Thursday, March 12, 2009


(March 1st-7th, 2009)

So I guess I should start this part of my blog telling you how and why I ended up going to Iraq since you all might be wondering about that. On my last month with the Jordan Tourism Board I was finalizing all the activities I was handling for them. The main project I was working on was the Jordan Travel Mart that happened in Feb. 22nd to 25th, 2009. This year we decided to have the Adventure Travel as our theme for this conference and we were very excited to get great organizations, such as ATTA (Adventure Travel and Trade Association) and National Geographic, partnering with us in this event.

While organizing Shannon’s (President of ATTA) trip to Jordan, I ended up knowing he was planning to extend his staying in the Middle East and go to Iraq/Kurdistan to meet with their Minister of Tourism and figure out ways to help them with assessing their tourism industry potential. As simple as it may sound, the only thing I had to do was invite myself to join him. I knew I was leaving Jordan and had time to explore a little more of the Middle East before starting my Africa journey.

I have met him few times before during tourism events in USA but have not had a chance to really get to know him well. So, here I was, going to IRAQ with someone I did not really know. But as some of my dearest friends say, I live in Gisele’s world and I had no doubt that everything would be perfect! And of course I was right; Shannon is indeed an incredible person to travel with. A very curious and enthusiastic guy, extremely adventurous (as a president of ATTA can/should be), full of energy and definitely very open minded to explore different cultures and places being more respectful than anyone I have ever met.

IRAQ/Kurdistan - Well, well, well… I just must tell you all I do not think I will ever be able to describe how incredible this trip was. The country is beautiful - full of archeological treasures and outstanding landscaping, the people are super friendly and genuine, and the amazing feeling you have inside you by just knowing you are in IRAQ is priceless.

After only ten minutes in Iraq, I knew I was going to have a great time over there, and more than that, I knew I was going to be safe. My first experience with the Iraq/Kurdistan people was at the customs and I must say I have never been that welcomed in my life… and please keep in mind I have been to more than 30 countries and dealt with a great amount of customs officials.

First morning there, we met with the Minister of Tourism and his team. It was extremely interesting to witness their desire to do a lot for their country and its tourism industry and how overwhelmed they were with everything related to why, when, and how to start working on that. After learning more about what we were going to experience in Kurdistan and exchanging some ideas and contacts that could be of some help for them, we left the ministry and venture off to explore Erbil.

The Citadel – The oldest inhabited city in the World! Built around 6000bc, which makes it an 8000+ year old city!!! Wooowww! The most incredible thing is that until 8 months ago, when they started with the renovation projects, they still have many families living there. After visiting the Citadel and the Textile Museum, we went to the old bazaar and mingled a little with the locals, who were extremely hospitable.

On that same day, we visited an 800 year old minaret and some parks around the city. Our guides dropped us back at the hotel late afternoon and suggested we should have dinner at one of the restaurants over there. Since we are “real” travelers, we decided to skip dinner at the hotel, got a street cab, found a local pizza place to have dinner and meet some locals, and after all of that we hitched our way back to the Hotel. Actually, the truth is that we did not intend to “hitch”, but this Arab guy, in his very old car, stopped in the middle of the street, asked where we were heading to, and offered us a ride. The only thing we did was to accept his offer, about 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of a street in Erbil, on our first day in Iraq.

The main point I want to share here is that I would never do it in USA or in Brazil, but I DID in Iraq, and we did because we felt 100% safe and comfortable with the situation.

During the next couple of days we travelled around the region (Erbil and Dohuk Provinces), got amused by its natural beauty (REALLY), and got together with the locals everywhere we went, for as much time we could. Some of the highlights of this trip includes a visit to a nomadic family settlement, on our way to the mountains northeast of Erbil, where I was able spend some time and have a lot of fun with the very interesting women over there. In Dohuk, we met with several very welcoming Kurdish teachers during our lunch, Shannon went for a Kurdish haircut in a street barber, I played domino and snooker with the locals, we fully explored the city's old bazaar, and ended our day having dinner with our guides over very interesting personal conversations.

On our last day, back in Erbil, Shannon and I decided to go back to the old bazaar and spend our last few hours in Iraq enjoying our time doing some shopping and mingling with the local people. The experience was really fascinating and realizing that everyone out there was doing their utmost to make sure we felt safe and welcomed all the time was just mind-blowing. I cannot finish this story without mentioning my moment of glory, when I was literally treated as a “star” at the Erbil Shopping Mall. No kidding, more than 15 guys wanted to have their picture taken with me. That was very cute and special! Ahhh… and of course we did crash a wedding while we were there :)!

Everything went well and everyday was very enjoyable. I only wish I had more time to also explore all the archeological treasures that are “hidden” all over that region.

Anyway, this is a not very short video I put together with some pictures I took while I was there. Enjoy it!

Ah… Shannon's Kurdish Haircut film will be posted soon…

Just one more thing: Shannon, thank you so much for letting me to be part of this adventure and experience of a life time.

Zor Supass, Shukran Iktir, Thanks a million!

For more detailed information on Kurdistan, please go to

1 comment:

  1. Hope your trip went well and that you're enjoying the next leg of your adventure! xxoo Erin