(Ok, so that was a LITTLE over-the-top, and we didn't quite go to India...but I couldn't resist)
Saturday, October 23. Operation: Cross the Border.It was our sole mission to cross the Turkey-Iraqi border - via Silopi, Turkey - and find accommodation in Dohuk, Iraq. When rockin' up to the bus station in Mardin, we unexpectedly came across one other tourist, a Canadian (sans flag emblem stitched on his backpack), who was also heading to Silopi. While he was able to jump on the first bus, we waited for the second.
After a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Silopi to a place known as a garage, or pronounced as "garage-y" in Kurdish and Arabic, which is essentially a location for taxi drivers who offer long-distance services. At the garage-y in Silopi, the driver charged 50 USD to drive us to the border, handle all the paperwork required to obtain a 10-day Iraqi Kurdistan visa, and take us to the closest garage-y on the other side of the border.
The queue to enter Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey was lengthy and unbelievably idle, making the alleged four hour wait time a reality. Travelers often exited their vehicles to make small talk with the others waiting to cross. The situation to the right of the leisure travelers' was worse: commercial trucks lined the streets for what seemed like miles. The truck drivers even rigged up chairs and flat surfaces to play cards in order to pass the time. After observing our surroundings, we prepared ourselves for a tediously long day. Suddenly, without instruction, our taxi driver sped to the front, cutting in front of many cars. When questioned by two or three others, our driver retorted, “Ameriki,” and gestured toward us. Inexplicably, most people accepted that as a justification for us "cutting in line". Instantly, however, one woman stormed up to our taxi, pointed a finger to Steve and I, and scolded, “Dirty! Dirty, American!” Guilt trip & nervous laughter followed.
After inadvertently maneuvering our way out of Turkey in 1/4 the expected time, our next task was crossing the Iraqi border. Before anyone enters Iraqi Kurdistan, his or her passport must be "processed" in a separate building. We strolled into a contemporary building with our fellow border-crossers, and our taxi driver disappeared with the passports to... help... "process"... them. In the meantime, we sat on leather couches, watched television, and were served chai tea. Nicest border crossing ever.
While relaxing, an Iraqi man approached us, “You American?” (as if it weren't obvious). After responding in the affirmative, he explained how he worked with the U.S. Army in Mosul several years ago and how, when they parted ways, he left with “400 friends.” Needless to say, it was not the time nor the place where you would expect to have an "Awww" moment.
So aside from our taxi driver using us to cut in line, crossing the border was hassle-free.
|Whenever you enter a new country, the wireless service texts you a welcome message. |
It's one of my favorite things when traveling. I desperately wanted
this text & was so stoked when we received it.
|The nicer side of Dohuk. Notably, the Iraqi Kurdistan symbol is displayed prominently on the mountain top.|
Our first mission after arriving in Dohuk was to find food. We walked into a local, neon-colored diner where we received our first taste of the Iraqi dining experience. Upon sitting down, 3 bowls of soup, 3 salads, 3 bowls of rice, a pile of naan (bread), a bowl of vegetables, and 3 bottled waters were placed on the table. Ten minutes later, despite the fact we ate enough food to last for the week, the waiter asked whether we wanted to order chicken, lamb, or beef.
The waiters rolled us out of the diner, and to minimize the bloating effect, we strolled around town. It was immediately apparent that I was in the small minority as a female. At night on the streets of Dohuk, my best guess is that there was 1 girl for every 30 males; although, more women were out during the day. Of the women at any given time, approximately 25% to 33% looked “westernized,” meaning that their dress was similar to women’s dress in Germany or the States. The vast majority of women wore traditional or glam’d head coverings [though those in Dohuk were much more traditional than those in the cities to follow].
While there was an absence of women, there was a disproportionate amount of young men who... well, Bobby best described it: “All these guys look like they just walked out of a gay bar.” Tight-fitting, name-brand T’s and polo shirts were the norm, accompanied with dark or faded jeans, large belt buckles, and the latest Adidas sneakers. This fashion was juxtaposed by the traditional clothing worn by the older men: turbans or keffiyehs, brown loose-fitting pants, prayer beads, sandals, and dark-colored belts.
