In the darkest hour, the military vehicle sped down from the edge of the mountain wall and onto a vast plain , where the strip of pavement ran straight and smooth. Besides the uniformed driver at the wheel, two US military personnel and myself rode in the truck bed, each of us immersed in our own thoughts that were enhanced by the hypnotic humming of the tires.
My mentor of the moment, a merchant marine, military consultant and basically a mercenary, had enthralled me with his tales of global adventures, citing the Pacific island of Palawan as his personal paradise, and had invited me aboard for this midnight adventure.
After a hot day typical to this land, we drank in the refreshing currents of cool night air until the driver slowed and turned off the pavement for the dust of a dirt road. Soon, a distant amber glow appeared through the hazy blackness, and like a magnet, pulled the road with its lone vehicle into its sphere of light. As we approached, the target of the amber lights emerged, a ghostly minaret rising to a sharp point about twenty feet above a baked adobe footing. The dusty dirt track veered to the right of the edifice, back into total darkness, and soon the vestiges of a village appeared in the white beams of our headlights.
“Why were the lights shining on that tower back there,” I queried, musing over the lack of another light in the entire village as it unfolded before us.
“Daniel’s tomb,” my mentor replied.
“Yea, of the lion’s den, you know, the biblical Daniel”, he explained.
We slowly moved between the line of mud walled dwellings, a rare TV antennae showing in an occasional thatched roof, and sandwiched between some of the slumbering homes were walled pens with livestock peering out as if they were in a trance. I could only attempt to visualize these people of the sleeping village and their world, which seemed more biblical then the tomb at their gate.
And their tolerance for armed foreigners in a military truck cruising their dusty track well after the midnight hour? “Oh they welcome us. The wild pigs here are very destructive on their crops, and we keep the numbers down for them,” my mentor explained, “they encourage us to stay on the hunt, and of course it is sport to us and we will use the meat, they won’t.”
The drab brown walls soon gave way to the flat agricultural land that supported the villagers. Here the truck came to a stop, and preparations were made for the hunt. Rifles were drawn and aimed over the side rails of the truck bed. I was given the task of sweeping over the fields with an airport runway light the men installed in the back of the vehicle, and instructed to watch for the glinting eyes of any animals.
At the age of eighteen, I thrilled to my task, guiding the powerful beam across wide swathes of green as the truck driver slowly began “trolling” the access roads of the fields. After many tense minutes, two bristling wild boars appeared midway out in the light’s range, and even as I called out, the two rifles roared to life in a crescendo. One of the tuskers went down immediately, while the other squealed and sprinted into another tomorrow.
The euphoria of the hunt had worn off by the time we arrived back at the barracks, and the unloading took all hands. Hung from the top of a doorway for butchering, the wild boar’s snout dragged on the floor. Six inches long and fully curved to a honed point, the boar’s armament swept up to the level of his vacant gaze.
The Eastern sun soon illuminated the early morning of the hunt’s aftermath, and marked a new path for my back- packing journey into the unknown, as I hiked away from this small air force base tucked against the rugged Zagros Mountains.
Where on Earth?! Dezful and Susa, Iran, November 1969.