Back in 2013, ‘hiking through Afghanistan’ wasn’t high on the to-do lists of many travelers. But travel writer Tracey Croke set off for the country’s Wakhan Corridor anyway, determined not to let the headlines convince her otherwise.

I’m in Tajikistan with a man named Usef. The year is 2013.

Usef, it transpires, has a remarkably terrifying skill of zig-zagging his jeep at high speed to avoid potholes while turning his head a full 180 degrees to talk to me in the back seat.

“It’s a big drop,” I say, nodding at the unsurvivable rage of the Panj River, a hundred meters or so below. “Inshallah [God willing]” he smiles, rolling his eyes towards the heavens as if he has no influence over the matter.

In the distance, a bridge connecting high fences signals that my two-day drive through Tajikistan is coming to an end and the real journey is about to begin. We are lurching towards Ishkashim, the border crossing into Afghanistan.