Currently: November 4, 2018 thru November 28, 2020
Total Miles Traveled to date: 113, 900
Since November of 2018, when I began this record keeping, we have traveled through 41 countries. BUT, in total, I have visited 85 countries thus far, and Daryl around 63. AND we have many more country adventures ahead!
For our 41st Stop: Pakistan 🇵🇰
We flew ✈️ from Istanbul, Turkey to Lahore, Pakistan: 5,552 Miles
Pakistan 🇵🇰 ✅ To and thru: 6,347 Miles
We traveled by way of: Plane, private car, Tuk Tuk 🛺, Taxi 🚕, Bus 🚎, horse, Chair Lift, Cable Basket, and walking
List of Traveling Points: Lahore; ancient capital; Lahore Fort and walled City, Bazaar, Fakir Khana Museum, City Museum, Night Bus Tour of City. Islamabad; the New capital (last 60+ years). Abbottabad: Thandiani, Shimla Hill, Former compound of Osama Bin Laden, where US Navy Seals found him and killed him, Harnoi, Galiyat, Ayubia, and Ayubia National Park, Motto Tunnel, Khan, Murree, Chairlift, Governors House, Lalazar Wildlife Park, Alaf Laila Guesthouse and to Kallar Kahar: Police told us to go back to Islamabad till we left the country
We began traveling full time (again) from LAX, California, USA 🇺🇸
November 2, 2018. We were gone for another full-time year of travel, prior, but did not have an official travel blog, yet. Now, we have a new Travel Blog Website to post on, to prevent any further loss of our travel stories by Facebook closing our account
In addition, I have photos available for viewing, which go way far back in our world travel on my Smugmug Photo Website: http://picsbypen.smugmug.com
NOTE: I track each country visit, even if this means the same country, more than one time, because miles are miles, and we do some “piggybacking,” between rental car returns, and luggage storage/pickup. It’s just the way we do things, and in short distances, it’s affordable and doable.
Since November of 2018, here is a list of each country visit(s)
1. Vietnam 🇻🇳✅ 12,906 Miles
2. Cambodia 🇰🇭✅ 1,860 Miles
3. Vietnam 🇻🇳✅ 870 Miles
4. Malaysia, Borneo🇲🇾✅ 3,155 Miles
5. Brunei 🇧🇳 ✅ 672 Miles
6. Philippines 🇵🇭✅
7. Papua N. Guinea🇵🇬✅ 7,478 Miles
8. Philippines 🇵🇭✅ 4,112 Miles
9. Taiwan 🇹🇼✅ 1,817 Miles
10. South Korea 🇰🇷 ✅ 3,516 Miles
11. Japan 🇯🇵✅ 1,866 Miles
12. Kazakhstan 🇰🇿✅
13. Kyrgyzstan 🇰🇬✅
14. Uzbekistan 🇺🇿✅
15. Tajikistan 🇹🇯✅
16. Turkmenistan 🇹🇲✅ Five Stans; 12th thru 15th; Total Miles 6,355
For those who have, or maybe have not been following us, we had a security situation confront us during our final week of our 30-day Visa, whilst in Pakistan. We have not felt comfortable talking about what went down, till now, after we left Pakistan.This is not a story about the firefight in Kashmir, Neelum Valley we were driving into (unknowingly) during our second week, but, it may have played a part.
Do we really recommend Pakistan as a tourist destination?That is a loaded question for sure!
Honestly, even based on our final week, we are still saying, yes. The locals are so warm, friendly and very nice. The food is great, and the people of the country still wear traditional style dress, dating back at least 600 years. It feel like stepping back in time, when visiting in Pakistan. Pakistani culture is steeped in traditions, and quite fascinating to observe. Though budget accommodations do not have much in the way in the hot water department for showers, nor electricity running full time, and Pakistan is not the easiest or the most comfortable country to be in, as the infrastructure is not set up for tourism. While we were not always super comfortable, and we were not always warm enough, we did have food of some kind, and water. Over half the places we stayed, I would liken it to “camping,”but instead of a tent, we did have a room to protect us from the elements. So, when we were in Abbottabad at the lovely Alaf Laila House, we enjoyed the comforts very much. They had a generator for the when the power went off, and the showers were mostly warm. I also can not say enough about the care the local Pakistanis showed us. Many times we would be told by strangers how glad they were we came to visit them, and wishing us a very good stay in Pakistan; always willing to help, and happy to help us in any way. It was heartwarming and Very genuine.I learned a long time ago, spending so much time in underdeveloped countries; those who have the least amount to give, are the ones who are first in line to do so.
