Tuesday, 26 June 2012


By Sanne

Lo and behold, we were off to Balochistan - apparently the most dangerous region of Pakistan due to the fact that it is mostly lawless. Every time we told Pakistani people we were going there we were met with looks of disbelief and horror! Reading the newspaper didn't help either as it reported on daily shootings and murders in the regional capital of Quetta. Apparently drive-by shootings on motorbikes were becoming increasingly popular and the targets were anyone from journalists to common people being caught up in personal disputes. Why wouldn't anyone want to go to a place like that?! Really we had no choice. It was the only route west towards Iran. And we knew we would be getting police escorts which is sort of a good/bad situation as they are on the one hand there to protect you but on the other hand are an enormous pain in the ass.

So, fresh off our 34 hour train trip (8 hours longer than expected) we unloaded our bikes onto the platform at Quetta railway station, only to discover that someone had pinched my right side mirror off my bike! Great. We were meant to have arrived in Quetta early afternoon, but because of the delay it was now 8 o clock at night and dark and we had to find a hotel. Remembering the scary tales of this city we were not exactly overjoyed having to ride around the dark streets getting lost searching for a hotel, and we did create quite a bit of attention from the locals with our loaded-up bright yellow bikes, but as a strike of luck we came upon the hotel we had heard was popular with overlanders. And was it that. When we rode into the carpark we spotted not one but five overlander motor bikes! It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that Mr Fuellbier was there with his KTM! Apart from him there were two Africa Twins from Holland and two postie bikes from New Zealand. With our two Suzis this one hotel had seven overlander bikers staying there. In this wild-west frontier town of Quetta. You meet people in places you least expect it. We were absolutely knackered from our train trip so we headed straight to bed although we did have Frank knock on our door to tell us the latest Euro Cup football results and to tell us that he was leaving the next morning as he had already been there a few days and had arranged an escort for himself.

The next morning we saw him off only to stumble upon him back in the hotel carpark an hour later. Turns out the escort had left without him! He was told it would leave at 9am but it actually left at 8. They then had the cheek to turn around and tell him that he was late! So understandably he was pretty pissed. He now had to unpack and wait for the following day and hope they would get it right this time. Mark and I were off to the Home Secretariat to get our NOCs (no objection certificate) which we needed in order to cross Balochistan. This was arranged relatively easy and while we were there Frank and the two Kiwis arrived as Rob and Greg as they were called also needed their NOCs. It was then the five of us realised we all would be riding together across Balochistan and I think we all found some comfort in that! After the NOCs were issued it was off to the Police Commisioner's office to arrange for a police escort for the following day. We were loaded into the back of a police ute with two armed officers (one sticking out of the roof) and taken there. During our little drive I very sneakily pinched a Balochistan Police cap sitting unattended on the car seat. Thought I needed myself a little souvenir, and who knew if it might come in handy?

Assured by the police commissioner that the Frank situation wouldn't happen again and that we would indeed be picked up the next morning we left feeling fairly confident (as confident as you can feel with the authorities in Pakistan) and spent the afternoon getting money exchanged and chilling out in the hotel garden with a cold beer. Yes, Pakistan is a dry country but you can purchase beer there and they even brew their own! Muree Lager which is pretty ordinary to be honest but the boys (and especially Frank!) had been so deprived of beer lately that they drank it with gusto. Rob and Greg from New Zealand are riding from Singapore to London on their two 110cc posties and are taking 4 months to do it. A bit quicker than our 15 months... The two Dutch guys whose names escape me are riding from Holland to New Zealand and are taking 8 months to do it. We exchanged experiences and wished each other all the best.

I had a chat to the manager of the hotel that evening. He told me that the head of police had come by the hotel to check our passports and upon seeing mine had started moaning about - you guessed it - the blasphemy of the Muhammed drawings! I decided to stay polite and politically correct about it as I sensed the hotel manager was himself a religious person (who here isn't!) and it was clear that although he thought I was innocent in the matter (eh thanks!) he thought the artist had indeed committed blasphemy. I thought it wisest to keep my mouth shut.
He then asked me a question I had heard a few times already: "Which do you prefer - India or Pakistan?" Again I stayed as PC as I could but did mention that I had found people in India to smile a lot more than people in Pakistan and that people here always looked so serious and unhappy. His answer was: "That's because when they see you they think you are American girl". Right, well thanks for clearing that up for me!

The next morning we were picked up by the police on time and taken to a police station from where the escort was to start from. Also to get escorted in the convoy were two buses carrying pilgrims going to Iran. From the police station we were taken to another meeting point and made to wait there for the actual escort to arrive. We waited there for almost two hours before it actually arrived. Highly organised clearly! And then the fun started... Getting out of Quetta took forever. It wasn't long before we reached our first check point. Here our passports were passed around the hands of many, many officials and personal details such as Father's Name were taken down - clearly very relevant for them to know that my dad is Martin Andersen from Haderslev!? This went on for quite some time, and when we were finally allowed to leave it turned out all the women from the buses had decided to go for a toilet break. It took another 20 minutes or so for the police to round them up so we could leave. About 45 minutes were spent at that check point. 20 kms later - another check point. Same procedure as last time, although this time we need a pee break and by we I mean us bikers. So we do our business and when we get back to the bikes the buses and the police have taken off and left us behind! So much for keeping us safe! We got on our bikes and alone the five musketeers glided through the dessert...

