Stepping outside Kabul airport’s baggage claim area, the arrival lobby was eerily quiet. There was no swarm of taxi drivers and tour operators I am accustomed to when arriving in a new country. Instead, there were just a few people standing around silently and a single currency exchange office. Outside rested a rusted old bus, at least 30 years old, with a driver standing outside with his arms folded.
Passengers began boarding the bus, each dragging on several canvas bags of luggage—what appeared to be foodstock. What the heck, I decided—I got on too. It turns out that no cars are allowed to pull up to the terminal (or get even remotely close to it) in Kabul due to security concerns and past bombings.
A three-minute ride took us to another small terminal housing a few restaurants and ticket offices. Outside, a parking lot full of taxis was waiting and as I walked down the path I soon came across my guide, driver, and bodyguard for the journey, with the guide holding a sign with my name on it.
Introductions were made and I whisked into a black armor-plated Toyota 4Runner. We exited the heavily fortified airport grounds and stopped at a small booth outside the main gate, where the guard stepped out to retrieve his AK-47 that had to be stored before entering the airport grounds.
My “detail” was arranged by Afghan Logistics (http://www.afghanlogisticstours.com) for a price of $500 for my two days in Afghanistan. Considering cost of living, the price of fuel, and cost of labor, this was extremely expensive, but I figured since this was my first time traveling to an active war zone (my 2011 trip to Iraq was in the peaceful semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north) I would spend the extra cash to (hopefully) avoid any unnecessary danger.
Only the guide spoke English, but all three were friendly and I felt very safe throughout my stay in Afghanistan. In retrospect, I do not think I needed the bodyguard. He took his job seriously and it was almost comical (but certainly commendable) the way he vigilantly readied his gun for use and continuously scanned the surroundings each time I stepped out of the vehicle. But the Panjshir Valley in the north, controlled by the Northern Alliance, and Kabul itself seemed safe enough to walk around. There had been a suicide bombing the day before I arrived, but Afghanistan remains statistically safer than Chicago—I wasn’t venturing to the really bad parts of the city.
I thought we might go to the compound in which I was sleeping that night or to the Afghan Logistics Office to pay in advance, but we immediately began our journey north to the Panjshir Valley. It was time to see Afghanistan!
Read more of my Saudi Arabia + Afghanistan Trip Report–
Introduction: A Journey to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan
How to Obtain a Saudi Arabian Transit Visa
New York JFK to Jeddah in Saudia Economy Class
Review: Park Hyatt Jeddah
Pictures from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Jeddah to Dubai in Saudia Economy Class
Dubai to Kabul on Ariana Afghan Airlines
Arrival in Afghanistan
The Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan
My Hotel, er Compound, in Kabul, Afghanistan
Kabul – TV Tower Hill and Darul Aman Palace
Kabul – National Museum of Afghanistan
Kabul – Gardens of Babur and Kart-e Sakhi Mosque
Kabul – The Green Zone and British Cemetery
Kabul International Airport and Departing Afghanistan
The Afghanistan Dilemma
Kabul to Dubai on flydubai
Dubai to New York via Jeddah in Saudia Economy Class