Grateful for my home of family and friends

Returning home after a year and a half of travelling and working had been one of the strangest feelings I have had. Upon arrival, my father had been at the airport along with my younger brother whom had shot up into the sky over the past time. In a few minutes we caught up before striding the usual path towards the parking lot. Then, after a dull ride and the usual stop at the restaurant along the way, I saw my house again, standing with few minor changes at the same spot it stood when I had left. The Belgian Shepherds had whined and cried upon seeing me and I shed a near tear when over time their fur had changed significantly and for a split second I barely recognised them. Soon, I gallantly flung my backpack onto my shoulder and marched upstairs on the spiralling stairs to my room. A room barely touched, apart from the swept dust and vacuumed carpet. I had felt odd. Even to this day, I find it hard to believe to have been separated from my family and friends for a period so long at that age. Though the years of travelling have gotten me acquainted with, heartbreaking as it is, saying farewell to many newly-made friends with expectations of never seeing them, it is a different story and feeling when those friends – and family – are the ones from your country of birth. The country you had your childhood in. Despite my school years not always having been the greatest for me, though I have no clue why I had struggled, I was accompanied by a bunch of great friends and in the weeks to come I was to see and meet them and it felt strange.

Strange, because I was unsure about how thick and close these friendship truly were. Eighteen months is a long time and for some moments I had felt further away from them than I wished to feel. Of all of them. I had travelled and worked and along with it bonded through which I created and shaped friendships I never imagined would continue to be. Brothers and sisters in Malaysia, both locals and other travellers, with whom many drinks and tales have been shared, a new family in the Philippines and Aussie workmates turning into everlasting buddies had entered my life and it frightened me a bit to have them at such a distance and that perhaps my riveting ventures had caused a distance between me and my old friends.

There is no shame in it and I wouldn’t have blamed anyone as I had vanished from everyone’s life for what seemed forever. However, despite my disappearance, friends I hadn’t even realised to still have re-entered themselves into my life through a psychedelic experience, my ever loyal friends made time for me and we caught up on stuff in the time we had and I went by train to other towns to view apartments and slurp the end of a cold bottle. A previous co-traveller showed up in town and the same foolery had been present.

It made me grateful of having expanded my group of friends to a broad international one without losing a single compatriot, despite being away for seeming ceaseless periods. It makes me proud to say I have a great set of friends and that is something to cherish in a treacherous world of distrust and wrong-doers. It made me, besides the happiness I got from seeing my family and relatives over the days of the first week, feel glad to be back home and though I got many questions asking if it was hard to return to a travel-less way of life, it felt right.

And I am grateful of you, for still reading these swiftly jotted down tales and thoughts. Up next, I will take you into the world of psychedelics as I go through my own experience.

Dubai Airport

The Pakistanis did not leave their habits at home as they took off from the Islamabad airport. I noticed this when upon landing in Dubai, the insides of the air-plane at seemed as if someone had run by with a torn garbage bag. Despite the effortless attempts of the stewards and stewardesses to collect everyone’s empty bottles, plastics and other junk, the passengers had hoarded it, to at final minutes litter the entire place. Baffled by the disrespect and lacking of courtesy, I stepped over the left-behind mess and made my way to the exit. Initially, I was supposed to have a few hours on hand, however a sudden change with my airline had left me with half a day in this capital of emirates. Unlike in Oman, I had no intention of heading for the city and attempted to make the airport my temporary home the way Tom Hanks did in the Terminal. For that reason, I took my time and calmly sauntered through the gateway leading me away from the plane.

