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January 26, 2003

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We're always prudent travelers; that's why we decided to fly from Herat to Kabul. A 'ring road' connects all of the major quadrants of Afghanistan; a 'beltway' around the country. However, some parts of this road suffer from banditry, guerilla warfare, and landmines. Our Army friends told us that no lawful authority controls central Afghanistan; overland travel is too dangerous. That's enough to make us take our chances with Arianna Airlines, Afghanistan's National Carrier. Unfortunately, pilgrims have commandeered the four planes of Arianna's fleet. These pilgrims will use the planes for Haj - the journey to Mecc so all flights go to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The last Minister of Transportation tried to use a plane for another purpose and the pilgrims boarded the plane and beat him to death. Therefore, during Haj, no one tries to use an Afghan plane for any other purpose than carrying pilgrims. Since the Haj won't end until Feb 5th we must hope that an empty plane returning from Saudi Arabia will stop in Herat on its way to Kabul. The UN also runs flights to Kabul but not for civilians. Maybe we can hitch a ride with businessmen who make flights in private airplanes.
Getting to the airport is an adventure itself; it lies outside Herat city. Arianna Airways told us to be at the airport by 6:00 AM, before sunrise. We found a taxi driver in a dark alleyway. He didn't understand English and didn't seem good at charades. He drove us out of town to a dark field surrounded by a barbed wire fence and a closed gate. Thinking we had been duped, we began to argue with him but he was right, this was the airport, closed until 7:00 AM.
Baggage check-in means leaving your bag in a flatbed truck. When daylight hit the airfield we saw a pile of wrecked airplanes. Too late to ask for Arianna's safety record.
Walk to the airfield, wait all morning for a plane, turn around when it doesn't show up.