A Travellerspoint blog

The begining of the end if I wasn't already in the middle!

sunny 50 °C
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Taftan was my introduction to Pakistan; this small border town was on a featureless sandy plain. Over decorated trucks were parked everywhere on the dirty littered streets. I checked in with the army who surprised me with his up to date knowledge of the world cricket situation and then hopped in the back of the Toyota pick up which I had co hired with three other Pakistani guys to cut the 20 hour bus ride down to an 8 hour slog through the desert.

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The driver thought he was a cross between Barry Crump and Possum Borne as he tore across the dessert at one of the two speeds that the pick up owned: stopped or flat out. Our only defence from wild camels running in front of us was the driver leaning on the horn.
He would mumble in Urdu at every check point as I slowed him down. I was the only one who had to fill in forms so the army could trace my progress if I failed to turn up somewhere along the drive.

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The rocky flat landscape was only interrupted by the occasional mud brick fort or small oasis town with its lush palm trees giving shade to the occupants.
We stopped in one of these towns for lunch. I never thought that rice, lady finger and chapatti could taste so good when sitting on hard dirt floor in the middle this hostile place I had been so often warned against travelling through.

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We were hurried back in to the pick up by the driver. He whipped along the single lane of tar seal, then pulled off at the last second to avoid on coming trucks. This move was performed all the time travelling at 120km per hour. Off to the side of the road huge dust twisters formed, maybe 100m in the air. We all looked at each other asking the same silent question, will these things do any damage if they cross our path?

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Finally we wound down the hill into the city of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan on the Pakistani side. At the bus station I was to find out that the bus had already left and that the next one was at 5pm the next evening. Great 22 hours in a town 150km from Kandahar with a large Al-Qaeda presence.
Now I would like to say that the whole trip across Boluchistan was rough and dangerous seat of your pants travelling. However a friend of a friend in Quetta picked me up and delivered me to the only hotel that had rooms and that foreigners were allowed to stay at. This consisted of a 5 star resort that was guarded by high walls and an army of armed police officers. You had to pass through a vehicle check point where your car was searched then before you could get inside you also had to walk through a metal detector.

This peace of mind came at $300US a night, however Ashid pulled some strings and got it at the budget crushing price of $150 US a night. So after giggling to myself and jumping on my king sized bed I had the first decent hot shower in weeks, got some washing done and helped myself to the minibar which I was shocked to find suffered from Prohibition. After gorging myself on the BBQ buffet I came back and watched two movies in English on HBO then fell sleep on down pillows with "you can't afford this" doing circles in my mind.

I went for a wander to stock up on some cash; I went into 4 different banks till I found one that changed traveller’s cheques. Every one of these banks was guarded by 4 or 5 armed officers and everywhere I went the situation seemed tense after the bombings in Islamabad the night before. With a pocket full of Rupees I was walking passed a bank when "BANG"......... I dove behind a concrete post as the bank guards all went to ground pointing their weapons every which way. The Pakistani guy who had been walking in the opposite direction and thought the concrete post also made a great safe haven looked me in the eye and we both started laughing at each other as we relished that it was just a tyre blowing out.

I was sitting on the cramped and dilapidated bus at 5pm, my back pack on the roof. There were another 20 Pakistanis ready for the 23 hour bus ride to Lahore. The road was rough and I must admit I was glad that this part of the drive was done at night due to the wash outs that had already claimed 5 different trucks and buses along the route. In the 23 hours we stopped five times in order to pray. Abdul, the young guy sitting next to me, took me under his wing and fed me spicy potatoes and chapatti from his own packed lunch and helped with the English barrier when it came to chatting with other curious bus members who basically wanted to know what a Gora was doing in this part of their country. At one point, while sitting eating spicy rice with my hands, I look around the restaurant and surveyed the other 60 or so people doing the same and feeling really at ease to be back in Asia.

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I had arranged to meet with friends working in Lahore, Abdul lent me his cell phone to ring and arrange a meeting at the bus station. This proved a little harder than first thought as the bus station was a sprawling chaotic mess. In the end Abdul waited over an hour with me till Marks driver picked me up. It turned out that Abdul was not a student as he had told me at the beginning of our journey, he was actually a police officer and concerned for my safety.

Two hours later I was sipping my first beer in a month and enjoyed listening to Kiwi accents while being pretty happy with myself for still having all my fingers and toes.

Posted by djrkidd 01:25 Archived in Pakistan Comments (0)

They are called Go Forwards because they don't go backwards!

