Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Herat, Afghanistan – Rick Steves’ Journey Weblog

With the autumn of Afghanistan, I’ve been reflecting on my journey experiences there as a 23-year-old backpacker on the “Hippie Path” from Istanbul to Kathmandu. Yesterday and at this time, it’s a poor but formidable land that overseas powers misunderstand and demand on underestimating. 

On this journal entry from 1978, stow away with me as I discover Herat, the main metropolis in western Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 30, 1978: Herat 

A dream woke me at 7:30 and by 8:15 I gave up attempting to fall again to sleep. Down on the restaurant I loved two fried eggs, yogurt, and a pot of black chai. After cleansing my digital camera lenses, Gene and I got down to see Herat. 

First, we had two items of enterprise — change cash and get bus tickets. The financial institution was actually one thing. It took almost an hour to vary my $100, however simply sitting there watching the Afghani banking course of was attention-grabbing. I noticed suitcases of tattered afghanis, tribesmen coming in with 5 – 6 $100 payments (I’m afraid to think about the place they obtained them), a uniformed guard with a bayonet lengthy sufficient for 5 – 6 financial institution robbers, and a rag-tag constructing and ambiance. I had 3,858 afghanis coming to me. First the man gave me 3,000. I mentioned “extra,” and he gave me 800. “Extra,” and I obtained 50 extra afghanis, after which I requested for and obtained the final 8 afghanis. 

Subsequent, Gene and I booked a bus journey to Kabul on the extremely really useful Qaderi bus firm. The 800-kilometer journey price solely $5 or 200 afghanis. Hopefully, we’ll get our seats and there might be no hanky-panky.  

We have been free to ramble. I had a Fanta, placed on the zoom lens, and went into motion on a dreamy facet road full of colourful flowery horse-drawn taxis, busy craftsmen, fruit stands, and dirt. Every man who handed regarded like one thing straight out of a journey poster. Robust highly effective eyes behind leathery weather-beaten faces. Poetic wind-blown beards, lengthy and scraggily, and turbans like snakes wrapping protectively round their heads. Outdated girls completely lined by bag-like outfits carried kids and referred to as out, surprisingly sufficient, for photos. I shot off almost an entire roll and, optimistically, I ought to have some great photographs. 

We wandered away from the primary heart coming to a dusty residential space churning with exercise. The persons are so proud and there’s nobody not very worthy to have their image taken. Everybody was motioning us to return over, besides for many who have been too proud to acknowledge us. I didn’t actually understand how folks accepted us unusual, short-panted, pale-skinned, weak-stomached, finnicky individuals who got here into their world to gawk, take photos, and purchase junk to convey house and inform everybody how low-cost it was. I couldn’t assist however really feel like us curious vacationers obtained outdated to those hardy, proud individuals who work so exhausting and stay so merely. 

There have been numerous moments and scenes that blazed perpetually in my thoughts, an image of Afghanistan. We labored up a imply thirst and we shared a watermelon within the shade earlier than shifting on. 

A bit drained, we headed again to our beautiful resort, had a plate of potatoes, a bowl of soup, and a few chai (tea) and went up for a bathe and a brief snooze. We’re actually residing effectively now for a change. I cashed that $100 and it feels so good to simply spend cash if you wish to and never fear. 

Now we went again into the solar. The afternoon temperature was nonetheless cooking and each on occasion we’d soak our heads beneath a faucet. After mailing our postcards, we checked out a row of the fabric weavers. Arduous-working males ran these ingeniously primitive looms tirelessly. Fairly attention-grabbing to witness. Then, making a large circle, we got here to the large mosque, checked it out, and located ourselves in a neighborhood of very hard-sell outlets.  

One pseudo-friendly man took me by the hand and walked me into his store, and earlier than I knew it, I used to be carrying the great white saggy pants and shirt and turban of the native folks and bargaining madly. I used to be decided to work him down from 500 to my ceiling of 152 afghanis. I nearly made it, however I used to be stunned when he let me stroll away empty handed, a bit unhappy too. I would like these cool, saggy, low-profile garments and possibly, if I can swallow my delight, I’ll return tomorrow and get them. 