To have the “rug pulled out from under us” like we did, by the Pakistani police; caught us compeltely off guard. That being said, it would have been much worse, if the security issue began when we first arrived to enjoy our 30-day Visa. Since it all went down during our final week in Pakistan, we truly felt grateful we had already enjoyed much of what Pakistan had to offer. As full time world travelers, it was hard to have our plans come to screeching halt, but had we only been on vacation for a few weeks, it would have felt even more disappointing. We had gone to much effort and expense to get our Visa, the work involved to get a sponsor for us, and not to mention the willingness of our Pakistani sponsor to stick his neck out on our behalf was a lot. (Thank you so much, Ejaz).
The good news here, is, we did have three weeks in Pakistan of freedom, without harassment, before the authorities ended our travels. Pakistan no longer have their ancient architectural relics and other ancient ruins of historic sites, since they were destroyed during a massive Earthquake some years back. But, for us, the experience of seeing the country, for its natural beauty and to experience the Pakistani hospitality, will always be something we will remember and treasure. We would not have wanted to miss out on our Pakistan visit. Take note: We were very close to the Iran and Afghanistan borders, while in Pakistan, but we did not cross, because it was clearly not safe for foreign travelers. We are very careful about each country visit, and always do our research.
Why did the authories end our travels? It is still not clear. BUT, we have a few theories. The urgency for which all this went down, when it went down, was truly alarming, not to mention the police saying one minute we had approval to be in Kallar Kahar, with armed guards, and the next, changing their minds after we drove down there (four hours from Abbottabad and a 10,000 rupee ($65) cost for the driver); saying we could no longerstay!
I was never afraid, but I was plenty annoyed over the whole experience, and truly disappointed in the Pakistani authorities making these wild calls, without speaking to us in person, or at least over the phone. In 2nd an 3rd world countries, where police corruption runs rampant, locals do not like to draw attention to themselves, and try very hard to live their whole lives under their radar. Who can blame them? It put our friend in a very uncomfortable situation, and for this we feel terrible.
Our situation certainly doesn’t bode well for promoting tourism in Pakistan, either.
Daryl and I both agreed not to discuss what transpired in our last week of our 30-day Visa, while still in Pakistan. We were very uncomfortable, being watched like we were. As well-traveled humans out and about in the far reaches of the globe, we have honestly never been up against such a thing, before.When we travel to Papua New Guinea, we knew upfront we would have armed guards, and would never be alone for the duration of our trip. It was for very good reason, and we readily agreed to the arrangements, because overall PNG is a very lawless place, and 25 percent of the locals tribes still practice cannibalism.We went on this month-long stay, and while there were only a few fights we saw break out between tribes, we were always safe and protected. We loved staying overnight in six different tribal villages while touring throughout the Sepik River, and we felt very welcomed, Before the canoe expedition in the far reaches of the Sepik River region, we stayed in our hotel while transiting from Port Moresby, to Wewak. We had armed guards in the van, for transport back and forth to the airports; the difference here, was, we expected this. We knew ahead of time about the security issues and why there were security issues.
In Pakistan, after arrival, we were never told of any place being unsafe, where we could be in peril, nor that we would not be allowed to roam and explore freely, at any time during our stay.
The trouble began after we made arrangements to travel from Abbottabad to Kallar Kahar. We had met locals from near there, when we all happened to be staying at Alaf Laila House at the same time. The new acquaintances who had come up to stay in Abbottabad, were from the southern region of Kallar Kahar in the nearby Chakwal village. (Husband, wife and cousins). Wemade plans to spend about three days of activity; including bull racing, and visiting the second largest salt mine in the world. Most importantly, we looked forward to have been invited into the locals home for lunch and tea, in between touring. We had also been invited to stay overnight at the locals home for our last night, before returning to Islamabad to prepare for our flight out of Pakistan. Aside from the socialising time we would have had with our new friends, we were also intrigued and super excited about the “Bull Racing.” Neither one of us had heard of such a thing. As an added bonus, after the races were done, (and the bulls were tired) Daryl and I were going to get to try our hand as racing the bulls! Imagine, if you will, waterskiing. The bull is the power and a basket behind the bull is like the ski. On land, the bull pulls the human behind him, as the person is standing in the basket. It’s an age-old custom in this area of Pakistan.