Putting yourself at risk in the third world is harder than you think!

sunny 50 °C
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Three days it took to get that piece of paper through that slot in the window. Three days of mauling in 45 degree heat like an All Black at the world cup. Three days.... only to be told "No Sir, you must apply in Islamabad" by the white collared official who was dealing with all 73 Visa applications that day.

"No I'm not going to Islamabad it's too dangerous!" I stammered in frustrated disbelief.

"Then book a flight to India" he retorted
"Can't…. travelling overland" I replied.
"We don't issue visas to people travelling overland, it's too dangerous" He smirked envisioning the danger.

"Yeah but..." I trailed off as I saw the look of nonchalance on his face and lost my purchase on the window to be spat out of the crowd like I had been caught in an avalanche.

At this point I could hear the clock ticking as I had to meet a friend in Delhi in 10 days and hadn't even got the application through the window. As a last ditch effort I rang Mat from the New Zealand Embassy who I had met on the first day of the visa sager when I had to get a letter of Introduction three days ago and had the following conversation.

***

"Ah Yeah Kia Ora Mate I need a Letter for these plonkers at the Indian Embassy" I muttered into the intercom in my thickest Kiwi accent.
"Yes okay sir, are you a New Zealand citizen?" was the reply.
'What do you think you doughnut'......... "Ah yes sir" I replied
Now being on my own little patch of Aotearoa in the Middle East things still went as smoothly as I had hoped. I had my letter in two shakes of a lamb’s tail and Mat even come out and had a chin wag about my trip that went along these lines.

"So where are you from?" he asked.
"Te Kuiti" I beamed.
"Oh yeah I'm from Taupo, do you know such and such? Wow travelling overland that’s quite a trip"
"Yeah I know, once in a lifetime" I smiled
"Pakistan is really dangerous at the moment I don’t advise you to travel through it. Balunchestan it's the Wild West down there."
"Yeah so I heard" I smiled meekly
"So I am going to finish up here in a month and study in the states?
"Oh cool"
"Islamabad is about to kick off, some gun men have taken over a mosque and Quetta that was where that guy had his head cut off"
"Righty ho, I'll be right mate"
"So how was London?" he asked
"Yeah good"
Be careful around Zahiden people have been getting shot there lately
"Will do mate, well thanks for the letter".........'and the pep talk'.

***

"Yeah Mat, Dave, hey these guys won't give me a visa aye" I seethed down the mobile phone I had borrowed from a guy who had been queuing with me for the last two days.
"Alright mate give me 15 minutes and I’ll see what I can do for ya" he replied.

14 minutes later I was in an office being yelled at by an Indian man in a blue shirt.
"I have just had your Embassy on the phone telling me that we are putting you in danger by sending you to Islamabad" he yelled.
“You are!" I said flatly, looking directly into his eyes.
"Okay so what do you want?" he screamed.
"A tourist visa" I retorted meeting his volume.
"When do you want it?"
"Sunday, and I want to pick it up in Zahiden!"
"Zahiden?" he said turning a scarlet
"Yes Zahiden Sunday!" I said not believing where this was going.
"Fine" he said showing me out of his office
"Fine" I said still matching his raised voice.

***

Sitting in a hotel room in Shraiz feeling a little nervous doing my last minute preparations of hiding 70 quid in my shoes and stashing my passport and remaining money down pant’s internal pocket I shouldered my back pack took a deep breath and headed to the bus station.

"Are you sure you want to go to Zahidan Mister" the ticket inspector asked?
"Ah yes" was my quizzical reply.
A few hours into the journey the two young lads started up. After the usual where are you from questions I was asked to give my opinion on sex, religion and politics in that order. In these guys opinions, you just went to a bar, snapped your fingers and the girls in the West would come home with you. Their English and the stubborn pre-conceptions made it very hard for me to break this change of thought. In fact he was convinced that if I took his email address I could give it to girls in my country and get him a wife.

I had to laugh when they found out that I planned to go to Pakistan from Iran. The second one started up "why you go there, its very dangerous many bad people!" I felt like saying funny they said the exact same thing when I said I was heading to Iran. At this stage the Pakistani guy sitting beside me spoke up in defence of his country and before I knew it a heated debate over Islam had raging for half an hour with lots of gesturing at me with no explanation, I sunk lower and lower into my seat and watch the never changing desert scenery.