The last bit of traveller’s spirit had dripped out during my stay in Pakistan and I had been yearning for my home. To make these long-some hours pass by more rapidly, I had entered the well-known Hard-Rock cafe to only be reminded by my second home. A young Filipina welcomed me into a stool and with a broad smile stood before me awaiting the order. As I asked for a beer from the tap, she raised her eyebrow and with an apologetic tone she asked for my passport. A melancholic-doused smile appeared on my face as I slid a hand into my backpack searching for the passport. The hint of her accent had made me beam, however it reminded me I was far from seeing my love again. As she confirmed my age, explaining that here the age is 21 and above, my eyes wandered around and I noticed many a Filipina and Filipino galloping around the bar either scribbling down orders on their notepads of people coming for a meal accompanied with music or carrying trays bearing tiny glasses with inside a translucent liquid most likely to numb the senses and crush the filter of words.

Lily poured me one of the finest crafts, as she answered the question on my mind; “The Filipinos basically run this airport.” I could find a trace of pride when she talked about all her fellow compatriots that went through the same effort to work alongside her on this side of the security. She sighed with a smile as she placed the beer on the coaster. As soon as she did, the tiny droplets on the outside of the tower of a glass descended down and wetted the coaster. With Pakistan’s beer coming in a can and tap beer being scarce in the Philippines, it had been some months since I had a beer so mouthwatering. Taking in my first delicious sip of the golden drink that came in perfect to speed up time, my thumb and index finger folded open the receipt which I studied intensely. Unexpectedly, I had a hefty amount of rupees left from my trip and that what I could, I had exchanged moments before entering the bar. With my wallet full of dirham, I was unaware of its worth. Possibly the distraction of the Filipina and her reminding accent or the bewitching keg of draught beer had me forget the number one rule of travelling; to always check the currency.

As I choked on my lavish beverage upon seeing its costs in my own currency, the bartender had returned and asked me if I had ever been to the Philippines, now that I knew her nationality. This question had been a gateway of topics that had us conversing for the majority of my beer. A beer I nurtured due to its price. Apparently, she and I had a lot in common as we both lived in the torment of a long-distance relationship and the same issues as well as thoughts on how to cope with those. As we talked the time away, a black man had watched us with his perfect, white as snow teeth shining from the dimmed booth he shared with Lily. He wore the same uniform and stood alongside her, though rising far above her, thus I assumed he worked there as well. However he was obviously not one of her compatriots, which rose my curiosity. Seeming eager to jump into the conversation, he grabbed his opportunity when she had to trot off to continue work. During this, I had shamelessly ordered a second posh beer, waving away my guilt by stating it is my last travel money anyhow. Picking up where she had left, the man engaged me with tons of questions before proudly, and warranted to do so, explaining how he, a man from Nigeria wound up serving drinks and meals at an airport in Dubai.

But nearing the end of his tale, he got interrupted by a cheerful blast resonating from a speaker somewhere near. He sighed and chuckled as his eyes averted to the ground. “It’s time”, he said in a voice of subtlety leaving me with a mind of questions. With long strides he marched towards the entrance where there stood a small podium. Taller than all his coworkers, he joined them by stepping onto the stage when a familiar sung began to play. Seconds later, I emitted a quiet cackle as I watched them all dance the YMCA. Where the Pakistanis took their habit of littering into the airplane, the Filipinos carried there culture of singing into this filipino-controlled hard-rock cafe and it was an astonishing phenomenon to witness. Upon the finishing of the song, I had a laugh with the two before parting to lounge on one of the comfy laid-back chairs I had spotted some hours before.

I began to feel light-headed, in the dreamy way, as the two tall beers had sufficed to take me on my empty stomach to a state of tipsiness and dreaminess which had made drowsing off relatively easy. Despite a half-day being immensely long and usually seeming to drag on when that time is spent waiting, my Pakistan-Netherlands journey had been one of ease and comfort if you take into mind that I had been gone for 18 months. 18 months and no member of the family, no animal nor human had fallen ill or gotten injured, no grave events had occurred and I was a day away from seeing them and holding the two Belgian Shepherds I cherish so deeply. Going on trips to see my close relatives before heading to the shop for my oh-so longed for unhealthy cravings. To actually ride my rinky-dink bike again that by now, as I write this belated post has been replaced for a superior one. Perhaps most importantly, to be sleeping in my own bed again. With that thought, I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

