Islamabad, Pakistan – November 25, 2015
The driver picked us up in Islamabad at about 19:00 on November 25. We said goodbye to Patches the cat and hopped into the vehicle.
Roughly 40 minutes later, we were at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport. I was surprised we made it that quickly. There was construction activity at an overpass on the main road. That narrowed the six-lane passage down to only two. Of course, the traffic was very heavy, so we sat in a traffic jam for a little while. Luckily, there were no jingle trucks (they travel very slowly) in the traffic with us. If there had been jingle trucks, I am sure the traffic jam would have been much worse.
Many motorcycles shared the road with us too. While sitting in traffic, the motorcycles weave through traffic like annoying flies. When traffic is moving, the motos are downright dangerous. Some of the more powerful motos wind through traffic while driving at speed with the traffic. The less powerful motos are especially vulnerable when crossing from the fast lane to the slow lane. That frequently happened at U-turn crossings as the motos transitioned from northbound to southbound lanes. The actual U-turn places the moto directly into the fast lane. From there, it is a dangerous journey across all the other lanes.
The terror of the moto crossings is exponentially higher as the number of passengers on the motos increase. The norm is one or two riders. However, we did see a couple of families of five; the mom (always sitting side-saddle), the dad (ever the driver – although we were told women were beginning to drive motos in Lahore), and three children of various ages. I guess one does what one has to do, but I do not think I have enough courage to operate a moto in Islamabad/Rawalpindi.
As if those incidents were not frightening enough, we saw dozens of pedestrians trying to walk across the five or six lanes of traffic while the traffic was moving at speed. A couple of times, we saw men walking on the painted lane markings, facing on-coming traffic. They were no doubt looking for the next gap in traffic large enough to make it to the next lane markings. It seemed like a life-size version of the old video game, Frogger.
As if not all of that were enough, there was the impatient bus driver. He was continually honking, flashing his headlamps, and weaving back and forth, from lane to lane. Leslie and I commented that he must have come from Georgetown, Guyana. He operated like the bus drivers there.
Some of the on/off ramps for the main road had unending lines of carts, each selling what appeared to be fruits and vegetables. Illuminating each was a single lightbulb powered by a gasoline generator. We had never seen anything like that, but then again, we were not often in that part of town. Pedestrians were everywhere. Periodically, a vehicle picked its way through the crowd.
At the airport, we had to wait until about 20:30 to check-in. That short amount of time was all the more unbearable because of the temperature. Outside, the temperature was 17 degrees Centigrade, about 62 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, the temperature had to have been 27 degrees Centigrade, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrestling 85 kilos (about 170 pounds) of luggage through groups of people and security checks made me sweat. I probably lost two or three pounds, a very short-lived decrease (as one will see in my next blog entry.
Our luggage was over our weight limit by about 5 kilos (11 pounds). For whatever reason, the woman at the check-in counter did not charge us extra.
From the check-in counter, we walked to the business class lounge. It was much quieter there and, thankfully, much more refreshing. We had some refreshments and snacks while we patiently waited to board our Thai Airline plane, reminiscing on our tour in Pakistan.