The next morning as the sun rose over the rocky horizon I noticed a mud brick tower on a slight rise just on the side of the road. Outside were four Toyota pick ups one with a 50 cal. machine gun mounted on the roof. As we passed a man dressed in a white Baluchi with a turban came off the tower yawning and stretching with an Ak47 in that same out stretched hand. Then to my absolute horror a second man out the front of the tower broke into a smile as our eyes locked for a split second as the bus whizzed by. These guys definitely weren't solders and I spent the next thirty minutes trying to ward off a heart attack.

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Zahidan was a dusty frontier full of mud brick houses and shifty looking bearded men and nervous boy solders. I had to wait outside the Indian embassy for 3 hours until it opened a 9am. I made friends with the police officers guarding the Consulate and sat and drunk tea and showed them photos of Iran. The first clue I may have been over my head was the machete sitting besides the driver’s seat in the policeman’s personal car. Then the next shock came when the policeman’s replacement came, as this man was getting changed into his uniform for his shift he asked his mate to pass over his side arm. To my horror I watched as this man pointed the weapon at his mate’s head slowly squeezing the trigger. From my vantage point on the floor I could see that it had bullets in the breach, all I could do was hold my breath and wait for the bang. The policeman’s child who was sitting on the bottom bunk thought that this was a great game and was giggling away with his father holding the gun. Then he spun and faced me broke open the revolving breach holding the 6 bullets tipped them into his hand passed one to me for a look then passed the ammunition and the gun to the new policeman, all the time laughing and smiling like it was a water pistol. I quietly excused myself and went for a walk to find breakfast.

Back in the consulate I was the only one there and was seen to with a minimal wait. To my dismay I was told the consulate knew nothing of me and that I should come back in the afternoon. I had hoped to cross the border this day minimizing my exposure to this area which was only a hundred kilometres from the Afghani border and drug smuggling and bandits were rife.
Returning in the afternoon I was told to come back tomorrow and I could get my visa. I then spent the rest of the afternoon walking around in the 50c heat trying to find a place to stay. I walked across town and was waiting outside the consol bang on 9am. My man told me that I could get my visa in the afternoon, which, due to the border closing at 4pm meant one more night in the bustling metropolis of Zahidan.
This time a young bolshie man from the Gulf area walked me to a cheap hotel that flipped out when I couldn't produce a passport or visa. (It was in the Consulate) They also confined me to my room saying that if I wanted to go anywhere I was to arrange a police escort through them. I found this laughable seeing that I had been walking around town for a day and a half now without being taken hostage and making home videos for any wantabe terrorists.

My usual three policemen picked me up in the morning, two of them armed with AK47's and all smiles. They drove me out to the edge of town passing all the black market fuel sellers with a blind eye. Petrol is rationed to 3L per day so there is a huge demand for black market fuel which they sell blatantly at extortionate prices right outside the gas stations. We parked up on the edge of town; I watch families washing and collecting water from a communal tap. I was then ferried into another car with 3 even younger cops. The driver thought he was in a Die Hard movie and took off wheels screaming. He had me at the taxi stand in 5 minutes flat, took down my details, took down the taxi's details that I was to travel in, manhandled me into the taxi office out of sight of the gathering crowd and then left me there to wait till the taxi became full.

I waited nervously as the driver signed in with the police at the first check point. It was like the moment you hang your legs out of the plane during a sky dive you really don't want to make your body leap but you know in reality that you have passed the point of no return.

Posted by djrkidd 00:22 Archived in Iran Comments (5)

Kidnapped in the Axis of Evil

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The cabin door slid open and a slick dark haired Georgian stuck his head out and grunted at me to come to him. I looked up and down the train corridor, no one was about. I wandered over to the cabin and stuck my head in the door, there were five of them in there altogether and when I saw what was in his hand, I froze and uttered the words "oh crap!"

***

The Train was stifling as I fought my way into the small 4 person sleeper, an older couple followed me in so I threw my pack on the top bunk and sat in the corner and sweated while they fluffed about. As we pulled out of the station they turned to me and asked "where are you from?" Then burst into big smiles and laughter at my reply. This was followed buy the seemingly more frequent question of "what on earth is someone from New Zealand doing in the former USSR?"
"Ah" was all I had managed when Slovene answered his own question on my behalf "you're on an adventure" he boomed slapping his thigh with his hand and beaming at his wife. With that I was adopted by my new Georgian parents who then helped me negotiate the rather slow and all in Russian Georgian/Azeri border and of course showed me the usual local hospitality of feeding me up to my eye balls on bread, cheese, egg and cucumber. "This is for you, here eat some more" fussed Slovene's wife in true mother hen style till I could hardly move.

