Into Kurdish Iraq

Leaving Turkey was the usual thing- ignore the touts offering help, go here show your papers and get a stamp, move down the line and get another, show someone your stamps, etc.  It actually went fairly quickly and I crossed the Tigris (as a cool border crossing, I’m not sure if the Tigris can be beat!). 

After getting my temperature check for H1N1, I took my passport to the control office.  I knew they didn’t get much in the way of tourists, so I figured I might be a bit of a side-show, nope- full three-ring event with the works!  The guys stamped and processed my passport in under 5 minutes (considering the stack waiting I think that might have been a record) and then all came trooping out to see the bike and get pictures of themselves with me and the bike on their cell phones.  Getting through passport control took 10 minutes, getting away took another 20.

As always, the first bit was the easy bit.  After passport control came the real test- getting the bike in.  I rode to the import station, parked, and was once again the feature attraction (well, the bike really).  They took me and my bike to one side, took pictures, and then realized that they didn’t have a clue what to do.  They didn’t know if I needed a Carnet, import permission, fuel card, etc, etc.  My two guides (a military officer and customs inspector) ended up with a form and walked me from place to place trying to get a signature or something.  We ended going all the way to the crossing point managers office and he took one look at me, the form, and the bike out the window and sent us back to an office we had already hit.  Since we seemed to be at an impasse, the military guy took me to the ‘Big Fountain’ and gave me permission to take a picture.  It was the first of many scenes in Iraq that I just didn’t understand.  Penguins?

During this time a mechanic had arrived at my bike and was looking to put on new Iraqi plates (or so I gathered from the plates and screw driver in his hand while he checked the screws on my plate).  Someone pointed to the registration sticker on my plate (from Alberta, Canada) saying 2010 and the 2009 one on his temporary plate- obviously mine was… Newer?  Better?  Shinyer (sic)?  Anyway, he put the plates down and was given ‘the form’ and quickly filled out some information (VIN, plate, etc) and then produced a stamp and was done.  That opened the floodgates- as soon as I had one stamp, the rest followed with ease.  10 minutes, 4 stops and a form that had been thoroughly pummelled with innumerable stamps was presented to a little man in an office who gave me a ticket.  I was done.  I was through, riding my own bike in KIraq!  It really hadn’t taken that long- under 2 hours all told.

I have to admit, the whole experience made me feel kinda cool.  No one at the border crossing could remember another bike coming through (though I really can’t imagine there hasn’t been a few at least), but that was just icing.  The cake was the people- they were truly happy and excited to see a tourist come in on a bike, to see that tourism was growing beyond just the region or odd backpaker and into different groups from around the world.    You know, for an armed to the teeth group surrounded on all sides by enemies, they just really can’t be beat.

Note- I will be putting together a proper post for Horizons Unlimited with all the boring details for others who may want to go.

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