Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1999.
Back to Roasting in Islamabad
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Besham 68 KM
Today we had a rather solemn camp breakup neither one of us talking too much. It remained that way up until now. We have tended to ride apart. Suzanne decided to wear shorts today and as we rode along I debated as to whether I should say anything. I also thought that the Pakistani men might not be far off the mark in deciding what their women should wear in public. The men seem to behave like sex-starved maniacs at the sight of any woman's flesh.
After about 12 km there was the first big down pour, I pulled off into a narrow semi-protected path where the rain didn't hit us full force. In about 30 seconds, we were "discovered". Not surprising. The boys and girls watched us for a while, and then got their mother. She came out in a veil that exposed only her eyes. She watched us for a while peeking from around a tree and ducking back when I looked up. After about 10 or 15 minutes, we seemed to pass inspection, and were invited inside. Suzanne didn't want to go in, but I told her I thought we should. However, I felt very embarrassed about her attire.
The mother of what seemed to be seven children kept her face covered to me. Soon after we got inside the father, about 30, arrived followed shortly later by three boys who said they were from England and were sent here by their parents to attend boarding school where they would learn Urdu and the Islamic religion. They were living with their relatives during the break and seemed to really miss England. We stayed about an hour and toured the new house under construction after the rain stopped. It was a nice, unexpected break from what started out to be a somber day.
Later at the Alamaindra Hotel - Suzanne lit into me at the place we stopped for tea. She said I made her feel unwanted and that I answered her questions like she was stupid. She said she was terrified of travelling alone in Pakistan, but she would rather do that than stay with me. She also said she felt like it was a mistake to come here and she should have gone to Africa instead. She said we would have to talk tonight. After we checked onto the hotel, we walked to town and she explained that the only reason to stay together was to get her $70 worth of bike parts in Kasghar. I told her that I could forward them to her wherever she wanted and that she didn't have to go just for that. I then told her that I felt she should dress appropriately because when we are together our company reflects upon each other and she was making me feel uncomfortable when she wore shorts.
Early morning: I feel like I should have apologized. It's silly, really. We are two cyclists with similar abilities and desires. Why let stupid things get in the way? Yet it is very difficult for me to hide my true feelings. Maybe I have been on the road so long I can't adapt to other people with different styles. I am too damn opinionated. What to do? Say I'm sorry? Promise to try harder in the future?
It seems wheat we lack is humor, everything is so damn serious. And maybe dialogue on our likes, dislikes, plans, desires, hopes and dreams. I keep thinking there is so much time, yet every day may be our last.
Later we talked again and decided to try to stick together a bit longer. We are also changing our route to go directly to Gilgit on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) instead of going to Swat and Chital Valleys. The jeep road between Chital and Gilgit has Suzanne worried because she can't handle her bike in unpaved roads. I wonder how she is going to handle Africa unless she throws it on a bus between pavements. From what I have heard, it could be quite often there.
Today is a rain day: there is a steady drizzle with an occasional downpour. Right now there is a small group of Pakistani men who want to watch me write and look at my things. It is a quiet lazy day.
On the road - We left our hotel against everybody's advice. "Road Blocked", "Danger", "No Go", but we went anyway. The rain had caused numerous mudslides covering the road and wash outs that removed sections of road. The first blockage was the most difficult, a stream washed away the road and there was a lot of mud to negotiate. Suzanne got help from the Pakistani men whenever she needed it. In all there were five significant blocks where we had to carry the bikes. The army road maintenance crew had some road graders coming down from the north and had cleared the area to about 20 km north of Besham. Behind them was a 2-km long queue of trucks and buses waiting for the road to open. I expect a blizzard of northbound traffic when it finally does, maybe in a day or two. In the meantime the light traffic has made for very pleasant riding. There are a few trucks and Suzuki mini vans with bodies covering the vehicle like a mink coat.
10 km north of Pattan Kayal Valley Rest House yard 52 km
I told Suzanne that I was glad we were still travelling together, as I really enjoyed her company. It is so much more enjoyable to share these experiences with someone.
Our beds were rearranged, now they are side-by-side and the police removed all the other beds from the room. We were alone. Suzanne was by the wall, and I was in the bed next to her. She didn't sleep well, talking, groaning and moaning in her sleep. Bad vibes abound.
