It takes a few hours to hitchhike to the hot-water spring at Garm-Chashma. I book a room in a Soviet-era hotel for two nights and walk around the village past a fancy brand new hotel before settling down in typical stolovaya. It’s an odd village existing solely to serve the people visiting the spring: a Pamiri resort town. But in this region where the landscape looks so harsh, I can still hardly understand how people manage to eke out a living.
I don’t hitchhike by sticking out my thumb here in the Pamirs. I just walk until someone offers me a ride, at which point I ask if it’s for free. About half the people say yes. It slows down progress but I kind of feel guilty asking for free rides on these roads where people’s destitution is so apparent. I end up getting rides from all kinds of folk: four soldiers who say that the region’s reputation for heroin smuggling is overblown, but do warn me that Afghan snipers might shoot me from the other side of the river; two men one of whom nostalgically talks about his student days in Kharkiv, a city over 3,000 kilometres away on the other side of the former Soviet empire; a police officer and his friend; a truck (one of the very few I see) bringing goods to the local village shops; and a car full of relatives just back from visiting a neighboring village.
People are incredibly generous. A taxi driver offers to take me along as the fifth passenger in his car. I’m beginning to regret accepting the invitation a bit as I sit crammed between the car door and a drunk guy. But after a while we stop at the traditional Pamiri house of a relative and it makes the lack of comfort totally worthwhile. As we continue on our journey the drunk guy invites me to his house multiple times insisting that his wife and daughters will make me feel at home but I’ve learned to stay away from drunks without exception and the driver drops me off next to the ruins of an old fortress.