Country 67. Welcome to Pakistan.
The four of us were down stairs and loading our respective bikes by 6:30am, whilst the guy on reception frantically called his military buddies. We’d already made a group decision to head off whether we had an escort or not.
The morning’s fresh chill had already gone and the day was warming up fast when the last of the bags were strapped down. The sight of a lone green uniformed soldier running through the small hotel gate had us all sighing. What the hell was he going to do? No car, no bike? Ten minutes later and with words exchanged we’d made it clear that we were leaving. The young soldier looked concerned more than pissed. “Guy’s we are going to have to take him with us…if we head off, this poor guy is going to get a hammering from superiors, who knows what kind of trouble he’ll get into”! I spluttered a little half-heartedly. It was soon agreed. Quickly swapping around our bags and spares we made space on the back of my bike and with the soldier sitting on top of my Ortlieb water proof hold-all we pulled out of the hotel yard and a few miles later pulled up at the Iran-Pakistan frontier.
Much like entering Iran, leaving was simple enough but time consuming. After we’d completed the process at one department the staff simply led us to the next one. At the last gate, the chubby happy guard took our entry papers and wished us well for on our onward travels.
On the Pakistan side a feeling of chaotic ease quickly replaced the air of stringent rules and big brother. Two men in long robes directed us to park up and outstretched arms had the 4 of us heading into the long low white washed hut to our right. Inside a guard waved us to the front of the heaving throng of Pakistani nationals and into a small corridor where we filled in our immigration papers. The next room was jam packed as we pushed our way past 20 or so chador clad women to the end of the desk where the small dirty sign read ‘foreign tourist’. “Isn’t anyone who isn’t a Pakistani a tourist?” I thought quietly to myself, amused by my own question.
More women entered the small room until the 4 of us were surrounded and fighting for what little desk space we could find. Lisa turned and scolded two of the women who had been pushing into her for the last ten minutes. They may not have understood her words but they clearly understood the sentiment. Even the immigration officer was loosing his cool, he’d already warned them half a dozen times to no avail, until finally deciding he’d had enough barked something fierce and ordered all those not being seen to to leave the room immediately; well that’s what we guessed he’d yelled as the room slowly emptied; the gaggle of women leaving like scolded children.
With passports checked we were directed to customs some 2-miles up the road.
The bright light stung my eyes a blinding contrast to the low fluorescent lit immigration room. Alex was already changing a few USA dollars for Pakistani rupees by the time I got to my bike. Nico quickly followed suit, with slightly less success. The tall white bearded and tired looking money changer had given Nico a lower rate then Nico had expected. Nico was about to throw his toys out of the pram.
“Why do you do this? Why…eh?’ Nico yelled, the accusational question sounding all the harsher because of Nico’s thick East German accent.
“You are cheating me…why?”…”You are a cheater, it’s not right, why do you cheat me, you are just cheating…why do you do this?”
It was like listening to an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator. I was already having to stop myself from laughing out loud.
After overcoming our collective shock Alex and I tried in vain to calm Nico down. He was already attracting unwanted attention to our small group. Nico was having none of it!
“NO! Why do you do this job…why? Why do you do this job? “he yelled angrily again. “You are cheating me why do you do this?”
With Nico now on his bike I did my best to apologize to the hapless and now insulted money changer. There seemed little point in trying to explain to Nico that this poor bastard certainly didn’t have a bank account and so Iranian cash had little value for him, as his only means to change it would be to other western tourist and most of them travel west to east. There was just no way he could give us the bank exchange rate and make any money.
Inside the customs compound Nico had calmed down. Parking up in font of the stone and brick two story building we headed inside. The smiling face of the customs officer was a good change from the stone like scowls of their counterparts on the Iranian side.
After 30 minutes we’d Alex and Nico had passed over their documents and had their details entered into what has to be the biggest heaviest book any of us have ever seen. “Would you like a cup of tea?’ the officer asked in polite English, taking us all by surprise. 4 nodding heads had him snapping his fingers and a few minutes later his tea wallah came scurrying with a pot of freshly brewed black tea, a small jug of milk and a plate of biscuits.
“I think I’m going to love Pakistan!” I mumbled through a mouthful of dunk biscuit. Feeling at ease we made polite conversation with the still scribing official, thanking him for his kindness. There was more to come.
“have you had lunch?” he continued.
