One Wild Journey, One Crazy Couple, One Life to Live
I arrive at the airport at the designated 03:00 am. Yes, AM! I am surprised by the number of Afghans at the airport already elbowing their way through the three crowded security checks before reaching a place to sit down. I am dismayed by the fact that I too have to go through the Parking lot C security before reaching the security outside the domestic terminal where the gruff woman tears apart your luggage and asks to keep your lipstick. All goes well and I reach the entrance to the final security check unscathed and still in possession of all articles I packed before leaving my house.
I wait patiently for the PACTEC operator. He is nowhere to be found. I call him and he tells me to wait where I am. So I wait. The policemen are not happy with me waiting where I am waiting and keep trying to push me on to the next security check, even though there is eventually another man waiting in the same area, talking incessantly on his phone. I finally call PACTEC man to tell him I have to go inside before I get dragged in there. The man who passed me several times early on and who stood beside me during my hour long wait answers his phone as I call, speaks with me then turns and says ‘lets go then’. I smile and say, ‘YOU are the PACTEC operator?!’ He stares me down and grunts that he was waiting for two more passengers who are no-shows. At that moment I get a call from my groggy colleague who tells me I have to go to my flight. PACTEC called him to say I am late and the plane will leave without me. Funny. I am the only one here. I apologize profusely for the misunderstanding and tell him I am sorry that PACTEC woke him at 04:30 am. The man beside me shrugs and says ‘I didn’t know which one you were.’ Asking me, I suppose, would have blown his cover.
I am the only passenger. The pilot looks at me as if to say ‘is this really worth my effort?’ I smile again, hoping it may carry some charm this time and say ‘at least it’ll be a light flight!’ He smiles back and asks me where I’d like to sit. I immediately call shotgun’ and laugh, realizing my childhood term for riding in the passenger seat may not be appropriate in these parts. He nods and opens the side door. I am flabbergasted! I was joking, but I hop in and brace myself for a bathroomless, shotgun Kodiak ride through the mountains of Afghanistan.
It is an amazing flight. Photos or videos don’t do it justice. After a brief touchdown in Faizabad (yes, in the end, I did indeed go to Faizabad – see issue number one), we skim the mountain peaks of Badakshan, flying so close to the rock I swear I could touch it. Most of the summits are still covered in snow, adding to the spectacular vistas. I can see why Afghans can travel undetected in such a vast uninhabited and seemingly uninhabitable area. Amazingly, in the middle of nowhere, it seems the pilot can send out an email, if he so gets the urge. And I thought it was a good idea to ban texting and driving!
I am still reeling from the beauty and technology of it all when the plane starts to speak to the pilot with the same voice that tells a car driver that his door is ajar. Only this voice is saying ‘DO NOT SINK’ with red lights flashing. For some reason a car door ajar does not have the same connotation as this phrase 1000 ft in the air with dangerous looking rock outcrops below. The pilot continues to ‘sink’. I personally love the idea of diving between the mountains for a fabulous view of the valley, but the woman inside the plane does not! She keeps yelling at him while pictures of ‘dangerous terrain’ pop up on the monitor in front of me. I am enjoying this!
As it turns out, the pilot was aiming for the landing strip, that to me the untrained eye, looks nothing like a landing strip and obviously the woman with the voice in the plane agrees. Apparently the strip was cleared with the assistance of Central Asia Institute. It functions just fine and the pilot made a fabulously bumpy landing on an area that looks as though it is sure to cause a tire puncture.
With this I arrive in Kret! Unfortunately, as I take a photo of the plane departing, I realize there is no one there to meet me. I turn around to take in the wide valley and towering mountains of the Wakhan, and the empty road leading to town.