**Horrifying road in Iraq**
So I left Ridvan and Silopi at the beginning of the week. I planned to visit the town of Amedi and two monasteries and the two cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniah in Iraq. But first I needed the cycle the last 15km on Turkish soil and cross the border. But that was astonishingly easy. Apparently the Turkish officials were happy finally getting rid of me. On the border I was asked for a bus ticket but I just looked amazed and pointed to my bicycle. Also a crazy man who wasn’t an officer tried to check my passport.
Having left Turkey I chatted with the border control on the Iraqi side and was glad that I left the annoying controls behind me.
I think it needs to be said that I didn’t really travelled through Iraq. Sure it sound cooler, but the region is Iraqi Kurdistan – an autonomous region in Iraq with its own government and border control, but Iraqi passport. In this part of Iraq Europeans can easily enter for 30 days but it’s not possible to go to other, southern districts of Iraq where mostly Arabs are living with that stamp. Iraqis who are living the Arab part can only enter Iraqi Kurdistan for 10 days and only when having a guarantor there. It’s a bit complicated – or not.
However I chatted with the officers in Farsi and English and the invited me even for lunch. I could continue invigorated and hit the chaotic roads. I haven’t experienced worse conditions than here. The streets are rather narrow and the shoulders are sandy and filled with potholes. The majority of cars were pick-ups which came in handy later on. Nonetheless people drove quite fast and came very close while overtaking. Especially if the vehicle was a truck it became kind of dangerous. Even in Istanbul I was more respected by the other road users with their motorized vehicles.
After I exchanged some money I could by some bread and dates with my Iraqi Dinars. While looking for a place to stay I passed the first refugee camp, was often asked for selfies and in the evening Guli and Sherzat picked me up and invited me to stay the night over at Sherzat’s place. It was a good decision because it was interesting to meet a family where the husband had two wives and approximately 16 children. Sherzat worked for Peshmerga and one son of his was just fighting against ISIS in Mosul. The children were jumping around and everybody was curious but not very strong with English. Fortunately the Kurdish languages are close to Farsi so little conversation was possible. Actually there are two Kurdish languages: Kurmanji which is spoken in the Northern part to Erbil and Sorani which people speak in Sulaymaniah and Iran.
Having eaten breakfast I continued. It was hilly and snow made its way on the road again. My front sprocket was worn out so cycling was really exhausting. When I saw the ascent to Amedi I decided that I can also just enjoy the view from below and hitchhiked back to the previous village. From there I cycled for another two hours until I found a good place to camp.
On Wednesday I started hitchhiking in the morning. It’s great that people are mostly driving pick-ups and I was taken to Dohuk. From there I cycled to the Rabban Hermizd monastery of Syrian Christians. I have to admit that it was strange to get to a Christian place in this part of the world. Continuing I also passed a Yazidi grave tower. The weather became bad and with the sprocket it was not a nice time at all on the bicycle. It was impossible to go faster than 20km/h because I needed to be in the first gear. I tried to hitch a ride and also people stopped like a Kurd from Germany who came all the way with his BMW and was going to fight against ISIS. In the end no one gave me a ride. Finally I arrived at a gas station where Mohammed invited me to spend the night in the employee’s sleeping room. In most of the gas stations, when the employees aren’t living nearby they work for 2 weeks until they have some days holidays. If they live somewhere else most of the time the live in the gas station.
Thursday was no exception concerning hitchhiking. Mohammed stopped a car for me that brought me near the second monastery. But before I could get there I needed to give handed my passport over to the officers of a checkpoint. The reason probably was that the road led to Mosul and they were afraid I’d join ISIS. The Mar Mattai monastery is around 30km from Mosul and in 2016 ISIS was only 600m away from the monastery. It is one of the oldest Christian monasteries and as the Rabban Hermizd monastery belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church. Most people I met in Iraq didn’t know any of both. Mar Mattei lies on a rock 400m above the normal elevation level. Thanks God after I climbed 80m a priest and his colleague picked me up and gave me a lift to the top.
The way back to the checkpoint nobody stopped though and the officers were happy to see me again and gave me some lunch which I was grateful for because the weather was bad. At least I didn’t need to cycle much more because at the next big crossroads I was taken by a Christian who was going very fast to Erbil which is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. There my couchsurfing host Dilzar was welcoming me later on.