It also turns out that this was the hometown of Afghanistan's First Vice President. So the whole even got even more attention the moment he decided that he wanted to attend the opening ceremonies. Since there would be more Afghan VIPs, it's only appropriate that we should send more VIPs as well.
For my part, I was just going to get a bit more familiar with the area and the people involved. I got to ride up there with a combat camera crew and a handful of other folks in a pair of Blackhawk helicopters. We made the trip with the doors open so the camera crew could get stills and video along the way. It was a little chilly, but I was glad to have the view.
Here's me on the ground before we lifted off:
Our departure from Kabul ended up being delayed for a couple of hours due to the weather. Once we were finally airborne, this was my typical view for the trip up:
Still, I managed to catch a few decent shots of the countryside papparazzi-style by just reaching out with the camera and clicking away.
The bulk of the buildings outside of the city are made of clay bricks that are covered with more clay once they're stacked. So essentially, the houses are actually made of mud. At least that's what I'm told.
The terrain surrounding the capitol city of Kabul is rugged and mountainous. The climate is harsh and dry. This time of year it's starting to cool off rapidly and we should see snow falling in the city itself any day now. Still, the countryside has a certain rugged beauty about it.
The Panjshir Valley itself is fairly picturesque:
When traveling in the mountains of Afghanistan, at least it's easy to remember where you parked:
We landed just as the last of the speeches was nearing it's end. Hopefully we didn't disturb anyone, but I'd imagine it's tough to be subtle when your group gets out of a couple of armed helicopters with their body armor and weapons. Oops.
After the speeches, we walked over to what I would've guessed was a barn. Once we walked inside, I turned a corner and was met with a door bearing a sign which read, "Governor's Office." Oops. You can understand why I thought it was a barn though. I snapped this picture while standing next to the front door:
Since we were about to have lunch and I didn't want to have to excuse myself in mid-meal, I asked one of the bodyguards in the lobby where I could find a restroom.
ME: Excuse me, where is the restroom?
BODYGUARD: The what?
ME: I'm looking for a toilet.
ME: Outside where?
BODYGUARD: Outside anywhere.
I guess I should've seen that coming.
After a brief hike off into a seemingly concealed corner, I wandered back into the building just in time to sit down to lunch. They managed to put on a pretty decent spread with fruit, vegetables, kebabs, rice, local flatbread (called "naan") and some sort of yoghurt for desert. All of this was washed down with Pepsi:
My company at lunch were an Air Force guy who'd made the trip with me, an Afghan National Police officer, and three elderly Afghan gentlemen. Since none of them spoke English and I don't speak any of the five or six most popular local languages, we ate mostly in silence. I'm still not sure who the three Afghan guys were. For all I know they could've been district governors or they could've been janitors. Either way, the meal was pleasant enough.
Once the VIPs were done shaking hands and getting their pictures taken, it was time to go. This was delayed slightly because the Navy Lieutenant in charge of the camera crew was an all-American-looking girl with blonde hair and blue eyes and all of the Afghan bodyguards had to take a few minutes to pose for pictures with her. It was pretty funny, but I guess she's what passes for exotic around here.
The trip back to Kabul was equally uneventful. This time the doors were closed, but at least I got a window seat so I could snap a few more pictures of rural Afghanistan.
The trek from the Airport back to the headquarters compound was a bit of a fiasco, but that's another story for another time.