I’m heading to the northern city of Khujand with the guy I met in Mashad and a friend of his. Hitchhiking with three people is always a bit more tricky, but we’re going to give it a go. After taking a bus we start to walk north and one of the first cars that passes us stops and offers a ride all the way to our destination. Hitchhiking is mostly just dumb luck.
The guy is driving a fancy new black Lexus. He asks us about our political opinions, the refugee crisis in Europe and the future of the EU. It turns out he works for the anti-corruption office and I guess he must be pretty high up. When we are stopped for speeding all he has to do is wave his ID in the officer’s face before being waved on.
The drive is stunning. The only road crossing the mountains and connecting Khujand with the rest of the country leads through a notoriously dark tunnel and a few more stable looking new Chinese ones. When the civil war was happening the government fled up north knowing that there was no way the rebels could ever threaten the city.
In Khujand we stay at a couchsurfer’s family home. His parents, siblings, their wives, nieces and nephews are all squeezed in three buildings surrounding a courtyard. I lose track of who I’ve been talking to. But everybody is super hospitable. On the second evening we pile into two vans to visit a park filled with rickety Soviet era rides and newer booths advertising ‘7-D cinema’ before heading to a cafe to eat ice cream.