Erbil by Day and Sulaymaniyah in the Evening
by Jennifer Martin
On Monday, we decided to see the major sights in Erbil and move on to Sulaymaniyah today. Erbil is nice, but it isn't overflowing with activities and attractions.
First stop on the list was the Citadel, which is claimed to be the oldest, continually inhabited place in the world. Currently, the Citadel is almost vacant. To maintain its "old" title, one family resides within the walls of the town.
Since tourism isn't a huge industry in Iraq, the officials are fairly lax with sightseeing policies. We strolled around the inside of the town, giving ourselves the grand tour. As we were exiting, our eyes fell upon a familiar face. The Canadian who we met in Mardin, Turkey, had turned to exit, as well. Sean (Canadian) joined Bobby, Steve, and I for a walk to visit a minaret and to exchange stories. Sean was in his late-20's and awhile back, he decided to quit his job to travel. Best line of the day goes to Sean, "Well, it turns out that I'm a lot better at traveling than I am at working."
So the minaret was not noteworthy. We parted ways with Sean, and decided to hit the road for Sulaymaniyah (hereinafter, "Sulay" :)). We climbed in the cab, and instructed the cab driver to take us to the closest garage. En route, we mentioned to the driver that we would be going to Sulay. He then negotiated a price to take us to the city rather than using the garage-y services.
The road to Sulay cuts through Kirkuk, one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq. Well, en route, we either (1) figured that the taxi driver would avoid Kirkuk, or (2) assumed that since the Iraqi Kurdistan military controlled the main road, we would be safe. Actually..."we" didn't think about anything. I had no idea that driving through Kirkuk was a possibility.
Essentially, the main issue about Kirkuk is that it lies between Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. About the city:
* Travel guide: "The oil-rich city of Kirkuk is a kaliedoscope of ethnic groups, and a tinderbox waiting to explode. Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen all lay claim to Kirkuk. Kurds consider it part of their historical homeland and are seeking to make it the capital of [Iraqi Kurdistan]. Arabs and most Turkomans want the city and its oil wealth to remain under central government control...Apart from oil, Kirkuk has little to offer. Bombings and shooting are common, giving this dismal city a feeling of the old 'Wild West'."
* Recent news: Iraq violence kills nine & US presence remains divided in Kirkuk
* Apparently, to put it lightly, Americans aren't too welcome here.
Now I will present our visit through my eyes:
We pulled into this small, random, run-down city, and we immediately noticed that it smelt like oil -- which was interesting. The main road was closed, so our cab driver took us through some neighborhoods. He even stopped to ask for directions. Since I was becoming rather bored with the detours, I thought it might be a good idea to take pictures. I rolled down my window completely and started snapping.
"What are you taking pictures of?" Bobby crinkled his head and jeered. He obviously has more experience than me.
"I have no idea. It seemed like a good idea," I innocently responded :).
Bobby laughed, "Ha, you think you would take pictures of the typical Iraqi city?" Steve was probably rolling his eyes up in the passenger seat.
We managed to find the main road. As we pulled out of the city, Bobby turned to take a picture. I suspiciously looked at him, thinking to myself, "Well aren't we a little hypocritical right now." Then, Bobby and Steve mentioned that we just spent 15 - 30 minutes in Kirkuk. Woopsy! It put my worry about Mosul into perspective.
We finally arrived in Sulay that evening. We treated ourselves to a nice hotel outside of the city center, which ran us about $30/night. My only issue with the hotel was that it had a swimming pool...only for men. The hotel, however, was near heaven-on-Earth: a shisha bar-coffee shop-internet cafe mix called Cafe Amsterdam, with pillows and couches arranged on the floor.
Because we were eating the local cuisine 2 times per day every day, we attempted to find another restaurant. Tonight, it was Chinese.It was a quaint little restaurant, having walls decorated with signs banning AK-47's and machetes. We walked upstairs to the restaurant, sat down, and glanced around the empty dining area. Several single men were scattered about, but we were the only ones who would be engaging in the dining experience. The family owners of the restaurant were extremely friendly and seemed to enjoy speaking with our group. The primary owner, an older Chinese lady, even revealed much of her life story to Bobby. Midway through the dinner, music started blaring and a young woman, dressed in a bedazzled top & showing cleavage, strutted onto a corner stage to start singing for 15 minutes. When thinking about it after we left, it was decided that we ate dinner at the Iraqi Kurdistan equivalent of a strip club.
Since we were to explore Sulay the following day, we grabbed a bottle of wine from a kiosk, engaged in our nightly talk sessions, and hit the hay.
You can read more by Jennifer here: http://jennifersblog85.blogspot.com/.
More by Jennifer MartinOperation: Cross the Border
Erbil - Old-School Iraq
Amna Suraka (Red Security)
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