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From Mashhad, Iran, to Herat, Afghanistan – Rick Steves’ Journey Weblog

With the autumn of Afghanistan, I’ve been reflecting on my journey experiences there as a 23-year-old backpacker on the “Hippie Path” from Istanbul to Kathmandu. Yesterday and immediately, it’s a poor but formidable land that overseas powers misunderstand and demand on underestimating.  

On this journal entry from 1978, stow away with me on the bus from Mashhad, Iran, to Herat, the main metropolis in western Afghanistan. 

Saturday, July 29, 1978: Mashhad to Herat 

My Spanish good friend woke me at 5:45. I believe I’d have slept all morning if he hadn’t have come in. We caught a experience right down to the station and, weakly, I looked for breakfast. Half a liter of milk and a small cake did fairly properly and we had been on our method. 

Right here was the start of a brand new world. Afghanis look Asian and Mongolian in comparison with Iranians and Afghanis and their twine-wrapped bundles of belongings crammed the bus station. Our bus left at 7:20 and was fairly full of Western vacationers — essentially the most we had seen for the reason that Istanbul-Tehran bus. 

Gene and I had been quiet and weak. I form of sat there, sizzling wind blowing in my face with my hair whipping round, hoping the kilometers would tick by and understanding I used to be plunging farther and farther away from Europe. 

At 10:30 we got here to the desolate Iran-Afghanistan border. What a spot! Simply caught in the midst of nowhere. We gave up our passports and walked into the constructing. An attention-grabbing museum with a message greeted us. In a number of glass instances had been the tales and hiding locations of many ill-fated drug smugglers. It made for attention-grabbing studying — who smuggled what in the place and was despatched to jail. I’ve this horrible concern that somebody will plant some dope in my rucksack and I’ll get framed. That may be no enjoyable in any respect. 

We obtained via the Iranian customs quite simply after which we walked throughout a windy desert no man’s land to a spot bordered by deserted, disassembled VW vans and stuffed with native individuals piling into small orange busses. We simply stood round. The wind and warmth had been fierce. The barren plain stretched out in each course and I stated to Gene, “So that is Afghanistan”. We discovered shade in one of many wrecked VW vans and peeled a small apple. Then a bus got here and we piled in. Stopping for a fast passport test, I couldn’t consider it was really easy. It wasn’t. 

A couple of minutes later our bus pulled into the search yard and we unloaded to take a seat and look forward to the financial institution and physician’s workplace to open up. 

And right here I sit. The time is nice for nothing however catching up within the journal, which I lastly did, and pondering. As I brush massive ants off me and protect my eyes from sand and blowing issues, I’m wondering about all of the enjoyable issues I might be doing. I consider buddies again house, of my mother and father at leisure of their yacht up in cool, inexperienced, refreshing British Columbia, and the enjoyable I might be having in Europe. I’m glad I’m lastly doing this however I’m actually wanting ahead to the top of all of it. I’m hoping for well being, no hassles, and a very good flight again to Europe. 

The humorous little financial institution opened up and to alter my 100 francs observe I needed to make three signatures, write down the serial variety of the invoice and ask a number of occasions for the proper change. I got here away with 775 afghanis. 

The subsequent few hours tried my endurance as we bounced from one dusty workplace to the subsequent getting the whole lot taken care of so we may enter Afghanistan. The bags “search” was little greater than a look, our shot certificates had been checked, the police and the customs officers checked us out, we had Fanta after which lastly everybody packed again onto the orange bus and we had been on our method — or so we thought. 

About 100 yards later there was a police test and many of the Polish vacationers on the bus flunked it and needed to undergo extra purple tape. Then we headed into the dusty vastness of the Afghanistan wasteland. 

The countryside was dry and barren, backed by stark brown mountains and damaged each occasionally by a cluster of mud huts, some outdated ruins or a herd of goats or sheep. It all the time feels good to enter a brand new nation. To this point this summer season I’ve solely explored two new ones. However the whole lot that lies forward is as new as might be. 

Simply when it appeared like we had been getting someplace, a dispute broke out in the entrance of the bus. The Afghanis determined to double the value of the experience from 50 to 100 afghani. Us vacationers had been cussed and we refused. One rugged wanting Afghan pulled a knife whereas the motive force circled and headed again for the Iranian border. You would say they’d us over a barrel. 

There was an uproar, and everybody was making an attempt to resolve the issue. One soft-spoken however commanding Pakistani urged us to pay however all of us believed if we paid there was nothing stopping them from pulling the identical trick once more. We compromised — giving them 60 afghanis now and paying the remainder upon arrival in Herat. After that episode we had been all on edge and I believe in the event that they tried to get any extra money, they’d have had a number of hassle from their worldly bus load of hardened vacationers. 

