I know I’ve already posted information on this subject, along with Dave Perkins’ article “The Hills Have Eyes” but I received this email just a day or two ago, from a Journalist in New Jersey, requesting certain extra information on SE Turkey and N Iraq.
My reply was, I believe, loaded with useful tips for anyone considering a similar trip, or whoâ€™s just heading into the same region. For that reason, I figured I’d make the most of my lengthy reply and put it up here for others to see…. Because Iâ€™m helpful like that. ;o)
For security reasons, Iâ€™ve omitted the personâ€™s details and specific travel plans.
Do U.S. dollars work in Turkey, Iraq and Kurdistan, or should we change our
How difficult is it to get a cab from Diyarbakir to Dahuk?
How difficult is it to get across the border at Harbur Gate?
Should we get a translator, a bodyguard, what?
How concerned should we be about criminals on the road and in the markets?
What kind of clothing is appropriate, both weatherwise and politically?
Do we need to wear any protective gear, like Kevlar?
What is the feeling toward Americans among the people there?
What is the availability of good water? Clean toilets? Decent food?
Any other advice?
OK… I’ll go through your questions in order:
$USD – As far as currency is concerned, there is no “Kurdistan”, only Turkey or Iraq. You will be able to use US Dollars in both countries, but it will be a small inconvenience, as nowhere uses USD prices so they’ll need to convert for you each time.
There are plenty of ATM cash machines in Turkey, so it really isn’t too difficult to get cash on demand. In Iraq, most hotels will change money for you to, so you needn’t have to use Dollars in the markets. It’s probably wise not to be seen with Dollars in Iraq anyway, as that will draw attention to you – the wrong kind, and that’s something to be avoided. If you absolutely have no choice, you will be able to use USD in both countries.
It’ll be very difficult to get a cab in Diyarbakir that will go all the way to Dahuk, as it’s unlikely that you’d be fortunate enough to find a driver that would have the necessary paperwork to cross the borer, but you’ve no need to worry… Just take the taxi as far as the border (harbur) near Silopi (probably cost between $150 and $200USD. Much cheaper on the bus). At the border, there
are numerous taxi drivers that not only pick you up on the Turkish side and take you all the way to Dahuk, Mosul, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Basra, wherever you want to go, but they’ll also process all your paperwork for you too. You just hand them your passports, wait in the car, and they do everything for you. It couldn’t be easier. The service costs $21 per person. The journey to Zakho is 10 minutes. Dahuk is another 45 minutes further.
A bodyguard is not required. This part of Iraq (Zakho – Dahuk) is probably safer than London right now. Whether or not you need a translator all comes down to your grasp of Kurmanji (N Kurdish) or Arabic. Both are spoken in equal amounts in the Autonomous Kurdish N Iraq. Very few speak English, but people are generally keen to try.
Crime did not seem all that prevalent to me in Dahuk, as long as you’re sensible and you take any necessary precautions, I think you’d have to be very unlucky to run into any trouble. Everyone will want to talk to you. It’s unlikely anyone will want to rob you. I was followed by a young lad, who didn’t want to talk to me but just kept following. I asked an adult bystander to stop the lad, and the boy got a heft clout round the head for his trouble. People will help wherever they can.
Dress conservatively. It may be scorching hot, but you need to be wearing long trousers and a proper shirt (not t-shirt) if you want to blend in (you can still roll your sleeves up). Woman will want to make sure arms and legs are covered i.e. long skirt with long-sleeved top. Liberal use of
cotton clothing should help with the heat. There’s no need at all to wear any kind of head scarf or facial covering.
Americans are treated like VIPs. The Kurds feel they are on the brink of finally having their own country and the fact that the coalition forces played a vital role in making that happen, is not lost on these people. All the same, in my opinion, it’s still wise to keep your voice down and don’t shout about where you’re from – you just don’t know who’s listening. That may be a little paranoid, but it works for me. A healthy dose of paranoia along with good manners and politeness should see you alright.
Drink bottled water only. The only place that I drink natural water out there is above 2000m on Mount Ararat.
Toilets will range from pristine, western style toilets in the hotels, to stinking, filthy, shitholes elsewhere. Nothing unusual there, then!
Food. It’s difficult to find good food in Turkey (unless you really enjoy kebabs!). One thing that I really enjoyed was something called a Tantuni. If you see anyone selling them, try it.
In Dahuk, we found a pretty decent restaurant on the road that runs round behind the back of the “Mazi Market”
They had a very diverse menu, but all in all, the food is pretty uninspiring.
Not sure what sort of budget you are aiming for on the hotel front, but I can recommend the Hotel Sulav in Dahuk. It was $30 per night and was a stone’s throw from the main market (souk).
I think that just about covers it. Can’t think of anything else worth mentioning without going on forever, so just ask if you want anything else specific.
And that goes for anyone. Iâ€™m always happy to assist where possible, but I may recall the favour if you have knowledge of somewhere I want to go. I may even turn up at your house, eat all your food and drink all your beer, just like that Sean Rorison fella. ;o)