Waking up in Herat felt a lot like heaven, laid back and calm. After the torturous drive we had just endured and the lack of choice when it came to food, since leaving Kabul, we could now stretch, walk and eat at will. Lined with trees, almost every city block offered a different restaurant and there were street stalls everywhere for quick, tasty treats. I was way too excited to notice how sick I had become. Since drinking bad water way back in Pakistan, I was steadily becoming sicker and sicker. I became more aware of it while being stuck in a vehicle for three straight days, but after a while, it just seems normal in a way and you forget that it can be potentially dangerous.
The only down side to that first day was not having Stefan around. When we arrived the day before, it was the last day to enter Iran, according to Stefan’s visa. Jacques didn’t seem to have the same restrictions or rules on his visa, so Stefan left alone. We missed having him around, but we were quickly distracted and ended up being invited into more than one restaurant to sip free tea, or Super Cola. The people were eager to meet foreigners and try out their English phrases. I, being a coffee junkie, popped into the first shop/bakery I saw and asked doubtfully about coffee. Ali, the well educated and friendly shop keeper, told me as if apologizing, that there is no coffee in Herat. He then turned around to one of the shelves behind him and pulled down a bottle of Thai instant coffee. He told Jacques and I that if we wanted to have a seat, he would make us a cup of instant coffee, for free! I’m a coffee snob, but i have to admit, I was excited. A few minutes later we were sitting in his bakery drinking coffee and eating sweets! It seemed as if things couldn’t get better!
After more exploration and a visit to the beautiful Mosque, I met up with Shu, who was travelling with his Chinese passport. He was on his way to the Iranian embassy to ask about a visa, so I thought I would give it one more try. At the gate to the embassy was a guard post, a cement box with an Iranian officials head sticking out. There was a line of people on the side walk all the way down to the end of the block. We decided to just ask the guy with his head poking out if they issued visa’s there. He asked for our passports and when he saw mine in my hand, I was instantly denied. It was worth one more try and I would rather that happen then them take my money and make me wait. Shu got his visa in 10 minutes! The American passport must be the worst passport to travel with…
The next morning I struggled to get off of the floor of my ChaiKhana, but I forced myself, I had to say goodbye to Jacques and Shu. They were heading into what felt like the promised land, Iran and I was gonna miss them. I met Jacques in India, 10 months before, and bumped into him two more times before we agreed to meet up (a few months from then) and travel together in Pakistan. He was a true friend and I didn’t want to say goodbye, but I knew from traveling enough that it was going to happen sometime and I had gotten used to saying my goodbyes. I also really wished I could enter Iran with them, I’ve heard only good things about traveling in Iran and I can’t help but wonder how long I’ll have to wait until I CAN enter.
As soon as they left our little, empty room (just floor space with a lockable door), as if instant loneliness robbed me of my strength, I collapsed. I had spent the whole night waking up and at first running to the toilet, but after two or three trips, I struggled to even get up. Lightheaded and dizzy I almost passed out on the rest of the walks to the bathroom. Now I lay face down, on the floor in a pool of sweat.
In between my psychedelic dreams I soon realized I was dehydrated and had a high fever! I felt the need to run to the toilet, but I couldn’t pick myself up off of the floor. I awoke on the toilet only to discover that I was peeing blood. I figured out quickly though, that it wasn’t blood, but severe lack of water that turned my urine a dark orange color! Eventually I got a little strength back by drinking a packet of re hydration powder mixed with the rest of my water.
So there I was, on the Afghan- Iran border, sick and now completely alone. I’ve traveled alone a lot and I’m completely comfortable with myself, but it’s a different thing being alone, that sick, in a country at war.
It took nine days to get to Herat from just Band-e Amir and I had only 5 days left on my visa. I had been trying to travel by land (no flying) from Malaysia to France, but there was definitely no way through Iran (legally) and my idea of going through Turkmenistan, across the Caspian Sea and into Azerbaijan was unrealistic at this point, logistically and physically. So, I had very few options, as far as where to go after Afghanistan and what to do from Herat. The only real road to Kabul is in the shape of a V, from Herat in the west, to Kandahar in the south, then up to Kabul in the east.
The one thing I knew about Afghanistan before I entered was to stay away from Kandahar! All the battles were being fought in the south and in the south east and I wanted no part of that kind of drama!
After looking around and asking people (as best I could) I found a 48 hour, direct bus to Kabul. No stopping along the way and waiting for the next vehicle and no getting dumped out in Kandahar and having to find another bus to Kabul. It sounded okay, minimal risk. As long as I didn’t open my mouth, no one should know I’m a foreigner. From my beard to my clothes and my sandals, I could pass for an Afghan.
Only two things bothered me. First, my long hair. A lot of Taliban have long hair depending on their region, but nowhere near as long as mine. Secondly and worst of all, I would have to stop in Kandahar, eat dinner and then sleep there until the morning, when we would all get back on the bus to Kabul.
The people are so extreme there and the Taliban have such influence there still, that Pakistan claims Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar (aka Commander of the Faithful) are hiding there. Whether they’re there, or anyone even believes Pakistan’s claims, is irrelevant, it’s a bad enough place for Pakistan to make those claims and it’s not a place you want to spend the night.
But, in my state of delirium, I bought the tickets. For 600 Afghans ($12) I would be in Kabul in 48 hours, just enough time to look around for a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. That way I would only skip one country (Iran) by air. I was nervous, but too sick to really care about the risk. So, I bought some water, zipped my lips and got on a bus bound for Kabul, via Kandahar.
I would get to Kabul safely I thought, Insh’Allah!
Tags: Afghanistan, herat, Kandahar, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan