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On Wheels

Pakistan to Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN | Monday, 25 June 2007 | Views [2374] | Comments [1]

Here we go…"You cannot cross the Kyber Pass by bike! "Said the officer, and more: "To cross to Afghanistan you need an escort, a soldier." Had the visa and the Tribal authorization, needed a soldier. My last day in Peswar, Pakistan, I spent with some friends a made the night before at the Kharkano Market. Afghani ppl (refuges) who settle on Pakistan's side of the border, live in surrounding villages. They were my first touch w/ Afghanis – great people! As soon as I arrived at the market, in the afternoon, I was carried around from shop to shop, having tea w/ different ppl. Made good friends and gather some good info on what was coming up. Mohammad Akram, former interpreter for the US army during the war, took me to his village, met some of his friends, went to his house and spent my last night in Pakistan chatting w/ him, family, and locals who came by to check me out. They all had concerns about the Taliban, but were sure that the locals would treat me very nice …indeed. From the border on, I was treated extremely well – generosity is what they first show you, followed by lots of smiles and respect. To get to the border, crossing the Kyber Pass, I was given a soldier who would escort me 'till the border. Helped by the local Brazilian Honorable Consul in Peswar, I got the Tribal permit and the escort. Mr. Tunis kjk, Marketing of Cerat cement co. (where the BR counsulate is estabilished), drove to find me stuck on the police check-point…they wanted me to get in the car. Soldier gets in and tells me something that sounded like: Get your ass in the car! I did. It ended up to be a very pleasant ride, friendly guys, beautiful scenery. Stopped for some shots (pictures). My escort was in a very good mood, even he looked like in alert all the time. Dropped me at the border…good byes, pictures – In Afghanistan. 500m slightly down hill, I cruised to a dozen of junkyards, used auto-everything shop, and a few food stands/money exchange; then, another police stop - Border Control. Stopped, had tea, bread, took some pictures, and rode back to get some food. At this restaurant, I was told to ride 1km down to an US army "check-point" – that's how they called. Looked for a big tent or a small house...nothing. Looked over the village ahead of me...wait, a flag...An American flag marked ground where I thought to be a village; it was an army base. Afghani soldiers at the gate…Americans came later, chat-search-dog sniffing-questions; 1st Lieutenant Wicks Lean allows me to stay overnight. How was I treated? Courtesy and generosity. The base was quite big, well structured…but I wasn't supposed to be talking about it. I can tell you one thing; the thing that most impressed me and made me damn happy – their kitchen and food. A lot of everything, I ate all I could and took some…ya! They just showed me the kitchen and said: Help yourself! Another officer tells me: You see if you need or want anything and take it! Met some of the soldiers, advised not to be asking about the base, we talked about days back home, road info, and food. Back on the road to Jalalabad. Good road, incredible scenery. I was crossing an area said to be dangerous and lawless. It looked quite nice to me; the people wouldn't stop waving their hands, the children screaming, cars slowing down to say "Salam Malekum" , the local greeting. Mountains and mountains surrounding huge rocks, beautiful rivers, tunnels, villages by the road an up the mountains, and a sand storm on its way to give me a first taste of where I was. The wind gets up speed, dust clouds appear on my far left…mmm, cool! The wind hits side ways, left-to-right, more clouds; it gets a little dusty, but not so bad. It gets stronger; I can't see much, eating dust…It got big! I could feel the dust hitting hard and the wind pushing me out of the bike. A truck comes from far away – Afghanistan Road Construction Co. – He stops and gives me a ride 'till his office. Tea and invitation from his friends to stay over – accepted. Out of the shower and ready to get to bed, I went to where I was supposed to sleep. By the door was the driver, waiting for me and saying that I could go. Confusing, but he decided that I should continue to ride 'till next town. All his friends were gone, he didn't want to explain, just asked me to go…never understood that one. On my way I found a restaurant/hotel; passed 8pm and warned not to ride at night, I stayed there. Exhausted, I went straight to sleep. Up early and on the way to Sarobi, half way to Kabul…long steep climb. Rode from 5am to 11am, stopped to rest at a police check point and got a ride. Had a tea and cake w/ the officer, took a nap on a near bed, woke up and the officer called me on the road…stopped a truck and told them to take me to Kabul. He didn't want to hear my talking about riding up to Kabul…he pointed at my bike and at the truck. I was on a truck for the next 85km. By the time I arrived in Kabul, I was friends w/ the people in the truck; I was taken into their (Shafiullah's house) house where I stayed for 3 nights. Shafiullah treated me like family, his son Hafiullah and Hamidullah were great kids. They kept on filling my glass w/ water or tea. Three days passed, I had done some walking around Kabul, got to meet some people, tried the food, visited some main spots and streets, and rested to a rough terrain ahead of me. My first choice was, going up to Parwan province crossing to Bamyan province onto Gor and Herat province/border. Left the capital, Kabul, around 8am to a whole new change on the weather and scenery. After crossing the mountains that surround Kabul, I could feel a cooler air, and best of all, snow peak mountains. Over my right shoulder, desert like view, brownish rocky mountains; over my left shoulder, green vegetation and high dark blue mountains with snow peaks – the heat was being left behind. Good roads, good weather; I had about 60km to the next province, Parwan. Met some good people on the way, passed by a demining team (clearing the road side), rested on left over from what was supposed to be a Russian tank, cruised by small towns drinking tea w/ locals, and got rough w/ a boy who took my bike for a ride while I ran to the restroom. In Charidar, already Parwan province, I went