I just returned from seven weeks in Pakistan, where I took a few notes:
• Getting from the States to Islamabad went smooth as silk. Best airline ever? Emirates. “Baller,” as Hayden put it. Side note: “Baller” is not, as I’d ignorantly guessed, a crude reference. Rather, it originally referred to great basketball players, usually inner city street kids who made it big, though it’s come to mean anything done well, and livin’ large. Emirates, baller. Definitely baller. The cheap seats are like friggin’ first class. “Um, ma’am, I think I might be in the wrong seat, but first class is way up front and I can see the back of the plane right there so I’m confused,” I said. “No sir, this is your seat. Would you like a hot towel and a drink?” Ummm, OK.
Photo: Kelly Cordes
• People always wonder about travel inside Pakistan, and I did more traveling on this trip than any trip in my life – incredible memories, with many stories to come. But first, the easy stuff: Getting from Islamabad to base camp also went smooth as silk, thanks to Ghulam at Blue Sky. The guy is dialed. Damn, I first thought, it’s like this climbing trip was this meant to be (insert love song harmonies here). Landed around 3 a.m., took a nap, then back to the airport for the flight to Skardu – getting to Skardu is the crux of any Pakistan trip, because it’s either a 45-minute flight or 20+ hours on the notorious, crumbling, no-guard-rails, barf-inducing Karakoram Highway; everyone should do the KKH once in their lives, but since I’ve now done it four times I’m selling my three credits to raise money to buy the Skardu airport a radar machine so that they can fly in cloudy weather. It’ll be my contribution to the world.
Anyway, the flight went, we landed, met my dear friend Ghafoor (our cook and travel guide) and looked for Kyle. “Dude, you heard from Kyle?” I asked Hayden. Kyle Dempster, who loves adventure perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met, had been bicycling solo around Kyrgyzstan for the past two months, and was to meet us in Skardu. “Nah, not since that email he sent from Kashgar like a week a—there he is! Hey, Kyle, dude!” Kyle shows up in Skardu. Next morning we drive to Hushe. And the next morning we start the two-day trek to the gorgeous Charakusa Valley base camp. Baller.
• In lieu of any discernible traffic laws, there is one guideline to driving in Pakistan that everyone must follow: honk your horn. Always. Traffic stopped? Honk. Passing a huge truck on a single-lane road? Honk. Goat, chicken or child in the road? Well, of course, honk.
• Kyle was right: People view you differently, and you see things differently, when traveling on a bicycle than in a motor vehicle.
Wait, so how’s this gonna work? Oh, I know: honk! Photo: Kelly Cordes
We found Kyle! Photo: Kelly Cordes
You can never be too careful in Pakistan! Kyle Dempster exercises extreme caution on a bridge. Photo: Kelly Cordes
• People tend to be kind when you’re kind to them and respectful of their culture. Throughout the areas I’ve been in northern Pakistan, I’ve noticed that the default, without fail, is to first welcome you as a visitor. It’s then up to you, I suppose, how you choose to be.
• Personal stats from my four trips to Pakistan – aggregate months I’ve spent in Pakistan: seven. Number of “incidents” with people, or anything remotely close: zero. Number of political and religious discussions: dozens (people want to talk politics and religion everywhere you go). Number of those discussions that turned hostile: zero. Of course you can get yourself into trouble anywhere in the world, but to buy into the notion that an entire nation or religion could somehow be all “bad” is asinine beyond belief. More of my feelings on people, fear, and this Pakistan thing here.
• Imagine a Pakistani, speaking no English and wearing traditional garb, walking through a neighborhood back home. How many people would cross the street to enthusiastically welcome him to our country, invite him to our homes for tea and food and even to stay the night? In Pakistan I was that foreigner, and I lost count of the times people welcomed me in those very ways.
Hayden keeping an eye on his surroundings, but looking “suspecious.”
Photo: Kelly Cordes
Trekking toward the Charakusa Valley. Photo: Kelly Cordes
The Nangma Valley, from the road to Hushe. Photo: Kelly Cordes
• I don’t think Pakistan is especially renowned for its cuisine, though, and booze is mostly banned. When I arrived home, my special lady friend presented me with a bottle of damn fine tequila (apparently I’m not very complicated, because every gift I’ve received in the past several years is good tequila, and I love it every time), and made us a wonderful meal. After dinner, I promptly ate myself sick on a bag of Twizzlers. It’s good to be home.
• Climbing: Kyle and Hayden kicked ass. I got my ass kicked. More to come, but I wasn’t ready. My last surgery was in March, so maybe I should have known. Now I do. And still, damn it was great to be back in the mountains. I never tire of places so beautiful.
• Number of days, upon getting home, until my first marg in nearly two months: four. The wonders never cease.