As I stood outside waiting for the others to make their beds I was giving thanks that they did not follow the other local custom of Chacha (the local Vodka ) which, to be honest, could double as varnish remover. I rubbed my poor stomach and shuddered at the other night that had seen me passed out on the tiles in my guest house in close proximity to the toilet. I thought the battle was won when the 500ml bottle was drunk over dinner only to be horrified when Gaylar, the baker from across the road, produced a two litre coke bottle filled with the stuff and re-filled the more decadent glass bottle he had on the table. Try telling someone that was probably bottled fed on Vodka from birth, that, no, you really can't drink any more. You get a look that says they think you want to stop breathing oxygen.


***

I recognized one of the five from my own cabin, the other man thrusted the bottle at me and bellowed "you come drink Chacha" while pointing at me with his index finger from his paw like hands.

"Ah crap!" I shuddered and then shrugged, well a Kiwi's got to do what a Kiwi's got to do, and in the name of international relations I took up the last seat in the cabin and knocked back the shot that was placed into my hand in one go, as per local drinking law. After asking my name and where I was from it was like I had arrived at Auckland and was drinking Battery acid and eating strong sausage and bread with my 5 oldest friends. One of these guys with a beaming smile managed to name three major cities back home, came out with "James Cook" the stumbled out into the corridor and did a cracking rendition of the Haka. The ransom was pretty light, as this time when the bottle finished, that was it and I was made to swap skype address so that they could call me. I sure that the conversation at the time seemed like it was flowing quite nicely and with that I was freed and allowed to wobble my way back to my bunk.

***
Driving through the desert of Azerbaijan watching the oil pumps rock back and forwards like hammers, I was fuming. I had been ripped off by the money changer big time, the first taxi driver wanted $20 for the ride and when told where to go he decide to keep my back pack hostage in the boot. However, tip to future taxi drivers, when you have someone's stuff locked in your car don't point at that person swearing at them with the keys to the said car in the same hand, because said Kiwi will grab your keys, unlock the boot, retrieve the back pack, throw the keys in the boot, smile, and say "later sucker!" and of course waves as the Kiwi drives by in a cab for quarter of the price while the former cab driver is still dicking around trying to get the keys out of his locked car. The bus station had been a mass of people, fumes and noise but I managed to get a ride to the Iran border. Now as we drove through the desert that stretched as far as the eye could see to my right and to the glittering blue Caspian Sea on my left, on a bus without air conditioning, all I wanted was a bottle of water. But all I could do was sit there fuming and roll the dry lump of meat I had for a tongue around my mouth. I couldn't not use any of my small notes because they were ripped. I thought US dollars would be king but whenever I pulled these ripped bills out of my pocket they screwed their noses up like I was offering them used toilet paper.

***

As the third police officer checked my passport within 100m of where it had just been stamped more out of curiosity than a matter of security I thought that their actions summed up my very short experience of Azerbaijan. Walking down the road with the bored policemen at my back , supervising the holes that were being dug in the road that joined Azerbaijan with Iran, I began to get a twinge of excitement that I have not felt in a long time. Normally when I cross a boarder I am slightly nervous or sometimes indifferent but this time I was smiling to myself as the metal plates, on the bridge across the bread filled river that forms the countries divide, banged and shifted under my weight. The day was perfect, warm and cloudless. Birds were singing and I even caught my last glimpse of the Caspian glittering light blue diamonds.

The first Persian I met was the berka clad immigration official who, as per my preconceived perception, looked at my passport, then at me and yelled "where is your pass port?"
"That is my passport" was my bemused reply
"This is not passport! Where is your pass port?" she scowled giving me that look that only a woman can
"Well princess I don't know what to tell you!" I chuckled abusing the language barrier.
Finally someone came and translated asking where I was from and what my name was with that information I was stamped in and on my merry way to the customs hall.

I was met again by another black clad young lady who looked at my name and asked me giggling, why I have three names in regard to my two middle names my parents blessed me with.
"Well my Mum got a little carried away when I was born" I smiled a little embarrassed. She then went on to read out my name and explained where I was from to everyone in the hall and after the commotion settled she turned to me and gave me the warmest smile I have ever seen and said "Welcome to Iran David."