A kid in a snowball fight

A minivan stood outside, parked in front of the house with the gate still closed. Loud chatters and cheering coming from a floor up filled the house alongside the stomping and fast steps of tiny feet. Cousins and nephews and nieces had come from afar to spend these merry weeks here and the result was serenity coming in scarce. Shy smiles hid behind parent’s their legs and some more brave had tried their English while others brought me tea. But today, on this early morning, everyone was up and at it, as the mentioned van would soon be filled to the brim with children, some mothers and, of course, me. Wrapped in layers, thick scarves and warm gloves on their hands, the bunch wobbled in enthusiasm to the gate like a family of penguins. Waqas, knowing the kid’s tendency to regurgitate during the excruciating long haul, had snug his blanket extra tight and faked his deep sleep while I was getting shoved into the dark corner of the van to avoid constant passport control. Though aware of the chundering children, with the promise of seeing the white we no longer get in the Netherlands, bless global warming, and that on this special day that is my birthday, I had mentally prepared myself for flying chunks and stepped inside.

Getting used to spending hours on end inside these cages, as Pakistan is a vast land, had proven one of the hardest tasks. Swinging from the left to right on the unending meandering roads with as music the sounds of multiple throats spewing and spitting acidic saliva or parts of breakfast made me regretful. “Danny, how are you?” was the phrase echoing the inside for the dozenth time as the kid with his knowledge of English consisting of a total of three words had demanded once again for my attention. Yet, when I returned the question he’d come up blank to only repeat the question. Later on, he’d simply steal my answer, but for now he rotated only between this question and an unintelligible shout. An absolute adorable kid however. Exhausted before arrival, I sat with my stomach twisting praying for the fresh air and with it an escape of the sounds and smells.

Then, some hours in, snow had been spotted and with that, we were close. Halfway up a mountain we parked the car and went for a slippery walk, with a chain of children holding hands. We kept counting heads with every turn and step to keep an eye on all the kids as they had begun wandering left and right when the first snowball had been airborne. It flew high and landed straight on the back of the sister-in-law of Waqas. War had commenced. I leapt forward, sliding into one of the trenches next to a small stairway leading to a building as I got half of the children on my side and preparing me an artillery of snowballs and, cruel as they can be, a handful of ice-balls. The latter, I had sneakily chucked away before turning the sky into a blanket of white as I flung hundreds of balls towards the enemy. Unsure of where they were landing, I had launched my ammo on the hoodie of the youngest of the bunch, followed by a mouthful to one of the mothers and a maid with white trails covering her jacket. Soon, I had imitated Italy and switched sides as I attacked the ones providing me with snow. Soon, the platoon of minions flanked me and covered me in snow until I finally waved the white flag of surrender.

Exhausted at the end, we retreated down to a cafe for lunch to metaphorically smoke the Indian peace pipe. I was out of breath, but it had been an exciting feeling to relive the moment of grasping the cold snowball, gradually leaving tingling sensations in your fingers eventually leading to the numbing, before you douse your temporary enemy in the precious snow. Then you’d return inside, leaving the cutting, icy outside as you warm your frozen hands on a hot cup of tea with a fire blazing. Today had felt like such and along with the tea had come a surprise as a cake with lit candles came brought out. Together, me and the other celebrant blew out the candles and made our wish. Though, to have been able to play like a kid in the snow as the age grows taller, had been a wish come true.

This concludes my posts on Pakistan and with it, I wish to deeply thank all who have been involved in my trip. Waqas, who shared his room during my stay, drove his car hundreds of kilometres to show me place after place, endured the North with me to admire the massive mountains and faced the secret police when a suited man became nagging regarding the strange foreigner. And his family who welcomed me inside, made me feel at home with small to big efforts and with whom I have had many conversations. This includes close family and further relatives. Thank you all and you are welcome in the Netherlands.

