where every tourist is a superstar
13.03.2008 - 14.03.2008
The Iran-Pakistan border gives us our first sighting of Tesco and Asda trucks in a very unfamiliar backdrop - the Taftan checkpoint. At this point we are 30km from Afganistan and Iraq. The prospect of removing our headscarves and burkas pushes aside any urge to get an Afgan or Iraqi stamp in my passport. Apart from a family from Turkmenistan, and delivery trucks, we are the only tourists waiting to be processed. Removing what I have come to fondly call 'my Iranian shackles', I am surprised that although it feels cliched but great to have the wind in my hair again, I do feel odd. At various points throughout the rest of the day it feels as if I still have the headscarf on! We will still see women wearing headscarves and burkas on our journey through Pakistan; but at least it is through choice rather than a State imposition. At the border, the Pakistani money-changers advise us all to be careful and wish us a safe passage through Pakistan. They are genuinely happy to hear that we want to visit their country despite its current situation.
The first, other, immediate difference between Iran and Pakistan are the highly ornate trucks. The different background colours on the trucks represent the region from which the truck is from. On top of this base colour is every kind of colour imaginable. The decoration varies from figurative art, schematic motifs, to the predominant geometric designs. The decoration is not limited to the main body of the truck but also to the frame itself. There is lots of 'crome' work and body kit. Although these 'boy-racers' prefer intricate add-ons to their vehicles, and pieces of dangling chains from the bumpers and window frames. Even the cargo area of the trucks appears to be an area of pride for the drivers; if you are lucky enough to see an unladen vehicle! As a result of these incredible adornments, the windows are very small compared to those on more Western trucks. To overcome what must be huge blindspots, "Blow Horn" is written on the back of every truck, and tuk-tuk. This makes driving a noisy affair. The addition of novelty horns to the mix makes it far more interesting too.
The journey from the border to Quetta will be our longest drive day. We have been warned that it will vbe around the 24 hour mark. We instantly warm to our guide and his assistant when they buy us fresh samosas (veg & spice in batter). The road to Quetta passes almost entirely through desert. The potholes are immense, and appear regularly. Even whole sections of the road are gone in some cases. What could have been a nightmare drive turned out to be one of the most enjoyable drive days. A table quiz is used to pass a large chunk of time. And even watching how the desert changes proved to be interesting. We stopped for food alongside the 'road' in the middle of the desert to watch the sunset. A meal was rustled up of pitta bread, spreads, tuna, and juices. It was also our first collective toilet break completely in the open! The security changes were quick, and often drove far ahead of us out of sight. The non-existent roadsigns left us travelling briefly into a quarry. We arrived in Quetta at 4am. There was a curry awaiting those who wished to wake up their taste-buds and stomachs.
Due to the cartoons of the Prophet being republished by the Danes, we were not allowed to leave the accommodation whatsoever. My first impression once I awake, is that there is far more wildlife in Pakistan than in Iran. It sounds as if I am sleeping in an aviary! For many who saw or read the "Kiterunner", there is great excitement to see the hundreds of kites overhead from the hotel roof. Every rooftop has children flying their kites, and some even 'battling' theirs. It is a spectacular sight as the first full day in Pakistan draws to a close. We are informed that we will be leaving the hotel for a meal. Along with our Kalashnikov armed security we walk for 45mins through Quetta. It is overwhelming to the senses after the peace/boredom of the hotel courtyard. People clamour around us. We bring the place to a standstill. People are so happy to see us and keep on taking our photos. The guns do not bother the locals, only the large bamboo sticks that the guards occasionally lash out with. Tonight gives us all a taste of fame. The restaurant is closed for us, and we receive a delicious array of Pakistani dishes. We are all driven at high speeds back to the hotel (in armed vehicles and tuk-tuks).