on looking for a place to spend the night before I got into the rough dirt hilly roads. I was sent to a hotel used to hold wedding parties - too expensive. In front of the hotel, in a park, I met Shaffiula…(you'll see this name a lot; not the same person, but a lot of ppl called by the same name.) He got in touch with the district security officer to arrange me a safe place to stay. About forty minutes later, arrived a police truck and another car; officers and other couple people on suit. Short chat, passport checked, they turned to the wedding hall/hotel staff and said: "You give him a room, food, and all he needs to stay in his room. He's not to be leaving the hotel during the evening" For my own safety, I was told to not wonder around the town after the sun was out. Got a nice room, cooked myself some dinner, and worked on my diary 'till I passed out on bed. Early morning, I woke up w/ Shafiulla knocking on my door. Prepared breakfast, waited for the police to arrive, so I could leave. They came with a motorcycle guy who was going to escort me to the city limits, 2 blocks later he was gone…good, it was bugging me already. Ten kms later the good road ends, the dirt roads start, and so do the obstacles – closed/blocked roads. Not even 1km into the dirt road, I was stopped by the police, and sent back to Kabul. Said to be because of the melting snow, the roads were not in condition to be crossed. Tried all I could to try to continue 'till the officer got tired and said: "OK, go ahead! I'll see you back here!" He was sure I was going to turn back at some point. Well; I decided to listen to him. Turned around and started riding back to Kabul city, where I was to take a 4WD van/truck to reach Bamyan province trough Wardax province. Rode back, again in the capital, I decided to ride to Wardax province…the roads went from bad, to terrible, to "where are they?" Got into a 4WD as told. It was going to be a long 5-6 hours ride - boring, painful, exciting and scary, boring again. In somewhere on the road, a car approaches our car almost colliding on a tentative of passing from the right side; right then, it comes on the left side throwing dust all over the road and stopping side ways in front of our van. Everybody woke up from the boredom and raised their eye-browns looking at each other – what, who and why it just happened? A man holding an AK-47 comes out of the car, walks towards our van…not sure if covered by the dust, but I don’t remember seen I smile on his face. I surely do remember seen him plunging the AK-47 on our driver, not once, over and over, while he screamed something that on my mind was translated like: "You are all going to die! Starting w/ the Brazilian in the back!" More screaming, the man tries to open the door, the driver tries to hold w/ one hand while protecting his head w/ another. The man backs a couple steps, points the gun to the van and scream some more; but then, I could guess what he meant. I knew somewhere in between his screams, I was about to learn the words: Get your ass out of the car - in pastun (local language). The driver resists, staying in his seat, begging for a break. Ohhh, me? …Sitting in the back with other 10 people, looking like an Afghani, kept my head behind the other people to avoid eye contact w/ that man who I had no idea who he was or who he was representing with such passion. Some more hitting, more screaming, more breath holding. I got into a stage of stillness; kept my eyes out of the window, looking at the mountains like nothing was happening 'till this guy behind me gets into the "talking". He said: "yada yada blablabla!" I heard: "I am a dumb-ass trying to get everybody shot, habibi! I come out of my frozen stage, turned back looking at him like: Shut'da hell up man! He goes on screaming some more. The man w/ the gun screams back, opens the back door, where we were and tells him to come out. By then, not more than 8 minutes had passed, some locals were around the van, and some more people from their car came out. I saw somebody coming out who I'd seen a few kms behind on what seemed to be a check point. That was it! Our smart driver crossed a check-point without stopping, and the man w/ the gun – a policeman. A dressed up man gets closer to the van, holds the fired-up policeman, and starts talking to the driver. Everybody in the van starts talking, the guy behind me said something else funny, and the policeman goes on "mad mode"…back to screaming. Things got figured, the policeman stood by the road starring at the driver while we drove away. The silent boredom was far gone, a silent from the shock was now with us for a few kms; and then, jokes started popping-up. I could feel they were playing w/ the driver, who was reacting to the passenger’s laughs w/ a lot of fast talking and gesturing. And again we get to boredom for 3 more hours. The way to Bamyan was a mountain road w/ passes up to 5000m and glacial ice covering pieces of the road, melting and creating rivers and potholes deep enough to get full wheel under water. Arrived in Bamyan city, where the famous giant Buddhas of Bamyan were sitting 'till the Taliban decided to blow it up. I still remember CNN showing images of the Buddha statues before the Taliban open fire on them. It all looked like a big thing; but then, they would go on showing some other news, and we all forgot about it. When I arrived in the city, I could see a thick high mountain, looking like a piece of cheese – holes of every dimension, spread all over. Caves used as shelter or storage were surrounding these 2 huge holes in the mountain where the Buddhas were built. Now, all you could see from the statues were a few pieces lying to the ground, fenced by intl. organizations working on its reconstruction. The mountain, the caves, the empty space left from the missing statues, and the surroundings showed how much work people went trough to build and maintain such monuments. As much as the size of it all showed how a strong belief or faith can drive people to build such wonders, the destruction of it shows the same strength and capability to do its opposite. It was all impressive, seeing the enormous human shaped empty space, and the left over pilled down on its foot. How much power was on both sides – built to strength and confirm some people's belief; destroyed to strength and confirm others’. Spend 2 nights in Bamyan, again taking care of my diarrhea.

