Back at Juma's I meet the swiss couple once again and an unlikely American and Italian couple on an organized tour. We are all ready to get back to Tajikistan and cannot wait for the 9am open but most importantly I would have my beer and Kebabs today! Juma's is renowned for king sized portions of delicious food, he's the most pleasant and noble host one can hope for and is always looking out for you. I pack up and thank him for his Hospitality and roll down the hill.
Arriving at the Border.
The next day we all meet down at the border as the Swiss are cycling, the Unlikely couple are taxiing and I'm on the Ural.
It's all down hill but it's really quite a brutal road with its bad corrugations, pot holes and dust stirred up from the rushing taxi drivers. At the border we all meet and wait for the Afghans to open up the gates to the bridge to pass onto the customs house. The Swiss, Christian and Dina tell me that they had came down yesterday just as the border was closing and said there was a rumor that the Tajik's have closed the border... But then we are relieved to see the Afghans racing off on their Polaris quad to open up. It's not too long until we are ushered over to customs, we tell our stories to one another while they are opening up. 1/2 an hour passes with no activity on the Tajik side, The corrupt customs police man comes over and tells us they have closed for 3 weeks but if we pay 50$ we can pass with his usual smart ass smile. We talk it over convinced that this thieving f@*! has cooked some scheme up to extract more money out of us. We tell him we wish to talk to the Tajik's ourselves to discuss any such payment but we hear nothing more of this. As the day wears on we hear more and more stories about why the Tajik's have closed their border, Drug's & corruption, Security problems, presidential "Elections", but they weren't until November so that didn't stick. A group of tourists on a organized tour front up on the Tajik side wishing to enter Afghanistan for their Wakhan tour. There is some talk from the officials and we are told the Afghan commander wont let them in unless we are also allowed to cross (as Tajikistan were letting people out but not in). So a "tourist swap" was in place and the next day it sounded hopeful that it would go ahead.
We are all again at the border for 9am and so are the tourists on the other side. With no new news , we make contact to our respective embassies, I am without a phone so the Swiss make photos of our passports and visa's to send on and to inform them of whats happening. Since there is no New Zealand embassy in central Asia I would use the British consulate in Dushanbe. The hours pass by while I watch every new visitor to the border go over my bike, pressing every button and switching every switch. (there is nothing more irritating than this to me) by the end of the day we are once again assured that the deal would go ahead tomorrow morning.
Spying on the Tajik's.
Riding up and down from Juma's every day along with packing thinking it was my last day really started to become tiring, But then I thought about the Swiss having to do this by pedal power. We meet the policeman at the border, himself saying nothing is happening and always making some smart comment that doesn't help our moods. throughout the morning the Afghan Commander racers down in a 4x4 to the customs fence in order to make a cross border deal with the Tajik commander, this happens 3-4 times and by the 4pm close he says that the deal is off, the Tajik's won't let anyone in.
Despite our embassies saying that they are all working together not one is keeping in regular touch with us, well except for the American woman Julie constantly on her phone to various forms of govt. I over hear one conversation in which I can only assume she was asked "who is there with you at the border?" she replied "Ohh it's only me and my Italian travel partner here" in her irritating east coast accent. from then on I keep my distance.
Once again arriving at the border at 9am but today with no real agenda just in hope that our Embassy's involved have contacted the Tajik foreign affairs to make a case for us to pass. We hear at the border that the Tajiks are citing a Cholera epidemic in Afghanistan close to Khorog for sealing off the border, its seems plausible but not convincing. The afghans put on lunch for us in the form of a huge platter of rice, naan and tea. My beer and kebabs is slipping away from me every day now. Christian and myself discuss possible exit plans if the embassy cannot do anything as both of us are starting to run low on cash, I calculate I can only stay at the border for a few more days then I will be down to my last 100$. We come up with crossing at Zorkul lake into Tajikistan would be probably be the most feasible, with the Irshad crossing into Pakistan next and going all the way to Kabul last as there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding that idea. After lunch the unlikely couple come down with their guide to the border saying their embassy's have made arrangements for them to cross, so for the afternoon we sit back and watch the spectacle of this woman yelling down the phone and to the Afghans about what is and whats not happening. The Afghan commander somehow takes this and once again storms off to the border in his 4x4, comes back after 15minutes and has a open meeting with his juniors. Apparently its on they can cross, but then its not on, as the Italian embassy haven't passed on his information to the Tajik border commander to make an exception. Then we hear Julies accent asking "But I can cross right?" So with disbelief by everyone at the border she leaves her partner behind and crosses into Tajikistan.
That night we didn't want to go all the way back to Juma's so the swiss and I ride slowly up the road looking for a suitable camping spot. we run into the immigration officer while passing one small village and he invites us into his home for the night, While there we meet the Afghan Minster of Agriculture, he's just come from Kabul via Shugnan, he says its safe at the moment then says to me, "you could probably even be able to ride your motorcycle" and so he plants an idea into my head that i cannot shake all night long.
There are only 2 roads to Kabul from Eshkasheim, one passing through Varduj which has a very heavy Taliban presence with daily fighting going on. The Other from Shugnan (border to Khorog) passing through Shiwa lake district which has only occasional Taliban from Varduj and Kunduz setting up road blocks and other fun stuff in the area.
"Afghani Olympics" to pass the time.
By now the Border guards were getting a little tired of us hanging around the border and we are told not to come again until our embassy's have made arrangements. After sitting in the shade just up the road half the day becoming a spectacle for locals as they passed by. We return to Juma's. it's the only place in Eshkasheim to receive Tajik T-cell mobile reception which just so happened to be on top of the Guesthouse and that is where Christian received his phone call in advising that he and Dina can pass, they are in an excited fluster while they ready their bikes, a quick good bye and well wishing and arrangements to see them in the lodge shortly back in Khorog.
I am feeling a little deflated about being the last one here, I walk back to the Bazaar to buy a phone, 12$ later I have my own Nokia brick. It bringing back memories of 2001.
Over the next 3 days I call the Dushanbe Embassy morning and afternoon always to be greeted the same way, With excuses for not once returning my messages and that no progress has been made, I thought you were working with the other embassy's involved?! and so I made the decision then and there that I would get myself out of this mess myself as It was evident this office was too incompetent to.
In Eshkasheim Bazaar one last time.
Dealing with people in the Bazaar on an almost daily basis they were well aware of my situation and became interested in the Ural, So much so they started to give me offers for it or suggested that I should forget about Tajikistan and stay here and start up a cricket team... My last morning at Juma's was indeed to be my last. I could see his pain for me in his eyes as i told him I would be going to Kabul as it was my only choice. Once all paid up he wishes me good luck. After filling at the only petrol pump in town I have $124 left with me, I figured it must be something like a week to get to Kabul from here so I wouldn't have much time for sightseeing, on top of that today was the last day of my visa.
Riding Downstream to Shugnan.
Passing through villages.
Riding to Shugnan would also give the embassy another day to see if they can work anything out too, as I might be able to cross there to Khorog instead. Well it was worth a try and It felt good just to do something. Riding down it was a good road for a change, some long sandy sections though but all in all a nice ride. The road follows the river border all the way down so here I am with Tajikistan to my right, seeing people and even tourists on the other side really was frustrating. I felt so close but yet.. yes so far. I made mental notes of some places where I could swim across with a raft perhaps made out of the Urals tyres..? no even they would be too heavy!
An Army helicopter roars up the valley.
As the Valley closed in the closer I got to Shugnan, it was frustrating to see Tajikistan so close.