Published: December 30th 2011December 30th 2011
It seems a long time ago since I last posted a blog entry; about my poor broken bike. Probably because it has been a long time! I’d like to say it was because I’ve been too busy, what with this world adventure travelling, but Tanja might disagree and say it’s because I’m lazy.Anyway, a lot to write about.
After getting the bike going again we waited in Kerman for Damon to arrive. Being a ‘local’ of sorts – he lives in Sydney but was born in New Zealand – he immediately became known as ‘Day-mo’. Although he has complained a little about this. But, hey if he doesn’t want to be Australian then he probably shouldn’t have become a citizen and got himself a passport. Damo it is.
After Damo arrived, we said our goodbyes to our new found Iranian friends and set off to ride the 180km from Kerman to Bam. I did feel a little nervous about my bike, but it all went smoothly and we arrived at the Akhbar Guest House in Bam not long after lunch. At the Akhbar we discovered that far from being the ‘last overlanders of the
The box of tricks
Tanja on the 'didgeridoo'
season’ we would in fact be quite a big group crossing into Pakistan. Already at the Akhbar were two Canadians in a Nissan 4WD they were driving from London to Australia, and ‘Hariom’ in his hippy bus who claimed his home “is in India”… although his passport said he was Austrian and his name was Bernhard. Later in the evening two more overlanders joined us, Roberto and Marianna, both Italians.
Our first evening together as a group was quite entertaining, as Hariom pulled out his ‘box of tricks’ in the form of a modified didgeridoo that you could lay on while he played. It looked more impressive than it was, something that became a bit of a recurring theme with Hariom. I gather he also had a different box of tricks where he stored his hash, a box the Canadians had been rather assisting him to empty. I was a bit doubtful that carrying hash around Iran, let alone across the Pakistan border, was a good idea. However, one glance inside the hippy bus put my fears to rest; in true hippy fashion most things inside the van appeared to be caked in a black sticky substance. Trying to
Looks as good as new? Cos it is.
find some black sticky hash inside the black sticky van would be a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack… a straw coloured needle at that.
We did have quite a fun evening though, and with promises to attend Hariom’s “free” Yoga class in the morning we all went off to bed. I dozed off that night with visions of us following a routine of morning Yoga and relaxed riding/driving as we crossed the desert on our way to India, arriving in a state of relaxed bliss with flowers in my hair and a new outlook on life.
Yoga in the morning turned out not to be “free”, instead “donations were of course appreciated”; or so we were told at the end of our rather too long and rather too hard ‘introductory’ Yoga lesson. There was also something of a clash between the closing lines of our lesson, that we should “release our expectations and desires so that we could find happiness” and the message that followed shortly after: ‘donations expected, money clearly desired’.
Before we set off in our convoy, we spent the day exploring Bam. There used to be a fantastic
Early start from Bam
The convoy about to leave Bam
800 year old fort in Bam. Unfortunately it all fell down in an earthquake some years ago. Fortunately, the Iranians have decided to put it all back up again. Somewhat like our free Yoga lesson, it was fun but also a bit disappointing; ‘new’ historical monuments sort of miss the point. I also thought it would have been nice if the Iranians had spent a bit of money rebuilding the bits of Bam where people lived, rather than the bits where they didn’t.
Heading for the border
The following morning, in fact bloody early the following morning, we were all packed up and ready to leave for Pakistan! Surprisingly even the late sleeping Italians (and us for that matter) had managed to make the 6am departure schedule. So we set off, and after a final tour of Bam (in fact me getting us lost) we were on the road. The first 200km of the trip to the border were reasonably uneventful, but from there on we were ‘escorted’. This usually involved travelling short distances quite slowly and then waiting a long time for another truck full of Iranian soldiers to turn up to escort us the next
short distance. This reached a pinnacle in Zahedan, where at one stage we were ‘escorted’ from one roundabout exit to another, before being ‘escorted’ to another place in the city where we waited about two hours for our next escort. Despite our early start, any prospect of crossing the border had disappeared and we were now just hoping to make it to Mirjavah (the town on the Iranian side of the border) before it got dark. In the end we did make Mirjavah, but had to ride for the last half an hour or so in the dark.