***

Hamid caught my eye as I walked into the bus station mainly because he look so out of place with his very western style of clothing topped of by a pair of aviators. He hung back watching me buy my ticket, like a four year old would from behind a mother's legs. Later he appeared while I was eating my first Kebab which consisted of mince meat and had a few uncooked onions thrown for good measure. He helped me change some money after a fun session of him trying to use his few words of English and me my few words in Farsi. Hamid was then leafing through my guide book and saw a picture of a water pipe, he pointed and I nodded and before I knew, I had been thrown in the back of a taxi and brought to a tea house. A mint flavoured pipe was produced and he soon had me drinking Cay in the Persian way of holding a sugar cube between my teeth and sipping at the hot brown tea that comes in a small tulip shaped glass. With the use of photos, sign language and the phrase book we managed to communicate rather well and the only cost to me (because he refused to let me pay a cent) was that I was paraded down the main street to be shown off to his friends. Hamid then carried my back pack to the bus and put me in the front seat behind the driver. This turned out to be far from ideal for an overnighter as the bus was equipped with a fog horn from the USS Abraham that was used far too often. He then shook my hand and waved me off like a mate from London at the start of this trip.

***
I had just endured the horror of another squat toilet and was washing my hands when the old timer next to me started up in Farsi making a gesture of flipping something over in his hands and using my confused smile as consent. He abducted me, he almost frog marched me to a restaurant across the road. I was met by the wide and confused eyes of his three sons. These young men were the pride and joy of their Father who enthusiastically mimed what his boys did with a beaming smile while looking very chuffed. From his actions and the fact that all their hands and forearms were filthy, I guessed that these guys were wielders. The food soon appeared and it was the world famous Kebab again which I was then shown how to eat with my hands, after shyly starting with a fork. I was sitting there, when suddenly all eyes were on me, it took a while to twig but they were all waiting for me to finish my drink before they got up to leave. Such manners and hospitality, I could not force the 10 000 riel note into anyone's hands to cover the cost of my meal.

I could write many paragraphs about random abductions that turn into free guided tours, meals in people's homes or just tea and a chat, about amazing politeness and humbling hospitality along with an incredible sense of welcome that I have received from this, the axis of evil! In fact since I have been typing this blog the taxi driver that gave me a lift has come back over half an hour later and given me the post cards that I left in his car. He had a joke that the heat must be getting to me as he found out that I gave the exchange guy 60 dollars instead of 50 which he then gave back to me with the Rials I had asked for. Another man persisted with me when I smiled and said sorry I'm not sure what you are saying, ignoring him by keeping on typing, he then reappeared a few minutes later with a delicious meal of chicken and rice and a cold drink from the birthday that is going on, gave this to me, smiled and went and sat down again. I had a blood nose while sitting here and when I went and got a tissue you would have though I had been shot the fuss that was made over me. Check out these kids in the video I was reading my book and they come over and just chilled out asking heaps of question and the now and then would break into song and dance.

So yes Iran has a crap government and if that is a reason to invade a country then, certain so called "super powers" should have been attacked a longtime ago. The people here are truly amazing and if anyone should be shot it is the tools in the CNN and BBC that lead the so called free people of the West, including myself , to believe Iran is a country of AK47 toting Islamic extremist who want to destroy the US at all cost.

Right I have had my rant so I am going to get of my high horse have some tea and hope that I get kidnapped again, its fun! I seriously hope anyone that reads this seriously puts their preconceptions aside and considers Iran as a travel destination. As put by one back packer, if there was a "back packing scale of difficulty" then Iran would be at the bottom.

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Posted by djrkidd 21:04 Archived in Iran Comments (7)

Tbilisi My Prison

sunny 33 °C

20/20 hindsight is a great thing! I know that I am not the first to say it and I'm sure that at some point and time these exact words have passed your own lips as your master plan has fallen down around you as your stand by helplessly and watch the dust rise, or in my case grind to a complete halt and become a prisoner in a city I now just want to leave!

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It's been seventeen days since “VISA! VISA! VISA!" Was yelled at me by the bear of a man with sweat dripping from his forehead, as he slapped my passport with paw- like hands.

"He didn't need one comrade," I said, cringing at my own bad joke, nodding at Dutchie who had just been stamped in without a problem.

"YOU VISA" He yelled unbuttoning the second button of his Soviet style uniform in a vain attempt to fight the rising heat inside his tin hut.

"Well, can I buy one?" I smiled rubbing my thumb and forefinger together using a language that knows no boarders and praying that I had not waited an hour in the hot sun, fighting my way to one small window through a maul of people only to get sent back to Turkey.

"Wait over there" pointed the somewhat more composed colleague of the first boarder guard.

