I wake to a knock on my door, Breakfast is served; Bread, cheese and tea. Not much is different here no matter what social class youíre living in. Once done and packed up I take the Ural down to a car wash. The Kids there enjoyed washing something different and did a good job so I didnít mind so much when they overcharged me. Heading back to Kokcha I heard another blast, coming again close to the hotel, As I near the hotel I see 2 people blasting rock from the cliffs on the other side of the river, they seem to be packing the explosive into the naturally formed crevices in the rock before lighting the fuse and quickly scrambling up the hill side before part of it disappears. Mystery Solved. On my return Jamshed asks me if I wish to stay another night but I decline as I donít want to take advantage of his good nature, but ask him instead if he knows of a suitable place I can stay thatís safe approximately half way to Kabul. He thinks for a moment before I hear Pol-e-Khumri, He offers his laptop and I do some research on google maps. Its 327km from Faizabad, thatís a long day on the Ural. Jamshed goes on to confirm what I have heard already on my travels, that Baghlan is a another Taliban area and riding through late in the day is risky, I check the time, its already just after 10 so donít waste any more time and load the bike. I try to give 40$ to my host for my stay but it is quickly dismissed and he reassures me that I am his guest and I should not worry about such matters. After thanking him and his staff immensely I ride on out of the gates and up to the main bazaar then take a right to head out of town. Just on my way out, something strikes me, Iím riding on a sealed road! It started back at the bridge but have only just clicked onto that fact 2kms on, itís the first time since leaving Tajikistan but here the road is comparable to any western highway. Iím looking forward to a comfortable ride today and I relax for the time being as Baghlan isnít for another 250kmís.
My first sealed road for a month.
Once out of Faizabad and through some of the smaller Satellite villages, the road is very quiet, just the occasional produce delivery truck and shared taxi is on the road. Its some really nice riding, still following the Kokcha river down the slowly unwinding valley. Long straights followed by long sweeping bends, not much shifting is needed to be done so my thoughts wander onto admiring the landscape and the fact that I am riding in Afghanistan! Its only just starting to hit me now, I really wish that money wasnít an issue as then I would be riding shorter distances and staying longer in the towns to make the most of this opportunity. The sun is hot so wear my scarf over my head like a local for shade but with jeans, a shirt on and riding a great big green motorcycle I think I must stick out here like a Christmas tree. Riding through many villages, kids are rushing to the road side to get a glimpse of the Ural then yelling back to their fathers describing what they have just seen.
Still following the Kokcha River down.
Sheep! Just like New ZealandÖ Well sort of.
Living with War.
I ride into Taleqan shortly after 1pm, Riding through the main bazaar, itís chaos, with everyone fighting for space on the narrow 2 way road, trucks, cars, 2 stroke tuk-tuks all just pulling out and stopping suddenly giving very little time for the Urals drum brakes to be at least a little bit effective in slowing us down. Its stressful stuff, if anyone here has ridden in Vietnam then you have some idea. I almost pass through Taleqan when my throttle linkage fails again and we freewheel into a petrol station. I park up on the centre stand and take my tool kit out the side bag, I unscrew the throttle housing to once again reveal the same linkage pin that has dropped out. I go to take my leatherman from my shoulder bag but its not to be found there or in any other bag I have, I realise I must of misplaced it back at the hotel proving nothing is for free. By this time the pump clerks have come over and through my now much improved miming skills, they straightaway fetch a pair of pliers and watch on intently while I replace the pin and this time nipping both ends up into flat spots ensuring the linkage pin doesn't fall out again. Upon finishing the clerks have organized lunch with a goat curry, Osh (noodle soup), nan and watermelon for dessert. I top my tank up ensuring I have plenty of fuel for the rest of the trip to Pol-e-khumri, before passing onto Kunduz and then Baghlan.
Lunch in Taleqan.
Not too much further to Kabul.
The traffic is heavier now, mostly police ford ranger pickups loaded up with armed officers rushing to emergencies in both directions. A slower military convoy catches up with me along the flat plains that we are riding upon, Kamaz red cresent ambulance trucks, pickups and a couple humvees complete with a gun turret each. I decide to ride in convoy with them, the officers giving me full attention as they pass. We ride ďtogetherĒ almost all the way to Kunduz giving me some extra comfort for the past hour, they then turn off onto a dirt side road leaving me all alone. Kunduz is much the same as Taleqan hot, busy and stressful riding through all the chaotic traffic, Iím happy just to get the hell out of there and back out on the open highway which now follows a small valley. The road now Is overshadowed by fortified military outposts strategically placed on the hills almost every kilometre over this stretch of road from Kunduz to Baghlan and with military convoys passing me many times over I find it hard to stop and take a photo if I so choose. I also notice a big difference with the people here, they are very wary and timid, most running away at first sight of me when I slow or stop briefly on the highway shoulder, really Just not very open at all unlike what I had experienced up until now.
Riding through Baghlan District.
Itís now after 5pm when I pass through Baghlan and I recall Jamshed telling me not to be on the road much later than this. Itís only another 30 or so km to Pol-e-khumri and feeling the worst is now behind me I just cruise before reaching my destination. Pol-e-khumri is right on the Asian highway with many busses and freight trucks passing through. Itís in fact too easy to find a place to stay, at the end of town I spot 5 - 2 storey Chaikhanaís lined up side by side advertising there kebabs and accommodation. I break from the road and cut down an off ramp to the side street running parallel, I ride right up to the entry, parking beside the outdoor dining platforms, The manager comes and is keen to give me a room and after many times trying to explain that I just wanted to sleep in the restaurant with the others he wouldnít have it, So I gave in and paid 8$ for a twin room. Once He had left the room, I suddenly felt a lot more vulnerable up here on a floor with very few guests and a flimsy door lock. Thereís a tv in the corner, I donít expect much out of that but to my surprise it has many English channels and I settle on watching a repeat of banged up abroad until thereís a knock at my door. I hesitantly open up to see a policeman standing there wanting to come in, so in he does and straight away goes about searching through my belongings while asking if I have any hand guns on me. He disappears for a moment only to bring back who I presume to be a superior to help search the rest of my room, under the bed... nope, behind the curtainsÖ nope. They donít look very hard all the while I am telling them ďIím a tourist! not a terrorist!Ē Itís starting to all get a bit tiring being stopped everyday to give my story. They are content and we all head down stairs to find the manager sitting atop the Ural getting photos of himself, he quickly climbs off and gets back to ordering the staff into putting on our dinner.
Youíre never traveling alone in this country, the moment you sit down by yourself, locals will join you to exchange storyís and even though it is mostly done through hand gestures and a few phrases from a small book itís a truly rewarding travel experience.
Tomorrow I will ride to Kabul.