With the formalities complete we were shown to a small annexed room, seated at a large wooden table and a small hospital like screen was pulled across to offer us privacy. We’d accepted his kind offer thinking we would be served a few more biscuits. 20 minutes later and the four us were grinning like idiots as the officer personal chef served up a 3 course lunch of soup, vegetable curry and rice and then a rice pudding desert. We were in our element savoring the spicy flavors of the thick veg curry, after Iran’s pleasant but bland cuisine. Our offers of cash were forcefully declined.
“Welcome to my country, welcome to Pakistan”, our new benefactor stated as he thumped the last heavy stamp onto the last of the tired looking documents.
A new sense of relief and excitement felt amongst the four of us had replaced the angst we’d started the day with.
4-miles further on and the smooth asphalt had delivered us to the military convoy we’d been told by immigration to expect. Warm handshake and smiles were easily exchanged and with our passports checked and promptly and politely handed back we were soon tucked in behind the small 4X4, the two rifle carrying guards with their legs hung over the back of the tail gate, grinning at us as they exchanged comments between themselves.
The light grey road speeding beneath us disappeared into the heat blurred horizon; a long, long ribbon of tar cutting through an otherwise flat desert landscape. I was in my element. I love deserts.
By nightfall we’d swapped escorts 4 times and in the pitch black had pulled into the tiny town of Yakmack. Behind a stone wall we’d been shown the town s only accommodation, two dirt encrusted rooms with a layer of dust an inch thick. The four of us took turns in laughing at the conditions we were being shown. It was all in good humor and after thanking the owner for showing us his rooms we offered to simply camp out front and pay him the same rate he’d asked for the rooms.
The lone and older guard who had been posted as sentry watched us pitch our tents from the shadows. His body language stating the pride he felt as a career military man and the seriousness with which he now took his new role as our guardian. I felt lucky to have him here but guilty at the same time’ guilty that we were now taking up his time. Four silly bikers who wanted to travel were now under his protection. I felt unworthy. Leant against the dirty wall waiting for Alex to find his clean socks in the dark, I wondered if this older guard felt resentment towards us, for taking up his time?
The smell of food from across the road had the four of salivating, we’d not eaten today. Dirty bike kit and all, we quickly seated ourselves on one of the shabby floor rugs and did our best to mimic the seating position of the 5 other diners. The restaurant was nothing more than a large stone room. Two of the walls had been painted with bright murals; a mixture of birds, flowers and local scenes. In the corner a plump short man with sprouting shoulder hair stirred two vast pots of steaming something over a roaring wood fire. The huge wooden spoon in his hands looking like a prop from the film ‘honey I shrunk the kids”.
Plates of curry, rice and broken popadom were placed at our feet as each of us fidgeted to get comfy on the hard floor. By the time we’d finished the word was out and a group of 20 or so had gathered around the room, each had come to watch the aliens…us!
Without going into laborious details it took us an hour to pay the bill as per head the chef had worked the bill out to be close to $10 per head. With the help of a passing school teacher (teaching English) we argued that a bowl of rice simply couldn’t be $6! The drastic shortage of rice was to blame we were told. None of us were buying that. We ended up paying the equivalent of $4 and laughed the experience off, the whole discussion had been firm but good humored with the chef inviting us all back for breakfast in the morning.
Back at our camp the old guard carefully checked both directions before unlocking the gate.
The shrill horn of a 4X4 had us all whipping our heads in the direction of the gate as a single bright lamp was swung on its pivot in our direction. Lisa look of concern mirrored my own. “Shit? This could be it, we’re about to be kidnapped and our poor old guard is going to be helpless. Pulling into the yard yells of geetings in English quickly quelled our silly fears.
“Hello, hello, everything is good?” asked the energetic sergeant. “ we heard that you are here and we come to see you are OK!”
“Things are OK, you are good” he asked again, until happy with our reply.
After a quick brew up and two rounds of tea with our new friends it turns out they are based 10-miles up the road and we’ll be seeing them tomorrow morning to check documents and pick up our new escorts.
I wished I’d been fast enough to grab a few photos of the 4X4 complete with the 50-caliber machine gun mounted in the back. I use the word ‘mounted” lightly as they basically had this formidable looking weapon trust up and now hoisted between two stout tree branches, with another plank running horizontally from sill to sill to brace the design.
With promises to see them all tomorrow morning excahanged and further refills of tea refused, they sped off into the night and we all settled back down.
What a day, welcome to Pakistan.