ASAD: “I talked with driver and told him about 3 days touring. He will charge 18,000 rupees for 3 days of 24, 25, 26; including drop you at the hotel at Islamabad. Please discuss with each other and let me know about arrangement and if you approve of cost.”
ME: “Yes, of course we approve!”
The week of November 23rd had arrived, so it was time to leave Abbottabad, and travel down to Kallar Kahar. We had been relaxing and waiting out our time in Abbottabad; counting the days! We made the transfer by hired car and driver for 10,000 rupees. We stayed at one of only two or three guest houses/hotels available in the area. It is very remote, and a very small town. The bull races were happening on the 24th in Chalkwal; about 30 minutes away. We were so excited!
BUT, out of the blue, with no warning, we were contacted on the 23rd by our friend, saying the police had contacted the hotel in Kallar Kahar where we were staying, and the hotel contacted him. They were asking why two Americans were in town, and what was our business there. Our friend explained to the police what all we were going to do, as a group. Our friend was requested to write out anitinerary of our activities for the police to approve. Our friend did just that and shared the following with the authorities:
Plan for 3 days- 24-11-2020
Morning visit Kallar Kahar and back to Chakwal around 12 o’clock.
Take lunch at our place and then move towards Bull race.
Again come back to Chakwal and take tea at our place.Then drop you back to the hotel in the evening, you will take dinner in the hotel.
Note: lunch and tea party is from our side.
We will go to visit KATAS RAJ and CHOA, and then move toward Kheowa Mine. A complete day will be spent during visits of these 3 places, in this tour my wife and two cousins (same met you at hotel) will join you.
Evening time, drop you back at hotel.
We will go to visit CHOA SAIDEN SHAH till 3 o’clock, then come to Chakwal and we will take lunch from my side, and then you will go to Islamabad.
This is complete plan for 3 days.
Note: the 25 and 26 date places maybe change on the 2nd or last day, depending on time. But we will cover all these places during 3 days.
It was good news the police approved our itinerary. But soon after, the police contacted our friend again, and did a one eighty and stated they did not approve of the itinerary. They insisted that we would not be allowed to spend time in our friends home. So, the adjustment was made and our friend resent a new itinerary. After that approval, our friend was also told we would be provided with police protection while touring, and he had now become our new sponsor and was responsible for us. We told our friends what he was doing, by going out of his way so much, to make our time very special was appreciated, we thought it was way too much, and said we could just forego the plans as a group, because his family would have much more fun without us tagging along. He disagreed and assured us, it would be very fun for his family to have us join them, and as their guests in their country, it would be an honor.
With a little apprehension, we agreed to the latest arrangements of the terms of police escorts, to enjoy the next three days. The apprehension was not from fear. It just felt a awkward on our part, because we could not get the answers we wanted to get. What were the concerns? Why the concerns? Did somebody threaten us? Protection against what? But, nobody would say anything other than “it’s for your own safety.”
I assure you, we have never felt unsafe for a half a second, while in Pakistan. Locals are very warm and friendly. They are also curious and want to know where we come from, just like many other locals in every country we have ever visited. They start conversations, and laugh and enjoy visiting, even through the language barrier. Daryl has a gift of chat, and is very social. He has a way about him that puts everybody at ease. We have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in Pakistan.
Previous to our time and situation in Kallar Kahar, we did learn, while in Abbottabad, the guesthouse manager had to go to the police station with our passport copies and allow the police to view them and stamp them. So this was happening with every hotel we stayed at.
On top of that, when we went north to visit Kashmir, we had been given permission by the police at the final checkpoint, to enter Néelum Valley, which would take us near to the India/Pakistan’s border. Daryl was interviews by the authorities and copies of our passports were take, at the checkpoint.
