EUROPE

Herat, Afghanistan – Rick Steves’ travel blog


As Afghanistan fell, I was thinking about my travel experiences there as a 23-year-old traveler on the “hippy route” from Istanbul to Kathmandu. Yesterday and today, it is a poor but formidable land, which foreign powers misunderstand and insist on underestimating.

In this daily entry from 1978, turn away from me as I explore Herat, the leading city in western Afghanistan.

Sunday 30 July 1978: Herat

A dream woke me up at 7:30 and by 8:15 I stopped trying to get back to sleep. In the restaurant, I enjoyed two fried eggs, yogurt, and a pot of black tea. After cleaning my camera lenses, Jenny and I set out to see Herat.

First, we had two business – changing money and getting bus tickets. The bank was a real thing. It took almost an hour to change $100 but just sitting there and watching the Afghan banking process was very interesting. I saw bags of torn Afghans, tribesmen bringing in five or six $100 bills (I’m afraid to imagine where they got them from), a uniformed guard with a spear long enough for five or six bank robbers, a rag building and air. 3,858 Afghanis came to me. First the guy gave me 3000. I said “more”, and he gave me 800. “more”, and I got 50 afghani, then I asked and got another 8 afghani.

Next, Jenny and I booked a bus trip to Kabul on the highly recommended Qadri Bus Company. The cost of the 800 km trip is $5 or only 200 afghani. Hopefully we get our seats and there won’t be any handkerchiefs.

We were free to roam. I had a Fanta, put on the zoom lens, and went to work on a dreamy side street filled with colorful, flowery horse-drawn taxis, busy artisans, fruit stalls, and dustbins. Every man passing by looked like something inspired by a travel poster. Strong strong eyes behind weather-damaged leather faces. Their hairy, wind-blown beards are long and jagged, and turbans like snakes wrap protectively around their heads. Old women completely covered in suitcase-like outfits carried the children and called out, oddly enough, to take pictures. I fired almost a full lap, and with any luck I should get some great shots.

We moved away from the main center into a dusty residential area bustling with activity. People are very proud and there is no one who does not deserve to be photographed. Everyone was ordering us to come, except for those who were very proud to know us. I didn’t really know how people accepted us as strange people, short, pale skin, weak stomachs, unruly people, who came into their world to meditate, to take pictures, to buy unwanted things to bring home and tell everyone how cheap they were. . I can’t help but feel that the curious tourists have grown old with these worthy and proud people who work hard and simply live.

There were countless moments and scenes that forever lit up in my mind, an image of Afghanistan. We got very thirsty and shared a watermelon in the shade before moving on.

A little tired, we went back to our lovely hotel, had a plate of potatoes, a bowl of soup, and some tea (tea) and went to shower and take a short nap. We live well now for a change. I just spent $100, and it’s very good to spend the money when you want to and don’t worry.

Now we are back in the sun. The noon temperature was still cooking, and all the while we were soaking our heads under a tap. After mailing our postcards, we checked out a row of weavers of fabric. The industrious men ran these ingenious primitive looms tirelessly. Interesting to witness. After that, we circled wide, got to the Great Mosque, checked it out, and found ourselves in a neighborhood of hard-to-sell shops.

One of the friendly men took me by the hand and took me to his shop, and before I knew it, I was in the cool baggy pants and the locals shirt and turban and haggled crazy. I was determined to reduce my turnover from 500 to 152 Afghanis. I almost did, but was surprised when he let me go empty-handed, a little sad too. I want those cool, baggy, low-key clothes, and maybe, if I can swallow my pride, I’ll come back tomorrow and get them.

Like a gauntlet run, we made our way in and out of the shops to our hotel. I tried and failed to get beautiful mink skin on the cheap. I actually offered 200 afghans for a sexy afghan fox hat and ended up buying it and proudly made a man of 600 afghans to 40 each for 3 nicely embroidered beanies. I haven’t bought any souvenirs to talk about in my two months of travel – and now I’m afraid I’ve opened the gates.

Back at the hotel, Jane pulled out the cannabis he had bought, and decided that this was the time and place I would lose my “marijuana virginity.” I’ve never smoked a cigarette and smoking pot always stopped me, so to speak, because it’s always a subject of social pressure and I’d never feel comfortable doing that because everyone at a party was doing it and I was the only one ‘box one. That kind of pressure reinforced the usual scene surrounding smoking Pots My determination to stay away from the wicked cannabis.But this was different.

In Afghanistan, cannabis is an integral part of the culture. It’s as innocent as wine with dinner in America. If I were ever to experience this height, it wouldn’t be in a darkened UW bedroom with a group of people I didn’t respect. I can’t feel good about that.

Jane and I talked about marijuana and hashish for about three hours on the bus after we left Istanbul. I decided that if I was satisfied with the whole situation, I would like to smoke some hashish in Afghanistan. Well I’m here in Herat feeling great, and I love this city. We got about half a domino of pure cannabis for 40 afghanis ($1). It was so smooth that it had to be cut with a knife.

In the room, Jane mixed it up with some tobacco and piled the product into a funny old straight wooden tube we picked up. Took a drag – immediately noticing, “good stuff.” I grasped not knowing what to expect and hoped the mouth wouldn’t fill with ashes. I do not like smoking, but besides this, there was nothing disgusting in it. It didn’t even smell as bad as marijuana. The only problem is that nothing happened. I’ve smoked enough, but virgin workouts are generally unproductive. I was relieved anyway – I did.

We went out for a walk. Going from one store to another is very casual. Socializing with people, getting into stores, and just looking. This place is small, but it doesn’t really matter because there is no street at all if you pass by for the second or third time.

For dinner we sat outside our restaurant as there was a private wedding tonight in the great room. We had a plate of lots of different vegetables with lots of meat washed down with tea for $1.50 each.

Upstairs we smoked a bit and took a cold shower. This time I felt some change. Some colors and things were softer. Things had a vibrant feature that I didn’t realize it was an option. I was very comfortable and the ceiling light fixture looked like a big candle breathing inside and out. But I still wasn’t really high.

Downstairs the big wedding had begun and the father of the bride proudly shook my hand hello to me and Jenny and we sat by the little Afghan band listening to exciting music and watching the women dance. Everyone was quite formal, the men were in one room and the women were in another, and the decorated car was waiting parked outside.

Now we took a night walk. Carts with torches rolled through the darkness, men carried lanterns, shopkeepers, and working boys sat around soup and bread, and many Afghans were ecstatic or arriving there, and it was cold, and, as always, the wind howling. Tonight was a great experience and we walked around.

After a little watermelon, check the wedding again, a cold shower with our sheets and a nice wet bed made, we commented on what a good day it was today, looking forward to tomorrow and wrapped in wet sheets, we went to sleep.

(This is entry #2 in the journal of a five-part series. Stay tuned for another excerpt tomorrow, as the 23-year-old delves deeper into Herat.)





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