The bitter-sweet Pie of Pakistan

In attempt of transparency, I tend to write in honesty and it would be unjust to gloss over the issues that certain places face. Though I have far from written all negative that occurred during my travels over the world, leaving a country such as Pakistan, I cannot write a threesome of appraisal blogs without a pinch of cold-hard truth. More than once, I have been shown a paper that crowns Pakistan the number one destination for travellers. Puzzled, I wonder who wrote this, however I admit this massive country beholds many wonders for those of wandering nature. Incredible mountain ranges in the North, a stunning coastal line along the sea in the South and between the two are a whole bunch more to discover and with it tons of welcoming people. With lots to do and see, delicious foods and copious cups of chai tea to indulge in and getting seen as a fellow Pakistani due to its diversity in colour, there can be a lot of quality time spent travelling here.

As introductory to Pakistan, we had commenced with a meal and drink in Lahore. With a chai tea still steaming in one hand, I admired the views around and began to vision what lays further. As I sat there, seeming to wait an eternity to gorge on one of Pakistan’s many extraordinarily delicious meals, a tingle of excitement of the beauties to come brewed in my lower abdominal. Though I hadn’t been completely dreamy, having crashed upon multiple burning heaps of garbage in South-Africa, the same country where naive me had begun getting his feet wet with trusting people which resulted into the “neighbourhood-watch” Expendables acquainting the head of my phone’s thief with the pavement. Over the years, I met copious ill-minded people and witnessed horrors of countries and cultures that had me frustrated with the lack of respect and decency. So no, my head wasn’t in the clouds. Though, despite the traffic in Lahore which was frightening to say the least, for a city of eleven million, I would say that as far as my nose had gone, Pakistan had given me a warm welcome.

During the drive to my friend’s house, I learned the way of fining as my friend had slightly sped over the limit. Apparently, your reckless driving gets waved off with a minor, and I mean minor ticket which you pay and then gets shred the following day rather than put into the system. With a fee insignificant and little consequences, many behold the limit signs as advisory and drive away. Though this incident and majority of them can be waved away by calling it that what makes this country wild and exciting, opposed to the boring ‘nanny-state’ Victoria in Australia, taking Islamabad as example is proof changes are required. When accidents leading to injuries and at times even death happen on the daily, there is a large problem. When touring the capital, passing by a vehicle torn apart by an oncoming vehicle or watching a young man get back up with jeans torn and his scratched up bike some meters away had been far from rare occurrences. A danger to people with the way they drive and to imagine these are the same people cruising over the mountainous roads or zigzagging left to right on a crowded six-lane road without glancing behind them.

However, what had really gotten me interchangeably bitter and somber was the dilemma of waste. A nation filled with people exclaiming their love for their fatherland and praising it heavens-high had been the same group to have taken littering to a complete new level. Turning this massive chunk of land into a wasteland of garbage, muck and junk, they have managed to leave me in shock and surprise. Having witnessed parades in South-East Asia leaving the streets full, passed by pigsties created by humans lacking decency and having admired garbage piles in the South of Africa, I had now stepped onto the ground of professional litterbugs.

I meandered the streets in dismal as along the paths I walked on was a haven of mishmash. A river of plastic, cups, decaying food, fast-food bags and boxes, complete bags of rubbish from the homes and the list goes on. Piles after piles. Every step I took, I passed by filth and trash. There was no escaping it. Not in the villages, where fields or small creeks were dedicated as bin, not in the mountains where it gets thrown into the ravine, not even in the inner city where alleys and streets are full. There was no break. With that, I for so far of the countries travelled to, wish to crown Pakistan the country of garbage.

To top of, as cherry on the pie of junk, Pakistan is faced with a fair amount of corruption, though I hadn’t sensed it in any extreme form. One could say there is still a present homophobia and a slight inequality between men and women, however, if so, I’d say it’s more of mind than tangible. People seem to be more open-minded, men and women share the work-floor and there are even towns where the fairer sex leads in entrepreneurship. Everyone has their right to an opinion, but the way I see it, Pakistan is far ahead of what they could have been and with that, a progressing country. There is a strictness with religion and its customs and it’s a land with past conflicts, but I have not experienced the daily bombings I was promised by outsiders to be met with. Instead, it was open arms, people wishing me to be in their pictures, friendly chats and a helluva lot of tea.