After the exchange of some rather worried looks from my latest travel companions Jeroen and Tieuwen, it turned out that, ironically, all I had to do was walk across the boarder into Georgia and exchange some money for the local Lari and come back and pay for my visa.
Fighting my way back to that same window my mate stamped me in, even though my visa didn't correspond with my passport saying my name was Robert. Bemused the three of us watched the going ons under that hot tin roof as we were shepherded through search area by grim looking boarder guards. People fought and yelled as they jostled for position to have there bags searched. One woman was screaming hysterically as she went from guard to guard pleading her case only to be turned away with a solemn shake of the head and then increase her wailing by another octave.

"Jeese lads, didn't think I was going to get in there for a moment" I grinned from the front seat of the Mercedes taxi that was taking us from the boarder to Batumi.

I let the jab about how good an EU passport was lie, while I enjoyed the ride along the coast and contemplated if the Black Sea was appropriately named.

The idea of course was great in theory! Instead of back tracking to Ezerum in Turkey and picking up my visa for Iran, I would arrange to get it sent to Tbilisi. This would allow me to explore more of Georgia and even get to tack Azerbaijan onto my route. One week I was told by the visa agency to transfer collection points, perfect! With that I arranged my Azerbaijan visa and everything started to fall into place.

"Don't lose count lads!" was the common call as we counted the stops to the bus station. Seeing everything is in Georgian ,which has no aspect of the English (or in fact any European Language about it ) even the Metro has the distinct possibility of getting you lost.

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Walking across the dusty tarmac pad that formed the bus station was like another world compared to the modern laid back Rustavali area in the middle of the city. Beggars and street vendors intertwined for our custom. Little tornados of dust and litter swirled around us as we negotiated the Mini Buses spread across the area like an army about to invade. Of course the lack of a common language made for frantic hand signals that sent us across the far side of the chaotic sprawl. I had to contend with taxi drivers who would beep their horns and run over trying every trick in the book to get your custom. "No mini buses to Kazbegi' or "the next one leaves in 3 hours" and they sure don't know where in the bus station they leave from. Finally we found our man, then painfully waited in the green Marshuka in the heat surrounded by a weeks worth of groceries, lengths of wood and other space hogging supplies for there to be enough passengers for us to depart.

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The spectacular drive to Kazbegi along the Old Military Highway was interspersed with remote towns, high mountain passes, random stops at water falls to get drinking water and sheets of dried fruit to snack on forced upon the three unsuspecting foreigners. Finally after four hours along a winding, avalanche prone roads, that were covered with a patch work of potholes, towered over by bright green mountains with grey snow covered tops, we were taken to a guest house. Of course we had to endure an unintentional tour of the town as we dropped off every other passenger at their door step and the driver stopping to shoot the breeze and discuss his exotic cargo to friends along the way.

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Kazbegi is situated in the North of Georgia 3 miles from the Border with Russia, which unfortunately for the Dutch lads who were heading that way was closed due to the ongoing tensions in the Chechen province. Besides the Russian jeeps driving around, and the impromptu rubbish dump the river has become, the small town reminds me some what of Mt Cook Village back home. Surrounded by mountains with Mt Kazbegi itself making an impressive backdrop and overlooked by a monastery perched on a hill an hours walk out of town.

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With visa requirements looming and flights to Moscow for my Dutch travel colleagues, it was squeezed into the back of a moron Lada with the man's sister sitting in the front for the bumpy ride back to the capital on none existent suspension. Of course money had to be collected from the local shops as well as boxes that were precariously attached to the roof followed by a quick fuel stop at some guys shipping container having consulted the price at the petrol station first. A twenty liter container was produced and emptied into the Lada as the fumes filled the back seat and added to the tension of getting home in one piece. However we wound our way down the steep pass without incident and I even managed a chuckle as we started to head down the flat pot hole free highway with out a sheer drop in sight and the Georgian pair in the front put on their seat belt explaining that there were police patrols.

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I collected my visa for Azerbaijan and then set myself in the routine of checking my emails expectantly for the visa authorization code so I can go to the Iranian embassy collect my visa and head to Baku. I have a coffee shop, where the girl smiles and says "double espresso David? I'll bring it out to your table." I have a beggar that leans on his crutch and pinches the skin of his throat between thumb and forefinger in the local sign for food. His eyes smile behind his bearded face despite his hard life on the street. Even though he takes it as a matter of fact when I give him money it is my source of karma that I will get my visa today. The Routine that I left behind in the UK and that I always think that I crave after a series of over night bus trips and town hopping is now driving me insane and all I want is to get back on the road again.

"So you want to come over to the baker and have some dinner?" Carlo suggested after wondering across to buy local cheese bread called Kuchapuri for dinner. Carlo was from Holland and was riding East on his motorbike. The Baker to whom he referred was called Gaylar and although he spoke only a few words of English he had shown us the local hospitality on a few occasions with dinner and a few beers.

