Thursday, 24 April 2008

22nd April 2008 - A frustrating journey...

A bad start to the day as our driver went to collect the wrong Sarah, SO OUR 5.30 START TURNED INTO 6.30 ! Then we were caught in a huge military convoy which blocked off the road. Dozens of helicopters buzzed overhead. The drizzle came down on a grey city, where side roads were drenched in slippery mud and rubbish and barbed wire and watch towers dominated the dismal scenery. It all looked so depressing as we desperately tried endless jumbles of side streets trying to avoid the convoy.

We were snarled up in a mesh of American blacked out jeeps, revving their engines in a desperate attempt not to risk being stationery and sitting targets. We tried to squeeze in beside them and incurred the wrath of a machine gun toting Afghan soldier....but when he saw us smiling, the situation diffused and he allowed us and the Americans to speed out in a gap in the convoy and storm our way out of Kabul.

The Jalalabad Road—the main route from Kabul to the East and on to Pakistan, was closed for bridge repairs. We took a diversion route which was pitted with pot holes and swathed in thick mud and rocks and headed at last for Roghano School—an hour East of Jalalabad.
But our luck ran out again as we climbed higher into the mountains and rugged desolate crags of barren hills overhung the road. We suddenly hit solid traffic. Thousands of brightly painted lorries stacked up in a huge seething queue of frustrated vehicles along this road which clings precariously to the edge of a massive ravine. Taxis and toyotas, spattered by the mud from their uncomfortable route, tried to weave in and out of these lorries and caused one huge snarl up of motionless vehicles, unable to move in either direction. The hills resounded to hoots and shouts but nothing moved. The Pakistan border had just reopened after 2 days of closure and thousands of stranded lorries had disgorged into Afghanistan and on to the infamous Jalalabad road...only to be diverted to this old mountain route, where they crawled to a halt. We decided to give up as we knew that even should we reach the school, we would not make it home to Kabul before upsetting not to reach Roghano.

We rushed into Kabul for meetings, picked up Oliver—a 25 year old who is coming out to make a film on AC, from the airport and head off to the North ....another 7 hours of road ahead of us after our 5 hour morning thwarted trip! We climbed the mountain road towards the Salang and the highest mountain tunnel in the world. We stopped by the river and ate kebabs, sitting on red tapestry cushions, perched above the water on a balcony looking out on the snow capped Hindu Kush and the spring fields below...

There was much less snow over the Salang than last year and the tunnel was not blocked by snow and lorries—just kilometres of stygian blackness and fumes and thoughts of all the Russian soldiers burned alive here during the Russian invasion. Then a massive electric storm in the mountains and hours and hours of driving until, at last we came to Kunduz, arriving in the dark and relieved to have finished the journey.

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