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Before I die of starvation, I thought I'd give you a little note. Tomorrow the Ramadan starts, and that has quite an effect on public life in Muslim countries. Westerners and travelers don't beak the law if they eat during the day but one should be discreet. And I was wondering what would be for sale; it's hard to grow rice on the back of my bicycle, so I depend on what is for sale. Added to that right now some hospitals have been demolished by foreign bombs in Baghdad and the fellow believers here in Pakistan - already in a touchy mood due to the hunger - are, to say the least, slightly unfriendly towards foreigners. Especially in the southern part of Punjab, where there live many fundamentalists. Am I going to cycle through that? Landscape wise it is easier cycling, or should I go through the mountains near the Afghan border? I haven't made up my mind yet.

Back to where the story left you... The border between Iran and Pakistan is surprisingly easy; again against all odds no luggage check. And after that it is left hand traffic. The Pakistanis call it right hand traffic because the wheel of the car is on the right hand. I call it left hand traffic as the cars run on the left hand side of the road. Fortunately I don't have any drivers license, so I am only allowed to look. I feel a little uneasy about this - now Kees and Mitchy have to do everything, while I just sit and do nothing. Most of the scary story's about this part of the desert seem untrue. We enjoy the fantastic views, we talk as much as is possible with friendly Pakistani and we enjoy the Sugar cane. At night we stop in a village and there I surprise myself with my Farsi (Persian, the language in Iran); it even seems like a real conversation! The next day we pass a Spanish guy who does cycle through the desert. Slightly embarrassed I tell that most of it I have cycled too. At night we're in Quetta, a city whit such bad air that it hurts your eyes when you cross the street. Isn't it time to start cycling?

Gurdaspur, January 30th 1999

Hi There!

Eid Mubarak! Ramadan has ended in the mean time and right now I am three weeks behind on my schedule. What schedule? Well, my own rough schedule of 1200 kms a month. For the rest nothing happened. After a month and a half in Pakistan, and after a couple of times drinking un-boiled water and more than a couple of very dodgy restaurants, I still don't have diarrhea. It was quite hard to leave Quetta. Because the first week I am going to cycle through a quite thinly populated area, where practically only the tribes leaders are in charge I report to the police beforehand. That starts with the hope-giving remark: "But sir, that is tribal area, how can we give you any security there?" Not long after that I have a piece of paper in my hand which asks the police in the villages I plan to stop for the night to help and protect me when necessary. By now it has become 12 noon and I still haven't started cycling. My plan was to make 110 kms and in an area which is not under government control so where the one with the highest amount of weapons is the leader, I don't want to cycle in the dark.

In Quetta I have to make up a traffic diversion because I'm not allowed to cycle on the main road; on that road some people are demonstrating against the bombings on Iraq. Because the western world - the white people - are (being held) responsible for that, people recommend me not to cycle there. Although there are no road signs I find my way to the main road surprisingly easy. I manage to do that by jelling the place I want to go to, to any one who doesn't seem to be working urgently . Half of the people doesn't respond at all, but the other half works enthusiastically; some yel Haa! Haa! (yes, yes) or Neej,neej (noo, no). If they say neej I have missed a turn, but it can never be far back given the frequency at which I ask my way. Once outside Quetta the road becomes very narrow and of awful quality. Beside the road are kilometer marks of the NHA (National Highway Authority). Cycling on a road like this I feel like being on a dead end back-village road instead of being on a National Highway!

Cycling on the left hand side of the road is for me surprisingly easy. Fortunately I don't experience some near accidents the first days because I feel like my reflex will be to move right... That could be pretty dangerous. Like I said the road is narrow and of awful quality, but it is also very quiet. So I don't have to leave the asphalt for a gorgeous monster (e.g. a bus or truck). The only advantage of such a bad road is that it is impossible to avoid all holes in the surface. Reporting to the police back in Quetta appears to have been a good idea, because everywhere I get to I am officially received by the chief. One after the other is a natural boss; used to give orders, but too fat to do something himself. These gentlemen arrange accommodation for me (for free) and - although it's Ramadan - some lunch and warm water to wash myself. The exception in Loralai the only middle-sized city in the area (20.000 citizens) things go less smooth. There they treat me as 'again a silly tourist'.

One afternoon I'm thirsty. I'm a little afraid to drink out in the open people don't like it during Ramadan. Fortunately at about 100 m alongside the road there's an electric wire against which poles I park my bike. Hiding behind my luggage I dare to sip some of my Fanta. To my unpleasant surprise I suddenly see and hear a motorcyclist coming towards me. He's carrying a Kalashnikov. My heart starts thumping. Until now Pakistan was much better than expected. Friendly, fairly trustworthy people. And next to no trouble with the - among cyclists - infamous stone throwing kids. Would this bearded villain shatter that dream? Do I meet here my first and last murdering, steeling bandit of which by reputation this part of Pakistan would be filled? I take a last sip of my Fanta and put it away. I lock my bag and I want to head back to the road. A hand on my bags makes me stop. After looking at my bike for a while he asks me with sign language whether I carry a camera. I nod polite. He sings me to follow him. Fortunately in the direction I was going and not back towards Quetta. Not far away there's a Levis-post. A post like this is manned by influential villagers who get paid by the Pakistani government. Through these people the government tries to get some grip on the population in this area. However these Levis men are said to be the most dangerous around. In this particular Levis Post are two more men present. My 'guide' tells them something, and immediately they disappear inside. Not long after they come back outside with a mirror and a comb. They cleanup, put their official hats on and each of them takes a Kalsahnikov. Then they tell me to take a couple of pictures. After that they give me a paper with Arabic scribbles on it - an address? I nod, say some polite things in English and they say something in Arabic, or the local language, and then I can go. I'm still alive and I have no clue where to send the pictures.

