Iraq. So rocked up in Erbil/Arbil/Irbil (every mother fucker spells it different) after a 1.5hr, $350, flight from Beirut. I was expecting to be hassled severely it at the airport, i.e. what are you doing here? what’s in your bag? where are going? Is there a bomb in your shoe? But nothing, not even a second look from immigration, he stamped my passport with a 10day visa and I was off. There wasn’t even a Custom’s baggage check, I just grabbed my bag and walked out the airport. This was a bonus as I got to keep my cheese, Nutella, bread, water and apricots.
Met up with Kiwi mate (Roger the retired chiropractor) who managed to score a sweet deal at a 4 star hotel (Erbil tower hotel, $16/ea/night down from $45ish, nice one mate). One thing I forgot to mention were the guards at the airport, crazy looking mothers kitted out with all black clothing, knee pads, bullet proof vests, variety of guns, the opposite of a smile on their face, looking ready to go any second and waiting for something to shoot. I wasn’t game enough to grab a photo, soft.
I need to point out as well that I only travelled in Kurdish Iraq, this is only area where the US were successful and provided a new beginning for the people (one of only 2 places in the world where the people love Americans). This area is considered relatively safe in comparison to the rest of Iraq where there are still 30 – 100 bombs/attacks every WEEK (interesting how when the news stops playing it you just assume it’s over). The city is still covered in military carrying lots of friendly looking machine guns. The Erbil International hotel (a 5-star nicknamed ‘the Sheratoon’ with typical arab job on the finishing) looked equally as secure as the government building in the area. Both were surrounded by a 3m tall bomb wall and lots of machine guns. We walked into the Sheratoon to check out what was on offer which involved first of all finding the entrance, being escorted to a checkpoint room, pass through a metal detector, put the bags through an x-ray, get a sticker, walk the hotel, pas through another metal detector, have a guard search my bag then enter. Hotel wasn’t too special and the exterior glass facade desperately needed a clean. But it’s the middle east so fuck it.
Next stop was Martyr Sami Abdul-Rahman Park which is a huge garden built on top of one of Saddam Hussein’s military training grounds. Bit of a fuck around to get to as the military has commandeered the road which led directly to it. Wasn’t anything too special but it was nice to see so much green in the middle of a city/desert.
The old Citadel in the centre of the city is undergoing a $2 billion restoration which we got the see the start of, even managed to meet the archaeologist in charge of the dig who took us around for a quick tour. I personally don’t see the point of spending that much money as Iraq will never become a tourist destination so simply attempting to earn the money back from Iraqi tourists and school group be that easy. Still a really cool place, even if more than half the thing is ‘no entry’. I’ll have to come back in 10-15years to see that outcome.
As there are no tourists in Iraq (we saw like 5 the whole trip), combined with minimal public transport and no tourist information office anywhere we pretty much had to negotiate everything though the hotel and have them translate to a taxi driver who would then drive us 350km through the countryside.
We left at 6am for Duhok, but not with the taxi driver we had arranged everything with, no idea where he was. I think no one explained to our new driver what the plan was and I also think he never left Erbil in his life nor does he understand what tourism is. Adding that this bloke CANNOT DRIVE FOR SHIT!!! it made for an interesting trip. I think he thought he was just dropping 2 stupid westerners to Zahko for $200, think again mate. After much struggle we explained which towns were wanted to pass through and explained that we yelled STOP! we wanted to get out to take photos. We got him to drive us to 4/5 locations, lucky Roger had the iphone with GPS otherwise I don’t think we would have ever got to Zakho. Our mate Mr Cunt Taxi Driver (MCTD) decided to stick to 40 and all the 80 zones because he was convinced his car would roll if went any faster. I think Roger lost his shit at MCTD about half a dozen times and I think he had fair reason as the dude was just useless. MCTD wasn’t holding up too well and you could tell he was starting to get anxious but the fact that he had been singing to himself for an hour. After the sealed road become unsealed this resulted in louder singing. We started to get abit worried ourselves incase MCTD was going to freakout and turn around. After a few corners of unsealed road with no signs of civilisation ahead we thought we were finished. But no, sealed road again, and we were still doing 40. Fucker. Oh and in Amadiya, MCTD had a minor accident where he stopped in the middle of a round-a-bout, couldn’t do a hill start and rolled into a kerb, slightly bending his bumper and number plate, right infront of a traffic cop, thank god, could see him trying to blame us for that one. A passing taxi driver actually jumped in and got the car off the kerb as our mate couldn’t.
After arriving in Duhok we realised our taxi driver has never been here before and there was no way we were going to find the bus station to get an overnight bus across the border to Turkey (which is another story, 10hrs AT the border). Luckily a passing local gave us a lift for a small donation to the bus company office and we were sweet.
All in all Kurdish Iraq has an absolutely beautiful country side but nothing really for tourists (this would be different if you could speak Kurdish), happy I went. Hectic.
PS. I’m not a physco, MCTD really was that painful.
For those interested or travelling in Iraq, the weekly security report:
This week, 84 people killed and 204 injured in approx 100 separate attacks. Fucked.