Curiously, despite his Yoga contorting, hash smoking, no expectations or desires approach to life, Hariom was quite irated by the time we arrived in Mirjavah. Firstly he had a go at the petrol station attendant for not filling his van all the way up, and then he got into a yelling match with the hotel owner about the price of parking his van for the night in their car park. More Austrian Bernhard than Indian Hariom, perhaps.
Crossing the border!
It really was good bye Iran, as we travelled the short distance to the Pakistan border. Things on
One of our escorts from the Pakistan border
the Iranian side went reasonably smoothly and efficiently. The Iranian side was actually quite a contrast to the Pakistan side. In Iran the car parks were paved and the buildings were made of real bricks and mortar. On the Pakistan side, it was mostly dirt, dust and shacks. At one stage I was told to “go and register for Levies protection at that building over there”; the ‘building’ being a pile of sandbags with a rusty tin roof.
We also had our first “accident” with the bikes at the border. As there were quite a lot of shifty border types hanging around, I was waiting with the bikes while the others did the paperwork. Damo had parked his bike in front of Hariom’s van and ours were behind. Hariom suggested we move the bikes together, so he could see them as well. He grabbed Tanja’s and started pushing, I was about to say ‘wait, it’s ok I’ll move them’ but instead thought ‘he’s got a bike of his own in India, it’s only a short distance, what could go wrong?’. CRUNCH. Something had clearly gone wrong, ‘f*ck he’s dropped Tanja’s bike I thought’. I ran around the front of
Our 'friends' from the desert
Maybe they were soldiers, maybe they were Taliban, as long as they weren't kidnapping us they were ok!
the van. No, I was wrong, he’d managed to drop Tanja’s bike into Damon’s. Both were now lying on their sides. Fortunately nothing was damaged, just a few scuffs and scrapes.
Our first night in Pakistan
We set off from the border crossing with two AK47 wielding ‘escorts’, albeit one was fairly long in the tooth… or perhaps more accurately, short of a few teeth. One of the escorts had drawn the short straw and ended up in the hippy bus, while the other was in one of the four wheel drives. It was a bit surreal being surrounded by AK47s, and I wasn’t sure if it made me feel more or less safe.
The drive itself was quite beautiful, heading across the desert with the sun fading behind us. Although at one stage a Toyota pick-up came roaring out of the desert towards the road, looking like it was trying to intercept us. There were about six blokes in the back, all with big guns and a tripod mounted heavy calibre machine gun on the roof. Our two ageing escorts and their AK47s were looking seriously outnumbered and outgunned. Fortunately, they all waved at our
escorts and everyone seemed to know each other, but I did have the ‘kidnapped in Pakistan’ stories flashing through my head for a few moments.
We only made it as far as the desert town of Nokoondi the first day, about 120km. The border crossing had taken five hours. In Nokoondi we were allowed to all sleep in a ‘guest room’ at the side of the police station, quite a fun experience… except for the snoring. We weren’t allowed to go wandering around the village, as our escorts told us it was too dangerous, so we all cooked a communal pasta together on our MSR camp stoves; except for Hariom, who went for a wander around the village.
The long drive to Quetta
Quetta was still over 500km away, and we were to be escorted all the way. We had also been told the road would get bad from Dalbandin, at about the half way point. So it was a mite frustrating when the hippy bus set a far from blistering 65km/h as the pace for the day. Hariom claimed it was because he had water in the fuel, whatever it was it wasn’t helping us
get to Quetta. Still, apart from the slow pace, it was quite amazing to be riding in a convoy across the Pakistan desert, being guarded by AK47 wielding escorts, not far from the Afghanistan border. Although by 5pm, with the sun setting and still 148km to go the novelty had started to fade and we were just bloody tired. Everyone in the group had discussed it being too dangerous to drive at night, and we’d all agreed we wouldn’t do it. So we suggested to the car drivers that we stay the night at the police station where we were. A brief conference followed. Bernhard (he was no longer Hariom) came over and said the car drivers would continue and wait for us in Quetta. I felt like killing him. He’d held us up all day, we did 65km/h because of his useless van when we could have safely gone about 100km/h. The escorts were pushing us to continue, and now we would either have to ride at night well into the dark or wave goodbye to the car drivers and camp alone at the police station.
