a city in a dry, sandy place like that, though the climatic conditions have probably changed over the millennia. It's very difficult to see it as part of the Fertile Crescent today.

We crossed the Euphrates in the train that afternoon, en route to Al-Hilla, where we arrived 1715 to find that the taxi-drivers were imbued with the same robbing spirit. So we walked miles trying to change money and looking for accommodation. Cheap hotels in these countries seem to cater for 4's and dormitory-style accommodation. Jack refuses to be in that, so on we trudge, up and down stairs, only to be turned away.

The site of Babylon, which we visited next day, is much bigger, better-presented and obviously more popular than Ur. It even has its own museum. Though there is not much left of Nebuchadnezzar's "great Babylon" (his principal palace is just a few heaps of bricks), and though the foundations of the Hanging Gardens make a pretty pathetic "Wonder", I was really surprised to see how remarkably well-preserved were some of the figures (reliefs) on walls and Neb's asphalted Procession Street.

We took a bus to Baghdad in the afternoon (only 90 Km) and, after worse than the usual weary battle for accommodation, walked over a bridge across the Tigris and wandered for miles around the city looking for tourist information, maps etc. At least a bottle of drink only costs 15 fils (c. 5c US). There are quite a number of Holden cars here and also Iraqi Negroes, as well as other shades of light and dark. It's all rather unromantic in the hard light of day. Saw the Office of the Palestinian Liberation Front and have to feign ignorance on the Israeli question.

Yesterday we obtained our visas for Jordan, visited the Iraqi Museum (some magnificent exhibits for the archaeologically-minded) and called in at the Post Office. There was no mail for me, even under "J", which is where I discovered it would have gone!

At 1100 this morning we leave by "Transdesert Transport" (bus, not camel) for Amman. As far as we can understand, it takes 22 hours.