Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Adventure in Afghanistan - slumdog travels east

Afghanistan has never been a land for tourists. Thus Oxford-Johnny and myself only got a kind of transit visa with a 14-day-limit.

We arrived and left Herat, near the Iranian border and continued to push forward to Kandahar, right in the middle of this strange country. We were in a hurry because 14 days is not much when hitchhiking, meaning www waiting, waiting, waiting. Here the story begins.

At that time, Kandahar was somehow an American zone of influence. Thus the city had a slight Western tinge to it, shops , restaurants with chairs and selling beer, things like that. Thus, instead of camping somewhere, we went to a cheap hotel and stayed there.

Next day we set out in the morning to hit the road. You don't start to hitchhike in the middle of a town and it took us quite a long time with our heavy backpack to reach the outskirts of Kandahar and the road leading to Kabul.

Road is just of way of talking. It was a large dirt path with wide and deep potholes everywhere. So we were squatting by the roadside, waiting for a car. Since Turkey, we never met many cars or lorries but those we saw invariably stopped.

Noon was coming and going, the heat was getting severe but no car, no lorry, no truck, nothing. At about three in the afternoon I got upset and desperate. "Johnny", I said to my pal, "we have to do something, otherwise we'll stay here for all eternity".

In a Third World Country, the only authority worthwhile is the police. So we trudged back to town and went straight to the Kandahar Police Headquarters. Johnny did most of the talking "take us to your leader", he told the cop in rags sporting a gleaming rifle in front of the entry door.

Inside, we explained our problem. "You see, Sir, we just can't find the British and German embassy! We must go there to ask for money. And we know there is one here in Kabul but nobody could show us the way". Naturally, the police officer told us "this is Kandahar, not Kabul" and then "In Kandahar, no embassy".

We explained in length that we thought we were already in Kabul and that we must go there in order to fetch our money. "What can you do for us? Please help us".

And he did. First, he walked us to the hotel where we stayed the previous night and ordered the manager to put up with us till next morning. The hotel manager was disgusted. He had to serve us food for free by order of police. First thing he did was to empty the room completely to show us who is the master of the premises.

We were used to rough it. Having a good meal under our belts we spread our sleeping bags and slept soundly till next morning waiting for our free breakfast. At around noon, the police officer came back and took us to the the bus station for a free trip to Kabul.

We thanked him effusively, he did a great job on us two leeches. At the bus station, we were to ride to Kabul in two buses. I suppose he did not want to put too much strain on the drivers who were probably the owners and who were under order to ferry us to Kabul for free.

The bus started around 5 pm because of the intense heat during day time. Sitting on the roof of the bus, the wind dried up my face in no time. I really felt my skin turning into parchment. Next to me were sitting some Afghanis about my age. "Want some snap". I said no because the stuff smelled foul and was green. Till now, I don't know what "snap" is. It had a smell like synthetic shit, really, no kidding. Was it dope?

Eventually, the bus stopped somewhere near a shag-like restaurant. For me there was another problem. I was hungry like everybody else. But my free ride hinged on the fact that I had no money.

The idea to have very little money, something like the minimum does not sound convincing in a desperately poor country like this one. Furthermore, lots of the passengers were carrying some kind of weapon with them. So I stayed mum near the bus waiting for things to happen (or not).

Then some nice and friendly people people invited me into the restaurant. Sure, I was thankful but very much annoyed and uneasy, too. Annoyed with myself and I wowed to avoid such ambiguous situations in the future.

The bus ride was an adventure in itself. The cooling system of the motor had sprung a leak and fresh water had to be added all the time. Thus the motor slave* sat or better straddled the motor servicing it during the ride with a iron watering can, spilling more than half of the precious stuff.

We drove through the night, desert country. Never seen a sky like that, clean deep blue, the Milky Way clearly visible!

We arrived in Kabul around noon. A bit shaky, I felt every bone inside and was hungry, too . Early in the morning we had a second stop for ritual prayer washing and breakfast. But I refused to be invited again pretending to have stomach trouble.

*Motor slave: I met them again and again in Iran and Afghanistan when I managed to pick up a truck. Normally, these young men of about my age were always clad in greasy rags and made the trip sitting somewhere behind and when off duty outside on the running board. They had to do all the dirty work and when we were eating with the driver he was never invited to join us.


  1. Gripping story Georg. Beer in Kandahar? Seems unbelievable now! Travelling on top of a bus must have been some ride for you. You will be surprised to learn that in some parts of India too this spectacle is still seen...the one thing that has changed is that the cooling systems of buses are more reliable!

    It was surprising to hear that even those days people there carried weapons openly! It will take a lot to change that culture it seems. The yanks have got into a really Wild East!

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  3. Ton voyage est vraiment très extraordinaire dans ce pays et je comprends pas mal de données grâce à ton récit.
    Pour ce qui est Tungunska, tout d'abord je suis bien contente de voir que tu écris Toungounska comme je l'écrivais avant. Je ne pense pas que la révolution de Russie soit en cause pour ce retard. Comme tu le dis "une comète" de glace , c'est probablement la vérité, mais nous ne le saurons jamais je pense, il ne faut pas oublier que les comètes de glace ont apporté plus de 10% de l'eau que nous avons.
    Je te remercie pour tes passages si "riches" et si intéressants.
    Je te souhaite une bonne journée et je te fais un bisou

  4. To Vinod,

    Yes, I know what you mean. Kandahar has changed. I just hope this friendly police officer survived somehow somewhere.

    To travel on top was probably better than sitting inside. I had another trip on top of a lorry going from Jammu to Srinagar. This one was the most frightful in my entire life because of the precipice.

