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  A Vacation to Where?
By Craig Altschul 


Have you ever had one of those moments when the question is so stunning that you stammer an answer and then, hours later, think of a snappy comeback?
I did recently.

Peggi and I had checked in at the airline counter for a trip to Pakistan. OK, I'll explain why later. The tickets were processed and luggage checked. The nice lady sort of leaned across the counter and said, rather incredulously, "are you going to Pakistan on vacation?"

I was so stunned by the question, I just murmured, "no, business." Later on, while enjoying the rather extensive service of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) business class, the proper response occurred to me.

"Yes, ma'am," I should have said. "We're heading to Pakistan on vacation because we discovered that all the resorts in Baghdad were booked." Ah, well. Maybe there will be a next time.

Peggi and I were actually on a business trip. We were helping “Forman Christian College” create fundraising materials.

Should you go to Pakistan on vacation? Probably not. Should you go for adventure? Maybe... Should you worry about your personal well-being if you go? Nah, not unless you spook easily. We never felt threatened once. But, then again, we were "honored guests" so to speak. Best to be "honored."

You see, the "honored guest" business started when we arrived at Lahore International Airport. Lahore is Pakistan's second largest and most colorful city.

We had done the unthinkable and trusted a travel agent who trusted a consolidator who booked our travel. Peggi had repeatedly asked if we needed any special documents – like a visa – besides our passports. We were repeatedly told "no."

"Where are your visas?" asked the lady at the Lahore customs podium. Peggi blithely told her the travel agent said we didn't need them. The lady signaled the gendarme. "Please follow me," he said. We did. There seemed little choice.

The gendarme apparently was a big wig gendarme. We sat in the immigration office and he asked to see a letter of introduction. Luckily, we had one of sorts from the college president. He pondered it a while.

"I want you to know you are honored guests, but you do not have a visa. So you have presented us with a problem." We had gathered that.

"However, I am going to help you," he said. "Would you like to know why?" We did. "You see, my father went to Forman Christian College, I went to Forman Christian College, and my daughter goes to Forman Christian College now. I am very proud of my college."

We suddenly became very proud of the college, too. It took a bit of "doing," but eventually he returned and granted our visas. We were free. The college president was waiting for us outside. He had a very good suggestion: "Fire your travel agent."

Lahore is a city that teems, day and night. We were particularly impressed by the agility of the people. We had never seen six people on a one-seat bicycle before. But, these people are pros. They can dart in and out of massive traffic jams at will, never losing a handle-bar resting baby or grandma in the process.

You may not enjoy the cuisine if you have a problem with spicy food. I do. Peggi's stomach appeared to be lined with asbestos. She never met a spoonful of curry she didn't like. We did consume a few chickens that seemed to have had a few turns around the block.

We had an occasion to use our "honored guest" status and have an audience with an important government official. He gave us a very nice Pakistani rug that we show off in front of our fireplace. The smells must be great. Our Newfoundland pooch has adopted it.

Let's not get into politics here. This is, after all, about travel. But, I suspect we can be rather happy that Gen. Pervez Musharraff is in charge. Any country bordered by Afghanistan, China, India, and Iran is about as pivotal as it comes. There are, most certainly, radical Islamists in the nation, but at least for now, the country is led by moderates. That's a good thing.

We soon discovered that virtually all of the government officials, senators, business leaders, airline executives and pilots, and others – including Musharraff – are graduates of Forman Christian College.

That's a good thing, too. If they weren't, we would have been on the next plane back to the states, visa or not.

More from Craig Altschul


 

 

 
 

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