here, there, everywhere

The Word From Pakistan

In Asia, Pakistan on November 21, 2002 at 7:17 pm

Aren’t you all glad there’s only two messages left from moi?  I am, I’m almost at the end of my traveling rope and greatly looking forward to being clean again, especially after today’s pollution.  But back to the update…

Six of us jumped off the truck this past Sunday and headed north to Peshawar via plane.  It was a jumbo jet and since there were only 30 passengers, it was pretty much first class all the way.  On Monday, Cam, Jim and myself snuck on local transit to the off-limits town of Darra to see what we could see (read a longer version of the story here…).  As soon as we got off the bus, we were greeted by a town that went silent as soon as they saw us and started to stare intently at the tourists who shouldn’t be there.  On top of that freaky sensation, we could hear automatic rifles and pistols being fired off all around us as the makers were testing them out.  We ducked into a knife and brass-knuckle shop where I was examining an 8-inch stiletto knife when a local cop found us.  This was after one local told us that we needed a permit and it was ‘very dangerous to be here’.  The cop asked for our permit which of course we didn’t have and then proceeded to give us a tour of the gun factories and shops after we bribed him to let us stay.  Then he says ‘you want to fire gun?  No problem, you tell me you want, I bring’.  So we headed off to a valley behind the town where I guess the local firing range is and proceeded to fire off some rounds on an AK-47 and Chinese handgun.  I couldn’t figure out why there were no shells lying around until the 4 and 5 year old afghani kids materialized to jump at catching the ejecting shells.  Then we were hustled back into town where we had to wait in a secluded alley until the cop hailed our bus back to Peshawar and relative safety.  A very strange day.

Yesterday we hired Prince, a local Pakistani guide, to take us to the Khyber Pass.  It was a bumpy painful 2 hour ride in the back of a pick-up truck, enhanced by the armed guard we lawfully had to hire to keep the ruckus down in the tribal areas.  At last we were standing on the pass, looking at the Afghanistan border only 3 km away.  From a distance the country is stunning.  I guess I thought that since there is war that there would be a gunman hiding behind every tree and bombs would be exploding every 5 seconds.  Aside from that not being economically or socially feasible, the country is huge and there’s no way of seeing where the trouble is.  You won’t believe it but I actually turned down an opportunity to go to Kabul.  Peter and Eric, two of the guys I’m traveling with, headed there yesterday as it only took 4 hours to get the visa.  It seemed like a long way to go for only one day and the safety issue lay with my traveling companions, not the Afghans themselves.  We have bets on when and if we’ll ever see those two again.  So I stayed behind with the other guys and last night we took a first-class sleeper train to Lahore which is where we are now.

Lahore is overwhelming my senses, not to mention burning out my nose-hairs and melting my face like acid has been poured on it.  It’s loud, dirty, polluted, colourful, busy, and totally cool.  Only thing is I’m not ready for it after a night of train travel.  Tonight we’re doing the civilized western thing by going out for pizza and a movie while everyone else in the group is going to hunt down the stoned- Sufi dance-a-thon.

So onto India on Saturday which will be the last country on this part of the trip.  Yes, I’m happy it’s almost over.

And that’s it from Pakistan, I’d highly recommend it to anyone except my mother.  It is a wild frontier like country, the people are amazing as usual and the food is fantastic when you can get it.  It’s been Ramazan the whole time, which deserves its own message but you’ll never get it via e-mail.

One more message and I promise that’s it!!

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