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May 2008

THIS is Iraq!

Snow-capped mountains. Soaring castles. Lush green valleys. Raging rivers through canyons as grand as the Arizona Grand Canyon. Modern shopping malls and hotels. Friendly, welcoming people who embrace Americans. Welcome to Iraqi Kurdistan. 

I recently had the opportunity to backpack across the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, on assignment for Lonely Planet travel guides. Castles and canyons are not images that most people have in their minds when they think of Iraq. But as the regional motto fittingly proclaims, Iraqi Kurdistan is "The Other Iraq."  This is not the wartorn, desert Iraq the world has come to know from the nightly news. Iraqi Kurdistan is a relatively peaceful region and it's now open for business and tourism. It is Iraq in name only. For all intent and purposes, it is practically a separate country. The semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan has it's own parliament, own military, own languages and culture. It is a naturally beautiful part of the world that is ripe for tourism.

I traveled overland into Iraq: flying first to Istanbul, Turkey, then flying to Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey (the defacto capital of the Kurdish people), took a bus to the border town of Silopi, then crossed into Iraq by taxi. Traveling through Iraq was a unique experience to essentially witness the birth of a country. Traveling in Iraq is not without its risks, and therefore I'd only recommend it to seasoned travelers with street smarts and a taste for adventure. The thing that probably surprised me most about Iraq is just how expensive it is! There is no real public transportation system, so every trip involves hiring an expensive taxi. Hostels are non-existent, and budget hotels are far and few between. Mostly I got around through the kindness of strangers. I don't think I've ever met such a welcoming, friendly people. Iraqi Kurdistan may be the last place on Earth where having an American passport is a GOOD thing!

Check out the recap story posted today on Lonely Planet.

Meantime, here are a few more of my images from The Other Iraq. Click on the Flickr icon at the top-right to see more images of Kurdish Iraq.

IMG_1049 IMG_1066

Random rants of the day

--Ladies, WTF is up with black nail polish?  Even the weathergirl on BBC News Breakfast Show is wearing black nail polish. A little bit of advice: you look ridiculous, like Morticia Adams or or some Emo Goth teenager. Halloween is the only day of the year that black nail polish is acceptable. Thank you.

--Angels in America:  I'm not sure when it happened, but sometime over the past year, our lovely little North London neighborhood of Angel-Islington has turned into "Little America."  Everywhere I turn, we hear loud American accents: the grocery store, the bank, the market, outdoor cafes. When we first moved here, we'd go weeks without hearing a Yank voice.  On some days, it now seems like half our neighbors are American.  Luckily tourists have not yet discovered this wonderful little corner of London. It's funny how expat nationals tend to congregate with each other in London. Americans traditionally tended to live in two areas of London: the posh neighborhood of Chelsea & Kensington, or St Johns Wood, best known as the location of Abbey Road. Australians live in Acton Town. Bangladeshis live on Brick Lane.

--Brits love to hate Americans. Brits love to "have a go" (start an argument) with Yanks about American politics, President Bush, the war in Iraq, you name it. Yet Brits love all things America, from clothing and brand name labels to traveling America.  Every young British guy and gal love wearing baseball caps embroidered with a very familiar "NY" logo in Old English script. Yet few of them know that it's the logo of the New York Yankees; most just think it stands for New York City!  Brits will tell you how much they love traveling to America. "Oh yes! I've been to New York, Orlando and Las Vegas!"  That, to the average Brit, is what America is all about: "Friends," Disney World, and 24-hour all-you-can-eat-buffets and casinos. 

Actual conversation yesterday with Chapel Market costermonger (market vendor):
Him: "OH, you're American!"
Me, sheepishly: "Yes"
Him: "So, who do you think is going to win the Democratic presidential nomination?"
Me: "Barack Obama."
Him: "I want Hillary Clinton to win. No. 1, you Americans will never vote for a black man. And No. 2, I have a LOT of money riding on Hilary. A LOT!" (Brits love to gamble. You can bet on anything at the local bookies, from the weather to the winner of Big Brother.)
Me: "Statistically, Hilary has no chance of catching up to Obama"
Him: "No offense, (Brits love to apologize before they insult you) but I can't stand most Americans. I find that most Americans are arrogant bullshitters."
Me: "Uhhh...I see....Sorry, I must run off now. Cheers."



ISTANBUL, Turkey, originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Hiya. I'm back home in London. I'll post more about my Iraq adventures later but at the moment I'm swamped on deadline. In the meantime, I've posted some new photos of Turkey on Flickr. Click the photo below or the Flickr icon at the top right to see the full photostream.
Mr. Crab