Day Nine: Erbil and Conclusion

by - August 23, 2012

Erbil Mosque, Iraq
After what seemed like a lifetime in some ways and a second in others, it was time for us to head back to the UK.  The memory of landing in Iraq with nervous excitement a week ago had now faded and we had begun to feel about as at home as you probably can do here as a Brit.  Having spent most of our trip in the countryside, it didn’t really feel like we had got to know any of the cities particularly well so we spent the morning having a general wander.  We found ourselves at Erbil’s main mosque which was totally closed as people were celebrating Eid.  Whether we would have been able to go into the mosque anyway is debatable but the outside was very pretty and worth seeing.  It looks like it is fairly modern, but has been built in the traditional style.  After the mosque we packed up our backs and caught a cab to the airport where we flew back to London via Vienna with Austrian Airlines.

So, I don’t normally do this, but I think that somehow this trip warrants a conclusion.  I think that the best way to do this is for me to list some positives (and negatives about the trip).  Overall, I believe that Iraqi Kurdistan is infinitely visitable and offers a fascinating alternative destination for the intrepid backpacker.  But anyway, pros and cons:

+ The people: without a doubt the most overwhelming feature that we will take from this trip is how friendly, helpful and welcoming the Kurdish people are.  We had literally no negative experiences with any of the Kurds and made a lot of friends.  Without a shadow of a doubt, they are the most naturally friendly people I have ever met on my travels.

+ Off the beaten track: for the time being, Iraq (whether Kurdish or not) will be seen by most as an extremely unlikely (or unwise) travel destination.  If you are so inclined, this offers more of a temptation than impediment to visit the area as you can rely on having an experience that few will have had, visiting a region that has not been changed through tourism at all.

+ The sights: there is a stunning array of historical, natural and modern sites across Kurdistan which mean that there is always something to do.  I have even heard of there being a blossoming adventure travel industry developing around hiking and white water rafting.  While most people assume I came to Iraq to ‘tick a country off’ while putting myself in faux-danger, there is loads to see in Kurdistan.

- Lack of information: the flip side of the region being off the beaten track is that there is very little information available for backpackers and this can quite often lead to confusion and a fear that you don’t really know what you want to see.  Looking at blogs (like you are doing now - good start) and trying to find a local’s contact details is definitely advisable if possible.

- Heat and Ramaddan: not a massive problem - just go at any other time of the year that isn’t when we went.

- Danger: this is only a potential negative.  Iraqi Kurdistan is perfectly safe at the moment and is set to stay that way.  Unfortunately, the situation may change if outside factors change.  To the north, Turkey is engaged in a guerilla war with Kurdish separatists, to the east is unpredictable Iran, to the south is the rest of Iraq which has always had tensions with Kurds and to the west is Syria which is currently facing a civil war.  As long as Kurdistan is left to decide its own fate, it will be safe.  I just hope that it will be allowed to.

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