Thursday, June 18, 2015

12 Cows

We had a full rest day in Khorog, and after the 2-days of riding it took to get down there we needed it.  There were no official GlobeRiders  activities but 8 of us had Visas into Afghanistan and were determined to use them.  At the Tajikistan exit inspection we were held up for a bit as our local guide talked with his contacts on the other side of the river.  Turns out there had been more than the usual amount of helicopter and troop activity the day before and nobody was all that sure what was going on.   Eventually we were told it would be safe if we stayed by the river and did not head inland, which of course was our intended direction.  We all agreed that staying by the river was the best course and we proceeded to exit Tajikistan and cross over the bridge to Afghanistan.  On the Afghan side dealing with tourists was an unfamiliar process for the border guards (my visa number was 00001635).  Things proceeded slowly but eventually we all got our stamps.  As we were waiting a police pickup (with a machine gun mounted in the back) drove through the compound with what was obviously a dead body under a plastic sheet.  With that we new we weren't in Kansas (or anywhere else familiar) anymore.  A short ride north (along  the river) over very unmaintained roads brought us to a small village where we parked in the middle of the market.   Whereas everywhere else we had been so far on this trip a group of us on motorcycles arriving enmasse into a town usually elicited a great boisterous welcome it was not the case here in Afghanistan.  We were looked on initially with great suspicion and something maybe approaching fear.  A wave or hello more often than not resulted in a turned head or a walking away.   Eventually a few of the more courageous fellows (and there was nothing but men and boys in the village market) started talking to us and the strange vibe mellowed a bit but never went away completely.  Walking around the village you immediately got the sense that this was a very poor place.  For the first time since the gypsies in Georgia we encountered people begging on the street.  

I'd seen enough of the market and wandered back to the bikes to get some water and see if I couldn't give out a Brian medallion.  A few of the younger boys were gathered around the bikes but quickly dispersed as I approached.   As I drank my water I indicated to them that it was OK to swing a leg over the bike and for them to try it on for size.  This only generated some head shakes and maybe an actual smile or some small laughter.  At some point a couple of older boys figured out what was going on and gladly took the opportunity at which point the cell phones came out and a picture taking frenzy ensued. 

And the weird vibe dissipated a little more but not completely.  A few conversations were had and I learned a bit about life today in Afghanistan.  One guy as we were getting ready to leave quietly came up and asked why I wasn't nervous being in his country.  I responded with a query asking if he'd ever been in Detroit... he hadn't, and yes it was a smart ass question from yours truly.  He then informed me that as a foreigner I was worth 12-cows to him if I was turned over to the men up in the mountains.   The weird vibe regained some strength.  Soon enough we got on our bikes and rode back to the border with a quick stop for a group photo of the Afghan Eight.  

Upon our return to the hotel we were soon to learn that a two of the group who had ventured out on their own had become stranded between an impassable river crossing and an impossible up hill ride of snow and mud.  They were close to 4000m above sea level, it was cold and getting dark quick.  Just after 7PM one of the chase vehicles with a local guide set out for the 5-hour ride to bring them off the mountain. 

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