Looking out the window on the fourth floor of Tararom’s family house , I could barely see the remains of Sanandaj poking out from underneath the grey, stormy clouds. Boy, this was going to be a cold, wet ride. Susan tried to encourage me to stay another day longer, but I was trying to keep a couple of days up my sleeve in case I couldn’t cross this tiny border into the Kurdish Iraq and would have to ride two more days north to the next border.
Everyone piled into the Susan’s car and they guided me out of the Sanandaj city to my turn off onto the small inconspicuous road towards Iraq. I was already cold, and piled my second layer of gloves on as soon as I shook everyone’s hand. Goodbye my Kurdish family, I hope to see you again someday.
Border crossings are always stressful and this one wasn’t an exception, and I still had nightmares of entering Iran only a few weeks ago. Riding through the muddy construction site, I found the tiny makeshift sandwich panel building surrounded by pushy men trying to get their passports stamped, while the women stood back and let them fight it out only waving to the officer inside when they heard their name being called. I didn’t have a pushy white knight so I elbowed my way in and yelled at the guys when they tried to get in front of me. Eventually I found myself at the front of the queue and received my exit stamp.
The Iraq country side alway with a power line in view!
Should I go to Badhdad?? I think not!
In another building similar to the immigration one, was Customs. But customs wasn’t playing the carnet de passage game and refused to stamp my motorcycle out of the country as this was a small provincial border and is not equipped to do normal customs procedures. I fought with little heart and quickly gave up. If he didn’t want to stamp my carnet and return the slip back to the Iran / Pakistan border, then I will let Australian Automobile Association sort it out for me.
Entering Iraq was so painless and so nice, I instantly got a good vibe for Iraq. That was until I realised I was heading back towards Iran and not North-West towards Turkey! I had no plan and no idea if I could pay with US dollars for anything. When dusk set in, I found a hotel street and enquired about a room. ,a room was not on offer, it was a whole suite! At least two rooms, a proper bathroom, kitchenette and lounge room. Splurging I paid $40US for a two bedrooms, a kitchen, lounge and a bathroom. However it didn’t come with sheets and the couches had looked they had been used for more things than just sitting on.
I had been told I could use USD for everything but I wasn’t sure if that was true. I went to a convenience store to test the theory. Sure enough, when I handed over a $20 USD I received my change in Iraq currency. Perfect, tomorrow I could fill my tank up with gas and head towards Arbil.
Testing the theory that Kurdish biggest shame is to steal off another, I left my pannier bags locked to my motorcycle outside the hotel. In the morning when I looked down to my bike from my room, I could see someone had left a present on my bike. When I dragged my personal bag out to the bike, I found I had been given a hammer. Thanks guys, but I cannot carry such a gift!
I arrived into the city of Arbil, slight lost and not knowing where to go. I headed for the city centre and as I turned the last corner I discovered not only the oldest habitable fort in the world but also another motorcyclist getting his photo taken by four Swedish teachers! How come there are so many tourists in Iraq!
Teo from Italy on his way to India!
While Teo and I talked we became a huge attraction for the locals, and they asked for photo with each and every one of them. In return I asked if I could use their phone and call my contact for this city, Abbas, a cousin of Susan’s cousin. He arrived and whisked me away for a coffee in a coffee shop that would have fitted into my life back at home. I sat in my chair with my latte in my hand and my mouth on the floor as a woman walked up to the counter in a mini skirt! I hadn’t seen a woman dressed so skimpy for at least 7 months.
Me of course!
Abbas and his flatmates invited me back to their house and gave me dinner, internet and a place to sleep. The next morning, I left my safe house but not without another present on my bike, this time I had a screw driver! I handed Abbas the screw driver and head north towards Turkey. I have a few days up my sleeve before I have to reach Sanilurfa but I didn’t really have a plan so I just drove.