Met a Korean girl who was waiting to go to Band-e-Amir lakes, where I was heading to. We shared a 4WD and made it to the lakes in the early morning. Band-e-Amir is a set of 7 lakes, 3 very famous. One main lake was built to create an area where people could come and bath on its waters believed to be somehow holy. The lakes are of a beauty impossible to describe w/ words. The entire area – mountains, lakes, villages, and villagers – gives all you need to feel in peace. I spent 5 days camping on the area, 3 nights inside a cave…The weather had a change and snow started falling. The mountains get covered on a light powder; the sky gets gray for a few days, the roads, about to open, close again. I was forced to stay a couple more days camping by a gorgeous lake, enjoying the mountains, and hiking around the villages…All great, but I had to go on, my visa was running, and I had over 700km of bad roads and high mountains ahead. My last stop would be Yawkolang. The locals were saying the roads were still closed and by bicycle would not be possible, but this time I decided to go make sure of it. Rode all the way to Yawkolang…they weren't completely wrong, but not entirely right. I made it, but WOW, hard, very hard! Roads were no where to be seen, rivers w/ freezing water and strong currents; "roads" were split in 2 to 3 pieces by earthquakes, floods, landslides, trucks; however, I had a great cold weather. The roads had disappeared for a while; I kept on following my compass and the trucks' tracks, when found. From Yawkolang, I had to take another ride; it was just not possible, the rivers were deeper, the roads were from rocks to thick powdery roads; the bike was constantly pushed, little ridden. The truck would go up and down so sudden that I had the feeling we were falling somewhere. The driver would try 2 or 3 different ways to cross a certain point, the car would either get stuck on a steep climb, in deep soft bed river or in between rocks – great ride! Arrived in Panjab, stayed two nights, went to a school where I taught 2 classes to spend my day, and left on my bike to the capital of Gor province, Charcharan. Gor province is also known for its mountain's residents – The Taliban. Till there I had had no problems at all regarding Taliban or any other so called "dangerous" group. My time in Afghanistan had been nothing less than amazing. The people of Afghanistan were the most generous people I had ever met; the nature, certainly the most beautiful country I had seen so far; the food, simple and tasty. Everything and everyone in Afghanistan brought it to country number one on my journey. It had showed its real face to me. All the talk about the country being a dangerous place, the image of blood, guns, explosions, and angry people, were nothing but a creation on people's mind based on TV reports and on a group of people who have their own ideals; and yes…These ones are angry! I could only hope not to meet any of them. I could go on pages about my ride on Afghanistan, but I'm too far behind on my diary. The access to a computer wasn't very easy, and the times I did, the connection was unstable. Now, in Iran, I have to updated photos and diary…it could take a long time to describe Afghanistan and its people; plus, half of Iran. I'll give more details later on. I can assure you one thing. Afghanistan is dead gorgeous, and its people are extremely nice and generous. I had a great time during my cross; even I had a gun pointed at me…ok, I'll tell you this one:

