|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia||
By Steven Abrams
2nd November 1968
Considering his near death experience, he then proceeded to check our passports with amazing calmness, before removing the chain to let us through. A few miles down the road there was a building with a compound outside. This was the Islam Qala frontier station. There was a sign outside the office in a number of languages advising us that the frontier would be closing at 2100. We thought our luck was in because it was just before 2100 as we all trooped into the office. The officer started the long process of writing everything down in the ledger. He was just about to stamp my passport when he stopped with his arm in mid-air and put the rubber stamp down. It had just turned 2100 and the border post was now closed for an hour. Nothing we could say would persuade him to stamp the passport and finish the job, so we went across to the hotel that was part of the complex hoping to get something to eat. Although the hotel served meals, the prices were so high that we decided to just have a cup of tea, which tasted horrible. It had a somewhat perfumed flavour about it which we discovered is the way they make it in Afghanistan.
While we all sat in the hotel and waited for the frontier to open, another car arrived. It was a rather old black Mercedes being driven by two Pakistani men. They had two Americans as passengers who were only going as far as Herat even though the Pakistanis were going all the way to Kabul. They agreed to give us a lift from Herat to Kabul and we arranged to meet at 7am next day.
At 2200 we all went back to the frontier post but it had not yet opened, so we all started singing "why are we waiting". They probably didn't understand what we were singing but they still managed to get the hint and soon opened up. The passport control officer carefully wrote all our details down in a large ledger. One of the questions he asked was, "what is your father's name". Louis, who was feeling in a mischievous mood replied, "Aristotle". Deciding to continue with the joke when I was asked I replied, "Daddy". The officer carefully wrote these names down in the Farsi script, and after stamping our passports we moved on to the customs officer. He entered the details of my camera into my passport just to make sure I didn't sell it while I was in Afghanistan.
With all the formalities over and done with, we were now officially in Afghanistan. We got back into the van and headed off along the tarmac road at a fair speed. After travelling through Eastern Iran along the dirt roads it was a pleasure to be back on tarmac roads again. When we had gone about 10 miles from the frontier a police car stopped us. We hadn't seen any other car on the road since the frontier, so just where this police car came from was a mystery. William and Sandra quickly gathered up their hashish, and fearing arrest, threw it out of the window before the car had come to a stop.
The policemen walked over to the van and stood one on each side and looked into the van. After what seemed like and eternity one of the policeman started to talk in broken English and asked Robert if he had any hashish. The look of innocence on their faces when all four of them said "no" just had to be seen to be believed. The policeman looked at them sternly, shone their torches into the back of the van and said, "you want to buy some? Cheap!" All four of them then bought some hashish from the police, paying with Iranian rials. I don't know if it was because they wanted some, or if it was out of sheer relief at not being arrested. Hashish is quite legal in Afghanistan and can be bought freely throughout the country. They obviously panicked at being stopped, and I suppose that in their panic some doubt must have crept into their minds as to whether they had got their facts right. I wouldn't be surprised if these two policemen had a good business going and they probably went back down the road afterwards to recover the stuff that was thrown out so that they could sell it to the next tourist car.
There was a story going around at the time about the road system in Afghanistan. What little traffic there is consists mainly of trucks and buses with only an occasional car. During the mid 60s the American and Soviet Union foreign aid departments fought a pitched battle along the roads of Afghanistan. Each country built good quality roads between various cities and towns to gain favour. This road building war left Afghanistan with one of the best road systems in the Middle East, to cope with the lowest volume of traffic. About once every 100 km or so there is a toll gate. The tolls collected presumably go towards the maintenance of the road. The total cost of the tolls payable between the Iran and Pakistan borders amount to less than £1 sterling.
The American sections were designed for trucks, buses and cars, and were very smooth to drive along. By contrast, the Soviet built sections were not quite as smooth to travel along and were obviously built for heavier things like tanks and troop carriers. No doubt this was a bit of long term planning from the Soviets in preparation for their "invasion" during the 70s
Half an hour after being stopped by the police we came across some Germans who had run out of petrol. Robert carried a spare can and sold some of the petrol to them to get them going, charging them well over the odds for the amount he let them have. Approximately 50 km further on they had to pay a toll of 30 Afs. Not having changed any money yet they had to pay in rials. Forty-five minutes later and we arrived in Herat. It was well after midnight and everything was closed for the night. We had trouble finding a hotel and spent over an hour before getting a room in the Hotel Jami for 33 Afs each. It was a lovely room although we were too tired to really appreciate it. The hotel owner agreed to wake us up at 6am in time for our lift. It was freezing cold and we were glad to finally get into bed at 1.30am.
Right on time at 6am the hotel staff banged on the door. We both turned over and went back to sleep again for another half an hour before Louis suddenly woke up. He threw on some clothes and dashed out of the hotel to get to the meeting place to claim our lift from the Pakistanis while I packed the bags. He returned at 7.15 to tell me that they hadn't turned up.