Although I wish more compatriots would take on to the streets and sweep and clean every once in a while, to show the patriotism they claim to have, before we all sit and judge these people’s manners there is also a lesson to take. The bond of the family is one unbreakable and strong, entire families living in a grand house in the city and over the holidays in their second in a village. Affordable due to all working members pouring their wallets into a single account managed by the accountant of the house. That person is then responsible of feeding the cousins and nieces, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons with whatever money they require whenever, which releases all tension involving the green paper. When not working, siblings are willing to step the foot onto the gas for hours on end simply to drop off or stop by, which is huge as the nearest rides alone are a consecutive driving of minimal three to four hours. The ones rich enough to hire a guard or maid welcome them into the family and wind up paying expenses made by them. Be it college or trips. They tend to live their lives well and often caring for family.

So, Pakistan can seem cold, harsh and wild when viewed from afar, but once you’re in, you’re part of one big family. I am immensely grateful to have been part of it and I wish to one day experience it again and possibly tread to the North in the summer.

What has shocked you in countries you travelled to?

A caffeinated drive down

The ending of the story

Returning from the top, my slumber had passed and in a drowsy state I let my stubbornness fade and at last agreed to seek medical help. Waqas had swiftly deviated his mocking jesting into genuine concern and was on the fence whether to continue his banter. He had persuaded me to go to the doctor, despite part of me still believing it would pass. Since not even Ahmed, the fastest driver of Pakistan’s North was capable of getting to the capital within the coming and passing of the night, a small town in the mountains had to suffice. After some hours of adequate driving pass, we entered said town and through the noisy and crowded streets we zigzagged to our motel of the night. According to our driver, from here, it ought to be possible to return to the home of Waqas if driving from dawn til dusk, given that breaks are kept to a minimum and he drove his foot into the pedal. We unloaded the car before heading to the chilling and bare hospital. The moment I set foot into the grim building had been when I felt a slight terror overcome me.

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Pakistan at an altitude

Continuing the story

Though as aforementioned frightening, the road to the North was one of beauty. Over the course of two days, we ascended to a town named Karimabad, located in the Hunza valley. The car had become a nauseating and dull cage after these endless hours and it felt freeing to have time in abundance as we arrived mid-day. Cruising through the meandering streets of the peaceful town, I had long noticed the fort that loomed over all other houses. Another fort was situated on the opposite end and stood far less high. A strong guess had been that we would soon wander over the edges and be admiring its stunning views. Call me clairvoyant, because as soon as our backpacks had been unloaded and we had gorged on lunch, we set foot for these medieval buildings. Entering the forts Altit and Baltit, we leapt back into the past and barged into the heretofore home of the hereditary rulers of Hunza. Bringing us back to the era of Huns, our guide summarised the past 1100 years inclusive of heirs, war and religion. Originally spirit worshippers and followers of Hinduism and Buddhism, Islam introduced in the 15th century became the main for the town around 1830. The forts, though crumbling, still remained most of its past and make a fascinating addition to the town with astonishing viewpoints. Being that the tour was in clear English and with a guide of knowledge, I was pleased to have my hunger for a bit of history silenced.

