Putting yourself at risk in the third world is harder than you think!
08.07.2007 - 16.07.2007 50 °C
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?
"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
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.
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.