Saturday, July 28, 2012

August 2008 Backpacking Iraqi Kurdistan photos

Once this guy offered to fly me out to Istanbul so we could check out Kurdistan.  I was 22 so I was like cool thanks!

I didn't really know what Kurdistan was, but that was immaterial.  I'm always down for an adventure.

We went to Istanbul then flew to Kayseri to check out Cappadocia and then headed on to the southeast corner of Turkey.  We were so close the the Iraqi border we just had to check it out for a couple of days.  Before we went I researched getting into Iraq and most people said IT'S IMPOSSIBLE let me assure you it is not.

I wrote the following shortly after I returned, I have no idea how much things have changed in the last 4 years.  If you've been to Iraqi Kurdistan recently please let me know!
We entered through the Habur border, it was a breeze!  From Cizre, Turkey we paid $40 for two people to be taken 1.5 hours to Iraq (just say "Iraq" or "Zakho").  Bring two copies of your passport photo + visa page.  Our taxi driver took care of everything, it was one of the easiest border crossings of my life, just be careful to not say the word "Kurdistan" on the Turkish side.  You are going to Iraq, and don't you forget it!  Smile and say "merhaba!"  You can change Turkish lira into Iraqi dinars here, the standard rate was 1 lira to 1,000 dinars.

It took us about an hour to leave Turkey.  Then you walk across to the Iraqi Kurdistan side.  It's super easy and the whole process takes about 15 minutes, you drink some free tea, talk to the friendly guy in charge who speaks excellent English (he'll ask you what paper you work for, just smile and say "we're only tourists!") and then you'll get a free visa stamp for 10 days (it can be renewed in Erbil).

I had heard that the visa was issued on a piece of paper so you could take it out of your passport and just pretend Iraq never happened, IT'S NOT TRUE.  You will have a big stamp in your passport but you'd have to look closely to see the "Iraq" written in English.

Your taxi driver will probably not take you all the way to Zakho, we took another taxi for 10,000 dinars (about $8) to Bazaz Hotel ($30 for a niceish double- the electricity is only on from 7PM to 8AM though).  Internet was painfully slow- some of the worst I'd ever encountered, but cost 1,500 dinars so eh.

Again we had really no clue what we were doing here.  Here is the route we took:

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After Zakho we went to Amedy (Amadiyah, there are lots of alternate spellings).  We'd heard it was this neat little town picturesquely situated on a plateau. 

It is pretty nice, but we get there and find out that there's no hotel or even a restaurant in Amadiyah!  We we there on a Friday so everything was closed and it was very quiet but we walked around and took pictures of the locals. 

Just down the road is this crazy tourist place where all the middle-class Arabs from Baghdad and Mosul come to unwind. 

Here's the boys only! swimming pool.  One kid, in my honor, did a "Saddam Hussein" off the edge of the pool by standing at the edge, holding his arm out, and toppling in (like the statue on TV). I thought it was kinda funny.

A lot of Iraqi Kurds love GWB.

The whole experience while not unpleasant was not quite what we were expecting so we went to Dohuk for the night.  I recommend the Hotel Bercin, it's a little bit pricey $40-50/double, but it's new, nice, and they staff was so helpful!

locals in Dohuk

kids hamming it up, we were the entertainment for the evening.

Then we went to Erbil, which is where you go to buy postcards in Iraq!

Aren't you just dying to send your friends and family postcards with GREETINGS FROM IRAQ on them

We saw a neat antique shop with a portrait of Saddam Hussein tucked away in a corner

Beautiful Erbil- we stayed in Hotel Kandil (20,000 dinar/double)

Iraqi fashion

they start them young in Iraq

We'd also read something about Rawanduz- how there were Iranian merchants and it was a neat little mountain town.  We tried to go there and of course the driver takes us here:

we're in the middle of nowhere, Iraq, and we wind up in an amusement park!  It wasn't all bad, Iraqi tourists are pretty good people-watching fodder. 

Nice scenery, too.

We were kind of frustrated at this point because after 4 hours on a bus we kind of hoped we'd get the true Iraqi Kurdistan experience, luckily we bumped into Nawser, a MA English Lit student who spoke fluent English.  He invited us to his home for dinner and to sleep on their roof in a little town called Akre

Nawser and his beautiful family

Akre was definitely the highlight of the trip, we learned a lot!

Nawser told us about how Saddam used to have prisons built in all Kurdish regions of Iraq to imprison Kurds, now they are used as free housing for poor people.

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