We've only been in the internet cafe for 10 minutes when the power goes off and we find ourselves in darkness. Load-shedding. The three young guys in the cafe start chatting to us and the load-shedding becomes an off-loading session. Pakistan is stuffed, essentially. With corrupt politicians, an over-powerful military and high unemployment, what are they to do? One of them has two masters degrees and can't get a job. Another has worked in Australia - he enjoyed it there but returned to Pakistan when his daughter died. Their list of woes is long and we can feel their frustration.
In the bazaar we notice many of the barrow boys and traders look different - they're Afghans. And out on the streets we finally get to see lots more women - students and shoppers - their faces are not covered as they have been in most of the towns we've been through since we left the Hunza Valley. Abbottabad's main advantage is the climate - whilst the heat is building up on the plains to the south, the town enjoys fresh coolish air. It's not too hot to wander about and it's perfect when the sunsets. And hey, there's footie on the telly. What's on this evening? Mmmm, Chile versus Honduras. If it does get too hot around mid-afternoon we retreat to our room, sit under the fan and drink a big bottle of Mountain Dew, Pakistan's best pop drink. We are sub-consciously counting the days down to our flight and return journey and thinking about being home more than about where we are right now. It seems inevitable I suppose.
The last leg of our journey is on to Islamabad. Do we take the busy main road or a quiter road that involves a big climb? I don't want to do the former and Gayle's reluctant to do the latter, so instead we take a minibus up to Murree, avoiding the climb, and then free-wheel for 50km all the way into Islamabad. Along the way we stop for chai. We get chatting to a traffic cop, Imran, who is sat reading a book in English - it's a bodice ripper judging by the cover - he's ridden up here from Rawalpindi, the old city that sprawls next to prim and proper Islamabad, in between shifts to escape the heat. He tells us he has an MBA - but this is the best job he can find. He studied accountancy - now all he counts are the cars. He loves reading though - if the traffic is not too heavy he can read. This might explain the traffic flow in 'Pindi. "Are the police respected in the UK?" he asks. Good question. "Mm, yes." "Because here the police have no respect." Political interference, corruption, he explains. Aren't they a bit lazy and incompetent? I want to ask. I remember on my first visit to Pakistan being in a taxi that got pulled over by the traffic police. The driver handed over his licence with a folded rupee note sticking out of it, ready for such an occasion. But Imran is another charming man, and I don't want to offend him. Needless to say we are unable to pay for our tea - he insists.
We arrive in Islamabad as the mid-afternoon heat is wearing off. There's a Tourist Campsite here, unsigned, where we can pitch our tent for about 80 pence a night. The facilities are value for money. Next to the toilet block, some very brave soldiers are camped. They have a sandbagged gun emplacement with a clear line on the entrance gate. Surely they're not here to protect us? Carl, a young Aussie on a bike going to China, is the only other camper. There are a few trees providing some shade, but by 7.30 in the morning we have to get out of the tent. It is much too hot, as they say in these parts. Thank goodness we fly out on Sunday. The heat puts us off doing too much. One thing we plan to do is post home some surplus baggage - but when we turn up at the Post Office on Saturday morning it is closed. We are planning to cycle to the airport and hope the airline takes our bikes without them being boxed. Fingers crossed.
Having a bike in Islamabad is quite liberating. The city is built in a grid system and the distances seem so great. But so many of the roads just end in dead ends. Sometimes it feels like we're in a huge maze. There's a languid air about it all. What's most striking about the city is how green it is - trees everywhere - but ultimately it's a dull place by South Asian standards. Perhaps it'll help us acclimatise to the Western World?