**Gas stations saved my life**
The little encounter with the intelligence let Dilzar to register me officially as a guest in his apartment. So Monday morning, 13th February, we needed to show up at the police station. After this, my surveillance by secret police until the Iranian border started. I said good-bye to Dilzar who succeeded to give me a good picture of Erbil and I continued towards Sulaymaniyah.
But I haven’t slept very much the previous night to be precise only three hours and I had to take a nap on a football field. A small mountain range needed be climbed up and then I was too powerless to cycle more. In addition it started raining so I just bought some groceries and stopped by at the first mosque that seemed to be in less populated area. I mean it was part of a village but that seemed inhabited only in summer because all but one house seemed abandoned. The mosque didn’t have any heating but at least the windows were in order and there was electricity.
On Tuesday it rained continuously and snow fall from the sky from time to time. Wet and chilled through I stopped at a gas station to get at least a little warmth again. As always it was amazing how friendly the people here are. For about two hours I could warm myself and dry my clothes a bit. Before I could choose a mosque for the night I was stopped by a car while it was raining cats and dogs again. My passport was asked for – Kurdish Intelligence was always with me. I should stop on the shoulder where I sank ankle-deep in snow slush. My mood sank as well as I felt my feet getting wetter and wetter and I wasn’t able to be very friendly to the officer who didn’t wear any uniform. He apologized for the inconvenience though could just sit down in his warm car again. Whereas I found a mosque that was already run-down: The windows were partly broken so it wasn’t warm. At least electricity was working until midnight and there was running water.
Instead of following the main road to Sulaymaniyah on Wednesday, 28 February, I decided to take a smaller road between two mountain ranges. The wet and cold weather didn’t stop but more wet snow was added at about 2°C and wind – it was like hell just in wet and cold. Even cars returned and didn’t continue on that road because ascents were too slippery due to snow. I felt way beyond comfortable with all these wet clothes. On the first gas station that I saw before Sulaymaniyah I stopped. And how warm the welcome was again! The employees gave me some food and tea and of course were curious why the hell I was cycling in Kurdistan (and) at this time of the year.
From there I also contacted Arian who picked me up. I left my bicycle at the gas station and would take it later on.
Arian and his big family hosted me for six days. It was a wonderful time at great people. The time passed quickly.
Already on Thursday I had the chance to take part in a funny and interesting event. About once every month Arian and his friends gather together to have a nice time. This time they went to Dukan to a bungalow resort. It was very enjoyable and convivial. One friend of Arian likes to cook in his free-time and prepared super delicious food. I think it’s close to impossible to find bad food in Kurdistan. We ate, talked, and played dominoes and music. Even I played a bit on the trumpet. Alcohol was also drunk because in opposite the rest of Iraq it’s legal.
It had snowed overnight and after having cleaned up everything and the obligatory snowball fight we didn’t return to Sulaymaniyah directly but drove into the mountains. Though the streets were a bit difficult to drive on but on the way back a cloud of steam was put over the road.
Because Arian had to work again his father and his brother Alan showed me around town. It was nice chatting with both and I was always arguing with his dad about Christianity and Islam which was quite amusing especially because we did it in Farsi and English. He is a very fit man (both physically and mentally) who regularly goes to the gym.
I did a long walk with Alan through Sulaymaniyah that I saw before only from inside the car. We kind of crossed the whole town and finished near the gas station where I left my bicycle.
Then both Alan and Arian took me swimming. It was great because there are not many clean lakes and rivers and near Persian Gulf it’s also difficult for Iraqi people. Water is valuable so running as many pools as in Europe is not possible in Iraq. Maybe because of that I seemed like a semi-professional swimmer finishing lane after lane. It was superb to swim after a long time. In addition the pools have saunas to complete the wellness feeling.
After six awesome days it was time to continue. Arian’s family has been outstandingly friendly and treated me very well. The food of her mum was super delicious but since us Germans are not used to such hospitality I got more itchy feet with the time. Shortly before my departure Alan even took my bicycle to a welder because my rack was broken. Then I said farewell and cycled towards Iran.