As it would turn out, not long after leaving the checkpoint, a firefight broke out at the border, just ahead of where we were, as we drove along the Neelum River. There was shelling, and fire-fighting between the border security, and much destruction against the Pakistani people. In the end, nine civilians were killed, including children, women, and a local doctors. Unbeknownst to us, as well as our driver, we proceeded after the checkpoint.l with permission. If not for a person from the checkpoint, who raced his motorcycle to catch us (about 45 minutes later). We would have continued on and obviously would have driven into imminent danger. We saw fires burning, and did wonder what that was all about, before a guy from the checkpoint, on the motorbike, caught up with us. We were advised to turn around to avoid being hurt or killed, and the guy on the bike would escort us back to safety. We were also told, by the guy on the bike, we could return in about three days, to continue our touring of the valley, as things would settled down.
Obviously we did turn around. We remained in Kashmir, in a town called Muzzafarabad, for three nights, waiting it out. In the end, no drivers would take us to Neelum Valley. (We were not allowed to rent a car and self-drive in Pakistan, though we tried).
Feeling defeated, and no longer wanting to stay in Muzzafarabad, because there was no electricity most of the time, and cold water showers, with freezing conditions outdoors, we packed up and went back to Abbottabad, to figure out what else we would do, in our final week in Pakistan. This is when the plan for the bull racing came together. It was perfect timing.
Also, previous to our visit in Kellar Kahar, on our first visit to Abbottabad, we found a driver to take us the the actual compound property where Osama Bin Laden was hiding out and ultimately was killed by Seal Team six; US forces, many years ago. After the siege, the compound housing had been torn down and the downed chopper had been burned. all that was left were the concrete slabs of the outbuildings. Also gone was the very tall fencing, that surrounded the compound and obstructed the view to the compound. Did this send up a red flag for Pakistani police and military? How long had the police been tracking our every move? We think so. Abbottabad is a military hub, so there were large groups of men in uniform all over, all the time.
….Back to our stay in Kallar Kahar:
In the late afternoons of the 23rd, I get a message from our friend:
Asad:“I am sorry, but you guys need to move to Islamabad. You can’t stay in this area. Senior police officer called me. So, you guys pack your luggage, and I will come for you and drop you in Islamabad. I hope you will understand the security matters.”
ME: “What security matters?”
ASAD: “Yes, but I don’t know, they said your stay must now be in the capital of Islamabad. There is no police protection available for you at this time. Please pack up your luggage and I’ll send a car. The driver will drop you at Islamabad hotel.Around 5 o’clock, ok? The car I rented will be 6000 rupees.
ME: “What threat? From whom?”
ASAD: “Due to security threat”
ME: “Against us?”
ASAD: “So, you book a hotel at Islamabad, I’ll arrange a car for you, he will pick you from hotel at 4 o’clock.Thank you for your understanding. Please tell me the name of hotel, which you will book at Islamabad”
ME: “I’m trying to find one. I will tell you, as soon as possible.”
ASAD: “I rented a small car in 6000 rupees, I will drive you there. I am on the way to pick you up. I now must go with you, because i need your checkin slip from Islamabad hotel to show proof at police station that i have dropped you there, safely, and a record of where you both are at. We must leave hotel as soon as possible. Please hurry!”
The hotel still held our passports and also needed to reimburse us for the nights we pre-paid to stay, while in Kallar Kahar. The car was too small, and at first, it would appear our luggage may not all fit. There was mention of leaving some of our luggage behind. I adamantly said no to that! While it was not the fault of the hotel we were leaving, it was not by our choice, either. The battle ensued to get a full refund, minus the one night we did stay, but the manager was at the police station so we had to wait in the receptions room, for the manager to return and pay us our 12,000 rupee refund, plus return our passports.The manager returned from the police station, but was on the phone with the authorities the whole time. Finally, he did approve our refund, reluctantly. With more pushing, we got our passports back, too.That part was really tense.
