One Wild Journey, One Crazy Couple, One Life to Live
I decide I need to walk into Kret to find out why I was abandoned at the airstrip and to determine the best way to get myself to Sarhad. As I start to walk down the road, backpack on my back, a SURF appears in the distance with dust billowing behind it. When it arrives at the airstrip road, four men and three boys barrel out. One man hands me a note in English. It says, ‘Welcome to the Wakhan! I have sent you a car and the gear that you requested: 1 cooker, 1 pot, 1 rice plate, 1 bowl. If you need anything else, you can ask for it in Sarhad. Have a nice trip, Juma Gul. Juma Gul works for the Aga Khan Foundation and has been incredibly helpful in the organization of the trip. He proves invaluable once again! I pile into the car with the rest of the village and we drive to town.
For some reason we stop at the Kret guesthouse. Here I see a woman I met in the lineup for our Tajik visas. She is with the Central Asia Institute and has a translator with her. This seems like a fabulous opportunity for me to find out what the plan is for me. Her colleague speaks with the driver of the car that has picked me up and explains to me that the car that was sent from Ishkashim with my walking permit had to turn back. There is a problem with the road. The man who picked me up from the airstrip is from Kret and will drive me to Sarhad. I am so happy to have a means of transport that I don’t ask how he got the letter from Juma Gul (who is in Ishkashim) or the gear. I also don’t ask if not having a permit will be a problem, nor do I question if the road was blocked coming here, how I get back. I’m just raring to go!
Once I am back in the car again, I see that the majority of the passengers have vacated. It is only the driver, his brother and me now. This could make for a more comfortable ride. I wave goodbye to my last spoken English and hit the road, er lack thereof.
With fake flowers dangling from the rearview mirror, we bounce our way over the first pass and into the valley below. I ask how far it is to Sarhard and he tells me 3 to 5 hours, depending on the road. What road he is referring to, I am not sure. All I see is an open valley with winding rivers. The rivers, it turns out, are the roads. I am happy to see the brother of the driver get out of the car to lead the way through some of the deepest areas of the river. If he can wade through it, I am pretty certain the car can also get by.
However, for the amount of time he is out of the car, I begin to wonder why we need a vehicle at all. We all may as well walk; it would be just as quick. As a matter of fact, a man on a donkey passes shaking his head at us, the foolhardy travellers, as if we were attempting to take a boat across the Sahara. At times like these I am reminded of the brilliance of traditional wisdom.
We pass the riverbeds and are confronted with the boulder roads. These roads are similar to the river roads, but we do not have the water to contend with. We surprisingly face only one tire change during the boulder road experience.
Once we hit the sand road, we were on fire! The SURF is able to move into third gear and I pull out my camera to take shots of the beautifully changing scenery. I am overwhelmed with the views and know that the mountains only get bigger and better. I am amazed as we pass through village after village with guesthouses funded by the Norwegian Embassy through Aga Khan. What a great development project – if only people knew they existed and if people didn’t have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to take advantage of them, maybe tourism would be a viable income for the villagers. We don’t stop at any of the guesthouses on the way and I wonder who does stop at these refuges? My guess is, the Norwegians.
As we leave the villages behind, I see nothing but wide open space and majestic mountains in front of me. As we stop to navigate our way through another swell in the river, I take out my camera just in time to capture a few camels running past. I have no idea where the owner may be as I can’t see a living soul for miles.
After 5 hours, we reach the end of the road for motorized vehicles. Sarhad e Broghil. We pull up to a guesthouse, again funded by the Norwegians (bless them), where I meet my host, Chakam Boy, and set up my tent to overlook the river valley. I settle in to take in the glorious view and to catch the sunset. Beside me, a dozen curious villagers settle in as well and offer me black tea with milk. I think of my Crohn’s-related aversion to dairy and caffeine only momentarily before accepting with a smile.