Up and down roads made for goats and donkeys, I was about 60km on my day ride; the weather was great, clear skies. Another climb, better than others, I was able to stay on the bike the whole time. Reached the top and I wasn't the only one there…wait…let me tell you another story before this one…

 Julien, the French biker a rode with in Pakistan, had told me a story about this guy who was riding in Afghanistan when he bumped into a guy behind the rocks, carrying an AK-47. The guy said something; the biker handed the results to God and waited. The gun man shot to the sky, gave a laugh and became friends with the biker. The biker, as the story was told, stayed months living in the gun man's tribe, as I guest. Back to my story.

…I wasn't the only one up there; a guy comes out, and he had a friend – an AK-47. First thought: I think I've heard of you. I hope you are the same guy! He approached me walking fast, holding the gun pointed at my direction. Options : a) you're a police man b) you're the guy from the story, and spend your time behind the rocks waiting for bikers to bring home c) you're a Taliban follower, and feel like the luckiest man who caught a foreigner – me. I couldn't figure who he was, but he was a little stressed. He said a bunch of things; I could catch the: ….cujo mery…scujo mery –where go, where from. I answered and tried to approach him…he backed away and screamed some more; then I got concerned…no…I got scared! I repeated: - Brazil! Brazil! Football, Ronaldinho…worked on my feet moves, played with a rock as a soccer ball. He looked a little confused on what was going on…good. I stretched my arm to shake his hand, he kept looking and pointing at the bags w/ the gun trying to know what was inside. I opened one, showed him my food, and dropped some on the ground to see if he would feel bad for a guy doing such thing. He kept asking for more…He screamed something pointing at the bike; I looked at him, pointed at the food on the ground and raise my voice a little saying: - My food! Wait! Started to get the food out of the ground, he watched. I got up, went around the bike, and called him to follow me. Reached on the side pocket, grabbed my film camera, called him to get closer to me, he hesitated. I got closer, pushed his gun to the side and put my arm around him, pointed the camera at us and CLICK…I was free. Gave him the camera, he laughed, gave me a hug and wave his hand goodbye. To be continued…

Tags: On the Road

Comments

1

Rodrigo,
I couldn't read a better story earling morning, before leaving home to my job. My brother, you are the best.
I wish I would be as brave as you are.
Rick

  Rick Jul 2, 2007 3:08 AM

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