My 100th Country – Kurdistan, Iraq

“You like Donald Trump?”

“No,” I embarrassedly responded in an awkward tone.

“You like Clinton?”

“Better than Trump,” I offered.

“So Clinton is better than Trump?”

“Trump is a stupid man.”  I was embarrassed by Trump’s broad anti-Muslim statements.

“We are all brothers.  Muslim, Christian.  All brothers.” He smiled.

erbil bazaar

I lightly touched my right hand to my heart, and dipped my head.  “Spas.”  I said thank you in Kurdish, the one word I knew.  Smiled and walked away.

I am in Erbil.  The capital of Kurdistan, the northern most province of Iraq.  Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq.  And it is the polar opposite of any preconceived notion you might have of a dangerous and chaotic Iraq.

Iraq is my 100th country that I have visited.  I am on a quest to visit all 193 UN recognized countries.

visa iraq erbil

The Department of State warns: “U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq.   Travel within Iraq remains very dangerous given the security situation. U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  ISIL controls Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.”

mosul direction

Sign to Mosul

Mosul is only 50 miles from Erbil.  An hour’s drive.  ISIL’s black flag flies over Mosul.  Beheadings, executions, kidnapping.  Maybe this was not a smart idea.

erbil

As of three weeks ago I was not planning on visiting Iraq.  I had planned on visiting Djibouti, an east African country that had been on my radar screen for several years.  I was intrigued and excited to visit Lake Abbe and Lake Assal, two magnificent natural wonders.  But I was so alienated by the 5 star prices for the 1 star amenities; that I ended up canceling my tickets to Djibouti.  I then needed to find an alternative, that was served by Fly Dubai (whom I had a credit with), was visa on arrival, and was a new country for me to visit.  I had four options: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, and Iraq.  After cycling through all four choices, I eventually settled on Iraq.

My three and half hour flight from Dubai to Erbil was uneventful.  I landed at Erbil International Airport, a spacious airport constructed in 2010.

erbil international airport

Immigration took only minutes with a stamp gingerly placed by an attractive Kurdish woman.  My luggage was already spinning around in the carousel.  And a taxi driver greeted me with a $30 price to my hotel. I was bracing myself for a $50 ride, which I had read about online.  Everything was coming up Millhouse.

Two hours later, I was sitting in a trendy café, finishing up lunch with a friend of a friend.  A gracious Kurdish doctor.  After lunch we puffed shishas, sipped tea, and spoke about politics.  After lunch we stopped by his office, and surreally started battling each other on his PlayStation via FIFA Soccer 13.  He kicked my ass.  I heard the announcer scream “yella, yella!”  It was difficult to imagine I was in Iraq.

fifa

We parted ways, and I started to explore Erbil on my own.  Erbil is anchored by the Citadel.  The Citadel is an elevated fortified settlement that dates back over 6000 years.  It is an UNESCO World Heritage site.  Surrounding the Citadel is the Qaysari bazaar.  This dark maze of paths is one of the oldest bazaars in the world.

citadel erbil

Erbil Citadel

Within two hours, I had acquired 8 new friends on Facebook.  I was warmly welcomed by many in the covered souk. Handshakes and pats on the back.  Smiles and thumbs ups.  The locals bought me tea and fed me baklava.  I sampled marinated olives and fresh fruit juice.  Men posed for pictures and asked to connect on Facebook.

“What country?” a man asked.

“America,” I offered.

“Welcome to Kurdistan.” He smiled.

IMG_2259

IMG_1892 IMG_1881 IMG_1877 IMG_1864 IMG_1861 IMG_1857 IMG_1855 IMG_1835 IMG_1818

IMG_1904 IMG_1896 IMG_1908

My 100th County – Kurdistan, Iraq

chernobyl exclusion zone

Photos From Chernobyl

Sign up to receive your free copy of Photos From Chernobyl.  Over 100 photos from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

(172 Posts)

23 thoughts on “My 100th Country – Kurdistan, Iraq

  1. Gerry Foley

    Awesome story! One of your best yet! I’d live to get that stamp in my passport though I wouldn’t venture out of the Kurdish controlled territory. I hope the Kurds get thier own country one day!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Kurdish Hospitality – Erbil, Iraq’s MayorGlobalGaz

  3. Frank

    Interesting, always like seeing the faces of locals and you’ve got some great photos. Congratulations on the 100th country!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    Reply
    1. Ric Gazarian Post author

      It is a traditional society, so there are more men on the street than women in general. The other issue, men seemed to be open to the idea of photos. I typically did not ask women to take a photo.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Walkabout Store » On Holiday in Iraq

  5. Ray

    Congrats on Country #100! That is quite a feat once you hit triple digits! Do you foresee yourself visiting Djibouti later on when you are closer to finishing your quest of all 193 countries? Or are you just “postponing” it for now due to the sticker shock prices and just need to build up your travel funds a bit more to justify going there within the next year or two instead?

    Reply
    1. Ric Gazarian Post author

      I actually cancelled a booked flight to Djibouti, and went to Iraq instead. You are right on the money, I cancelled my trip due to the high costs of visiting the country, especially the trips out of the capital. I was talking to two local providers in Djibouti, and they were charging $300 a day, for basically a car and driver. It is high on my list, but will be better to travel with someone else to split the costs. Have you been before?

      Reply
  6. Pingback: Adventure Races and Overland Travel: An Interview with Ric – Greatest Traveler

  7. Pingback: Adventure Races and Overland Travel: An Interview with Ric | A Thing I Love About...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *