The road less travelled

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Flag of Pakistan  , Balochistān,
Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I didn't think I’d have much to write about today. It was going to be a quick blast to Quetta on the main road which was meant to be very bad and not really meant to be possible in a day. The fact that we managed it means that there is a special term for us. We’re bad-ass, hardcore motherfuckers. We’re also idiots and here’s why...

We woke up in the police station office as the sun rose and lit us up. The staff slept on the floor on the ledge outside so we figured we would leave the door open and kind of join them. There’s a weird vibe here I’m not liking. We saw it in Turkey and Iran but it’s far more obvious here. There seems to be an attitude that we’re better than they are and they’re treating us like visiting royalty. Whenever we turn up we get an adoring audience and everyone we talk to says how wonderful we are and how great England is. Last night the policeman offered us the sheets from his own bed which meant he would have slept on bare concrete. They brought us tea and did everything like they were just staff in a hotel. It grated my nerves after a while. In Iran it was pretty apparent too, not so much on the Turkish end but there was a clear message that the whiter you were, the better you were. They said as much but wrapped it up as the true Turks at one end and the old Persians at the other. Here it’s like they’re still stuck in the days of the English Colonies. We’re not here to be wrapped in cotton wool, we’re here to see it like it is.

So in the end we opted to sleep on the floor in our bags which was fine, it suited us down to the ground, literally. We offered the other guys some of our food but they declined politely. We packed up and were on the road around 8am, the sun didn’t rise until later than we thought. We encountered our first stop check in town, the same place as the night before. We argued that they’d already taken our details but that didn’t stop them from taking them again. We were sent on our way without an escort which seemed good to us. The roads were pretty good, decent quality and the weather seemed to be on our side for the first 20 miles but then the wind kicked up. For a while it was pretty bad, we had to ride at an angle to head straight but we could hold an even 60mph. We picked up our first escort at the next border, they seemed like nice guys, they introduced themselves with warm handshakes, we did the usual paperwork and we rode off. The guy with the gun had to sit on the back. I gestured Marcin to overtake so I could get some pictures of the scene. The police were driving a battered Toyota Hilux and driving it hard. The roads were starting to break up by now potholes were everywhere and sand was belching onto the tarmac from both sides, the wind was so high that it had even blown rocks over, some as big as my fist.

Pretty soon we stopped at another checkpoint and the guard with the gun was replaced. We stopped for tea while we did the paperwork, some kids stopped to watch while the police brought out some really decent tea for us and we all sat around drinking it. Again, they brought us chairs but I chose to sit on the floor with them. After that we filled the bikes. There are officially no fuel stations between the Taftan border and Quetta but actually there are dozens of people selling it from bottles and cans. It’s rubbish, more water than petrol but it will get you where you’re going if you can’t afford to be fussy and unless you’ve got a 40 litre tank then you can’t. While there I bought some cakes and water, the water to keep myself hydrated and the cakes to give away along the road to the kids who come to see the weird bikers.

So once we hit the road we made pretty good time. The roads were ok but there was a weird new twist to desert-depression. In addition to there being nothing to see there was now no way to see it. The sky above us was clear and blue but all around the distance was a white dusty mist that made it impossible to see the horizon.

We plodded on until again we had to change car and driver. This time we got a guy with something to prove. I don’t know what his issue was but he was just plain dangerous. He drove flat out as fast as he could over potholes and through sand so that the dust he kicked up made it hard work trying to follow him. By this time we had made it about half way and then the roads collapsed into chaos. Tarmac and in fact any kind of surface vanished altogether, first the potholes took over and then the road was gone leaving only 30 or so miles of gravel, rocks, sand, mud and water. The Hilux plowed in at full power, never dropping below 50 and at some points going through mud at 65 mph. He was trying to show off but i kept with him. I was struggling with my crappy fuel problem but I managed (somehow) to keep pace with him through the really crappy terrain. There were a few dodgy moments, a nasty step I hit around 50mph and I caught some mud that sent the back spinning out but i caught her and she was fine. I just remembered the enduro code... Look up, stand up, speed up and in mud, expect to fall down. I did all three until the Hilux was fishtailing all over the road trying to get away from us. He couldn’t and when he stopped he shook our hands, a broken man. So we finally got some enduro riding in, as Marcin said. Well sure, I had done it before but generally a lot slower and not over such difficult terrain following an armed escort across Pakistan at speeds that would have got me a ticket in England on a decent road. We got something to eat at the next checkpoint, the roads were never as bad again but were still bad for another 100 miles or so. To be honest I had expected much worse although the bike took a pounding shaking across the rocky surface. My brother does green-laning in kent and often talks about challenging technical bits. I wonder what he would have made of this. Still, I thought we were in for a lot worse and the driver was going way too fast but I loved it. Best part of the day!