Well, we finally managed to catch up to the escort, no apologies given of course, it was more a look of  "Oh, there you are". We rode past a burnt out wreck of a bus that had been blown up by a suicide bomber only a few days prior. Apparently he had ridden up next to it on a motorbike and blown it and himself up. Just part of daily life here. We did not at any time feel under any real threat ourselves but there was definitely a constant underlying sense that anything can happen at any given time here. A sense of unease but also a sense of feeling sorry for the people who live on this unforgiving, barren land. There was just nothing out here, just dessert and intense heat. Rob and Greg's small bikes were struggling keeping up speed and the strong headwind didn't help. Mark and Frank helped out by having them sit right behind them so they could use the slipstream to power them forward which helped a bit. Every 50km or so new police would be assigned to the convoy.

At one of the changeovers we were told that the police would be inside the buses and that we were to stay in between them so they could protect us. Fine with us, however a few kms up the road the bus behind us decides to overtake us and both buses take off and leave us behind! We were alone once again! When we caught up again at the next check point we confronted them but they just told us we were too slow! This police escort business was starting to become a real joke. If we were to get attacked by terrorists there is no way a police man on a bus would be able to do anything about it. By now we all just kind of wished they would bugger off and in Dalbandin, our stop for the night we finally bid them adieu as they continued to Taftan (the Iran border).

All day we had seen many kids (and a few adults) standing on the side of the road giving us some kind of hand sign when we rode past. They would hold one hand with their palm up and with the other hand would draw a circle in the palm. We had no idea what that meant. Rob and Greg thought it might be a signal to us that we had our headlights on but I had a pretty good feeling that it meant something else. I was curious so when we arrived at our hotel in Dalbandin I asked the hotel manager what that sign meant. At first he said he didn't know but you could tell that he did. When I digged a bit more for an answer he eventually told me that it was the Pakistani sign for 'The End' aka Death. A bit different from someone telling you you've got your headlights on!

We unpacked in the hotel the police took us to and here we met two Turkish bikers who were on a mad dash from Turkey to Nepal in 20 days! They had just ridden across Iran in 4 days and were already on their 8th day. We all thought they were mad to attempt something like that in such a short amount of time but all the best to them. They were travelling on two massively loaded up BMWs that looked like they were going around the world! They probably had twice the amount of stuff Mark and I are carrying. As we were sitting chatting to them they kept asking us questions about the security situation in Pakistan, they seemed a bit concerned. They then said: "Don't you think there is anything slightly odd about this situation?" We asked what he meant. He pointed behind us to the police man sitting there with his AK-47 in his lap (probably there to protect us). "No, not really...that's normal" It was at that moment we realised how accustomed we had become to the ever-present guns, for us that was just part of Pakistan!

The next day ran a little more smoothly. We were still getting escorts but not quite as many as the previous day. At one of the check points though the police insisted that the security guard come with us as a pillion rider on one of us. We all refused to do this but they were adamant and finally Greg agreed to take him on the back of his tiny postie bike. The only place the officer could sit was high up on the top box and that was truly a sight for sore eyes! The sheet metal top box must have been at least 50 degrees and he must have seriously burnt his ass sitting on it. We only rode for a couple of kms before Greg stopped and told him to get off. The officer then made some phone calls back to the station to try to get more assistance, this took forever and we made a group decision to take off and leave our escort behind. He looked pretty lost and dumbfounded as he stood there on the side of the road, I observed from the one side mirror I had left.

After a good full day's riding we finally arrived in Taftan. We went straight to the customs building where the people were so nice to do all the paperwork for us (immigration and carnets) that evening so we could cross into Iran quickly the next morning. That night we camped in front of the customs building, us in our tent and Rob, Greg and Frank spent a cosy night cuddling up together in the Kiwis' tent. To be completely honest I think we were all pretty happy that it was our last night in Pakistan. As a country it had certainly been our biggest challenge yet, especially for me as a woman. Had Mark been travelling by himself without me I think he would have had a much more positive experience as he would not have experienced the sexual predatory against me. And that is in my opinion where most of the danger lies in visiting Pakistan. It's not so much the terrorism, yes the risk is there but it is nothing compared to the risk a foreign woman will face travelling there. I could only hope that Iran would be kinder to me. Little did we know that the next two days in Iran would be something resembling...hell!

Overlander meet anyone?

Relaxing in the backyard (as relaxed as you can get with AK47's all around you)

In Quetta patiently waiting for the escort to show up. And two hours later it did.

Police check point and one of the two buses also being escorted

Rob and Greg on their mighty machines!

Mark attracting a crowd

    A break to rest our sore butts, for Frank to have another ciggie and to wait for the posties to catch up!

Waiting for our police escort the second day

Queueing up to the local petrol station 

Filling up dessert style - half the fuel ended up on my bike as opposed to in it

Getting some r-e-s-p-e-c-t from the Balochi police force

Curious kids

This arrangement lasted for a couple of kms before we left him in the dust on the side of the road

Lone camel wandering the dessert

Why not throw another check point in, because we just haven't had enough!

Camped in front of customs

This old man was assigned to be our security guard...not exactly Rambo


  1. Articles like these need to make their foray into the mainstream as desperately as we need to hear some good news on Balochistan.

  2. Inspirational, despite the problems.

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