Hippy Trail 1975 Part3 Heading Back Again
Aug 21st Shamari Hotel, Kabul, Afghanistan
Left Pakistan yesterday, after spending the morning in Peshawar and finding a nice chauda shawl to compete with J-Ps. Hopped on a crowded bus for Landi Kotal, not knowing quite why I was in such a hurry to leave the country. By lunchtime I was in town eating rather expensive dhal and chapattis at Rs2. But with all these dollars in my pocket I no longer need to care about spending these miniscule sums, do I? Off to Torkham border crossing on the back of a tiny truck that crawled through the passes. An Austrian guy and I walked across the no-mans land between the two countries and made it through into Afghanistan much quicker than the intercontinental coach that passed us as we walked. Of course it also had to negotiate the crossover between driving on the left in Pak and the right in Afghan.
The paperwork was a total confusion and I started to worry about making it as far as Kabul by evening. Changed Rs250 at 1 to 5 Afghanis (later offered 1 to 6 on black market in Kabul) then sat in a minibus waiting to take off. It never did, so I cadged a lift in a Landrover with more Austrians and by 9pm was here.
The menu at the Cable Hogue restaurant freaked me out! Used to dhal and subjee on a budget in Pakistan, I ordered pumpkin stuffed with brown rice and then apple pie with custard. It was not as good as the menu promised. Boy, one could blow a lot of money here in Kabul! Everything you want is available and all the Westerners are busy consuming. (Pretty much all I remember from Kabul on the way out is chocolate cake in the German Bakery with JJ Cale on the turntable, plus my first glimpse of a dead body being carried to the graveyard for burial).
I don’t see much point in staying on here, disillusioned and hyper-critical of my fellow travellers as I am. They’re all either eating or smoking hash (horrible memories of the early morning coughing from a group of German chillum smokers in a guest house in Kandahar on the way here). And the talk is all of where they have been or where they are going. In other words they are as lost as me. But what am I hoping to find by rushing home?
J-P is an exception; I just bumped into him here today as he sat with some hip-looking tourists. But his protestations of how he’s not interested in eating are accompanied by a sour face; he doesn’t look like he’s getting much delight from anything. I invited him up here to my hotel; let’s see if he comes.
I know it’s only my own weakness that keeps me hooked on these consumer/security places. Part of me says ‘head for the hills!’ Yet I remember that the hills are inside me, and in a funny way I’m already in their lonely places, surrounded as I am by things I don’t care about. All that’s left is the strong urge to push home quickly (run away?). The thought of moving at least gives me something to occupy myself with.
‘Moving, moving, moving
Ever moving on
Keeping it together
By keeping moving on’
Liz’s image looms large when I think of being back: a companion, someone to care about. I’m sick of feeding myself and worrying about myself. What a fool! When I was with her I wanted to be alone (‘head for the hills’: the shameful memory of Peshawar on the way here – which would be laughable if it hadn’t been potentially so dangerous – when, stoned out of my head, I left Liz in the hotel room in the middle of the night and started walking north out of the city; to be rescued by a kindly gent who insisted on accompanying me back to the safety of the hotel) and now I’m alone I want her. And do I head back to an image of her, or the girl herself?
My unhinged mind also occupies itself with worrying about whether I should do some business of the way back? I don’t mean hash oil up the arse, but I could invest sixty dollars or so on some sheepskin coats and stuff and make some money for when I get home. A weird part of me resists: I want to come back with nothing and look for a new life! But that would inevitably mean relying on Mother for some time…..I visualize myself arriving back, aimless as usual, and having to go through the usual proddings and promptings to get something together. Why can’t I get something together? How long will I have to spend in this state of ‘don’t know’ that has lasted for years, and in which I wandered Kabul today, needing nothing and having no reason to be here at all.
Monday 24th, New Behzad Hotel, Herat So chai becomes ‘chey’ and loses it’s milk, and sugar is substituted with sugar sweets on the side, but at two Afghanis a pot what a deal it is!
Letter from my mother to Post Restaunte, Kabul: Granny died. So glad to hear I got my money.
Spent Friday and Saturday overeating on expensive foods, ice cream and cakes in Kabul, where I forked out 500 Afghanis on an unusual blue sheepskin coat (rather too small for me actually but determined to have it for its colour) and a load of perfume that I promptly managed to lose. Was able to say goodbye to Dana, secretive as ever with her business dealings, but one of the few people I genuinely liked out here. Bye-bye with J-P a complete anti-climax, like we were strangers to each other to the last.
Left on the 5am Sunday morning bus, the hours rolling by until it stopped for the night in the desert some miles from Herat and I slept, wrapped up in my chauda, on the roof under unlimited stars and a waning moon, feeling ‘this is more like it!’
Three more hours this morning and I’m back in this hotel, scene of many discussions between Liz and me on the way out. Herat is a far-out town and I wander again all over it, with some qualms about leaving tomorrow. But staying might mean another pointless day over-consuming and lying lonely in this tiny room so I tell myself I will be back soon and will leave the East for Iran tomorrow……
(Later) Sleep eludes me after i have consumed almost a whole melon so on we go:
The fruit out here is the one thing I’ve found that’s better than Europe. The rest of the food is poor quality and I’m beginning to look a bit thin around the bones. Then there’s vast expanses of mountain desert but no solitude to speak of, with every green spot knee-deep in humans. You’ve got more chance of escaping company on the edge of London on the North Downs than you have taking a walk out of Herat. In fact these vast, sun-scorched regions have little to attract compared with a misty walk through an English woodland. And how do they survive here without the sea bringing femininity and moderation?