Not having changed any money yet we tried to pay the hotel bill in US dollars without any success. Fortunately there was an English traveller who was headed for Iran who was also checking out at the same time. He sold us his last 174 Afs for £1, enabling us to pay the bill.
We then walked to the meeting place and arrived there at the same time as the Pakistanis, who had overslept. We all went to a tea house for a bit of breakfast and while they sat and waited for us, I went to find somewhere to change some more money. On the way back I had the pleasure of wishing a good morning to Bluey, the Sundowners driver. He was in the process of jacking up the bus to change a flat tyre and for some reason or other he wasn't in a very happy mood. I decided not to stop and talk to him.
For lunch we stopped at a rest house with a swimming pool. The swimming pool is worth commenting about because it was the last thing that we would have expected in this part of the world. Despite all the mod-cons of the rest house, it was a very inexpensive lunch.
Later in the month was the road race from London to Sydney passing through Afghanistan the same route as we were travelling. During the day we saw the occasional rally cars going the other way heading back to London ready for the start after having practised for their forthcoming race.
As the journey progressed the driver noticed that he was running very low on diesel so he left the road to find a small village where we were lucky enough to find a diesel fuel pump. There was no electricity in the village so the diesel had to be pumped by hand. There was a large handle on the front of the pump that we took turns to rock back and forth. Eventually the tank was filled at a cost of just 100 afs, and the driver made it plain that we had to pay for.
When we arrived in Kandahar at 6pm it was already dark. The Pakistanis helped us to find a hotel for the night, but before they would let us take our packs out of the boot they demanded that we pay them for the lift. We pointed out that they hadn't told us they expected payment before we got in, and that we had already paid a lot more than half of the fuel cost for the journey. They refused to give us our bags until we had paid them and so we threatened to go to the police. Eventually after some arguing they threw our bags out into the road and drove off at speed.
We decided that it would be wise not to check into the hotel where we had been dropped off in case they decided to come looking for us. They had been in quite a temper and we decided to err on the side of caution and look elsewhere. We didn't have much luck in finding a hotel room because most of them had been filled before it got dark. Eventually we managed to get two beds without blankets in a partitioned section of the Hotel Pashtunian for 18 afs each.
For supper we found a typical Afghan restaurant where everybody sat with crossed legs on the floor. We had to eat our meals from a tray placed in front of us. The meal consisted of a plate of rice with a piece of fatty meat in the middle of it costing just 10 afs each. Somebody came around and offered us some special Afghan sauce for an extra 2 afs, and we decided to give it a try. It was a black watery substance and I didn't like the taste too much. When we had finished eating and started to walk back to the hotel we felt a bit strange. It wasn't until we mentioned it to somebody else that we found out that the special Afghan sauce was made from cannabis resin (hashish).
Back at the hotel we spoke to 2 Afghans who were going to Kabul the next day in a jeep. We asked them for a lift and they agreed if we could be ready to leave at 7am. Unfortunately the next morning when they knocked on our door at 7am we were still in bed. Even though we managed to get dressed and be downstairs within 5 minutes, they had gone without us.
We decided to catch the bus to Kabul and after making enquiries at the bus company office we found that the last bus was due to leave at 7.50am. We decided to go and have some breakfast in the same restaurant that we had eaten in the night before. This time we decided not to have the special sauce, but to restrict ourselves to some tea and a bit of bread.
Ten minutes later we walked back to the office to find that the bus was ready to go. We only just had time to buy our tickets and get on board before it left at 7.20. At the edge of the city the driver filled up the tanks. Most unusually for a bus it ran on petrol and not diesel. When we had been travelling for about two hours the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. Everybody got off and all the men went to the toilet at the side of the road. The Afghan women dressed in their tent like clothes were not able to go, and presumably had to wait until lunchtime for an opportunity to relieve themselves.
It wasn't until after 1 o-clock before we stopped for lunch. The bus turned off the main road and drove for a few miles until we reached a small village. The driver dropped everybody off and drove the empty bus away. We bought some bread and fruit and ate it as we walked around looking at the village. We came across our bus driver who was draining petrol out of the fuel tank and selling it to somebody.
We arrived at the bus station in Kabul at 4.30pm and then had to get another bus to the centre of the city where we started to look for a hotel. While walking around we met the Pakistanis and not surprisingly weren't very friendly when we asked them if they could recommend a hotel. They told us that they didn't know of any and walked off. We looked around for an hour and a half more before eventually finding a room in Hotel Benazir only to discover that they were staying in the same hotel.
On another night we decided to take advantage of the clean bathroom to have a shower. We had to pay extra for the hot water and decided to be smart by just paying for one of us to have
Friday 8th November 1968 we got up early, in fact 6.30 am. We had some tea sent up to the room and drank it while we packed our bags. On our way out we paid the hotel bill at the agreed price (220 Afs) before heading out to make our way to Pakistan. We had intended to catch a bus to the Jalalabad and we were on our way to the bus station when we came across the Sundowners bus being given a tow to get it started. Once again Bluey started to tell us how