It’s 5 am when a timid ray of light peaks through the window up to our beds..We yawn and stretch.. It’s time to get up! On opening the curtains: a beautiful dawn awakes Mazar I Sharif and prepares us to our very first day in Afghanistan. Our guides arrive with our bran new handmade tunics and we can’t wait to wear them. They are soft (cotton weaved), delicate and light-colored. Those will be our “uniforms” for the next two weeks.
After breakfast, we head to the mosque-sanctuary of the city in blue built in memory of the firth Calif and fist Shiite Imam Alì Ibn Abi Talib, which according to some believers was buried under the city (Mazar I Sharif means “Noble Sanctuary” referred to the Sanctuary). We enter the courtyard of the mosque: the gaze gets lost in the majesty of architectural perfection; small meticulously embedded majolicas form a gorgeous entwine of green turquoise designs, interspersed with golden inserts and which, in the whole, make this ancient 15th century mosque unique.
We walk around it plunging ourselves into the atmosphere which every place of worship gives, regardless of which religion it belonging to. Something mystic is undoubtedly perceived. Young boys going to Quran School, women totally covered by Burkas walk past by us, and through the mesh screen of their veils we can feel their conundrum gaze. Men wearing their traditional tunics sip a cup of tea, sitting cross-legged on the rugs where they usually pray: a variety of situations that makes us realize altogether that we are really in Afghanistan.
It’s time to hit the road. Today we must get to Kabul, and it takes nine hours driving to get there, but before that we must have a glass of fresh sugar cane juice: there’s a cart parked between Camilla and Beta and we cannot walk away from it! We take it as an energizer in the offing of the drive we have ahead…(by the way, it is great!)
Just outside the city a wonderful landscape stands before us. The surrounding mountains just leave us speechless. We skirt them and cross some sort of canyon and go beyond, whichever side you look at them: it makes our trip magical.
Nevertheless, there are some things which take us back to reality such as: weapon residues along the side of the roads, uniformed soldiers with a “round in the chamber”, tank caravans. You can feel the war in the air, but the daily life that we witness breaks the violent atmosphere.
We must say that, even thou we don’t have enough elements to give an honest and impartial opinion, every single person we have met has been kind, available, friendly and this is the proof that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The bad seed of this country is one ethnic group: the Pastuns, extremists that try to bend humanity day after day.
We continue our journey when Tony announces via radio that Camilla has most likely a flat tire and so it turns out to be as we stop. Luckily we find a tire shop less than one km away, and we get our tire repaired in 5 minutes time for 1,5 € (our guides tell us that is actually a high price. Usually it costs 70 cents, but we are tourists…).
We rush back on our way: it’s over one o’clock, we have driven just a few kilometers and the road is quite uneven. Time goes on and it is two, then three and its half past three.. We had breakfast nearly 10 hours ago and we are really starving. So, we stop in Lalmayee, a small mountain village in a typical eating place. Two tables are set in the blink of an eye (actually, big square axes where big Persian rugs have been laid down), and placed close to the river side and surrounded by high mountains. Every kind of delicacy is being served: beef skewers, chicken, beef stew, salad, rice, Kefir … it is in fact a real delicious Sunday lunch! We greedily eat our lunch and get back on the road. We keep on climbing until we reach 3,400 m altitude. From the 28 degrees we had this morning, we have reached just 3° C, snow and glaciers surround us, it was only yesterday when we were travelling amidst sand dunes. Today we face a tunnel which allows us to cross a pass: a surprising Afghanistan which we didn’t expect.
We start going downhill, it’s getting dark, yet, and we must keep a slow pace given the uneven roads and the considerable traffic mainly due to Lorries. It’s already ten o’clock when we reach the capital and our hotel. Several controls (many of which are just conventional given that we were “green light” in exchange of some fruit juices) have slowed down our pace and delayed our time schedule. We are absolutely exhausted; some of us have a quick meal at a fast food place, others rather prefer to get under the sheets and go fast asleep…