We had packed up as quick as we could, now trying to loading the small car, with all our belongings. I barely had a spot to sit for the long drive to Islamabad. As we left the hotel compound, sure enough there police standing by. We drove in the pouring rain all the way to Islamabad; at least three hours in a storm. The darkness and rain matched my mood. Daryl was very uneasy with all that had gone down. He was very quiet. This came from him being protective of me, and wanting nothing bad to happen to me. The unknowns were hard. Both our minds were reeling with many thoughts. I arranged for us to stay at a hotel, not far from the US Embassy in Islamabad. As a precaution, I had also put a call into the US Embassy, before we left Kallar Kahar and spoke to somebody, live, to alert them of our situation. I forwarded, by email, our passport copies and Pakistan Visas to them, along with our contact information, and where we were staying in Islamabad.
On the long drive to Islamabad, our friend, Asad heard from the driver who was suppose to do the driving for our tour over those three days. He wanted his money and did not appreciate being cancelled on. Again, it was not us canceling. Back and forth on this issue as well. We finally agreed on an amount to pay him (5000 rupees~over $30) for the cancellation fee, and the only reason we paid, is because our friend would have had to pay him for the forfeit, as he was a regular driver for his family, and that relationship would have been damaged. The cancelled tour was not Asads’ fault either, but we did not want him to be left holding the bag.
Our friend drove us at the hotel and came to our room to visit for a bit of a rest. We gave him our receipt of payment at the hotel, then he left to provide the proof to the police station, before driving all the way back to his home in the rental car we paid for (6000 rupees) for the round trip. It was dark and still storming out. Asad made it back safely.
After we get settled, and it was late, neither one of could slept; though tired. Daryl and I visited with each other till quite late. We huddled together and counted our many blessings through this ordeal. We talked about all that had just happened. Sleep continued to evaded us, after such an alarming evening. We were sad to have missed out on the time we planned, with wonderful people. Our visit to Pakistan was interrupted and it was now done. We were not allowed to be out, but only during some daylight hours. With winter up on us, daylight is a very short window. The impending rule against us did allow us to get out and get our PCR testing done; about a ten minute Uber ride from our hotel. Im a big believer that “boredom” is a choice, but we had a very LONG rest of the week after that. We were not comfortable going out do anything, nor were we particularly motivated. We felt deflated and bothered by the events that led up to our being sent to Islamabad. (Islamabad does not offer much to see or do). Anyplace other than Islamabad, would have been better, if we had to be sequestered. We read, watched Netflix, and slept. Boredom did creep in on us. When its over, its over. All we could think about was leaving Pakistan!
Had we not already purchased our planefare to leave Pakistan on the 28th, we would have left sooner, but change fees are not free. We were over our visit in Pakistan, and did not have a comfortable end. I can only reiterate, we never felt like we were in danger. But, we also never saw another foreign tourist in the whole month of our Pakistan touring.
Was it the problem we encountered at the Kashmir border with India that spooked the authorities? Perhaps. But NOBODY could have predicted a firefight would erupt at the border. It had been 13 years of relative calm between the two countries, before this fight ensued. We felt like Pakistan did not want to be responsible for anything happening to two American citizens, while visiting Pakistan. If this situation would have happened to any other foreign visitors, would the same have taken place? We just really would have much preferred the authorities talking directly to us, as guests in their country. It would have been a more professional way of handling this kind of situation. It would, hopefully, have afforded us a chance to ask a few questions, and get answers. All the cloak and dagger behavior was unnerving.
We left Pakistan in the wee hours of 1:30AM on November 28th. We spent 22 hours on planes and in airports, before arriving in our final destination of Armenia. We were able to call our families back home to ensure them we were safe and sound, and all was well; much to their relief! Pakistan was not a popular country choice in my parents opinion, and they were very happy we were out of Pakistan.
We are very glad to be moving on, and feeling comfortable and looking forward to more adventure; touring adventures that is!
We are currently counting down the hours till we get to fly, in the wee hours of a 1:30AM outbound flight! We will not arrive at our final destination of Armenia, till two planes, two layovers, two more country stops and 22 hours later.
In the meantime,it’s interesting to note, as we had to deal with, yet, another required PCR test, before departing Pakistan, we feel like groundbreaking pioneers in the new COVID19 Travel Rules. Not only that, but slowly, it would appears there is more of a global regulation and streamlining going on.This is good for a smoother process, but do we ever, really want to get good at dealing with pandemics? ….meaning….we don’t need anymore pandemics!