In the end we rode on, and it was sh*t. It was
freezing cold. The road was in a terrible condition in places. Visibility was poor, there were large rocks randomly on the road, and we were reduced to about 40km/h; except Bernhard who f**ked off and drove too fast (for the first time in the history of the hippy bus) leaving us behind without an escort. After 13 hours of riding, the last three of it in pitch black freezing conditions, we finally arrived in Quetta.
Fortunately there was beer! Unfortunately it was Murree’s beer. Haven’t heard of it? There’s a reason for that, it’s Pakistani and it’s terrible. There are medals on the cans from when it apparently won some prizes. The most recent of which was from about 1927, the others were from the late 1800s. Either beer has moved on from those days, or Murree’s brewery is banking on the fact that the records for all these apparent beer competitions have long since been destroyed. It was also about €5 a can. Damo and I had one, it was more than enough. Damo had also decided not to eat any food in Pakistan, unless he cooked it himself and it came from a can; so we
The 'guest room' at Nokoondi
It was all fun and cosy... until the snoring started (culprits will not be named)
had tuna pasta in the room. It was bad, but better than the beer.
Quetta itself was a dump. There were open sewers on the sides of the road, there was not a woman to be seen, military checkpoints were at the major intersections, and there was a grim and unwelcoming feel to the place. We were curfewed in the hotel after 6pm, probably unnecessarily as we had no desire to leave after that time. Except for Bernhard, who was annoyed he could not go out for chai with the tuk tuk driver that had helped him find hash earlier in the day. Apparently he had asked the hotel owner where he could find the Taliban because he thought they would have the best hash in town, but was advised against going looking for the Taliban and so had settled on approaching a local tuk tuk instead.
We decided not to wait for the hippy bus anymore, as we didn’t want to end up riding in the dark again… amongst other potential problems that may arise.
Life in Pakistan
From Quetta we became separated from all the cars in the Bolan pass, and so it
was just the three bikes at liberty to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Pakistan’s roads. The Bolan pass itself was quite beautiful, and quite fun to ride through. Now that we were across the desert, traffic was also increasing. Overloading was perhaps the most noticeable sight. In the desert it was mainly just trucks we saw, and they all seemed to be stacked to the point where things were falling off, after which more appeared to have been added. But now it wasn’t just trucks, there was a Toyota Hiace van whistling through the pass, Pakistanis packed in so tight they looked like little sardines, their faces all pressed up against the windows unable to move, not to mention the six more people clinging to the roof racks. At one stage we passed a tractor that had been turned into a hay bale woolly mammoth, it was taking up almost all the road… in both directions! There were camels towing carts, bicycles, rickshaws and loads of little Honda 70cc motorbikes bearing the curious logo “Cash Deposit 70”.
And that brings me to Pakistani driving: it makes Iranians look good! At one stage we were riding
Somewhere in the desert. Note the "Touratech" auxiliary fuel tanks.
along a dual carriageway with Damon in front when a little white car came straight towards us, going the wrong way down the fast lane. After moving out of the way, we all waved and cursed at him thinking he was too stupid to have realised. Then a few more cars came the wrong way. We were wondering if we’d missed a sign or something, but we could see the other two lanes across the dividing ditch and cars were still going along them. Then we worked it out, the other side of the road hadn’t been resurfaced and it was quite bumpy, so people decided to use our side of the road instead! *sigh* this sort of thing didn’t happen in Iran.
After Quetta our next night’s stop was in Sukkar. We arrived in the dark (again) and didn’t see much of it. What we did see of it made Quetta look good. The last stretch to get there was chaos: tractors towing big carts, trucks, camels, donkeys, cars, bicycles and all going at different speeds and all fighting over a dusty, bumpy, potholed and ever shrinking strip of tarmac. Sometimes the tarmac would disappear
Too many AK47s
So many of the bloody things around they even gave one to this idiot!
entirely and become dust, or worse a pool of fetid mud. Usually this would happen just as we entered some shit pit little town and the traffic got even heavier. At one stage a bicycle crashed into Tanja’s boot and fell off, although she was able to remain upright. I saw another bloke nearly come off, wife side saddle on the back, because he’d been looking at our bikes and hadn’t seen the patch of sand about to swallow his front wheel. By the time we arrived at our hotel we were filthy, everything was covered in dust. It was stuck to our bags, our jackets, our faces and there was even quite a lot of it up our noses.