After grabbing something to eat and swapping out drivers again we carried on, the swaps and checkpoints were getting closer and closer and time was not on our side. We wanted to make Quetta before nightfall but the constant waiting for paperwork and worse, escorts was holding us up.

We kept on doing this, changing drivers, cars and stopping for endless checkpoints all day. I lost count of how many hands I shook and how many villages we passed through with tiny little offices where people wanted a slight variation on the same information.

In one town we ended up in a little office where the guy doing the paperwork rapped for us and then Marcin asked if he could play with an AK47 lying against the wall. Apparently that was no problem and he posed for pictures and when I checked the gun was loaded with a full magazine and cocked, a weapon with sufficient firepower to kill every person in the room in a matter of seconds and it was offered as a toy to a stranger they had never met who had no idea how it worked.

So we survived and headed out to the road. My bike had suddenly decided that only 93 miles would put her on reserve with the bad local fuel so we had to stock up. Never easy when you have to buy it in old tins and feed it to your tank through a funnel with a cloth tied to it to filter out the lumps.

Our escorts varied from ununiformed people in blue Toyota Hilux vans with no number plate or brake-lights to properly marked police vans. At one point the escort was an unarmed fat bloke on a 70cc Chinese moped.

It was all quite funny really. Nobody had the vaguest clue what they were doing and if you asked them why they were doing it they didn’t really know. All questions were answered with, "it’s our duty." So we had the Iranians protecting us from the Pakistanis and the Pakistanis guarding us from the Iranians and on both sides everyone was fine with us.

At one point we stopped at a village while we waited for the escort to arrive. A camel came by so we got some close up pictures which was cool. We went back to join the three members of the local police force who were sitting down outside wearing what looked like pyjamas. They asked where we from and seemed impressed, one even said it was the best country. To quell the reverence a little bit and to show our Human side I shit my pants while they were talking. I farted as loud as possible while a white bearded elder was talking about our bikes. A young guy had to walk away laughing and ran inside to tell others. My mission was a success! It wasn’t even a huge fart, nothing like the appalling explosions of devastating faecal gas that Marcin exhausts every morning that sounds like he’s been torn from the navel round to the top of his spine. He tends to ask politely if you heard that but there’s generally no glass left in the window frame, car alarms going off around the street and a smell that makes your eyelids roll back in terror. Still, it made a point.

The further we went the better the roads got. Eventually we could see Quetta but we still couldn’t get to it. The mountain roads took us miles around it and even though it had now grown dark they still changed cars every few miles. By now I was hungry and tired and Marcin needed a dose of internet porn and was asking everyone about Wi-fi, even the donkeys at the side of the road.

Finally we made it to the edge of town and the escorts said they were handing us over to the police now and that was that. The Police agreed to take us to the best hotel in town only a mile away but we still changed escorts another 3 times. Finally they delivered us to a hotel, not the worst one I’ve ever seen but if it’s the best then it hardly says much about the city. So at least we found somewhere to stay. They had a restaurant so we ordered some food and a member of staff got on a bike to go and collect it. Interesting!

Marcin wanted internet but apparently it no longer works due to rain. Nothing works in Pakistan! The manager told us. At least we got beer. We have something in tins which tastes a bit like beer and it’s good enough for tonight although it doesn’t make you drunk, just tired and an interesting variation on nauseous. After driving from 8am for 13 hours I’m pretty shattered. All day we had seen a Hungarian couple signing into checkpoint books ahead of us and they took two days to do the same trip we managed in one so that was a boost to our confidence. In the hotel we found out why. They were staying although we didn’t meet them but they were driving a three-wheeled classic car. We’re expecting to meet them further up the road and will stop for a chat.

Tomorrow we have a lot to sort out and then moving along towards getting out of this country, I think.
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terence henry understick on

Never get out, never get out!

Coal on

Never get off the boat!

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