One day I hitchhiked from France to Indonesia. Only in Afghanistan I wasn’t able to hitchhike. Here’s the story of the border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan.
Hitchhiking from Mashhad to the border
After waking up in Mashhad, the holiest city in Iran, I did what I do best : Walk to the main road, and start to hitch a ride. As always in Iran, it wasn’t long until someone stopped his car and asked me where I was going. Locals were quite surprised to hear my final destination, Afghanistan. Despite being so close, none of them had actually been there before. I changed car a few times befor arriving to the Dogharoon border. To end my Iranian trip in a fitful fashion, the last of the 146 drivers who picked me up in these almost 3 months in Iran made a 40-kilometer detour to drop me at the border.
Complications at the Iranian immigration post
But when I arrived at the immigration post I started to ask myself : Maxime what are you doing here? It’s been a fun trip, but Afghanistan, really? People were all looking at me, the Iranian guard couldn’t read the Roman alphabet on my passport and this adventure started to feel like the worst idea I’ve ever had. My biggest fear was that some people passing by would call their “friends” telling them that a foreigner was right there, crossing the border. I had to seek multiple times the help of the only English-speaking officer to get a stamp out of the country.
What do you have in your bag ? asked me in Farsi the custom guard. After taking all of my belongings out, he raised an eyebrow on a bag full of white little cube. What is this ? He started to be even more aggressive than he already was. How could I explain him that I’ve been collecting soaps from the hotel I was working with in Iran in order not to have to buy any soap ever again? (Yes, traveling on such an extreme budget requires extreme measures…). I had to go get the English-speaking officer once again to make it through the last checkpoint. And then, here I was, ready to enter Afghanistan !
A part of me wondered if I should turn back before it was too late. Iran had been one of the safest countries I had ever been, while I had quite a lot of doubts about how safe would Afghanistan be. But an even stronger part of me really wanted to know what was going on in this infamous country. Do they deserve the sad reputation they have? I had to find out !
The Afghan immigration? How come they speak English?
I walked confidently towards the post and handed my passport to the officer. Thanks to the Afghan visa I had gotten beforehand in Tehran, the immigration was much smoother on the Afghan side. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they could speak good English. 15 years of foreign occupation left some marks I supposed. Truly concerned about my safety, they directed me towards a special exit. I saw a few trucks passing by this exit and my first reflex was of course to raise my thumb to hitch a ride ! I had already hitchhiked all the way from France to this point, and I wasn’t planning on stopping this journey here, no matter how dangerous it was supposed to be. Two border guards were around me and we started to get to know each other. Since I came all the way here, I was very excited to have a conversation with some locals, and I asked to take a couple of pictures together. After waiting for a while I finally understood that trucks couldn’t stop here. They had to go through numerous many more checkpoints before being able to leave the border.
Are you Muslim ?
Since trucks couldn’t stop, I decided to backtrack and to go through the traditional exit, along with all the locals. It probably wasn’t the most clever idea I’ve ever had. It worked fine at the beginning, and then I arrived to a point where guards were shouting instructions in Dari (one of the two official languages of Afghanistan). One of them talked to me. I was torn between using the little bit of Farsi I had learned in Iran or keeping my mouth shut to avoid suspicion. I chose the second option, and they send me straight to an office. Immigration officers started to question what my intentions were. They switched to English after checking my passport.
Are you Muslim ? They asked me to which I answered no. This answer eased the atmosphere in the room. Many Europeans came to Afghanistan and joined the Talibans to get train using weapons. They were wondering if I was one of them or not. My answer seemed to reassure them that I was just a crazy traveler who decided to come explore their land. They directed me one more time towards the exit, and asked me to wait for a taxi.
As we headed towards the waiting spot, a taxi was already here with a few people around it. It turns out the taxi was already full, but we squeezed all together on the backseat. I paid 5 euros (yes, really, euros) to get a ride all the way to Herat, the closest big city located 130 kilometers away from the border. The first I had paid for a ride since leaving my home country France 6 months ago. And the start of my breathtaking adventures in Afghanistan…