In this latest case of PCR testing we did, just yesterday in Islamabad, we tried to avoid the expense, because we will never leave the airports we fly into. (in Dubai and Russia). I called Pakistan International Airlines (first plane) to inquire about the necessity of testing, since Dubai was not our final destination, and we were only transiting to another airline to continue on our journey. In this case, Dubai is the country that is requiring the negative PCR test result, not the country of our final destination of Armenia. PIA told me to contact the Dubai Embassy to find out. When I called the Dubai Embassy, I was told to contact PIA. Anyway, I was getting nowhere real fast, so we got the test we were told to get, so we could depart Pakistan. $70 we will never see again. We arrive in Dubai as transit passengers, and do not leave the airport.
Though there is room for further improvements in streaming the health regulation processes, there is good news, as we have experienced some improvements for a better way of doing things; requirements for traveling during a pandemic.From the time we left; or I should say tried to leave Santorini Island in Greece, following three months of lockdown, back in June, it was stressful and confusing on so many levels. Because at that time, the Port Police and the City Police did not agree on on how we got to move forward to leave Santorini, during a pandemic. As a result, we were really stuck! This would include being denied to purchase ferry tickets without the port authority’s permission, and the port authorities wanting to see “papers,” and yet we had the island city police telling us to leave, go home, get out, NOW! Yes, the police, while in their station on the island, were yelling at us. They would not let us buy a ferry ticket, unless it was to go back to Athens, and directly to the airport to fly home. They wanted to see a flight itinerary of us going home, and only then would they let us buy our ferry tickets. (btw, ferries had only just resumed operating, after lockdown) Going back home was not our radar, and we have continued to travel to nine more countries, since leaving Greece. (Wow, we loved Greece and will treasure our memories during the three months we got to stay)! Anyway, going back to the states had not been on our radar for a long time. I held my ground then, and we continue to do so. I’ve involved our US Embassies in a couple of cases, and this first time was while on Santorini Island; to our embassy in Athens via phone. I was told we did NOT have to return to the states. This was our choice where we went after leaving Greece. After speakingon our behalf with authorities, it was never clear to the consulate what “papers” they insisted on seeing, either.
We have seen a movement towards a more regulated COVID19 testing, for the comings and goings for those of us who continue to travel. THANK GOODNESS!
In the beginning, since June, finding a place to get the required Covid19 test has not been smooth; it was so bad the first time, we walked right into a COVID19 ward, by accident, while in Kosovo. When we found the PCR testing area on the hospital grounds, we had to wait an hour in a room with sick people, who were also getting tested, while men in full white suites with breathing masks attended to everybody. For us, it wasn’t as unnerving, since we have already gotten the virus, six months before, but for others, this was not very streamlined or safe, as far as prevention; while getting tested, as per requirement to move to another country.To be more specific, back then, it was not normal to request a PCR test, UNLESS one felt symptomatic. We kept saying, “we are not sick, we have no symptoms, we are fine.” Only to be asked, “What are you doing here, then?”
Since that first test, we have been been tested four times, strictly for the purpose of travel; a continuing requirement for entering a new country (some, but not all countries require testing) Anywho….What has changed over the months, is a more more efficient and streamlined process.
Now, it’s much easier to find a testing site in a capital city, and now, in some countries, mobile testing has been introduced. We had a medical van come to our hotel in Turkey to test us. It was super smooth, but ended up being more expensive than what we were told. But, it was easy.
Another improvement is the results of said testing are delivered via email, saving us the additional time and expense with taxis and exposure in clinics, returning to the clinic to pick up results.Now, with emailed results, we have had no problem getting the hotel or guesthouse reception to print our our results for us, which is a document that will be expected to be shown at ticketing, at the airport.
Onboard, now, are the Airlines, too (no pun intended, but….), since the negative PCR test needs to be presented at checkin, before receiving our boarding tickets, we are asked first thing at the clinics, upfront, who we will be flying with; including flight itinerary proof from the airline, being shown at clinic.This indicates to me, the clinic has a link from various airlines at their airport, to send the results. HIPPA is not a thing?
It would appear, the medical clinics and hospitals are now expecting us to show up, versus, us showing up and the staff wondering why we are there. (Language issues and all)
Progress for the hardy travelers!
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