We stopped at a desolate tea store with a nicely and a bunch of locals skinning a nonetheless heat goat. There was an indication studying “lodge” and I anticipated the worst. Plenty of persons are infamous for “extremely recommending” sure accommodations. This was simply an harmless tea cease, nonetheless, and it supplied Gene and me with our first good have a look at Afghanistan. The leaky nicely supplied everybody with chilly, filthy water. I wallowed in it, actually cooling down properly. We shared a 25-cent melon and my weak, ravenous physique devoured it down. I felt like I’ve actually abused myself by not consuming a lot. For 2 days I’ve forgone any actual meals and simply drank pop and sucked on melons. I made a decision to any extent further I’d eat nicely and keep in good accommodations for each my psychological and bodily well being and to maintain my spirits excessive. 

The tea home was precisely the picture I had for an Afghanistan tea home. Previous historically clad males, who appeared like they labored laborious however who by no means appear to do something however lazily sit round, sitting on rugs on the ground consuming tea and smoking cannabis. The room crammed with smoke and their glassy darkish eyes smiled. A number of of us vacationers joined them and I simply stood over my melon rinds wanting within the window like I used to be watching a documentary on TV. The phrase unfold — our driver was excessive and the crew can be fairly mellowed out. What a weird society. I suppose when materially you’re to this point behind you simply surrender — sit within the shade consuming melons, consuming tea, and smoking hash. 

Again within the sizzling bus we made it to Herat and it dawned on us, “You recognize, this place appears fairly good.” We had been positively in a brand new and completely different tradition and each Gene and I perked up. I punched him on the shoulder and stated, “Okay, now our journey begins!” 

Herat was, like our minimal guidebook information stated, “laborious to not like.” Very inexperienced, so far as cities on this a part of the world go, and with a number of parks, I preferred Herat instantly. Sick of low-cost, scuzzy holes, I lobbied for a first-class lodge. We discovered a dilly. 

Resort Mowafaq, the fanciest lodge in downtown Herat, was simply what we wanted. Centrally situated, showers, swimming pool, clear eating places, and freed from all of the con males who plague cheaper accommodations, this is able to make us really feel human once more. I really feel like a little bit of a softy, however I really like a spot that I can depart my stuff in with out worrying and stroll round in barefoot and get straightforward peace once I want it. Our double value solely 200 afghanis ($5) and we had been ready to spend extra. 

We had a Sprite and walked round this central sq. of Herat stopping in a small clothes store the place Gene and I would get some native garments so we will go “native” for the remainder of the journey. The native saggy garments make much more sense, they usually’d be enjoyable souvenirs too. Gene ended up shopping for a bit of cannabis for about $1 from the man. We’ll wait and see what we’ll do with it. 

Now we had been prepared to scrub up and have a feast. A stunning chilly bathe and an satisfying and extremely profitable stint on the actual sit down rest room (you don’t recognize life’s little issues like a rest room to take a seat on till you don’t have them). Stepping out of the toilet I believed, “Good, the diarrhea I had yesterday was only a fast little punishment for bragging how I’d been travelling with strong stools for 2 months, and now I’m a brand new man.”  

Downstairs we ordered the 2 native specialties that they served on Saturdays and we observed that the menu had slightly observe on every web page. Because the Folks’s Revolution, all costs are lowered by 10 afghanis. That made every meal value solely 50 afghanis ($1.25) for soup, bread, rice, meat, and chilly water. We had been each thirsty and the chilly water attacked our self-discipline just like the forbidden fruit. We succumbed to it and it was good. I couldn’t assist feeling “iffy” about it like I all the time do once I drink questionable water however that didn’t reduce down on its preliminary goodness. Black and inexperienced tea in good sized pots completed the meal properly and I can’t consider how the whole lot has circled so splendidly. 

The individuals listed here are fantastic, troopers and police are current on the streets within the wake of the current revolution. Horse-drawn chariot-like flower-decorated taxis cost down the streets. We stood on the breezy balcony below the celebrities pondering the one factor not completely different about this place is the constellations. 

My hair is fluffy, there’s air-con within the corridor, and a bug display on our open window. The sunshine has a fixture, my tooth are clear, my abdomen is full, I really feel wholesome (and hopefully anticipate to be tomorrow) and I believe I’ll go to mattress early tonight. It’s so necessary to reside good and luxuriate in oneself and, with out going via intervals of distress and discomfort, you possibly can’t actually know what it’s to take pleasure in.


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