Amazingly as we rode into town we’d seen a KFC. Even more amazingly Tanja decided she wanted it for dinner. At considerable expense we sent a man from our hotel out to get it (we were still being guarded and weren’t allowed to leave without an escort; not that we wanted to). The KFC was bad, but nevertheless Damo ate both the chicken burgers he ordered… yes, he ordered food in Pakistan - after all KFC had to be
Not much fuel between the border and Quetta
safe, they have western hygiene standards, and it’s all deep fried. The KFC was in fact so bad the Murree’s beer actually tasted good in comparison (we hadn’t learnt from Quetta and ordered two more Murree’s, feeling as if we’d earned it after our hard day’s ride).
The next day we rode to Multan. The roads were better, even if the driving wasn’t. We were still being escorted, and after a misunderstanding as to our budget we were taken to the Ramada. The Ramada in Multan looks like a security bunker, there are concrete bollards out the front, security personnel with shotguns everywhere and a sandbagged machine gun nest on the roof. We stayed at a cheaper (and probably safer) hotel just up the road. Strangely our hotel had more staff than guests. In fact they had more staff than rooms. Nothing seemed to work very well, and every time you pointed it out about six of them would come into your room and poke at things, start conversations and generally be annoying and not leave. Pretty soon we stopped pointing out that things didn’t work; cold showers were more pleasant than six visitors who still
couldn’t get the hot water to work.
I know it shouldn’t have been funny, but after avoiding eating any local food, after laughing at us as we ate at roadside ‘restaurants’ with our police escorts dipping dirty fingers in our food, it was Damo that got sick. Apparently he had a dose of the squirts that made his bathroom look like someone had planted a firecracker in a fresh cow poo. We think it was the KFC that did it! I would like to say that we were sympathetic and that we didn’t laugh, but in fact I’m still chuckling about it now.
I would also like to say I enjoyed Multan, but the truth is all we saw of it was the walk between our hotel and the Ramada. Although we were too poor to stay at the Ramada, we had decided we were not too poor to eat there and so settled on overeating once a day at the buffet. Not having learnt from his KFC experience, Damo had also decided the food there was safe.
At one stage I did try and go out with Tanja on a ‘cultural appreciation walk’ but within one
block gave up. The stench, rubbish, fumes, overloaded donkeys and general chaos had me scurrying back to the peace of our five star sanctuary. A headline in a local paper sums up a lot about Pakistan: “Women stand protected now. Forced marriages, acid throwing, physical violence, sexual torture to be considered criminal acts. 14 year jail term for guilty” – backwards, very, very backwards. Iran was a more progressive country, by a long shot.
The road improved even further on the way to Lahore, and apart from the general low level stupidity common on the Pakistani roads we made it without incident. After Quetta, Sukkar and Multan we actually quite liked Lahore and ended up staying a week. We also caught up with Markus, Esther and Oli again as they had gone north up the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and returned to Lahore about the same time we arrived. Unfortunately Markus had bike troubles on the KKH and got to share my ‘loading it into a truck experience’, although his problems were not of his own making. His truck journey was also a bit longer, 22 hours non-stop! We ended up visiting the shop where they fixed
Room for more
Did I mention overloading?
Markus’s bike – Hi-Speed in Lahore – where they generously they let us do our oil changes etc at the shop for free. After they even took us out for dinner, and paid the entire meal. The only bad bit was trying to keep up with them as we chased around in the Lahore traffic in the dark.
What else of note happened during our week in Lahore? Amazingly, Damon wanted KFC again. We ended up eating the bloody stuff twice more. Tanja and I also had some more tasty local food in a place that would make Damon cringe, when we were adopted by a local and taken to a restaurant in the bazaar. The day before we left Lahore we went to the border closing ceremony at Wagah. It was pretty impressive. Lots of marching, high kicking and boot stamping. And that brings us up to crossing the border into India… but it’s nearly 10pm at night and we still have to select photos, so the blog for India will have to wait until another day.
There are more photos below