The Triplegem Afghan Expedition: Herat Part 3
22 August 2005 – Herat
Just another summer day in Herat – heat and dust and wind. I showered and washed my Pakistani shalwar-kameez – I wore my Afghan-styled one that day. I did tai chi and exercises before heading out to my usual mango shake/pomegranate juice breakfast. I had plenty of time so I decided to take the scenic route. I wanted to stroll about and see if I could find the old Park Hotel, the famous old-styled hotel I remembered from the ’70s. It was the long, hot scenic route – past the Irani Consulate and a basketball court my daughter would have loved, around the beautiful Girdha Park, past the Park Hotel – ah-ha! Found it – it was being used as some kind of official building or police base. Not a hotel anymore, that was for sure. ‘Now to head for the Marco Polo,’ I thought – and promptly got myself seriously lost! I had no idea where I was – no landmarks, no shade at noon, took a wrong turn, lots of new and expensive buildings – the suburbs! Herat was rich by Afghani standards. I tried to spiral in toward someplace I knew and finally hit the back of the main bazaar and the Jam Hotel. Saved! I knew exactly where I was – I walked past the Jama Masjid and on towards the Marco Polo to check my email.
Air-conditioned Internet cafÃ©, expensive tourist hotel – ah, luxury after the hours I had just spent in the hot sun. Then, just when I thought the day was starting to look up – FUBARED! Three times the Internet refused to connect properly. While I was there two French tourists were using the Internet cafÃ© as well. They pointedly ignored me, as the French are sometimes wont to do, but I recognized their tour guide. He was one of John Mock’s Pakistani friends who I had talked to in Kabul about renting a land cruiser. His tourists were sticking to the main road. They had flown in to Herat and he was going to take them back to Kabul by the main road through Kandahar. We spent an hour over tea talking about Afghanistan and the slow return of tourists. I found out that there were no other tourists in town and that there was no time for me to take a few of his to Jam. Bummer, I was striking out right and left that day. I did manage to get on the Internet long enough to send two emails before the satellite connection failed again, this time for the duration…
Outside the Marco Polo I saw two ISAF armored personnel carriers with .50 cals on top. I took a few pictures and walked back to the hotel. Along the way I had some 6 Af vege-rolls and pomegranate juice. When I came out of the juice bar the same ISAF armor were parked at the roundabout. This time they didn’t want me to take a photo of them.
I rested during the heat of the day until 4:30 then went out in search of a nearby cyber-cafÃ©. I had a nice stroll, but for naught. Again I was impressed with how much Herat had changed during the past three years: Lots of money and new development – many modern supermarkets were to be found in the area, as well as building and household supply shops. I returned to the hotel, showered and changed to western garb to try one more time to find a cyber-cafÃ© before dinner. This time I walked in the same direction I had gone that morning, so I knew that there was a cyber-cafÃ©, I just didn’t know if it would be open and if it would have a connection. I was in luck (maybe it was changing), and I was able to send the rest of my email on old computers in hot, dusty air stirred by anemic fans.
I sauntered back along the main drag in the gathering twilight. I wouldn’t exactly call it cool, but there was an absence of intense heat than was a pleasant change. I stopped to check out an expensive-looking restaurant. It looked clean and nice, but expensive for Afghanistan: 200Afs for a full, multi-course meal with chicken kebabs and rice, through dessert. If I had been feeling hungrier I would have tried it out. Maybe next time – I think it was called the ‘Alishan,’ or something similar. Instead, I went to an Iranian restaurant on a side street near the school. There, on carpet-covered raised platforms, lounging on cushions, the sweet smell of perfumed tobacco wafting in the air from the groups at other platforms smoking hookahs and drinking tea, I had chicken kebabs for 100 Afs. The plates were Chinese porcelain, and so were the matching tea sets. It was a mellow meal, quite relaxing. After dinner I went back and sat on my balcony to enjoy the sunset and ponder the quirks of fate/kismet/karma. I wasn’t necessarily a fatalist, but you have to know when its time to fold a hand and hope for a better deal next time. Around 8:00 p.m. I went out for my last taste of Herat, pistachio ice cream for dessert. I soaked up the ambiance of the BollyWorld juice parlor and made a few attempts at art-y night and neon shots from the park and the roundabout, just to remember the moment. I watched the neon and the stars and listened to music until 10:30, when, resigned to my fate, I turned in.