Visions of a cozy little room with fire and oaken beams, stereo playing gently, hot cooking smells coming up from below. Except that’s exactly what Liz and I had in Nottingham (Ok, the fire was electric) and look at the dissatisfaction I felt there! Remind me not to look over my shoulder at Pakistan once I’m back, and see it all as golden…..
(Hours of cursing lack of ability to sleep later): I’m a child who gets frustrated and angry when things don’t work out according to his ideas. I have only to drop the idea of sleep, together with my visions of a lovely plate of steaming rice and butter in Iran tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll get what I need. ‘That’s faith’, J-P would have said. Could I find a grain somewhere?
Yesterday three hours to the border, five to go through (Shah’s border control makes you walk past grisly exhibits of captured drugs and drug smugglers) and then four more on a bus to Meshad, in company with a bunch of Italians, one of who, with a big grin, unwrapped a small chunk of charas he had brought through. Found a room, grabbed yoghurt and cake and crashed out.
Today after a satisfying breakfast of big Iranian naan and white cheese, I’m given a tip that takes me to this campsite with a swimming pool, beside which I lie after an exhausting morning going round and round the city in circles for no obvious reason. Lost my temper completely for no real reason and caught myself walking furiously, blind and cursing. Still, after much of the usual indecisiveness, my train ticket is booked for 6pm. Lovely lunch of rice, kebab and a huge hunk of butter, all for a dollar. Around me lie large, leisured Germans; how lucky I was to hang out with a very different sort of people in Madyan!
The locals are friendly and want to connect, but without the hassling on the streets, and unlike Afghanistan we foreigners appear to get charged the same prices for things as they do! I remember the breakfast diners on the way out, each with a head of a sheep swimming in soup on his plate. Was it some kind of special festival day?
Friday 29th, Turkey/Iran border
Well now I’m well and truly fucked. Piss bright orange, stomach pains and white liquid shit. All began when I ate a chicken meal I didn’t need in the dining car of the train, in company with such a nice young Iranian. Sleeping (cold) in the corridor, I woke with terrible indigestion, plucked up courage and made myself spew, and out it all came. Then in the toilet I understood what my piss colour was telling me: yes, hep.
The desert rolled by endlessly as morning came, until Teheran, where I booked an expensive bus ticket for Erzerum. Spent hours looking for a hotel room, having turned down a perfectly good offer at 80 Rials (just over a dollar) because I thought it was too expensive, only to find that average prices are at least 120 this time around! Hung around at the Abir Kabir, full like everywhere else, and eventually took myself off to sleep in the park. Friendly wandering homosexual accosted me, but was easily shouted off.
Nice to wake up in leafy green, but poor sleep and stomach painful. Hung around in Amir all day, reading John Robinson’s ‘Honest to God’. Joined by the lags from the Heart-Meshad bus, we left at 6pm and now I’ve just got over the border, had a snack and a coke and am feeling much worse.
Early Sept, Tropical Diseases Hospital, Istanbul
Here I am on my third day of what they are telling me will be the two weeks I will have to stay before they will let me out.
Shared a room in Erzerum with old Madyan connection French-Canadian Luke, and together we took the 24-hour bus ride here, me surviving on Coke, the only thing I could stomach without throwing up. Mount Ararat on the horizon, the non-stop whirl of movement evoking memories of the journey out, where Liz and I kept accelerating in the hope that we would crash into some peace somewhere.
Complete meltdown on arrival, I spend fruitless hours going from one hospital to another. Left my beloved chauda in a taxi and broke down in tears at its loss. Concerned local put me in another taxi and pointed the driver here, where I arrived hoping that the morning would see me on a flight home via the British Consul. But I’m too infectious for that of course.
Four days later
Seventh day in and it feels like years. Doctor says only three days more (good old Swati hep, not so mean after all!). Every meal the same: thin, thin soup with lentils and some bits of meat floating in it; bland pasta on the side; and dessert of stewed apricots or raisins. Always cold and supplied with lots of white bread. I live for breakfast, a treat with white cheese, olives and HOT CHAI!
Heidi (my mother’s old school chum, who has lived on the Bosphorus this past quarter century, with her distinguished Turkish husband who knew Ataturk personally), brought me toothpaste, soap, stewed apple, apricot jam, the Grapes of Wrath and a trashy novel which I devoured at one sitting yesterday.
One bemused observation: does hot water really come straight out of taps in Europe? I haven’t experienced such a thing in so many months!
Tomorrow it’s gonna end: the crazy guy who keeps us all awake at nights with his screaming; the friendly Turkish doctors without a word of English who give me injections in my bum; the gaggle of yellow patients wandering the corridors (I’ve hardly changed colour at all); the little walks I take in the grounds amidst lemon trees and pines. I’ve finsished all my books and now I know it’s almost on me, I’m doubly restless, impatient and on edge. I spend time worrying about the plane home –is it really worth the ninety quid or so I’ll have to borrow from Mother? And more time anticipating the next meal, which is pretty silly because it’s always disappointingly the same when it does…..
Then suddenly: fuck me. He’s let me out today!
I must have flown (I remember having to pay Heidi back for the fare) and then taken the train to Staplehurst, and hitchhiked to Cranbrook. I recall walking the last couple of miles from Golford crossroads, weary from my hepatitis, but so happy to be back amidst cool, familiar Kentish fields and woods.
All clear from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in East London. Priority to get back into contact, and hopefully relationship, with Liz, last seen boarding a bus in Madyan, NWFP, Pakistan on her solo return home.