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Hotelnet: Mon 15:50

I've come down for some luncheon which has made me realise that I think this is the first time I've had lunch per se on this trip. It certainly makes a change from the trip so far in PK which has been a single meal per day -- I could be on for three meals today! Not that I seem to have lost my gut -- perhaps I have to do some exercise as well rather than sit around in the saddle all day and watch the world go by.

The road noise (mostly horns) sounded so loud last night it was almost as though there wasn't a window at all (I did check). It's a good job I have ear plugs in bulk.

Curry for breakfast -- I thought this would start in India. Several men in a group decided they'd smoke in the no-smoking lobby/restaurant. Thanks!

I then asked about a bank to access some money and a shop to buy chain lube from. They said they'd send a man to buy the chain lube. I was directed to the Standard Chartered Bank around the corner which took me an hour to find in the blazing sun as I was looking for something big. I went in to inquire about using my VISA card in an ATM and it took a while before we realised between us that I hadn't actually tried it in their ATM. It turns out that almost all the banks have a second completely frosted glass door on the outside which hides the ATM. Despite the VISA card sign and a two minute wait I was sent packing. As I was in a couple of other local banks (also displaying the VISA logo).

My beef here is not with the PK banks not talking to the outside world (or maybe they do and just don't like the otherwise perfectly acceptable Nationwide card) but that an internationally branded bank (Standard Chartered) doesn't talk to the outside world. M, back in Van in TR, had had two days of fighting with HSBC TR (when I left him) trying to convince them to access his money in HSBC FR. Why bother having a global brand if you're a parochial bank? That's just annoying.

Here in PK, the men like to spit. (I can't comment on the women, see later.) Earlier in PK, they would get a good hack up and let fly or, perhaps, swill their mouths with the first gulp of water and spit and now, down here in the south, they like to chew on something that leaves them with a lot of red saliva which they happily gob out on the pavement or in the gutter. As you're walking along, then, you want to keep your eye out for red patches in the dirt as well as the ankle breaking potholes and drop-offs in the pavement.

There's also a tendency to lob the dregs of your drink away in the street too. Perhaps then, the keen eyed observer can assess the time a gentleman has been waylaid by the watery spray arrayed around him.

So the banks were duff but at least there was a money changer round another corner who was super efficient. The downside of that being that my emergency cash is being used up unexpectedly.

I noted with interest as I watched the news last night and read the paper this morning that there's been an upsurge in the regular political violence here in Karachi coincident with a local election that has left (at the time I came down) 40 people dead in 48 hours. Karachi is the biggest city in PK and the violence isn't here so there's no panic. However, one person was killed (execution-style) in Lea Market yesterday which rang a bell. I rode through it trying to get here. There was no sign of trouble, few police about -- certainly no more than I've come to expect seeing lolling about in PK towns and cities.

One more bit of wildlife news, Brown Kites dominate the skyline. Not just in a "oh look over there, there's a couple of kites," as you might if you're heading through the Chilterns, no, I meant there are several thousand in the sky. Circling like vultures from high to very low over the city. You think they might be crows or some other largish bird that you might see in largish groups but, no, they're all Brown Kites. (Or Black Kites, not sure I could tell the difference.) I haven't seen one fly past my window close up (mostly as the curtains have been closed to keep the heat down) but I might loiter with intent later to try to get a snap.

It's not clear what they are eating as there's plenty of pigeons flapping about on sills but I haven't seen any taken. I wonder if the kites have become scavengers?

There's been plenty of conflicting tales of PK and Balochistan in particular from the people here. One in particular was the clerk at the Taftan customs who chose to converse with me whilst I was trying to eat my dinner ("No, no, you eat" Well you stop asking me questions, then.) who professed his distaste for the way the IRs treat their women, all covered up. Well, only in this hotel have I actually seen a PK woman. Through Balochistan they were covered in exactly the same way as the IR women bar the fact that they wore chadors with sparkly bits and there were considerably fewer of them to be seen. Almost all social and work areas have been men-only with precious few women (or children) to be seen. When I've waved to women or children in PK I've received almost no reaction (a few have turned away).

Here in Karachi, there's still very few women around which is why it was a surprise to see families come into the restaurant last night. The women were still all wearing (sparkly) chadors. That said, one PK (I'm assuming) woman was wearing a short-sleeved blouse at breakfast this morning. Outrageous!

Just before I came down I saw a scrolling news item that said another NATO tanker was burned by unidentified gunmen in Mangchur, just north of Kalat. I drove through there the day before yesterday. To be honest I can't picture Mangchur as not a single town on that road had a name sign in English. In fact, I'm not sure any of the towns had English name signs. The big ones are on the GPS and you can tell when you're reaching one as the distances on the road signs roll down to single figures. So Mangchur was one of the dusty mud-brick towns on the road. Perhaps it had a bazaar along the road. It now has the smouldering shell of a tanker.

I wonder if the driver gets full pay? The drivers of the trucks all seemed pretty friendly from young wiry guys to white- -haired, -bearded and -turbaned men all happy to wave (and toot their blasted horns) at a fellow traveller. The NATO trucks were pretty obvious to me. They were either a container (there are no containers on the road in PK, it's all loose items stacked dangerously high on their distinctive trucks) or an obvious military tractor unit (as in the pulling part of an articulated lorry) or APC badly covered with a brand new blue plastic tarpaulin.

The tankers were harder to spot though I did pass three that were labelled PSO (one of the local petrol companies) "Contract Hire" which might be the clue.

The people here in Karachi haven't been especially welcoming outside the hotel, on the street. In the hotel I've had plenty of people come up and say hello, one was a family from Saudi who knew about me riding the bike (which was slightly worrying). But on the street I've had more hassle from street sellers who have been very keen to sell me a leather jacket for some reason. That said, it's nice to be able to walk along the street without having the have a stilted conversation every ten yards. The lack of friendliness is common in big cities, though.

So, police escorts, local violence, not very friendly big-city people. I'm not warming to PK so far though I'm keeping an open mind as the western side has had it's unfair share of problems.

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