I’m gonna make this short…because we are exhausted. A 14-hour drive, a rural border crossing with a couple of minor hitches, and 30 minutes in the Tunnel of Death (seriously, Google it). Not bad for a “day off.”
We started at 6am and headed north toward Osh. The big sky and sloping dry plains of the Dushanbe valley erupted into the Fann mountain range through which we swerved, climbed, and bounced our way up to Rhujand province on the border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The rough ascent crescendoed in the storied “Tunnel of Death.” The Anzob tunnel was a friendship project partially built by the people of Iran to help improve trade through the region. This way has reduced travel time through the region but in a way not too dissimilar from a trip through the Mines of Moria or Dante’s descent. The haze was nearly impenetrable and vast construction detritus materialized only a few meters in front of the truck. We splashed through potholes filled with seeping water and dodged rebar like tiger traps shooting up from the roadbed. For 5 kilometers, a little more than 25 minutes, we laughed that “hey this is kinda funny but actually terrifying,” laugh off and on and, just as the fumes were threatening headaches to everyone, we made our escape…to a landscape changed dramatically from rocky mountains into moon-like desert.
After lunch, we headed to the border and here we hoped to avoid any more excitement. There was a tense moment when one of us was pulled from the line for some missing registration papers but after a few minutes with our escort (we suspect he’s ex-secret service or something the way this guy handles situations) we paid a small fine and were allowed to cross over.
On the Kyrgyz side of the border, our local NGO partners were there waiting with a car. What followed was a mellow 4.5 hour drive through the southern oblast of Kyrgyzstan with it’s beautiful pastoral landscape and it’s pleasant towns. Just as the sun was getting ready to set, we pulled off the road. Sarah, spotting a young man leading a donkey, wasted no time negotiating a sitting fee for the donkey and we had to have a group picture. As we finally pulled into Osh, road weary but awed by the landscape, our excitement for this next workshop began to rise and we were looking forward to getting started….after we slept, of course.