That night I'm in Kingri, where there is next to nothing. The government guest house is worthless. When I'm on the dirty floor in my own sleeping bag thinking of the dinner I didn't get I suddenly remember that it's Christmas eve. Christmas eve without any food, and couch with a good movie is not my way. The night after I'm in a proper guest house, but the only food available has so many chilies that at night I burn my mouth, and next morning I burn my butt. Only third Christmas day I finally arrive in Multan where I splurge with a meal in the Holiday Inn. The first plate of French Fries since Ankara, and the first tasty fries since Prague.

Multan, in itself quite a nice city with - to Pakistani standard - quite a few interesting buildings, I visit the Japanese way: I arrive in the afternoon, next morning I'm back on the road. On my way to Mian Channun. Just before I entered Multan I met two cyclists going in the oposite direction. They gave me the address of Mirza Mushtaq in Mian Channun. Mirza is a homeopathic doctor who cycled the Tour de France in 1962 and who specializes in obstinate diseases. Mirza is quite a weird guy, but every world cyclist who passes his town is welcome in his house. On my way from Multan to Mian Channun my rear rim cracks. I make it cycling to Mian Channun where Mirza says: "Don't worry, your problem will be solver!" But his figuring out how to solve it takes me too long, and so I head by train and bus to Islamabad to apply for a visa to India.

Punjab is foggy. Since D. G. Khan the landscape - the dry mountains which surrounded me since practically Ankara - has changed into a subtropical environment. This is the area through which the river Indus runs, so there is suddenly way too much water. When I return from Islamabad, the fog has changed into rain. This turns the roads into huge pools of mud. Mirza's thinking has given me some results. In an ingenious way he has put a too big rear wheel into my frame, and with that construction I bounce over the awful bumpy muddy roads of Punjab. This mud is bad news for my bicycle. After 80 kms my shock absorber gives up. It breaks and I can't cycle an inch further. Even walking is next to impossible because I have to lift my rear wheel - and all the luggage with that! - off the ground. Head back to Mian Channun? Or onwards to Lahore (120 odd kms)? The first buss that shows up out of the renewed fog ends my doubts. Bike on the roof, pay 85 rupees (US$1.4) and that night I'm in Lahore.

However badly chauvinistic Pakistanis have a worse impression about their country than I have experienced as being true. They all seem to think it's a country full of bandits and killers. "Only my family you can trust sir!" says mister Suhail. Suhail is one of the many people who is worried about the lonely cyclist, and for security reasons he offers me a room in his house for the night. In a poor country the need for God is stronger. Pakistanis are Muslims and honesty is for the Muslim a very important duty. Proof for this I get in a minivan. The public city transport in Pakistan often consists only of these minivans, which means horror for a cyclist. They are ridiculously cheap for the backpacker however, and while I'm waiting for my new rear wheel to arrive in the post office, I explore the city by minivan. The ride I want to make costs 3 rupees (US cent 2.5). I pay five, and as I didn't know the price I don't worry when I get nothing back. A man next to me however starts complaining to the conductor. It becomes a pretty noisy fight between more than one passenger and the money-man. The last one however doesn't seem to bother much, and doesn't want to give me my money. Until one of the people says something like: "Are you a Muslim or what?" After that remark I get my two rupees back.

By reputation Pakistan is not the safest country in the world. While I wait in Lahore a bridge is blown to bits just after the president drove over it - four security officers got killed. But apart from that I hear the news, I don't notice anything. I don't think that the people who want to get rid of the president would try to kill me... What good would that do them? So nothing happens to me. Until the 28th of January I don't cycle a meter. I wait for the new rear wheel which my sponsor sent by regular mail. I celebrate Eid - the end of the Ramadan, Muslim Christmas - in Sargodha with the family of Muntazim. I met Muntazim in Quetta and now I stay at his place in Lahore. It was quite a relaxed time, but because my wheel doesn't arrive I do next to nothing. Only when I start hunting it down (by visiting the most depressing looking post offices) I manage to get it; which is actually pretty surprising. Usefull things tend to disappear in the ordinary Pakistani mail. I knew that, so I asked my sponsor to send it by courier, which he ignored. In the mean time I have replaced my shock absorber for a steal pole so when finally I have put my wheel in my bike I can go. Leaving Lahore is quite hard; not so much for the traffic or the bad roads - compared to leaving Mian Channun it was nothing - but because I am blessed with 6 flat tires! A new tube appears to be the solution.