The title for todays entry is a bit boring but it keeps to yesterdays naming convention. I could have called todays post something like "Panj River Villages" because we seemed to spend the entire day passing through the most amazing quaint, picturesque villages. Any patch of even approximately flat ground along the southern side of the Panj River has been turned into a village and each village has extensive fields of grain, potatoes and apricot trees. The villages themselves have generally only one main street that is always lined with hugh amazing trees that often arch over the road to form a green tunnel. The houses are made from white washed mud-brick and surrounded by stone fences.The only time villages and cultivation ceases is when the river bank merges into a steep escarpment and there is no flat land.
All these villages were a complete surprise, we expected to find more mountain road and have views of the Pakistani Hindu-Kush range of mountains that on our map seem to be just south of the Panj River the narrow strip of Afghan territory called the Wakhan Corridor. BUT - we saw no mountains. Partly because the day was overcast but also I suspect that because the lower mountains on the southern side of the Panj river are high enough to block views of the Pakistan mountains. BUT we were not disappointed - the villages were fantastic.
Another big surprise of the day was the road and fellow travelers we met. Of the 100 km we drove today from Zong to Ishkashim approximately 60 km was made from river gravel and had very rough washboard, but the last 40 km was paved!! And even though the pavement was not very good it was still very surprising to find paved road on the Wakhan Valley.
The next surprise was meeting a Swiss couple driving a standard medium size 2 wheel drive motorhome. They were traveling the opposite direction to us and so had not yet experienced the challenges of the higher Tajik and Kyrgyz passes but talking to them about their other adventures we had no doubt they would manage the rough climbs ahead of them.
So between paved sections of road and 2 wheel drive motorhomes we felt a little ridiculaous in our massive yellow off-road tank. All one can say is that we came a little over prepared for the Wakhan and it is not really the hard core offroad adventure we had expected.
Today was also New Zealand (or is that Kiwis) day. We met two NZ couples on the road today, the first were bicyclists traveling in the other direction to us so we only had a short chat. The other couple were on an old BMW motocycle and are traveling the same way as us and we chatted to them at first meeting and then again in the guest house in Ishkashim.
Ishkashim (ишкошим) is a somehwat larger village than the other we had passed through today, but it still feels like a village rather than a town. Also it has the tree lined main street, mud brick houses and stone fences, though to be fair there are some substantial concrete buildings.
After some checking around we found Hauni's Guest House in the main street next door to the police station. It has a large yard in which we could park our truck. It already had 6 or 7 Toyota Land Cruisers (tourist agency vehicles) a motocycle and a couple of tents (for guests that were too late for rooms or beds). It is a great place. Vali, the young man that owns the place speaks good English and is very willing to help guests find whatever they need in the village. And most important of all the showers have a very good supply of really hot water.