Like operating the gauntlet, we made our approach out and in of outlets again to our resort. I attempted and didn’t get a beautiful mink pores and skin low-cost. I did provide 200 afghanis for an thrilling Afghan fox hat and ended up shopping for it and I proudly labored a man down from 600 afghanis to 40 every for 3 little properly embroidered pouches. I haven’t purchased any souvenirs to talk of in two months of journey — now I’m afraid I’ve opened the floodgates. 

Again on the resort, Gene pulled out the hunk of cannabis that he purchased and this, I made a decision, could be the time and place that’s I’d lose my “marijuana virginity.” I’ve by no means even smoked a cigarette and smoking pot has at all times turned me off, so to talk, as a result of it’s at all times an object of social strain and I’d by no means really feel comfy doing it as a result of everybody at a celebration was doing it and I used to be the one “sq.” one. That sort of strain and the standard scene surrounding pot smoking bolstered my willpower to keep away from the evil weed. However this was totally different. 

In Afghanistan, cannabis is an integral a part of the tradition. It’s as harmless as wine with dinner is in America. If ever I used to be to expertise this excessive, it wouldn’t be in a darkish dorm room on the UW with a bunch of individuals I didn’t respect. I may by no means be ok with that.  

Gene and I talked about marijuana and hash for about three hours on the bus after we left Istanbul. I made a decision that, if I felt good about the entire scenario, I’d prefer to smoke some hash in Afghanistan. Effectively, right here I’m in Herat, I really feel nice, and I like this city. We obtained about half a domino price of pure cannabis for 40 afghanis ($1). It was so easy it needed to be sliced with a knife. 

Up within the room, Gene combined it with some tobacco and piled the product right into a humorous outdated straight wooden pipe we picked up. He took a drag — instantly remarking, “Good things”. I sucked in not realizing what to anticipate and hoping to not get a mouth stuffed with ashes. I don’t like smoke, however apart from that, there was nothing repulsive about it. It didn’t even odor dangerous like marijuana. The one drawback was nothing occurred. I had smoked sufficient, however virgin runs are typically unproductive. It felt good in any case — I had achieved it. 

We went out for a stroll. Going from store to buy very casually. Mixing with folks, nosing into outlets, and simply poking round. This place is small, nevertheless it actually doesn’t matter as a result of no road is ever the identical when you stroll by way of it a second or third time. 

For dinner we sat outdoors of our restaurant since there was a particular wedding ceremony tonight within the large room. We had a plate of a number of totally different greens with a number of meat washed down by tea for $1.50 every. 

Upstairs we smoked a bit extra and took a chilly bathe. This time I sensed a little bit of a change. Sure colours and objects have been extra tangy. Issues had a vibrant edge that I didn’t understand was an choice. I used to be very relaxed and the sunshine fixture on our ceiling regarded like an enormous candle respiration out and in. However I nonetheless wasn’t actually excessive. 

Downstairs the large wedding ceremony had begun, and the bride’s father proudly shook my hand welcoming Gene and me and we sat subsequent to the little Afghan band listening to the thrilling music and watching the ladies dance. Everybody was fairly formal, the lads have been in a single room, the ladies within the different, and the adorned automotive waited parked outdoors. 

Now we took a nighttime stroll. Chariots with torches charged by way of the darkness, males carried lanterns, shopkeepers and the work boys squatted round soup and bread, many Afghans have been excessive or getting there, it was cool, and, like at all times, the wind howled. The evening was an excellent expertise and we wandered. 

After a small melon, testing the marriage as soon as extra, a chilly bathe with our sheets and making a pleasant moist mattress, we commented on what a very good day at this time was and, trying ahead to tomorrow and wrapped in moist sheets, we went to sleep. 

(That is journal entry #2 of a five-part collection. Keep tuned for an additional excerpt tomorrow, as 23-year-old me ventures deeper into Herat.)   

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