It had began harmlessly enough, Suzanne stopped at a shady spot near a stream. It was only the second shade we found all day. I was beat, and we decided to stay in an abandoned paddock nearby. But first we cooked our dinner near the stream at the bridge. Predictably, we attracted attention form the locals. They were very concerned about us stopping here. We told them we would be fine. At dusk we moved to the paddocks and got everything set up. Suzanne crawled into her tent, and I got under my mosquito net, looking forward to a good night's sleep under a sparking clear sky. Then suddenly we hear voices very near. Suzanne blew out her candle as three men appear over the rock wall. Damn. We were discovered. I struggle out of my net and greet them. Two police officers and our friendly "guardian angel" who told them we were there. They told us it was very dangerous for us to stay here because of snakes. We told them we would be fine. But they repeated what they just said implying there was no choice in the matter. Reluctantly, I told Suzanne we had to go. She packed without saying a word. We go to the police station a few kilometers away and sit down for some rotis, dahl and an interview in the front yard where the chief had his desk. Suzanne went to bed in the office and I pulled out my chess set and try to teach them how to play a short game. I then went to bed, and fell into a deep sleep. I awoke to Suzanne screaming.
The next morning I am awaken by a friendly officer who points at his watch. Suzanne only wants to get the hell out of there not even pausing to wet her face or even pee. Surprisingly we don't see any other officers and we are quickly on the bikes. A short way down the road, the officer who grabbed Suzanne is walking toward us. Suzanne passes him by without a word. I pause and tell him we have very bad feelings. He repeats his story maintaining his innocence. I am left wondering, was a nightmare, or real?
Before I hooked up with Suzanne, I said travelling with a woman is always more difficult. I would like to modify that by saying that travelling with a woman is extremely difficult in Muslim countries. Could this incident have been prevented if she wore a scarf and didn't talk to the men? In the past few days we have been struck by the complete absence of any women anywhere in public. In the towns only men and boys are seen. Where are the women? Hiding for their lives locked up in their houses? Suzanne said this just made her want to get the hell out of Pakistan as soon as possible. She wants to go on to Africa where she has heard from another woman who cycled there for a year without any problems.
As for me, I would rather be cycling on my own. She has a much stronger pace than me and doesn't want to talk to anyone. However, when she does, she is very abrupt and rude. I am often invited by the police to eat or have tea, but decline because Suzanne is way ahead of me. Yesterday she was behind me and stopped for a moment. A truck heading the other way stopped beside her and the men got out of the truck. She was very frightened, quickly left and caught up with me. I gave her my tear gas "Paralyzer". I just hope she never has to use it.
She is a tough woman and very curt. Today while buying groceries she said, "We have to talk about the food money, since you eat so much more than I". "Fine, Suzanne, how about a little later," I replied. From what I can see we have been eating about the same amount. Today I thought it might be better if she hooked up with someone else in Gilgit. I don't know if I can handle another month of this.
Chilas 91 KM
Exhausted, I sit here hot and dehydrated. Today at one of the roadside restaurants, characteristically full of men, one of them indicated to Suzanne that she should roll down her pants, which were presently up at her knees. I asked her if she understood him. She said yes, but she was choosing to ignore him because if the Pakistani men couldn't treat her any better, she would damn well do as she pleased. I thought, 'Great attitude, Suzanne'.
Things are definitely cool tonight between us. Neither one saying anything: we are too hot and tired to communicate. I'm feeling like I wish I were on my own again. I know Suzanne has similar thoughts and she is feeling tied to me against her will.
The landscape today was a barren desert, void of practically all plant life except a few stubborn grasses and in the rare valleys with water running. It seemed like I might as well have been riding on the moon. Such a vast area, the valley widened out and the road tracked fairly close to the Indus River, now considerably smaller and slower than the previous few days. Curiously, all the tributaries are beautifully bright and clear flowing with blue, green and white water, yet the Indus continues to look like a river of mud.
Suzanne and I have been getting water from the small streams and springs that appear fairly regularly, thank God. I'm pretty choosy about where I get my water, preferring not to drink the local village stuff due to the possible sewage contamination. The rivers and steams are often used as toilets in the remote areas of both India and Pakistan. But in the heat of the day, it is often not possible.
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