When my driver pulled up to my “hotel” down a quiet side street in central Kabul, my bodyguard dutifully jumped out and scanned the street for anything out of the ordinary. But the street was deserted and eerily silent in an otherwise bustling city. In fact, there was nothing at all resembling a hotel outside. Was I now going to be the victim of a kidnapping or murder?
I jest. The thought never actually crossed my mind, as a rapport had grown between my team and me during the day’s journey to the Panjshir Valley. But in retrospect, I did put a lot of trust in my team…
Outside the car was a corrugated steel fence stretching 15 feet high and 25 feet long with a wrought iron fence in front. Carved into the fence was a gate further reinforced with a layer of sheet metal and a CCTV camera overhead. The driver made a signal to the camera and the gate unlocked with a loud buzzing sound.
I walked inside with my guard and found myself in a tiny room with a man sitting behind bulletproof glass examining several CCTV monitors. He directed me to hand over my passport and I slid it through a narrow opening at the base of the window. After verifying my name was in the system, he returned my passport and buzzed me through the next door.
On the other side of a door was a small concrete courtyard with a few shrubs and a short stairway on the left side. On the right sat an armed sniper behind a barricade…his weapon pointed directly at me. He just stared blankly as I walked across the courtyard and up the stairs.
Another CCTV camera looked down on me and I waited to be buzzed in to the next door, which led to the hotel lobby. The lobby was dark with more monitors and a small marble desk upon which sat about two-dozen miniature flags from various nations. A man in a tuppeny suit welcomed me and again requested my passport. My guard and driver said goodnight, setting an 8am pick up time the following morning.
I signed a paper releasing the hotel from all liability if the compound was stormed by militants…no, I just signed the guest register and was then escorted to my room. The four-story rectangular complex had an atrium on the ground level with about ten rooms on each floor.
The room was nothing special, reminiscent of a three star hotel in Eastern Europe, but it was clean, had a few power outlets, wireless internet access, heat, and air conditioning. The bathroom had hot water and the bed was comfortable enough.
Room with a view
The man who took me upstairs instructed me to stay in my room, keep my door locked, and that dinner would be delivered in a couple hours. I thanked him and locked the door behind him.
Even in Afghanistan, I had a few award bookings to complete, but jet lag was fast setting in and I was exhausted. Despite the relatively early hour of 6pm, after checking e-mail and updating a few clients, I took what I thought would be a quick nap on my bed…evening naps are never quick.
A loud knocking on the door arrested my slumber and I groggily sat up, forgetting for a moment where I was. The knock continued and I stood up and peered through the circular peephole on the door. It was a man with a tray of food: dinner had arrived.
Unlatching the door, I pulled it open and nodded at the man outside, welcoming him inside. He set the tray down on a small table and instructed me to set the tray outside when I was done eating before promptly exiting the room.
Still groggy, I was in no mood to eat and the food did not look all that appetizing anyway. The tray featured cold, hard bread, pickled vegetables, French fries, and what looked to be a mix of warmed chicken and beef. I set it on the table and laid down to rest my eyes…an hour later I awoke to the smell of the food…it just smelled bad. I got up, picked up the plates, and set them in the wardrobe, hoping that would block the smell.
I returned to bed and did not wake up till morning…so much for dinner. With no dinner, I was hungry the following morning and remembered the front desk clerk had mentioned that breakfast would be served in a room adjacent to the lobby.
Downstairs, I found the breakfast room where an Indian man in a suit sat alone eating his breakfast. The spread was fair—hard boiled eggs, various breads with a toaster, jams, yogurt, and cut cantaloupe. I made myself a cup of tea and a few slices of toast and sat down with my laptop to check in with my clients again and even get a booking done.
8am soon arrived and I wheeled my small suitcase down the stairs and through the lobby—where no one was on duty—out the courtyard, nodded goodbye to the sniper, exited the two doors, and stepped out onto the quiet street where my entourage was waiting. It was time to explore Kabul.
I had actually wanted to stay at the Kabul Serena Hotel, the city’s only five-star property, but it was sold out and one night would have cost more than my whole tour anyway. My “hotel” was by no means luxurious, but perfectly acceptable and a nice change of pace from the Park Hyatt Jeddah just two days earlier.
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