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The Triplegem Afghan Expedition VIII – Maimana, Afghanistan

The Triplegem Afghan Expedition: Road to Herat Part 1

Afghanistan

17 August 2005 – Mazar-i-Sharif to Maimana

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver
I woke before dawn and took a great photo of the shrine with its multicolored neon lights – a time-lapse night shot. I was out front before 5:00 a.m. and Rafi rolled up in a taxi shortly thereafter. He took me to the shared taxi/minibus stop and I once again snagged the shotgun seat in a shared taxi for 600afs – about $10 US. We were rolling out of town just before 6:00. The road was still a pre-dawn cool and it was paved all the way to Sheberghan, the home of General Abdurrahman Dostom, the local strong man and the leader of the ethnic Uzbek faction of Afghanistan. He had started out as a local commander under the Soviets but switched sides and joined the Muj when it started to look like the Soviet days were numbered. A shrewd, canny general, he somehow always found himself to be on the winning side. It was wise of Karzai to keep both Dostom and Herat’s Ishmael Khan close to him – they were quite powerful and would make deadly enemies.

The paved road ended in Sheberghan. The taxi hung a sharp left and we were off through the rolling steppes, with no single road anymore, just myriad shallow paths through the grassland. I’d first traveled this road in the spring of 1975, sitting sideways in the back of a Russian-made 4WD truck with a bunch of Turkomen and sick as a skunk. This trip I was packing plenty of Dramamine. Off-road in Afghanistan, finally, I was back in time – the camel caravans to get water, the flocks of goats and sheep, the fierce kuchi dogs chasing the taxi and barking. Nomads! This was one of the few places in the world where the nomadic lifestyle was still practiced.

Desert Transport
Desert Transport
After a few hours I noticed something strange – the driver suddenly put his seat belt on! Uh-oh, if the driver puts his seat belt on in Afghanistan, I highly recommend that you do, too. I was quite pleased that I did. We descended into a defile beside a river and the sharp turns, steep rock-strewn road and questionable shoulders explained everything. After awhile the road smoothed out into another 1001 Nights spectacle. The driver had been rolling and smoking joints the whole trip, so, around 1:00 p.m. he began to get tired and turned to me with a lop-sided grin and asked me to drive. No problem, this was great, driving a Toyota Corolla through the desert north of Maimana in Northwestern Afghanistan, just trucking along in off-road splendor. I loved it! I used to ride a Russian motorcycle in Kathmandu, and I’d driven a few friends’ vehicles there, so I was familiar with third world roads, not to mention the 4WD I drove in Northern Japan, and all the off-roading in the Western US I’d done when I was young. I drove for nearly an hour, fording several rivers, including the large river outside of town. I stopped in the main square and switched places with the driver so he could drive me to the hotel.

I had no idea where to stay so I just had the driver ask for a good hotel and I ended up at a great place, the Municipal Hotel, called Dawlaut in Dari. It was set back on its own grounds behind a high, mustard-colored mud-brick wall. There were gardens and the style was that funky old classic Afghan, high ceilings and thick mud walls. It was only 500 Afs, about $8, for a room with three beds. I asked the old graybeard at the desk where to get a ride to Herat, and he pointed down the road and told to me to look for Saddam Yoush. It was a straight walk, about three blocks, so I knew that I could do it quite easily while carrying my pack early the next morning. I found the office and bought a ticket to Herat. I even talked with a few Afghanis I had met along the road to Maimana, as well as a few cute kids to whom I gave some four-colored pens for their schoolwork. 1,000 afs for a two-day ride didn’t sound too bad. It was going to be a 4WD Toyota HiAce with about 15 passengers. I knew it was going to be a hard ride – little did I know how hard it was going to be. The van was scheduled to leave at 5:00 a.m. the next day, so I planned another early night.

Local Bikers
Local Bikers
But first, a random stroll through the bazaar was on my agenda. Then I’d look up Rafi’s friend in the jewelry bazaar. Almost the entire town was dirt streets and interesting shops. I stopped at a homemade ice cream shop and it was as delicious as Mazar’s, really hit the spot in the dry, dusty heat of an Afghan summer.

Once in the bazaar, it didn’t take me long to find Rafi’s friend. There really weren’t any tourist-oriented shops, but there had never been many visitors, even in the ’70s. The jewelry shops were for the locals, but I did find two glass beads, probably Venetian from the mid-1800s, and I bought them for 200 afs. I ate at street stalls along the way as I rambled about the town searching for my hotel. I eventually found it and sat in the garden and gazed at the nearly full moon for awhile before turning in early. I really enjoyed sleeping on the charpoy – traditional rope beds used in the region.

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