The road out of Quetta started ok. Some parts were unsurfaced but fine to ride as long as you were paying attention all the time. We had escorts right out of Quetta and afterwards they soon fell behind and disappeared. Occasionally we stopped and were picked up by them again though it was not so much of a hassle as we could set our own pace and they either kept up or did not.
With the good going we made around 300km to the outskirts of Jacobabad. I was feeling stupid for even having considered taking the train and missing this when the roads began to deteriorate. There were a lot of fields by the roads which had been turned into campsites, filled with UNHCR white tents for miles and miles. Each of the small towns we came through was overwhelmed with more people than they were ever designed (I use the word loosely) to handle. This was clearly where all the people displaced by the flooding earlier in the year had been moved to. We met some doctors working for MSF along the way. It was good to see the people getting the help they needed though the scale of it was dramatic.
I was happy when we were picked up by escorts again for each of the towns as we were mobbed by curious onlookers every time we stopped. It felt a little depressing to be here in the middle of it all on what must have seemed big shiny bikes when the people around us were really struggling. Tom entertained some kids at one police escort handover and we took a few pics but it was still a tainted experience.
When we got to Jacobabad we decided to stop for the night and told the escorts we were looking for a hotel. The road had become bad and slow going, basically deteriorating to a single lane potholed gravel track blocked with brightly decorated lorries. The escort decided to turn off the main road towards the town itself. What seemed to be a bad road deteriorated into the seemingly impossible. I was surprised at how well the bikes were coping with ruts gaps and potholes. Helen was managing it all like a pro too. Given that she had ridden the bike perhaps only 500 miles before we left on the trip, she had definitely earned her credentials as an adventure biker now.
The road was raised from the level of the fields which were still flooded so we were basically riding along thin paths with a couple of feet drop into the water either side. Some parts of the road had collapsed into the water and this made things interesting with oncoming traffic and the uneven surface. There was little choice but to plod on. I wondered if there would even be a hotel after all this devastation and felt like we were an imposition in a country which already had enough to deal with.
We arrived in Jacobabad just in time for a major traffic jam. Impatience from the drivers did little to alleviate the situation because every time a gap opened 10 people rushed into it. The first bottleneck was a narrow basic pipe bridge entering the town. The way was blocked by buses and TukTuks sitting there waiting for divine intervention to clear the way. Boys and grown men looked on in amazement at our spectacle. The temperature must have been in the high 20‘s at this stage and the pollution hung in the air around us. I wondered how it would be in summer when it touched the high 50’s. Helen likes to have her own space but even I was finding it tough going.
Thankfully the police with us went ahead on foot and made a tiny gap just big enough to fit us through. When the traffic got bad some sticks were produced and people seemed to understand and react quickly. However, this did little for our feeling of being an imposition by holidaying in the middle of it all. A helpful local directed me to turn left at one point then grabbed and turned my handlebars meaning I couldn’t hold the weight of the bike and wound up dropping it. I lost the rag with him immediately but thankfully neither he nor the crowd rose to it because if they had I doubt the situation could have been contained. I was amazed to watch Helen squeeze her bike through a tiny gap on one side with a van and a drop into an open sewer on the other.
Somehow we made it through all this to the hotel at the other side of town. Tom told us the police had taken us into an earlier turn-off and we did not need to come through it all. Whatever we were all soaked in sweat and covered in dusty sand, tired but jubilant at the achievement. Crowds of people stood outside the hotel gazing at our bikes and us. We negotiated a decent room with no tv. We then discovered that we had been assigned an armed guard, who sat outside the room all night. He followed us nervously as we went to the shop right beside the hotel to get water, clearly taking his charge very seriously. I felt that if we walked around in circles he would have followed us. We tried not to be any more of an imposition than we already were and went to bed tired but happy.