12 August 2005 – Kabul, Afghanistan
Friday – the Islamic day of rest – I had breakfast at the Mustafa – naan, omelet, hash browns and coffee. Breakfast at the Mustafa was eaten in an open, marble-paved courtyard on the second floor. This was where we’d had the barbecue the night before. There I ran into another tourist. He was an Aussie named Peter Forwood – bald on top, short grey hair and beard, tall and lean. He was 52, three years younger than me. He was riding his Harley around the world, and he’d been doing so for over nine years. Thus, he was pretty notorious in the biker community. He’d just driven down from Tajikistan, so we traded traveler’s tall tales. During breakfast, Jacque, the Vietnamese fellow I’d spent the evening talking to with Stephan, the German, in Peshawar, stopped by to use the Internet Cafe at the Mustafa. The guys were all looking for a cheap hotel and Peter told him about the Park Hotel, near the river. While this was going on John Mock stopped by, and we arranged to meet for lunch. He was busy all morning with the Aga Khan foundation arranging for their trek of the Wakhan Corridor.
Kabul Market Scene
I finally had a chance to get out and cruise Chicken Street, but, being Friday, my friend Sayed Naveed’s shop #273, Kanishka, was closed. I caught up on my email until John and Kim came back. We decided to go to their luxurious NGO hotel for lunch in the garden under the grape vines. I had a veggie burger and we talked about times old and new. I’ve known John since the early ’80s when we met in Gilgit, then went to Hunza together. He had been co-leading a trek in Northern Pakistan with Hugh Swift, who I knew from Kathmandu. I’d just come over the passes from Chitral, and that’s where they were taking their group. Later, when he was head of the Nepali Studies program for World College West in Kathmandu we were all part of the local expat scene. After I moved to Japan and became a university professor, he got his PhD with honors from Berkeley and began teaching Hindi/Urdu at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He and Kim authored several of the Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Trekking in the Karakorum and Hindukush. The year before they’d received a Bill Tilman expedition grant from the Gore-Tex company to become the first foreigners since Fran Shorr’s ‘Marco Polo, If You Can’ expedition in the 1950s to cross the Pakistan border at the end of the Wakhan Corridor. This year the Aga Khan Foundation was sponsoring them to do another trek and explore the possibilities for tourism. They would be leaving the next day for Faisabad.
Kabul Market Scene
At 6:00 p.m. I walked the three klicks back to the Mustafa. It was quite a pleasant stroll. I couldn’t believe that people actually considered such a short stroll to be dangerous. It was a hot, thirsty walk, so I stopped in the bar at the Mustafa. Over a Happy-Hour Becks I got to talking with Wais about the old days in Afghanistan, and what he thought about the recent developments. As we talked Abdul, the manager, came in and told me that some people were asking to see me. I excused myself and went out to the courtyard-restaurant area and saw that it was the guys from Peshawar along with a Chinese guy I had also met at the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar.
We sat at a table under the stars in the marble courtyard and talked about the Central Route to Herat, probably one of the most difficult journeys in the world today. They were leaving on it the next day. We drank green tea and talked of Afghanistan. I was hoping to do the same journey, but by 4WD Land Cruiser. All I needed was two more people to go in on it with me, that couldn’t be so hard, could it? They left early because they had to catch a pre-dawn minibus to Bamiyan.
So I went back into the bar and had an adventure that became an oft-told tale. Something I liked to call: THE CHINESE BROTHEL SCENE.