The Long Road East (or: How to Average 24km/hr)

Our alarms woke us up at 4:30 a.m. and we were out of our Dushanbe appartment before sunrise on our way to the Badakhshan bus stand. The bus stand is basically a parking lot where jeep and minibus drivers assemble every morning to collect passengers. We arrived just after 6 a.m. (after a long walk, because it was too early for our public bus), and after much negotiation and a car switch we ended up in a Russian mini-bus, squeezed in with 14 other people for the day long, 527km journey. Day long? 527km? Oh yes, and here's how...

07:51 Leave bus station (after almost two hours of being there)
07:53 Get stopped by police for 'random checking of papers'
08:01 End of police check
08:24 Stop to buy snacks onthe side of the road
08:38 Police road block, papers checked
09:30 Get stopped by police for 'random checking of papers'
09:39 Get stopped by police for 'random checking of papers'
09:44 Construction road block
10:04 Start moving through construction site, oh no wait, false start
10:14 Start moving through construction site
10:42 Stop to eat at roadside tea house
11:17 Leave tea house
13:30 Stop to eat at tea house
13:44 Leave quickly because there isn't any food, only tea
14:54 Stop to eat at tea house
15:51 Leave tea house
16:01 Stop for gas (one tank on each side of the bus, gas is poured out of big buckets through a funnel)
16:12 Finish filling up gas
16:34 Stop at security check point
16:36 Leave security check point
16:53 A stop, possible engine trouble?
17:00 Engine seems fine, we can go
17:35 Tea break right before a mountain pass, the scenery was beautiful and Yann and I strolled around only to notice an abandoned tank left over from the civil war. As we crossed the pass a few minutes later, signs warned of landmines covering the whole area. I first thought that they were signs warning of forest fires (yes I know, we're above the tree line) until Yann pointed out the stick figure above the flames with his leg being blown off.
18:09 End of tea break in land mine territory 19:41 Stop at military check point
19:48 Leave military check point
20:06 Stop in a town to make inquiries about something
20:18 Leave after making inquiries about something

So that's the first 12 hours or so, the next 12 hours are more of a blur, and our note taking was now being done in the complete darkness, so accuracy cannot be guaranteed, but we can definetely confirm that it was a way worse 12 hours than can possibly be described in this time line...

20:30 Stop at cafe for dinner, Yann and I ate an entire pack of hot dogs along with some stale bread. The next part of the stop was by far the most frustrating part of the trip. First our driver announced to us that he was exhausted and needed a few hours of sleep before driving again, fair enough. We tried to figure out how long we would be stopped for, debating whether or not we should one of the (over-priced) tea house beds. No one, including the driver seems to know. After at least an hour of sitting around and eating, we are told that the driver will be sleeping for 2-3 hours, so, since we are also exhausted we settle into dorm beds. Ten minutes later we are woken up and told that we are leaving, heading straight to Khorog (our final destination). The rest of the passengers (annoying and now drunk) have bullied the driver into continuing the drive, because they do not want to pay. Not only was this annoying because we thought we would get a rest, it was annoying because we didn't think it was very safe. We didn't even bother voicing our opinion, even the driver wasn't being listened to.
22:11 Leave the dinner stop
22:13 Stop at police check point
22:25 Leave police check point
23:15 Stop for the drunks to pee
23:18 Pee break ends
23:37 Stop to help broken down car
23:44 Leave broken down car
00:57 Stop for a break

For the next 4 hours there might have been a few stops, but most passengers were drifting in and out of sleep, including me and probably the driver. The only person who seemed to be in an uncomfortable a position was Yann, who pretty much didn't sleep a wink. During this time we picked up 2 extra passengers, we were now 18 people in a mini-bus that was designed for 11. The minibuses are transformed by reducing trunk space and bringing the benches closer together, an additional bench is added, but facing in the wrong direction. So Yann and I sat across from each other, sharing the leg space for one person (which the lady beside us decided she would crowd with two watermelons). We were sweaty and overheated, with only a few small windows, the woman beside us didn't like the wind blowing in her face and we almost came to blows over keeping the window open, not to mention her ridiculous watermelons rolling around at our feet.

05:10 Stop, possible engine trouble
05:15 Leave, problem fixed
05:23 Stop in village outside Khorog to drop off passenger, argument ensues when driver will not drive her to her home up the hill, we have almost no more gas left, the first attempt up the hill has failed
05:27 We leave the disgruntled passenger behind, rolling down hill with the engine off
05:41 Arrival in Khorog, capital of the Badakhshan region

And that, is how you average 24km/hr, we paid 40$ each for the pleasure. The 45 minute flight would have cost us 65$ each.

1 comment:

Joel Kimmel said... took the bus because?
I can't believe it cost $40 bucks! It is costing me only $40 to get from NY to Ottawa for Thanksgiving and I probably get my own seat and only have to have my papers checked once!
I guess you saved 15 dollars to tell this crazy story. Congrats on not killing anyone.