Adventures in Iraq.
This is a continuation from Travel Iraq Duhok to Amadiya.
After walking for a half hour through the slopping streets of mountainous Amadiya in the northeastern pocket of Iraq, it became apparent to Chaya and I that we may have stuck ourselves in a hole: we could not find a hotel anywhere.
Prior to setting out for Iraq, we were given a Lonely Planet guidebook to Turkey by the manager of the Dogu Hotel in Sanliurfa. I am guessing that some previous guests left it behind and the manager must have thought that we could make some use of it. But it quickly became apparent why the other travelers ditched it: the research for east of Turkey is awful to the point of negligence. As is, perhaps sadly, often the case, I now know that we would be better off traveling without the Lonely Planet guide.
It is one adventure to have to find your own way through the dark of a foreign land, it is quite another to be lead in the wrong direction. Lonely Planet has the habit of leading cash strapped backpackers into the dark abyss of poor advice.
In the “getting there and away” section of the LP Turkey guide it suggests staying in Amadiya in the North of Iraq. We assume that this means that there should be a hotel there. We assumed far too much. There are no hotels in Amadiya.
In the midst of our futile search a couple fresh faced Iraqi soldiers approached us from behind.
“Passport, passport,” the fresher faced of the two tentatively suggested.
He wanted to look at my passport. I did not want to reach into my crotch and dig it out of my money belt in the middle of the street. I tried to put the soldier off. A crowd formed.
“I don’t want to show you my passport,” I responded to the kid soldier who did not understand my words. He called in backup as he thought he caught an errant fish sneaking into Iraq.
Who sneaks into Iraq?
I gave in and showed him my passport. He smiled big and said any thank yous.
I asked him where we could find a hotel.
He said “thank you.”
Chaya and I continued our search.
Mountains around Amadiya in the north of Iraq.
We tried asking people where we could find a hotel, and they just pointed off into random, nowhere directions. But the day was warm and the scenery beautiful. We stopped for a rest on a road at the edge of the village that had an amazing view into the valley that surrounded the mountain top town. Chaya and I stood and gazed out upon rough peaks, and gentle valleys: Iraq is a beautiful country.
Just then we noticed an old woman outside of her home noticing us. She waved us to come over to her. We did. She pointed for us to come into her home. We followed. She then lead us through her house and into her backyard. There we found a large garden and a little patio set up on a little cliff at the edge of the village. The view was beyond amazing. The woman smiled at our delight and had her three daughters bring us chairs, coffee, and candy.
We sat with the woman’s family and just gazed out into the infinite distance. The daughters brought me a coffee and Chaya an orange pop. The family huddled together and watched us enjoy their view. Hardly an intelligible word was communicated between us, but our smiles was enough to say everything.
The woman then offered us some food, but we did not want to impose too much. So we just sat and rested for a while longer, and then rose and wished the family well. They escorted us to the door and waved to us as we walked down the street.
View from the home in Amadiya were we were offered a show of gentle wordless hospitality.
After walking a hundred meters, Chaya spied a young women in nice clothes walking up the street. She was definitely a candidate for being an English speaker. Chaya greeted her in English, and, after a momentary pause for surprise, the girl responded in kind. She told us that we could find a hotel by walking down the mountain and to the next town back along the road. She told us that there were no hotels in Amadiya.
Chaya and I guffawed as we sulked away. Then a familiar voice rang out to us.
“Do you speak English?” the voice said with a perfect American intonation.
We of course replied that we did.
The speaker appeared to be Iraqi but spoke perfect American English. She was standing in front of a house that she just walked out of, and listened to us as we explained our situation:
We were stuck in Amadiya looking for a place to stay with very little money remaining. She told us that we could find a hotel for $40 a village away. I asked her where she was from.
“Chicago,” she replied, “I am Iraqi and my family moved to America when I was young, we are now back to bury my father in his hometown.”
I could not believe our good fortune.
The young woman’s brothers soon appeared and we all shook hands and had a laugh about meeting by chance in such a remote location. A forth Iraqi relative from Australia soon joined the group and introduced himself. They were all in this little village for the funeral. We became fast friends, and one of the brothers, whose was given the name Remo, agreed to show us around town and help us find a hotel and a bank.
We got into one of his Iraqi relative’s car and began riding around the mountain top village. We went to a bank, but a soldier with an M-16 told us that we could not use VISA debit cards, and that we would have to go to Duhok to get money (No VISA ATMs in Iraq).
We then drove to the hotel, and found that the owner would not open it unless we paid 40,000 Iraqi Dinars (more than $30) for the night.
We could not pay this much money. I told our new friends this and Remo tried to give me a $20 bill. I found his offer gracious, but could not accept it. I still had some money, just not a lot of it. With a pat on the back, I told him that I would take his offer if I went completely belly up. He then offered us a place to sleep with his family.
We excitedly accepted.
We then drove around the base of the mountain plateau that Amadiya is laid upon and spent the day hiking up a river and talking fast talk.
Upon arriving back in Amadiya, we were shown a room in a home that Chay and I could share for the night. Our host then said that he had family business to attend to, and left us with the key.
Chaya and I then laid down upon the bed and smiled at our chanced fortuned. We thought we had it made.
We thought wrong.
A half hour later we were awaken by a loud knock on the door. I answered it.
Two big men that I did not know were standing in front of me.
“This is the owner of the house, you have to go!” one of the men yelled while pointing at a visibly upset man behind him. “Five minutes, then you get out!”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“This is the owner of the house! You have to get out! Five minutes! The boy is from Chicago, he does not know what he is doing here.”
Chaya and I scooped up our rucksacks and did as we were directed. We found a group of our Chicago friend’s Iraqi relatives around a corner. We tried to confirm that they knew the men who booted us from the house. They did.
Chaya and I, dejectedly, walked back up the street with no place to stay. Though the day was still bright and warm. We laughed.
On our way out of town we met back up with our Chicago friends. They apologized and helped us find a shared taxi back to Duhok.
$45 in taxi fares later we were right back to where we began. We ate the pizza bread that we were given earlier in the day and returned to the $10 Hotel Gara where we slept the night before.
Iraqi man wearing a Buffalo Bills hat. I am from Buffalo, and finding my home team’s logo out in the mountains of Iraq made me smile with nostalgia.