Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Monday, September 19, 2005 06:13:17|
Himalayas & China 2005: 3 - Dubai to Kabul, Afghanistan
Friday, September 16, 2005
Last night didn't work as planned. It took almost three hours to finish and send the last email by the time I fought through in-room internet that didn't work, club floor computers with no internet connection, and finally an appeal to management to allow me to use a hotel computer. I wanted to get it away as there is no telling when we will next be able to send email.
Once in bed there was no sleep. We are in the land of feather pillows, to which I'm violently allergic. Marilynn, however, was happily zizzing away as soon as we were in the room, so she was OK. I spent the night solving anticipated problems and sneezing. Our wakeup call at 3:15 AM seemed a long time coming, and proved quite unnecessary.
The drive to the airport, formalities and boarding all went smoothly. The plane had a full load of Afghan workers returning from Dubai, who were herded onto the plane first. Those of us with first class tickets were asked to wait, and unusual procedure when first comes last, however the reason become clear when we were told to board and found we had to take a bus to the plane. They let the others crowd into the first bus, then laid on a bus for the dozen of us that were left. It was just as well, as the strong odour in the boarding lounge indicated that deodorant was not a top priority for the group in economy.
The flight was comfortable. Breakfast on the plane was chicken shish kebab, a lamb chop with vegetable and meat filled pasta rolls - quite tasty. On approach to Kabul we flew over one military base after another, and there were lots of military and police presence at the airport. The formalities were quick and painless, and we were met as planned. Due to tightened security before the election the van picking us up was not allowed into the airport, so we had to walk to a nearby parking lot. There we met Manan, our guide for today.
As requested, our first stop was the Canadian Embassy, which is located on a city street with barriers on both ends manned by armed police. Our van was not permitted on the street, perhaps due to an embassy vehicle having been blown up in March this year, so we left the driver with the vehicle and walked.
Today is a holiday in Afghanistan. At the embassy we were informed no staff were in, but eventually the head of security came out to talk to us. He said the trip to Bamiyan should be no problem, although it was a long drive. He had been in the area the previous week, so that was comforting. Apparently most of the problems are in the south of the country, the north is quite safe. We had given the embassy our arrival time and date as they had stressed the importance of registering, but they failed to mention that on the date in question it would be impossible. As the embassy will not reopen until the day before we leave we will forget registration.
We check into the InterContinental Hotel, which was built in 1969 and has seen better days. It had not been operated by InterContinental since the Russian invasion, and maintenance was obviously not a priority. The air conditioner in our room sounded like a Mack truck with no muffler climbing a hill, but produced absolutely no cold air. Crepe paper is used for toilet paper, so with each usage it sands everything smooth.
The hotel is very secure. There were two heavily guarded barriers on the entry road that climbs the hill on which the hotel is perched, and lots of armed police around the hotel area. The view from our balcony is quite spectacular.
After a siesta we headed down for lunch. There is little English spoken and we were unable to communicate that we did not want the huge buffet, what we wanted was a menu for something light. What we ended up with was a bottle of water, so that was lunch, as it was time to meet our guide.
The tour of Kabul was interesting. The amount of damage caused during the war is huge - even with extensive rebuilding there are destroyed buildings everywhere. The grand palace, which was the residence of the king in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is extensively damaged, although the guide says there are plans to rebuild it. That will be a very major job. There were a number of gaily decorated wedding cars - it is the season to get married here, as it is not possible during the month of Ramadan, which will start in early October.
It was interesting to learn is that it is not the Taliban that are disrupting the election process - in fact three of their former cabinet ministers are running. It is apparently the Pakistan fundamentalists. Pakistan apparently has a stake in ensuring continual instability in the Afghanistan to put off the inevitable demands for the return of an Afghan province captured by the British, and still part of Pakistan. The Afghans feel that once Afghanistan is stabile that the government will act to try to have the province returned - it is apparently in the campaign speech of every presidential hopeful and dear to the hearts of all Afghans.
We did not realize that this is not a presidential election - the president has four more years to go of his seven-year term. It is for members of congress. It is expected the Taliban candidates will win. They have a lot of money and buying votes in this country, which is not used to democratic elections, is the norm.
We had mentioned the quantity of kites flying around the city, and Manan said it was coming into the kite-flying season. He took us up to the flat top of a hill where there were dozens of kite flyers doing combat. The object of the exercise is to cut the string of other people's kites. For this purpose the kite string is sometimes smeared with glue, on which ground glass is sprinkled. The season ends with a big competition, where the winner is the one with the last kite in the air. Manan bought a kite to show his skill at the sport, but unfortunately his string broke of its own free will!
After being dropped off back at the hotel we looked into dinner. A massive BBQ buffet was laid on by the pool, but it was only 6:30 and the buffet didn't start for another hour, so we chose to eat in the coffee shop. We were both hungry and tired. It was early to bed, and we both got a good night's sleep.
Tomorrow it will be a 6:30 AM departure by four-wheel drive vehicle along the dirt road to Bamiyan where we will spend two nights. Manam is to come to the hotel in the morning to introduce us to Abdul, our guide for the rest of the Afghanistan portion of the trip.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
This is an advance note to let you know we arrived in Bamiyan safely after an eleven-hour drive. The story of the trip will take some telling; so it will be in my next dispatch.