The final observation from our first night wandering the streets was that the "tables were turned." When visiting a new city or country, you are obviously the one doing the sightseeing. In Iraqi Kurdistan, while walking around town, we were the site. People often stared at us. In no way was it malicious; rather, they were stares out of curiosity. It's not like the people of Dohuk see a tourist everyday.
Sunday, October 21: Unexpected Sightseeing.Our breakfast for each day of the trip was nearly the same: a free continental breakfast of bread, tea, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives, and cheese. After eating and attempting to connect to the internet, we undertook the 60-120 minute journey to Amadiyah, Iraq via taxi.
Amadiyah in the news, circa 2007:
The road to Amadiyah winds through the rugged Kandil mountain range and among the small Kurdish villages scattered therein. Characterized by its vastness rather than height, the range held a certain impenetrable quality. The mountains seemed more like painted shadows in the distance. Think Jim Carey as "Truman" in the movie, The Truman Show. After some initial observations, I fell asleep for the remainder of the trip. Some things will never change, such as my propensity for falling sleep while riding in cars.
Amadiyah is a small town with nice scenery, but it wasn't quite the "breathtakingly picturesque" and the "village in the clouds" that a travel article described it as.
|Center of the breathtakingly picturesque city, decorated with the Kurdish flag|
After looking around for several minutes, we decided to return to Dohuk. As Steve whistled for the cab, a metal bar swooped down out-of-nowhere (i.e. the bar jutted out from the wall and Steve was looking in another direction) and nailed him in the head. As we were tending to his wound, a local man - and one of the only people we met the entire trip who spoke fluent English - suggested that Steve receive stitches at the hospital... which happened to be located directly behind us. The doctors and nurses, who also spoke fluent English, took Steve in for "treatment" immediately. Their verdict was that Steve needed a tetanus shot. So Bobby and I stood outside the room, holding back laughter and tears, envisioning Steve get a shot in the butt in Iraq. We were disappointed to learn that tetanus shots were arm-shots. Post-shot, we asked where to pay. Their response? "It's free"...and it being free was not a result of us being tourists.
On the return trip to Dohuk, our cab driver pointed to an anomaly: a mansion sitting on the mountainside overlooking the Kurdish villages. "Saddam house," he informed us. No, tours are not permitted.
He owned another one one up here:
My best guess is that Saddam had a small case of paranoia. But then again, you'd want to keep an eye on the people you were killing.
After a long day of traveling and hospital visits, we grabbed food and headed to a shisha bar. It was immediately apparent that I was the only girl, but no one seemed to mind. This... mentally unstable fella walked in several minutes after us, sat down next to me, and proceeded to talk incessantly for an hour. At one point, he wanted a picture with the American girl (me). I obliged, he put his arm around me, and Steve snapped the picture. This is only notable because during the entire time in Iraq, he was the only person that touched me. Even on the crowded streets, men would never touch women. Not even an inadvertent arm brush.
While the guy was talking and when he put his arm around me, everyone in the bar continually shot glances from the corner of their eye. I even made eye contact with two of bar patrons. It was my impression that as soon as we gave the head nod, and they would tell crazy guy to leave. Fortunately, however, he left on his own accord. Upon departure, he left Steve this cool bracelet. Bobby was gypped. And he left me a used, dirty... tennis ball...
Next post: On to Arbil aka Erbil aka Irbil aka Arbela aka Hawler
- People in Iraqi Kurdistan generally think very highly of tourists, including Americans.
- Traveling in Iraqi Kurdistan is a cinch
- In two days, the Iraq flag was no where to be seen
EOBA: Don't trust travel descriptions. And don't give dirty tennis balls as gifts. And if you're friend receives a cool gift, resist the urge to steal it from him in the middle of the night.