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Cervantes and the Road

14 December 2005 (Pakistan) by Kendon Glass

Cervantes and the Road

Photo: Quality outdoor clothing is needed at these temperstures | Point Zero

The road, wrote Cervantes, "is always better than the inn." Standing on the highest pass of the journey at 4730 metres one had to wonder what he was thinking, I couldn't remember the last time I had been so cold. I had made it to 'Khunjerab Top' and for a brief moment I was reminded of the altitudinal difficulties I had experienced in the Bolivian Andes during 2003. The Northern Areas of Pakistan boasts the highest concentration of majestic peaks in the world and includes K2, the world's second tallest mountain. Over the past few days I had experienced some minor headaches but nothing debilitating. I knew that I needed to stay well hydrated and overall I was feeling as well as could be expected. The sun had already settled behind the Karakoram giants and the the prevailing wind was cutting me in half, coming up the mountain head on. I had lost my heavy fleece while in Uzbekistan and it didn't take too long for the intense cold to take over, affecting the right side of my body noticeably more than the my left. Despite wearing three layers of gloves, within two hours from the Point Zero landmark, my hands where barely receptive to touch. As for my feet, they felt like two blocks of wood beneath my ankles that motioned the cranks. I had left the Khunjerab Pass too late, but I knew I had to keep on moving.

With some relief, from a distance I saw smoke coming from the first valley. By the time I had reached Koksil, the frontier military post of Northern Pakistan, it was already 4.00pm. Looking around the lifeless camp I questioned if it was actually deserved of having its own name.Understandably, there was no one  to be seen out front on the boom gate, so I made my way carefully up the icy stairs, trying not to slip. I knocked on the door and with a certain amount of surprise and an apparent delayed reaction, a soldier invited me inside. I squatted with my hind quarters four inches off the cold concrete floor, embraced the pot belly lovingly and stayed in this position till I defrosted. As my outer extremities became receptive to the heat emitting off the stove, the pain increased to such an extent that the soldiers questionings registered as nothing but a fused murmuring in a background shrouded by darkness. After examining the purple rainbows on my fingernails I attempted to gain some focus...

"Passport? Your good country?", one soldier asked after a long delay.

I was in far flung Pakistan, entering the countries least accessible territory. The pain had subsided and I looked around the room sleepily, noting several of the men on their haunches, huddled in like kin, maximising the fires warmth. In stark contrast the frigid steel of their machine guns lent side by side in a lonely corner of the room.

"Australia", I said, noting a relative lack of interest. All the men, hooded in fawn blankets had their features obscured by a shadow cast from a kerosene lantern hanging overhead. Their combined body heat and misty exhalations formed a prolonged  fog that sat on the cold perimeter.  For me the whole scene was very surreal. For the frontier soldier it was life as it always was, eking out a bare existence for six weeks in a harsh and remote environment before he got the chance to return home. 

Cervantes and the Road

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