Once you get past the border and all the border related hupla you could be forgiven feeling that you really haven’t gone anywhere. The first town you hit is Zakh0 and despite the arabic script on the signs, it feels much like the last town of Turkey. It makes sense since the whole area is historically Kurdish, but you still do a double take and wonder if you somehow didn’t get turned around or something…
Turning right out of Zakho on the road to Mosul (and Duhok, my destination) you ride through some hills, onto some of the worst still intact tarmac on the planet, before going down onto the plains.
It’s hard to see on the picture (not much time between trucks), but those ruts where the trucks are running are up to a foot deep and you would have not chance of getting out of them considering how oily they are. If the road would just give up and crack it would be so much better. The cars you see are actually driving into oncoming traffic where a fun little game of chicken is played for everyone’s enjoyment.
The ride along the plains is, well, a ride along the plains- flat and straight. The occasional pillbox or fort can be seen, but beyond that you really could be in Kansas. By the time I hit Duhok I was actually wondering why I had bothered- it had been a dusty, dirty, flat and boring ride.
Riding into Duhok wasn’t particularly inspirational and during my short ride around looking for a hotel with some kind of parking (many hotels start on the second floor so you can’t even bring your bike inside) the last of my ‘ohhhh, I’m in Iraq’ wonderment jump off the bike and started to head for home.
Idiot, he really should have hung around for a bit.
Parking my bike at the hotel led to the now familiar scene of people hanging around and watching until a soldier from a guard post across the street waved some of the people off and used gestures to indicate that he would watch the bike while it was parked (during my 8 days in Iraq my bike was parked on the street with a cover every single night and not once was the alarm tripped or the covered disturbed in any way). I then headed off to explore the town.
After seeing so much beige- from the dust, to the buildings, to the hills in the distance, the contrast in the streets was eye-popping. I’m sure it must come partly from the simple palette nature uses here, but wow- the interiors of these people’s house must be intense.
A carpet shop, showing off the latest styles.
With new carpet, you know you need new furniture…
Even the produce stands seem brighter than I’ve seen before.
Once you get beyond the colours and get to the people, well, they work on the same exuberant scale. Open and friendly like few places I’ve been, but more notably, interested. It took me a while to realise that the guys calling after me weren’t touts trying to sell something- they were people who were just curious about me. Once they realised I was a tourist and not there on business, things went from pale pink to untraviolet-neon-pink. Take a picture of a produce stand and: You like my fruit- here have an orange! Take a picture of insane donairs or bread being made: Sit, sit- I bring tea and you watch!
Going to the bazar is much the same as in other places, except for a few fantastic differences. There are no tourist stalls (I couldn’t even find a postcard during my entire stay), the vendors are polite to the locals and don’t bother you, and the locals are happy to see you instead of annoyed at your gawking. The girl in the bottom center of this pic was actually dragging her friend in to make sure they were in the pic! Beyond that, the wiring really gave me India flashbacks…
I then decided to grab some dinner. It had been a long day and with almost nothing for breakfast and no lunch, I was in need of food. I found a sitdown place with good lighting so I could get an idea for the food- while I love rare meat, getting too adventurous on my first night on KIraq seemed a little foolhardy. They didn’t have a menu, but I pointed at a picture on the wall and, well, I’ll just let the picture do the talking (btw, I didn’t get a pic of the first course soup and bread- this is just the mains).
Getting back to the hotel my head was a jumble- I’ve got to find some good riding, I think I ate too much, what great people, I wonder what the women’s underthings look like here (I saw a shop later and its pretty kickass!)?, Oh yeah- I ate waaaay too much… and so on.