Speaking of true hunger, with the passing of hours it had grown weaker. And in hindsight honesty, my body had felt off for the larger part of the day. I pushed through the rest of town with my head pounding as if it were an ancient clock and a tiny guy kept slamming his hammer on the bell. A constant shiver rested on my skin and my mind had become foggy. It had felt as if I was faded into the background and my body and brain went on auto-pilot. Luckily enough, I functioned well enough to attempt ignoring the oncoming symptoms and with a smile trotted up and down the streets with Waqas. I do not enjoy the being of sick, therefore I try not to accept it. If anything, as per usual during my travels, I had an inferno-raging crave for an alcoholic beverage. With my mind shifted to that, it had become a hunt to have a gulp of the local hard stuff. A task which proves significantly hard in a Muslim town, or for that matter country. Instead, we settled for the indulgence in a cup of Chai tea alongside of a set of boardgames. The tea does get extraordinarily delicious, though it is sweeter than my usual cup tends to be. Seated in the tiny yet cosy restaurant with a vanishing appetite I savoured the hot cup before we returned.

The day that followed was the day we were headed for the Chinese border at a peak altitude. On this day, it had become harder to deny my ill-being as symptoms worsened. Cursed with the family’s trait of stubbornness, I remained in denial and had convinced myself to be fit and healthy as we drove onward. Half delirious, I sat in the car attempting to keep sight with tired eyes and sight fading. Half of the ride has vanished from my memories as I kept dozing of. Not long in, we got to exit the suffocating cage for exhilarating fresh air at our first stop; the hanging bridge. Facing the long-stretching bridge, I had noticed there was a fierce and icy wind, however it hadn’t bothered me. Even the absence of my comfort and clear-thinking had not been a burden. It was a relief to be walking and have a scary bridge as distraction. With now watery eyes, I shuffled from plank to plank. The bridge had gaps wide enough for an obese midget to fall in – and thus this skinny Pete. Others had been frightened by it and our guide, despite trotting ahead, was not a big fan either. Though surely intimidating, after the disappointment of a bridge in the Philippines, it was an exciting experience to have an attraction live up to its expectations. Heck, exceed it even.

Would I have called myself sick and quit the journey ahead, I would have damned myself for missing this. Though the altitude had far from helped, I see no fault in pushing to the top and letting the illness run its course after all is finished. Then again, I am no doctor. But the snowy border was close and to-be magnificent. Few turns away, I had in bewildered state signalled the driver and rushed out of the vehicle to regurgitate my insides. Admiring my barf, chunks and pieces spattered all over the once bright snow, I wondered how many got to say they chundered their breakfast here. Then I realised, with the altitude, most likely many stood in the same scenario of kicking snow over there half digested food. Moments after the spew, we arrived. My mind had been in such a haze, however I clearly remember the breathtaking fields of snow surrounded by peaks continuing to break through the sky. Wanting to not waste this moment, I had glanced in every direction with eyes wide as they could, considering the icy wind. I’d pet myself on the shoulder for remembering to shoot a dozen pictures, however upon viewing them all I could see was my fat thumb in a thick, winter’s glove. After this miserable attempt, I took in one final view before rushing back to the car where I fell into a deep sleep.

I do not recommend anyone to push through when these symptoms appear, especially not at these altitudes. It can be highly dangerous if it is altitude sickness, especially at its extreme. Stubborn me got lucky, but it could have ended a whole lot worse. Don’t be like me and get treated instantly when suspecting to have altitude sickness and when losing a lot of liquids.

Admiring the daunting, yet breathtaking mountains of Pakistan

The start of the story

Three quick consecutive honks and our driver nearly slung us all over the cliff before dashing passed the car in front. In Pakistan, traffic resembles that of a Nascar race and this does not change when in the eerie mountains. High up, the three of us drove parallel to the Old Silk road and a tumble off the edge would surely end our story. Despite the immediate danger, our insane transporter had many times, in effort of darting ahead of cars, shown us the depth of the valley by flying along the edge. Seated in the passenger-seat, it gave me some dragging seconds to gaze down into the abyss. It oft followed by being blinded by the bright lights of an oncoming truck or speedy bus. A deafening honk resonated from the nearing death-machine. As the sound culminated, our chauffeur bolted through the two vehicles and with it avoided an imminent crash. I was baffled by this man’s driving. The sheer balls he had to speed through traffic at an altitude so high and on such a terrifying and peril road mere moments upon showing us what could happen.

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