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It was a hot night and the small bakery was made even hotter by the stove as I walked in and surveyed the potentially messy scene before me. I was met by two large topless hairy Georgians, a girl called Nena who hadn't escaped the usual hard face gifted to the Caucus women and an older smartly dressed man called Trango. A meal was laid out on the small red plastic table more distressing than the site of topless barker Gaylar and his Friend Darto was the bottle of Vodka that had just now been opened. The better seats were gifted to Carlo and me while Darto steadied himself on a coke crate and beers were poured and food was served.

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I would have given the first bottle twenty minutes before it was finished. Due to slight communication difficulties every time a conversation line was exhausted a toast was proposed and the Vodka had to be drunk in one go according to the local custom. Well flattered by the hospitality we felt obligated to supply the next bottle and flagons of beer and well let’s just say by the time the meal was finished and the second bottle of paint stripper like spirit with it the group was happily communicating through an international slur!

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A brief conversation in Georgian was held and then Darto bellowed 'David, Carlo you leave now" thinking we had escaped with minor causalities we headed back towards the home stay only to be swept up and separated into two waiting cars. After a quick joy ride of the city stopping on the hill to take in the impressive view of Tbilisi at night we ended up at a restaurant that consisted of terraces on split levels over looking the river running through the centre of the city. Another meal is ordered and of course some beers and of course another bottle of Vodka was produced and another round of toasts were made.

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Darto got up and sang a Georgian ballard and was surprisingly good, dancing took place and more toasts were made till the bottle was extinguished. This was followed by another tour through the city which through an alcohol induced haze I did show some concern when even our driver put on his seat belt and I scratched around to find that none were fitted in the back. After this random and pointless joyride around town we were unceremoniously dumped outside our home stay and I gladly crawled into bed.

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It's been the same routine all week, the novelty of being a foreigner has worn off. I don't want to have my photo taken by curious strangers. Today, after another night of stress induced fitful sleep, I went to the Metro to find that the prices had doubled when I handed over my 1 lari didn't get any change. I tried to explain but after wasting my breath stormed off in a rage that I had paid two and a half times the new fee. A laughable thought with that same hindsight, as it was less than 30p I was so upset about, when I usual pay 3 quid for the same journey in London. Walking down the street I didn't get any of the challenging stares from the young men I passed, today I was the one shooting daggers and I was given a wide berth. However today when I checked my email there was my parole notice in the form of a visa authorization code and with that, the stressed melted away. I had a good laugh at myself and realized that Georgia is not such a bad place to be stuck in after all.
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Posted by djrkidd 06:32 Archived in Georgia Comments (3)

İt´s not all beaches, cocktails and topless foriegn ho

sunny 30 °C
View Kiwi' don't fly on djrkidd's travel map.

It wasn’t till the guy with no fingers started carrying clear plastic rubbish sacks full of bloody sheep’s heads with eyes bulging that I thought I might have chosen the wrong diner for a quick feed before I got on my over night Ferry.

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I had the feeling of condemnation as the cook went out and helped carry more of these bags from the boot of the car parked outside in the 30 degree heat. Then all I could do is laugh as the burly Greek owner pulled one of the heads out of the bag and made some sort of eating gesture to his fingerless colleague while allowing a pool of blood to form in the middle of the diner floor which, of course, was mopped up with immediate effect from the staff and customers alike, walking it around.

Hoping for the best, I high tailed it to my boat, comforted in the fact İ had a few magic potions in my first aid kit incase of such eventualities, and sat on the deck, itching some rather large welts from whatever parasite I had been sharing my bed with, while admiring my new Pakistan visa, giggling.

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Besides looking at some old columns, my main reason for even stepping foot in Athens was to buy myself some travel insurance in the form of visa for Pakistan and in turn, away out of Iran.

Dressing appropriately and after walking around some random suburb of Athens for an hour I entered the Pakistan Embassy which consisted of a 4 by 6m room and about 50 Pakistan nationals filling out forms at one end, fighting their way to the glass booth at the other end, then waiting for their name to be called out and repeating the process. After fighting my way to the front I acquired the required forms and despite some harsh stares from those around me, filled them out stifling a laugh at the redundant number dispenser on the wall with the sign 'Please wait for your number to be called.'

Returning the forms to my new mate I was asked to come inside to be asked a few questions. ''For your own safety Sir'' the guy said in perfect Queen's English.

