Descent into Kabul

Pushed back in Brisbane about 10 mins early, Singapore airlines don’t muck around. Service was wonderful to Singapore. Champagne. Luncheon. Roast beef and mushroom entrée, pork stew cacciatora, ice cream with strawberry coulis, cheeses with garnishes, coffee, pralines. The champagne was Henriot Brut Souverain. A light dinner of thai fried rice, more coffee. Flight in and out at Changi both at terminal two, a bonus. No room for more food at Silver Kris, damn shame because it looked very edible. Very quiet lounge.

 

Same airline but service took a leap backwards on the Singapore-Cairo flight (which I disembarked in Dubai). Nuts in their packets rather than Givenchy china bowls. Menu available on application. Smiles in limited supply; are the Cairo travellers less appealing than the Brisbane travellers? But sleep preferable anyway on a flight which leaves at 0130 and arrives at 0445. Got a reasonable night’s sleep on the flight but 777s have huge engines and I was right next to one, quite a lot of noise and vibration. And a ‘flat bed’ which wasn’t quite level or straight.

 

7 hour layover in Dubai meant 4 hours before the transfer desk could check me in for the Kabul flight. Decided against entering Dubai as it was 35 degrees outside (at 4.30 am – this is the minimum in summer – expect a max around 42-45 every day). Hadn’t checked in in case there was a delay on the SQ flight, so need to check in at transfer desk. There were maybe 50 people waiting to transfer and 5 seats, so plenty of floor time. Had a  great view over the shops and duty free, just couldn’t get there – until 9 am when check in opened.

 

Like walking through the star gate getting down to the shops and duty free! Water, cappucino, salad, in that order.

 

Had an aisle on the Safi Airlines flight from Dubai to Kabul, an OK but full flight. Plane (A320) wasn’t too bad, looked like it was ex Lufthansa maybe. Dry flight, but no blessing. Maybe your seats only get blessed if you fly business. Feed in economy was OK, choice of beef or chicken, salad, some sort of custardy dessert which I ignored.

 

Descent into Kabul was probably the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. We came in from the East which meant we paralleled the Eastern Hindu Kush mountains coming in, so only after a couple of minutes after starting our descent from 29000 feet we were already at the same level as snowcapped peaks (which are 20,000-25,000 feet high). It was a descent from snowcapped peaks to 35 degrees in Kabul so we had some pretty spectacular turbulence on the way down.

 

Kabul airport. Quite a lot of aircraft at the terminal, Kam Air, Pamir Air, Ariana. Lots of military looking stuff and helicopters. They are into pushing and shoving in the Middle East and don’t hold back. So neither did I. Queues for the customs desk weren’t too bad, then into the chaos zone. A guy around the corner demands my work permit. Sorry, don’t have it on me, it’s with the ministry I add hopefully. He sends me to foreigner registration which is a shambles. Pushing and shoving central. I fill out a form and supply anther photo. Very glad to see my bags come off the ancient carousel, then jostle my way to the xray machine queue, lastly find Hamid and Yasir our airport fixers with my name on a sign. Whoops, no registration card. Back into the chaos. I had registered at the wrong foreigner registration desk and Yasir led me back into the chaos. Registered again, supplied another passport photo, Ok where is my card? Ahhh, for card you need to register at the adjacent registration desk. Complete another form, a very long one, supply two more passport photos. Finally go the card. None of this is signposted of course. I am now probably the most registered person in Kabul.

 

Ok so off with Hamid and Yasir, jostle through the checkpoint to the car. Still 35 degrees at 4 pm, very glad Kabul is 1800m high, and very, very dry which made it OK. Through the next checkpoint, out of the carpark onto the airport road. The pushing and shoving continues, only this time motorised. Big boulevard with two carriageways, and a service road either side. All four of these had traffic going both ways, on any side of the road they liked, cars at intersections barging their way through any time they liked. Lots of cross traffic at intersections pushing and shoving through all this. And pedestrians, kids, bicycles, carts dodging around this. One rule: if you’re in front, you win.

 

And then there was the roundabout, which you can just imagine. Around, through, across, anywhere.

 

Now down through this come some US military vehicles, for which the golden rule is avoid, let them pass. Lest they think you are hostile and fire on you. The traffic slows (relatively – chaos doesn’t make for a quick trip). Soon after they’ve passed you get mobile reception back – when they are nearby everything is jammed.

 

Off the main road, down side streets at a snail’s pace, rough as guts, up and down the potholes and ridges, nothing sealed. Blast walls, high concrete or brick all along the streets hiding big houses, steel gates with peepholes, military looking places with soldiers or police about, heat, dust, dirt everywhere. Blocked intersections and checkpoints every few hundred metres makes for a labyrinth. Finally pull up at a gate and blow the horn. A peephole opens, a face peers out, it shuts and the gate opens. A concrete forecourt, a tiny oasis of green garden, a nice villa. After 33 hours I’ve made it.

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