The Triplegem Afghan Expedition: Road to Herat Part 3
19 August 2005 – ??? to Herat
The stereotyped expression ‘to be rudely awakened’ was what sprang to mind when my shoulder was shaken at 3:00 a.m.! On the road again! Pitch dark! I got my clothes rearranged, packed up my blanket and bivvy sack, threw water on my face and we were off before 3:30 a.m.! Before dawn we got stuck in a narrow defile (the hike up the steep slopes was invigorating in the dark) and again my SureFire flashlight proved indispensable. A jeep and another van were waiting behind ours, but it took nearly and hour of combined effort to finally top the steep trail, grinding in 4WD low all the way up.
It was beautiful watching the dawn break squatting on the edge of a precipice in such a remote and forbidding place. Time and space were all forgotten; at such an extreme there can only be existence.
Villages alternated with nomadic encampments, the burned-out hulks of tanks became ubiquitous, we forded rivers that would have been impassible in the spring and early summer, sometimes we drove at a 45-degree angle over boulders, the drop a slanting 50 meters, not enough to kill everyone, but broken bones were assured. I’d been on hairier roads in Northern Pakistan ?â€ trees driven into the sides of the cliff and covered with mud and branches, a steep drop littered with the wrecks of overloaded cargo jeeps mere inches from the wheels, standing on the back bumper clinging to the metal frame and ready to jump at any minute ?â€ but only a few. This ranked up there in my top five hairiest roads. The same intense heat and the fine, pervading dust was everywhere. The discomfort was extreme, but there was nothing to do but endure it until the next stop, which were few and far between on that 17-hour drive.
We had one stop in a large-ish town for the area, and had lunch at a flyblown kebob stand with more melon for dessert. Afterwards I strolled the bazaar and met a 12-year-old boy and his younger brother. He spoke almost perfect English to me, so I asked him about it. He was the son of the local doctor and he had been learning in a special class at his school for only one and a half years. He was very quick and intelligent, learning better English from a non-native-speaking teacher than my students in Japan did after six years in school with native-speaking ALTs. I was impressed with him so we talked for a while, letting him practice his English. The only other time he’d had a chance to practice with foreigners had been about a month before when three Austrians came through traveling in a private land cruiser.
On the outskirts of town we were stopped at an Army check post. We all got out while they searched the van for weapons or explosives. I again got a warm reception from the local commander when I spoke to him in Dari.
We climbed through steep and winding mountain passes in the late afternoon, and when we came down the other side we were in the plains, though Herat was still hours away. It was with great surprise that I suddenly found myself riding on kilometers and kilometers of new, smooth, wide blacktop highway, it was part of a project to improve trade with Turkmenistan. The road ended as abruptly as it had started. Weird! We stopped near a small stream so that the men could wash before their prayers; the heat and dust were less on this side of the pass, and there was a warm wind, part of the 120-day summer wind of Herat. It was 8:00 p.m. when they dropped me off in front of the Mowafaq hotel in the center of town. I preferred it to the funk of the cheapo Jam Hotel in the bazaar, or the new, up-class Marco Polo. I’d stayed at the Mowafaq three years before and I knew to ask for a room with a balcony on the street with a view of the minarets and the citadel. It took me some haggling, but I got one for 600 Afs – $10 ?â€ a night. After I ate I turned in early. 9:30 and I was beat!