The ancient Russian troop transport rumbled and creaked as it trundled up the Ak-Baital Pass, a breath-taking (literally) 4,655 meters above sea level. After several stops to let the engine cool, we crested the top and a cheer rose from the border guards in the back. The young soldier next to me gave me a thumbs up. “Okay?”
I grinned and gave him a thumbs up in return. “Okay!”
How the heck did I end up in a military transport in the middle of the desolate Pamirs in Tajikistan? Well, it’s a funny story…
The previous day, I’d managed to get from the border town of Sary Tash to the Kyrgyz border, then managed to get across the 15 k.m. no man’s land between the Kyrgyz and Tajik border posts. Getting through customs was a breeze, a soldier waved me into a small building and an official in a tracksuit checked my passport before stamping it.
“Machine?” he asked, pointing back at the way I’d come.
“No,” I replied, making the motion for walking. His eyebrows shot up.
I laughed and shook my head, holding my thumb out like I was hitching. He nodded his understanding.
“Chai?” he asked, gesturing towards the back room.
“Yes, thank you,” I replied in Tajik, using up my repertoire of vocabulary in that language.
A soldier brought us a pot of tea, then a full meal. As my unexpected host looked on and made conversation as best he could with sign language, I ate my fill. It was greasy, fatty, and delicious. The official, Faro, made it clear that I could hang out until a ride came.
The hours slid by. Eventually, Faro came in and told me that no cars would be coming that day and I could sleep in the room. Learning I didn’t have to camp outside was a weight off my shoulders, so I was able to relax a little as soldiers trickled in for dinner. Despite feeling very unwell due to a perfect storm of altitude sickness and two stomach ailments not normally experienced simultaneously, I was able to enjoy an evening filled with tasty food, ukulele, guitar, and even dancing.
The next morning, I resumed my vigil by the border, waiting for a car to cross into Tajikistan. Several crossed into Kyrgyzstan, but none seemed to be coming the way I needed. As the hours slipped by, my optimism started to fade. Then, Faro motioned for me to get my bags.
It was time.
I threw everything together and went outside, only to see a huge group of soldiers grouped together. After a few minutes of confusion, I realized that they were my ride. It was time for the shift rotation and, just my luck, that meant a truck was going to Murghab. I threw my bags in the vehicle and we set off. We stopped at the border check (again), the customs office, and even the cook’s quarters. At each window, I saw a familiar face from the night before. Each gripped my hand and smiled.
“Welcome to Tajikistan!”
Finally, I was on my way to Murghab. It would take about seven hours, the last of which in the dark. My concern about finding a place to stay proved to be unfounded, as the soldiers found a hotel and dropped me off in front of it. Stepping into the hotel almost felt like coming home. I’d made it.
- Hiking to Refugio Frey and Beyond - January 20, 2020
- Christmas Letter 2019 - December 18, 2019
- My Walk Out of the Woods - June 30, 2019
That was such a cool series to go through! Really like the way you broke them up. Those scenes must’ve been super tense at the time. I’d have lost it! So after all this, where to next?
Thanks! It was way too much story for one post, so I’m glad I broke it up the way I did. I kind of felt bad for the multiple cliff-hangers, but it was a little fun leaving everyone hanging.
After these posts, I actually took a week/ week and a half to recuperate. I had a really bad brush with altitude sickness, so I didn’t get out and do much. Things’ll pick up again in Dushanbe, Tajikistan 🙂
I am living vicariously through your posts. I’ve lived too long abroad for someone my age and really want to place done roots somewhere, but I do love people like yourself who say F* that (at least for now) and continue fighting the good fight. I’m looking forward to reading more posts.
Wow so cool! A very interesting story! I feel like I would have been very nervous not knowing how I was going to get to my final destination, but you really went with the flow and ended up having some awesome experiences. I love stories like this that highlight the kindness of strangers on the road, most people are good and helpful and welcoming and I love hearing about it!
Glad you made it safely. I liked how this was broken into parts and kept us in suspense!
Happy to hear you made it to your destination! The best thing about leaving things unplanned and up to chance is you get to have these types of amazingly unique experiences. Reminds me of the time I took a wrong bus in coastal Ecuador and had to hitch hike on the back of a truck… Which led to meeting a hostal owner with a very interesting history. Every post you write inspires me to be spontaneous! And your photos are breathtaking, as usual.
Lindsay @ The Neverending Wanderlust
Another great piece of the story and I love your go-with-the-flow attitude!! Great pics and great storytelling yet again!
Thanks, Lindsay! I had to go with the flow on this one, there was no other option! Stressful, for sure, but I’m glad it worked out 🙂
This really seems like a cool part of the world. Everyone you mention was ready to help you without hesitation. I appreciate the glimpses you offer and can’t wait to experience it all for myself!
Yeah, I loved that about Central Asia! The one exception was taxi drivers. As prone to swindle you as anywhere.
I’d actually been super paranoid about this border crossing because I’d heard reports of corrupt border guards shaking people down for bribes. Instead, I got three meals, a place to sleep, and a 400km ride. Not bad!
Wow! What a story…I really enjoyed how you wove this tale together. This is certainly an adventure to envy!
Thanks! ^^ I already want to do it again, but with my own transport this time. It would be an epic road trip!
Nice post mate! We’re heading through that region next year, and was planning on hitchhiking a good chunk of it. These posts are brilliant inspiration! Cheers.
I’m really looking forward to your guys’ experience! This part of the world is awesome. Challenging, at times, but undeniably awesome!