After a verbal examination, including reference to my sanity and lack of preparation, I had to dance around the fact of not having a visa for India ....and why didn’t İ do all this at home. Eventually after talking about the beauty of Pakistan and the future of the cricket team I was told to come back tomorrow with an address of someone that lived in the country.

Bright and early I turned up to drop of the address and crack on with some sight seeing in my usual uniform of shorts, tee shirt and jandals, see photo below. However the five minutes turned into 3 hours as I sat there getting death stares, wishing my shorts would grow into trousers and my jandals into shoes. Finally a friendly face appeared at the window beckoning me to come around to the door and once again to enter the embassy proper.

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Already a little apprehensive all I could do was giggle when he told me that the Ambassador wanted to meet me before he issued the visa and welcomed me inside with a bowing hand and only a cursory glace at my attire.

You know that dream when you go to school naked? Well that’s basically what this was as İ sat before this immaculately dress man thumbing through my visa application and passport.
'Are you David James Robert Kidd?' he asked in that perfect English looking at me through spectacles perched on the end of his nose.
'Yes' İ replied feeling like I was 16, and in the principal's office with that big dumb grin on my face.
A few more identification questions and again with itinerary for my own safety etc etc.
Then, 'David, what is the purpose of your visit to Pakistan?'
'Well you see sir, my government has sent me to act as a spy!' ( Now I know I shouldn't say crap like this but I was over come in the moment.)
'Yes, that’s right; we want to know why you are so good at cricket because quite frankly we are tired of losing!' İ said before cracking a big smile and holding my breath gauging the reaction of the two officials.
After a shocked stare, a little chuckle emitted from the ambassador’s mouth and the other man followed suit. I then went on to explain the true purpose of the trip, followed by some small talk about our two countries and İ walked out Visa in hand. I waited till I was on the street in front of the armed guards of course to yell out 'He Scores!' and do a little victory dance. I could see them weighing up whether to arrest me or shoot me on the spot and high tailed it to the metro.

***
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I had just finished taking a few photos of the sun set from the Stern of the ferry when I went from wondering if I was going to be sick, to running to the toilets, collecting all my worldly possessions in a fluid motion knowing dam well that I was going to be. As I reached the sanctuary of the toilet door I was shocked to find them locked. Well nothing for it but a very impressive (if I do say so myself) projectile vomit over the side resulted. Who would have thought seagulls enjoyed kebab?

No worries I thought as I sorted myself out in my own private corner of the deck, I have all sorts of stuff in my bag, only to open my first aid kit and to find I had left half of the contents, including my anti nausea tablets, on the top bunk in a back packers in Spain. CRAP! The result, I was curled up for 8 hours on the damp toilet floor below deck feeling extremely sorry for myself and providing some mild entertainment for the rest of the passengers as I made a pilgrimage, every 10 minutes, to hug the porcelain like a long lost friend.

***

Now only I can ask for a ticket and have the name repeated to me, pay perfectly good money for the ticket, get on a boat and be surprised when I get off at 4am that I am on the wrong Greek Island, one 300km North of where I wanted to be and feeling like death warmed up. I was faced with another ferry journey and 6 hours of buses to get to where I want to be. Now don’t any of you start up with that "it’s not the destination it’s the journey" verbal diarrhoea! That is only said by glue sniffing hippies who have been stuck in places like Goa or Nimbin for the past decade and are too stoned to go home. If Choıs had an airport I am pretty sure I would have been on the next flight home.

Sitting on the dock in the dark, Ipod on, feeling like I had cracked every one of my ribs I started to come right. As the sun rose I could make out the out line of some hills in the distance..... Asia! there it was one month late but within reach.

The first thing to reach my ears as I stepped onto Otogar was an "Alright Mate" in a thick cockney accent. I couldn't believe my eyes as I walked through the resort town of Bodrum, I thought I may have been done again by get on the wrong boat and ending up in the UK. The prices on the menus were quoted in pounds sterling, the streets were full of bright red people walking around in swim suits and the pubs full of men covered in tattoos, knocking back pints, talking football and abusing the power of the pound in their so called paradise and then happily stumbling out to the hired scooters and riding home legless.

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22 hours after leaving Athens I downed my first proper meal of a donor kebab..... I know, slow learner, you might say but that was the only thing that was in my price range. I crashed on my mattress on the roof of my hostel, again the only place catering to my budget. I was woken up at 04:45 by the Turkey that I remember, as the call to prayer screamed at top volume from the minarets of the mosque next door.

Posted by djrkidd 01:18 Archived in Greece Comments (4)

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