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 as we speak, 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 making an attempt to fall again to sleep. Down on the restaurant I loved two fried eggs, yogurt, and a pot of black chai. After cleansing my digicam 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 fascinating. I noticed suitcases of tattered afghanis, tribesmen coming in with 5 – 6 $100 payments (I’m afraid to think about the place they received them), a uniformed guard with a bayonet lengthy sufficient for 5 – 6 financial institution robbers, and a rag-tag constructing and environment. I had 3,858 afghanis coming to me. First the man gave me 3,000. I stated “extra,” and he gave me 800. “Extra,” and I received 50 extra afghanis, after which I requested for and received 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 value solely $5 or 200 afghanis. Hopefully, we are going to get our seats and there can 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 aspect road full of colourful flowery horse-drawn taxis, busy craftsmen, fruit stands, and mud. Every man who handed regarded like one thing straight out of a journey poster. Sturdy highly effective eyes behind leathery weather-beaten faces. Poetic wind-blown beards, lengthy and scraggily, and turbans like snakes wrapping protectively round their heads. Previous girls completely coated by bag-like outfits carried kids and referred to as out, unusually sufficient, for footage. I shot off almost an entire roll and, hopefully, I ought to have some fantastic pictures. 

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 individuals accepted us unusual, short-panted, pale-skinned, weak-stomached, finnicky individuals who got here into their world to gawk, take footage, and purchase junk to deliver house and inform everybody how low cost it was. I couldn’t assist however really feel like us curious vacationers received outdated to those hardy, proud individuals who work so exhausting and stay so merely. 

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

A bit drained, we headed again to our pretty lodge, 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 nicely now for a change. I cashed that $100 and it feels so good to simply spend cash while you wish to and never fear. 

Now we went again into the solar. The afternoon temperature was nonetheless cooking and each now and again we’d soak our heads underneath 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 fascinating to witness. Then, making a large circle, we got here to the massive mosque, checked it out, and located ourselves in a neighborhood of very hard-sell retailers.  

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 sporting the fantastic white dishevelled pants and shirt and turban of the native individuals 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 shocked when he let me stroll away empty handed, a bit unhappy too. I would like these cool, dishevelled, low-profile garments and possibly, if I can swallow my satisfaction, I’ll return tomorrow and get them. 

Like working the gauntlet, we made our manner out and in of retailers again to our lodge. I attempted and did not get a beautiful mink pores and skin low cost. I did supply 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 lodge, 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 stress and I might 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 type of stress and the standard scene surrounding pot smoking strengthened my willpower to keep away from the evil weed. However this was completely 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 might 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. Properly, right here I’m in Herat, I really feel nice, and I really like this city. We received 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 blended 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, “Great things”. I sucked in not understanding what to anticipate and hoping to not get a mouth filled 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 downside was nothing occurred. I had smoked sufficient, however virgin runs are usually unproductive. It felt good anyhow — I had completed it. 

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

For dinner we sat outdoors of our restaurant since there was a particular marriage ceremony tonight within the large room. We had a plate of a lot of completely different greens with a lot 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 notice was an possibility. I used to be very relaxed and the sunshine fixture on our ceiling regarded like a giant candle respiratory out and in. However I nonetheless wasn’t actually excessive. 

Downstairs the massive marriage 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 boys have been in a single room, the ladies within the different, and the adorned automobile 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 important 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 great day as we speak was and, wanting ahead to tomorrow and wrapped in moist sheets, we went to sleep. 

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


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