Archive for September 13th, 2010

Things I wish I knew before traveling to Iraq…

September 13, 2010

Before beginning, I have to say that this post is intended to provide information as of today, and please verify updated information before planning your own trip as situations can change. Basically, do not stupidly travel to Iraq based on this post. If you do, please do not come back and blame me, I warned you.

Now, there were several questions I had about traveling to Erbil that I could not find answers to online, and I figured it would be helpful to list a number of tips that I think will reassure and help you along your way. They are in no specific order…

Passport Control/Customs: There are a number of booths to serve you to the right when you are exiting, and one Visa booth on your left for Visas on arrival. This line moves slowly, and is unnecessary for Americans. You simply go to the Passport Control booth and they give you a stamp. You are allowed to stay 10 days with this stamp, otherwise you must report to the immigration office for an extention.

The airport to hotel transit situation: The airport is a giant compound. There are no money changing kiosks (at the time of my visit), and there are just a few cabs out front and a bus. The cabs are “Hello Taxi” and the driver is likely Filipino. These cabs cost $25 to take you to your hotel (the going rate for almost all hotels downtown). The cab driver drives you to the checkpoint, where you must get out of the car and switch to another taxi with a Kurdish driver that does not speak much english. The free bus that is in front of the airport goes to the same checkpoint, and you can get the same service from a regular taxi for $10. This checkpoint is completely safe, and there are plenty of military looking guys with machine guns to make sure all the taxi drivers are honest and legit.

Transit time/safety: Downtown is about 8 kilometers, and takes around 12 minutes. The traffic situation is great with steady, but quick moving traffic. Let me put it this way, the little traffic there is, makes your driver slow down to a safe speed, but you are not delayed by traffic.

Taxi drivers: Any taxi you see on the streets is going to be fine. They are surprisingly honest and offer good rates. All the taxis I got in were nice, airconditioned, with pleasant drivers. Flag one down with confidence. Don’t worry about them stopping to load up on multiple passengers, they passed many people buy and just took we where I asked.

Kurdish words: Handy things to learn (all spelled phonetically, as they are written in Arabic script) – Shpaws (Thank you); Qalat (Citidel); Qaysari Bazaar (Covered bazaar downtown); Hawler (Erbil); Hosha (good); Peshmerga (Kurdish army guarding everything in Iraqi Kurdistan).

Hotels: All of the hotels in Erbil are more than adequate. You have a huge selection to choose from. They vary in price, or course. Don’t think that you need to stay in the expensive hotels for safety. It should be solely a comfort decision.

Meeting Arab Iraqis in Kurdistan: I was a bit apprehensive about the prospect of meeting Baghdadis traveling through that might have some strong feelings about Americans. All the Arab Iraqis I met were very pleasant, and never even discussed politics. My hypothesis is that most of the individuals you would not want to meet, probably aren’t busy traveling, they are probably causing trouble wherever they are from. The Iraqis that are traveling and enjoying Kurdistan generally seemed to have no issue with Americans.

That is everything I can think of. I may add to this list later as I think of things. If there are specific questions, or curiosities, leave a comment and I will update it…

Cut and run…

September 13, 2010

I have had an incredible time in Iraq, but it is time for me to start my slow, stop-over ridden trip home.  To sum up the “withdrawl of all Ryans from Iraq,” I’ll go through the last day.

Realizing that neither of the parks I went to the previous day were not the park I was trying to visit, I took a cab to Martyr Sami Abdulrahman Park.  The park is quite a ways from the city center, near the new airport, but totally worth the cab fare.  First off, this park is huge.  Like, Central Park huge.  At the center of the park is a memorial to the victims of twin suicide bombings that took place in 2004 in Erbil. All throughout the park you can find families picknicking and enjoying the outdoors. My favorite time of day is definitely dusk. The weather cools down and allows for a pleasant experience. I went to the Park Restaurant in the middle of the park.  To be clear, the park restaurant is not exactly a place you come to get food. They do not have a menu, and when asked about food, they said that they had some chicken somewhere in the back that they could make. I met a solo traveler from Finland named Matthew (or, at least that was the closest to his actual name in Finnish). We chatted for a bit, had some water at the park restaurant and parted ways.

I made my way back to check out of my hotel, and store my luggage in their luggage closet while I went out for food. While I was checking out, the entire Iraqi olympic soccer team walked in (in their uniforms!), so everyone at the hotel was going crazy taking pictures and looking starstruck. I just went along with the frenzy and snapped photos as well. Very nice people, and more than happy to let everyone harrass them for their time. After my brush with iraqi fame, I was hungry and made my way to the kebab stand outside the gate of the hotel hoping for some classical sauce. No such luck, there was a run on sauce apparently that resulted in me enjoying a normal meal of meat and onions. Tasty, but a let down. I also searched around at 4 or 5 grocery stores to see if they sold it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. There has to be some available on the internet somewhere. Maybe I’ll import it.

I grabbed my bags, and took a cab to the airport. I wasn’t aware of this, but the airport only opened on September 1st. So, for an airport that opened within the last 2 weeks, it looked great! I caught my Gulf Air flight to Bahrain and crashed at the hotel for a good 9 hours. Ignore anything you read on the internet about Gulf Air. These were two of the nicest planes I’ve ever been on, and great service. This is not a sketchy airline, despite what people write online…

Now, the photos: