Journal of Alice

kurdistan day 5 we wake up in the middle of the

3 November ’15

Kurdistan Day 5

We wake up in the middle of the night to either fireworks or gun fire and lots of shouting. We pack bags ready to make a fast exit but things quickly calm down again.

“Sometimes there’s guns fired, it’s not a bomb”

We visit Koya castle, and meet with the director of antiquities for the region who’s very pleased to see us. His only English is the words Selfie and Facebook but our guide translates. The castle is Ottoman era, but rebuilt several times. The director gets on our bus and takes us to an old house. We get the feeling there aren’t many tourists round here, he takes many photos of us for the local website and Facebook pages. He tells us how much of the restoration has only started after the end of the regime, with help from a couple of Polish and German universities.

We’re speeding along bumpy Iraqi roads and I’m listening to dance remixes of Frozen songs and the Defcon 23 album. Somehow this seems perfect.

We visit Dokun lake and enjoy a ride in a speedboat for the second time this trip and then head towards Sulamanya, to visit the Red Prison. Along the way at one of the several checkpoints the officers check our passports and look up whether we are wanted. We’re given an easier time because there’s women on board, and continue along our way. This is a relatively new territory so tourists are even more unusual here.

Tonight we stay in Sulaymaniyah. Nothing quite works correctly in the hotel, but at least it’s only one night. We spend the evening telling tales with much laughing and joking again, at a fairly western restaurant.

kurdistan day 4 you realise that german bar you

3 November ’15

Kurdistan Day 4

“You realise that German bar you were in last night has a reputation for shootings?”
“Huh, I guess German beer and American oil workers with cheap guns in a Muslim country aren’t a good mix”

We drive along Hamilton Road to the area around Rwanduz today. The road is the main route from Iran to Kurdistan and beyond, so has more security checkpoints and they’re paying closer attention than some of the others. We see plenty of oil tankers along the way, struggling round the corners.

We stop off at a small castle along the way, see the foreign ministry with posh hotel, and wind our way to Rwanduz and its beautiful mountains. There’s a bunch of resorts here as it’s cooler than Erbil in the summer. We stop off at a few along the way.

The first is the waterfall featured on one of the Iraqi Dinar notes. The second has a restaurant serving pizza, it’s supermarket frozen pizza quality but the rest of the group are happy to have something other than kebab. This second stop also has a few rides. The luge is down for maintenance, but their brand new ride is ready for some of its first paying customers (5000 Dinar). The carriage behind crashes into us and later we get stuck at the bottom of a hill; it has some teething problems.

The final resort has a cablecar to the top. 1690 metres up along a 3600 metre length. Low clouds means zero visibility at times, but well worth the 10000 Dinar for the eery views through the clouds. The top has an expensive restaurant and a bit of a play area; I ride the swings and enjoy the high altitude.

After a quick rest and email catchup at our hotel (and a call to arrange flights home) we spend the evening in the bar across the road. Again, metal detectors and frisk search to get in. We’re beginning to worry our hotel doesn’t take security this seriously.

We get back to the hotel and again there’s no water. We shrug and go to bed.

I don’t actually know where we’re going tomorrow. We’ve all become so laid back and are having so much fun that we just accept our guide will take us somewhere interesting and we’ll have fun doing it.

kurdistan day 3 some of the locals are really keen

2 November ’15

Kurdistan Day 3

Some of the locals are really keen to take selfies with us in Erbil. And it’s not the youngsters, it’s the elders who haven’t seen many tourists before.

We spend the morning in the bazaar and citadel, detouring via the gun repair shop and the army surplus stores.

We then go for lunch, meeting the Erbil FC team on the way. They’re off to play a match, but invite us to see their stadium.

My best dollar ever spent was on a speed boat ride around a large pond in Erbil’s biggest park. We take the turns at speed and nearly fall in.

We then go drinking in the German bar across town and share tales of our lives and travels.

News filters in about a raid on houses in Diyarbakir belonging to an ISIS cell planning an attack on a plane or public place. Like all news round here we take it with a pinch of salt, but acknowledge that something probably happened in the city we’re returning to in a few days.

kurdistan day 2 the turkish government have put

2 November ’15

Kurdistan Day 2

The Turkish government have put back clock change until after the elections next weekend. Only, this information hasn’t made it through to the timezone data on anyone’s phones so we all wake up an hour late. We opt to take the quicker route to Erbil which takes us closer to the Syrian border.

A single unmarked tank follows us briefly but the drive towards the Syrian border is otherwise unremarkable.

Separating us from Syria is a small ditch and a couple of barbed wire frnces. There’s plenty of lookout towers watching, it’s very similar to the Korean border. The YPGF have control over this area which makes it safe to travel through.

The border crossing into Iraq is relatively easy. The Iraqis are just as surprised to see us as everyone else so far, but let us in with no problems. The drive to Erbil is long and slow, in part due to the main road between Mosul and the border having been closed the past 12 months. There’s a few security checkpoints en-route which we get waved straight through. Away from the checkpoints, it doesn’t seem to matter which side of the road you drive on - the driver with the most confidence gets right of way.

The amount of construction happening in northern Iraq is astonishing. And we’re told there used to be more projects underway but the ISIS situation has caused many to stop. There’s whole roads and even towns that are newly built and not in Google Maps, using it to navigate is pointless.

We arrived into Erbil late in the evening to another three star hotel; we’re staying in Kurdish owned places to avoid any troubles with the locals. Dinner cost just 40 pence, but the city that we’ve seen so far is hot and loud and dirty. We’ll see more of it tomorrow, and are based here for three nights.

kurdistan day 0 if you need anything theres

1 November ’15

Kurdistan Day 0

“If you need anything there’s shops just down the road, but don’t stray too far - I’m not sure if the curfew is in place. If it is, you’ve got until 11pm.”

And so begins my time in Diryabakir.

There’s a tank parked up at the end of the road, and I’ve no intention of finding out who it belongs to. So I wait until the morning for any sight seeing.

Kurdistan Day 1

Sat in a music hall in Diryabakir listening to the elders sing songs about the history of the region. Outside there’s graffiti on the walls which reads “PKK Kontrol”, inside there’s much shaking of hands and tea drinking happening. They’re very pleased to see us.

Standing in the Armenian church which suffered damage in a bombing a month ago. The keeper there tells us the church opened today for the first time in 13 days, and is surprised we’re travelling to Iraq by road.

“Can you tell us about the police attack on your church last month?”

“What police attack? There was a bomb nearby and the windows were blown out, not the police”

we leave with an even greater realisation that news reports from this region shouldn’t be trusted.

Walking back to the hotel we come across an Aljazeera film crew covering the election in Turkey next week. They’re surprised to see tourists, and we exchange contact details in case anything interesting happens.

We pass the police station, surrounded by barricades and military-style vehicles. Come to think of it, we’ve not seen a regular police car since arriving - they’re all armoured vehicles.

Tomorrow we leave for Erbil.