Sunday, 27 July 2014

Dont let anyone tell you that it couldn't be done !

Don't let another moment slip away ! (Michael Franti.. )
Its been a week of emotions as I reflect on the past and present. The events leading up to the final leg of the silk road in Pakistan were more than I ever expected or dreamed of. How many times people had said NO, it cannot be done. Where it all started even confuses me, just by the title of my blog: Garths Africa. I had no idea I would ever be here, never really thought things thru,  calculated the risk or challenges. But here I am !
The difficulties of getting into Iran on a motorcycle, the Iran guide, the visa, insecurity in Pakistan, worries about westerners taken hostage,  up to 5 police staying the night at a hotel, escorts to walk down the street...  A quick road side stop to add air in a flat tire was an issue,  knowing I was not in a place where fixing a flat was an option.
It seems behind me now, in a region of Pakistan where friendly shop owners refuse my money for a coke & chips while I rest from the heat. Pakistan is concerned about there image and is working very hard to change. Police are for my safety , the locals all ask what are my thoughts about Pakistan's. They care and do not support what has happened before and want to show others that its safe to be here. Most westerners would see police escorts as a big problem, but as its often said here: there is no problem , we just want you to be safe !
Taftan is the dirty border town between Iran and Pakistan, comparing it to the border of China in the north cannot be done. Brits, Canadians, and Americans are not allowed on the final leg of the KKH ( Karakum Highway ) the famous highway is one of the worlds highest paved roads linking Asia to Europe and replaces the original Silk Road. It took some begging, diplomacy, senior officers, and refusing to let No be an option but in the end,  myself , Dan and Heiko were granted permission to travel the final 50 miles of Pakistan to THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA !
If ever there was a loop to ride,  this ride will forever be remembered. The day started at Eagles Nest Hotel in Kirimabad , it over looks mountain peaks exceeding 21000 feet, north of Gilgit , the gateway to K2,
the worlds second highest mountain.
A massive land slide about 5 years ago completely wiped out about 15 k on the KKH . Now the Chinese have partnered with Pakistan to rebuild the highway.   Until the road is rebuilt goods to and from China to Pakistan are all loaded from large trucks to small boats. Porters work endlessly unloading trucks into boat after boat, and again back onto trucks 15km later.
The challenge of getting a 200kg bike on and off a small boat was easy in comparison to the river crossings that followed. The KKH will always be in need of repair by the very nature of its location.
In Georgia I met a fellow rider Dan. We enjoyed beers, laughs, fantastic rides, and struggled thru the diplomacy of overland travel. Departing ways in Gilgit,  I wanted to travel alone again. It may be a foolish thing traveling alone after the recent river crossings, and police escorts, but I know I will always have a friend close by ...

The loop unlike many rides around Washington State leaves you breathless .. picking up a bike in the river after a ride to 15075 feet ( 4720 meters)  is hard work. The past few months of poor diet, and constant moving about, have shed any muscle left on me to nothing. Looking in a mirror I ask what happened ? the skin is hanging off me ...!!  I worry the eagles may be looking at me for lunch if I don't start doing some push ups or something...
India is the next stop ! I have a 6 month

visa !!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

leaving Iran and onto Pakistan !

Silk carpets cover the floor of a local gym in a repurposed water holding tank . Its a cool place  30 feet underground. Classes were complete for the day, so no work out.  While in Pakistan I did have an opportunity to watch some fights..
It was a full 9 hour day to travel the final 50 KM of Iran. It started in the morning at the hotel reception asking for our passports. It seems during the night the hotel had called in the troops of our position and at 7am the police were waiting.  Police held onto our passports ensuring we travel with them to the Pakistan border.  An untold number of checkpoints made travel very slow.The Pakistan border post is Taftan, in the province of Balochistan.
The ongoing conflict and attacks by sectarian groups in Balochistan put any hopes of  security escorts ending when in Pakistan.  A warm " Welcome to Pakistan !! " as I road across the border by police was comforting.  Like many border towns Taftan is no different, dirty, dusty, money changers, etc.  .. keep on riding if possible... It was already to late in the day for police to arrange escorts, but they did give up some floor space in their compound. It's also shared with prisoners and pilgrims .
Bomb attacks on pilgrims were of a concern in the area, and with two large pilgrim bus's parked outside the police compound,
 I wondered how safe I really was that night. To my relief that morning the pilgrims were gone. Maybe part of a way to relieve tension we joked as we traveled the province,  Pilgrim bus's constantly seemed to be close by. Escorted the entire country of Iran , I was more than ready to travel freely again, but the next 1500 miles or so in afternoon heat of 109 degrees made the next 8 days go pretty slow. Check point after check point we stopped , showed our passports, gave details, drank water and road off again. Police escorts changed often, sometimes every 10 miles. If there was ever an incident it was will documented where we were at all times.
Invited to spend the night at the home of a friends contact, I was given some in site to the culture. The Government of Pakistan and the police had taken responsibility for my safety and were not about to release me into the hands of someone else for an evening . Police preferred a safe hotel with security , and to escort us if we wanted to go out for food. We met out host who invited us to stay at his home in a parking lot with our police escorts. The parking lot is where a poker game started between our host and the police.. Who would win the right to take care of the American, English and German !
There were a number of phone calls to who's who in Pakistan . We went from staying at our hosts home, to some big developers place. The police went from local authority to provincial and political authority. At one point the police had claimed victory and we were on our way to a hotel for the night. 30 miles down the road their cell phone rang and we changed course again to a private home. Our original host was not a strong enough figure in the community to stay at his home, but he was not about to be shamed by the police and started calling his friends to one better the police. The struggle ended with a full police envoy pulled up in front of a prominent doctors home. I was greeted first by a senior intelligence officer who took our passports and then  introduced me to Dr Khurram.  Only minutes earlier the Dr said bring us to his house,  he was inviting us for the evening. The police had  agreed to let us stay unescorted until 7am the next morning.
Its Ramadan and everyone fasts until sunset. At sunset Dr Khurram fed 20 or more police men and officials in his garden, and invited us inside to feast on local food and drinks.
The doctor seemed to take some pride as he smiled and asked me : " What do you think about our excellent security ? "
Pakistan wants its
its visitors to be safe., and escorts are a big part of that effort.  About 80 miles before Lahore the police left us ride unescorted. I am now in Islamabad and if I can get a permit to travel the Karakorum Highway before my visa expires, I will see the mountains of Pakistan !!