‘I will get you the front seat’ my new Pakistan friend told me ‘you get more space and is comfortable’. As the car arrived at my guesthouse to take me on my visa run from Gilgit to Islamabad, I soon discovered what I had really paid for.
When I was a kid I loved Postman Pat. I had one video that I watched over and over. The popularity of Postman Pat meant small replica Postman Pat vans were dotted outside supermarkets for kids to enjoy. I can only describe climbing into this car as equivalent of me, as a 6ft 2 adult, trying to squeeze into of those and instead of Postman Pat it is Pakistani Pat in the driver’s seat. The squishing happened not because the car was small but because the front seat was jammed so far forward.
Behind me, with plenty of leg room, were three Pakistani parcels consisting of three men. I think one was suppose to be there as my armed guard, the only arming present were the ones attached to shoulders, so they were all just parcels.
As I slotted in my 5000 Pakistani ruppees (£30-35) this vehicle didn’t rock gently back and forth. Instead took me on 14hour white knuckle ride to Islamabad.
The ride was actually quite advanced: my mind frequently simulated my own death or the death of others in super high definition as we whizzed round mountain roads. It also came with two modes – day time and night time. Night time was especially intense due to all drivers keeping their lights on full beam.
I stared out of this windscreen with these simulations for 14 hours: imagine bingeing on a video game for 14 hours where the game is the hazard awareness test turned to level 1000 and you could actually die. The driver demonstrated he was aware of the fact he was driving a car, and this might be a hazard, by continually papping the horn in the day time, or just flashing his lights in the evening, at any other car, motorbike or thing in, or near, the road.
This created a bum clenching ride, which was fortunate for my dodgey stomach. This bum clenching was turned into knots as Pakistani Pat would frequently answer calls on his Nokia, every time it called I was half hoping Dom Jolly would jump from the back seat to lighten the mood. This chatting was combined with the mouth tobacco addiction that required two hands, and a few minutes, to unpack and stuff under his gum. This created an impossible trinity between the phone, chewing tobacco and steering wheel: It was the steering wheel that was forsaken.
The only moment of comfort I got from the impossible trinity was when the driver was on his phone and as we approached the police check point he dropped his phone from his ear between his legs then carried on his chat once past them – the comfort came as the behaviour reminded of home.
When my 5000 PKR ran out after 14 hours, I was pretty uncomfortable. I would have paid more to be in the back seat for the ignorance of my upcoming death, and the extra leg room. Being able to taste the flavour of risks we are hidden from at home is one of the pleasures of traveling. I have often described being at home, in the UK, being like a child trap indoors; this was one trip I wanted to be that child, watching Postman Pat again.