Again we had the police escort to Quetta. The German truck guy made a few cracks about Nazi Germany to one of them and machine gun gestures. I could not understand exactly what was going on but it was hard not to assume the guy was an a-hole. I was grateful that both Helen and I did not understand German so we could distance ourselves.
The road surface deteriorated but was still manageable albeit a bit more slowly. I had my first river crossing in about 3 inches of slow trickling stream, barely enough to get the wheel rims wet. Despite the slower pace we made it to Nuska at about 3pm where we got stuck at a checkpost.
We were repeatedly assured we could go in 10 minutes as we entered our names, passport and visa numbers and bike details in the millionth logbook. It all seemed a little more suspicious when they took our passports, for the first time in Pakistan. We had a frustrating wait as the sun sank in the sky. I tried to make use of the time to ask if I could go back to get fuel but was told I was not allowed so we had little choice but to wait. we grew tired of entertaining the police or having photos and our smiles gradually turned to frowns where we could not be bothered even being polite anymore.
Various calls were made on radios and excuses given. We were expecting a 5 person armed escort because we were told the area was dangerous. I noticed some guys leaving in a truck that had to be push started. It seemed they were not nearly as well organised or equipped as the Iranians. Merijn came into his own, remaining patient and pragmatic. I sensed I could learn a lot about stress management and patience from him as he always stepped back when he found himself getting wound up. He rightly pointed out that perhaps there had been an incident that we did not know about.
As we sat there it seemed like the entire town had driven past us. If there was anyone who intended to do us harm here then they probably already knew we had arrived and had plenty of time to figure something out. The police didn’t seem to realise or care about this, which seemed pretty unprofessional and incompetent although I was not expecting too much anyway.
Two hours later our escort arrived, consisting of 2 guys in another clapped out pickup truck. If this was a bad area they sure had not done much about it. Thierry rightly pointed out to the cops that it was getting dark and it would not be safe for driving but it was like beating your head against a wall. Later I realised they must have been going off shift and just wanted rid of us. I wondered if we had not been in a group if we would have acted differently, perhaps refusing to go on instead of being swept up in the group dynamic.
So we headed off into the hills which has to be the stupidest thing I have ever done. It seemed that everyone who had come past us at the checkpoint was encamped on these hills as we rode past. It was very intimidating although they did respond to waves from us so I was unsure what to make of it. I hoped they were all there to watch the sunset in the evening and wondered what use our escort would be if there was any trouble. The German truck stalled on an uphill hairpin but got going again as it started to get dark.
At the next checkpoint we gave our details yet again. This had been the case the whole way from the border so we had come to know our passport and visa numbers off by heart. The other guys were sitting round with engines running and lights on which I realised was because they were from countries where checkpoints are less familiar. We got moving again with no incident but the escort quickly dropped back and soon disappeared, either because their truck was clapped out or they didn’t want to do their job.
The group started to split because my engine took a minute to start at the next checkpoint, with Thierrie and the truck pulling out ahead and now no police escort. It was getting very cold and we were approaching the part of the road nearest the Afghan border. My intercom radio had become unplugged and the battery was slowly dying so I could not talk to Helen and the fuel in my tank was low though the light was not on yet. I didn’t stop to put my fleece on. I wondered who the different groups of people who are a security issue here are and realised that we were riding in an area we knew nothing about, in the dark, cold and without an escort. Fantastic.
The only thing we had going for us was that we were moving so we didn’t stop. A breakdown now would mean having to hope the right people came to help. The road deteriorated into a gravel track but thankfully came back to tarmac after a kilometre or so. We pressed on the rest of the way to Quetta without stopping, but also without a GPS waypoint for the hotel.
As we arrived into Quetta we stopped by the first police car and explained we needed to go to the Bloomstar hotel. It took a while for this to register with our new cops but they gave us an escort. On the way in we passed several checkpoints before stopping at the side of the road. I thought we would be handed to a different escort but this was not the case. As we stopped I noticed red dots rising into the sky like fireworks. It took a second to register that it was tracer fire a couple of miles away. We also heard some gunfire after this. Welcome to Quetta.
We proceeded through more checkpoints and were handed over to inner city police who took us on to the hotel. The other guys were excited by their experience but were soon brought back to earth by Helen and I. Perhaps it was all new and exciting to them but a little more familiar to us. We spent the next few days in the hotel, surfacing only to get cash and a phone sim card.
The others decided to take the South loop to Sukkur. A straighter road was also possible with a permission letter but would take a few days to get. From our experience coming in to Quetta and reports that the roads were damaged from the flooding we opted to put the bikes on the train. After a day of rest we waved a tearful goodbye to them as they headed South and we went to the train station to get booked on.
We could only get one ticket for a train 2 days later and we could not book the bikes in until the following day. We went back the next day and spoke to the bike booking guys and were told to bring them at 7am the next day to get them booked on. I enquired about loading ramps and ropes to tie the bikes down and was told ‘inshallah no problem‘. Somehow I had an uneasy feeling and we were miserable on our own trapped in a hotel without our friends. Two more bikers, Bryn and Tom arrived that night having caught us up after Iran.
On the following morning we arrived at the train station at 7. At 7.30 some staff arrived to open the luggage office and let us in. we paid and filled out unnecessary paperwork for the bikes and then I rode them along the platform to where the train would arrive at 8.30. At 9 the train actually arrived and of course there was no loading ramp and no way to tie the bikes down and a load of precariously balanced crap in the luggage car. Since the point of the exercise was to avoid damaging the bikes we turned round and headed back to the hotel to rejoin Tom and Bryn instead.
At lunchtime Bryn went back along the road he had already come to search for his passport, lost at one of the many checkpoints. He got us concerned when he didn’t return but it transpired it had got dark and he stayed at a police station which was probably wise. The following day under the supervision of Tom, we left towards Sukkur, finally breaking free of the grip of Quetta.