    Pour Viviane
    Merci pour ta visite et ton commentaire. Oui, cela reste un énigme et les différentes certitudes des scientifiques n'éclaircissent pas l'affaire.


  5. Hi Georg,

    I can't believe that you did Jammu-Srinagar on top of bus!. That is a long trip and those days the road was also pretty bad I think...I can't even imagine you doing that! Since you have lived to tell the tale, let us have a detailed account of that sometime too.

  6. Ahhh the wonderful adventures of a miss spent youth.
    I am often amazed that more bad things did not befall me when I was young, I thought I was immortal.
    This is a wonderful story, reminds me of my own days traveling thru gaza to egypt..
    thank you for sharing!

  7. To Vinod's second comment:

    ok, within the next six weeks, let's say. Before, I'll have to do some concentration. It didn't happen yesterday.

    To Sorrow
    I think I understand you. Maybe every
    youth considers himself/herself immortal, otherwise they would stay at home and enter the civil service.

    To Tazeen
    This hitchhiking trip to India was made in 12962/63. Prehistoric times one might say.

  8. George,

    How did you end up in Afghanistan without any money?
    You are really adventurous, hitchhiking in strange countries like Iran or Afghanistan with no money!!!
    Thanks for sharing the story...

  9. To Hiva
    This is a little misunderstanding. I always had money but not very much. When I decided to go to India by means of hitchhiking, it meant I would not pay for transport. And this I kept up with Johnny.

    What I told the police officer was only a ruse to get free transport to Kabul. When we approached to police HQ we hoped they would send us to their capital in a police transport.

    When I set out for India I had 4000 Deutschmarks on my bank account. At that time it must have been the equivalent to about the same amount in Euro or a little more in US Dollars.

  10. ah herr Georg
    this is quite an adventure you lived!
    glad you survived and can share it now... i think of people that have to live every day in such conditions, like the man you said fed with water the old bus all the way, i guess for him this ride was an every-day thing, huh?

    still curious too on what was the green 'snap' drink they offered you...

    this sort of trips are the ones that 'enlighten' one, right? i bet your life was never the same after this Afghan ride

    glad you shared with us, the 'onlines'

  11. To Berenice,

    That green stuff "snap" was a powder, not liquid.


  12. That must have been quite an adventure! It must feel awful to read about all the violence that is happening in those very spots that you visited and even lived in! Do you ever think of revisiting Afghanistan?

  13. Answer to Id,

    +The question you asked is mine, too, from time to time.

    No, the answer is definitely no. I knew someone who went to A. as a nurse when the Mujaheddin were fighting the Soviets. Well, she told me she was treating lots of people with wounds that were not caused by the Red Army (very small wounds, stemming from kind of hand made bullets). The Afghanis she talked to didn't like to admit this.

    There are lots of countries I am not very keen on revisiting.


  14. "There are lots of countries I am not very keen on revisiting." ...I'd love to know why!

  15. Awesome (though I'm sure it felt more uncomfortable than awesome when you were going through it)! :o) I'd love to see Afghanistan one day, but, being an American, I guess I'll have to wait a while before that big fat bull's eye on my forehead has faded enough (thanks very much, GW Bush!). :oP

    I've never seen people sitting on top of a bus while traveling, but have been in many buses in Thailand in the 1980's-90's that were so thoroughly packed that people were hanging off the doors holding on to the railing. I still remember that when I ride on the sparsely populated buses here in San Diego, California. Even when gasoline price was up in the $4 per gallon region last year the buses were still running half empty!

    Anyhow, thanks very much again for stopping by at my blog earlier. I'm reading through your blog and am finding it fascinating. A good find for me! :o)


  16. To Smorg,

    Thanks for commenting. So the buses are running empty in San Diego. What does that mean? Maybe they are afraid to be mugged like in Paris suburbia or what?

    When I was in Afghanistan, I was not afraid a second. People were very friendly to us, very, very much. Quite possible this has changed since.


  17. hallo herr Georg,

    the buses run empty in San Diego, CA not 'cause people being afraid of being mugged, but because in Southern California people drive everywhere!! there are more cars than people, San Diego's freeway traffic on pic hours is bad... but nothing compared to Los Angeles, the city with worst traffic in the US

    Smorg, where in San Diego do you live? I live in Normal Heights :)

    Georg mentioned your blog, nice! and funny to meet a sandiegan blogger via herr Georg/La France, ah the www.

  18. Hallo Georg,
    Like Berenice says... The folks here really don't like to walk (apparently). ;o) They will come out for a morning jog or an evening run, but during the day, they drive everywhere (and parking in downtown is a nightmare)!

    And now that that 2 wheels upright motor-roller thingy is available, I'm even seeing overweight police riding around patrolling the sidewalks here on it. It's a weird thing (back in the Midwest we aren't so averse to walking, I think).

    I'm inclined to think that it is contributing to our weight problem a bit. People keep getting bigger because these gadgets are allowing them to put off losing the weight while still being able to get around. :oP

    Hey Berenice,
    I'm in East Village area. :o) It's a lot nicer here than it was a few years ago. And it is amazing where we meet indeed! Gotta go check your blog out now... the name alone is irresistible! ;o)

    Hope everyone is having a good weekend!

    Smorg :o)

  19. hi Smorg

    yes! it's very cool meeting you through Georg's blog. Yes! I am familiar with the East Village area, I went to City College for a semester for English as a Second Language :) and also I used to go to Pokez, that mexican restaurant, and the Library, it's a very cool area where you live, maybe I'll see you around listening to Opera the next time I go to downtown heh heh

    and yes have a great Sunday everybody here at Georg's reunion point


  20. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!