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Chapter 16: Pause in Paradise

Akre to Soran. April 21-22.

The areas surrounding Soran and Choman had been featured in almost every traveler's recommendations for Kurdistan region, so even among Kurds themselves. Waterfalls, snowy mountains and high lakes make the pictures look dreamy, and word had it they were not lying. While it all seemed wonderful, I had started to feel the toll of the road and of the intense social atmosphere. Being the center of attention without really knowing anybody is taxing and while I had always been very well tended to in the homes it was hard to get enough sleep. People in Iraq generally stay up late as they are less active in the hot days, and I wanted to cycle early to beat the heat. More than pretty views, I needed a break.

At this point, support from my own world was really key. I had received a message from an old acquaintance, a friend who is distant in most aspects yet somehow feels close still.

Hello, how are you? I just feel like reaching out to tell you that I admire the journey you're currently on. I read your blog and I'm very excited for you... If there is anything I can support you with from afar on your journey, please reach out. From my own experiences I know that sometimes it can be nice just to know that there are people out there thinking of you and that are happy to listen to any thoughts, worries and fears which naturally accompany missions like yours.

This truly meant a lot to me. Not because I was in dire need of such sharing at the time, and I knew that there are some out there who reads and who cares, but hearing somebody say it to me meant a world of difference against loneliness, my greatest adversary. Feeling that it was worthwhile for someone to go out of their comforts - taking the time, the energy, the "risk of rejections" that our minds make up - to comfort me. Of course, in Iraq it happens on the road all the time that people go out of their way to help me. But it is not personal. I am an outsider, and the hospitality is not because of who I am, but because of what - a guest.

It is similar with family... they love me and support me unconditionally because I am a son, a brother. There is strong safety and unity in that, and I treasure it immensely, but it is not always the remedy for my loneliness. Knowing that people care for me because of who I am though, that often is. I have received other messages from people confirming that they follow, support and enjoy from afar, and it means more than one would probably imagine.

With renewed spirit I continued through the hilly landscape, clearing my first of many serpentine ascents and soon approached Khalifan. The path between Khalifan and Zargali, right before Soran, is one of the big highlights in the area. The road enters a deep and narrow canyon, twisting and turning with waterfalls aplenty along the steep walls. Some are commercialised with an entry fee to the fall itself, but if that entry fee is less than one dollar I would hardly call it exploited as in the case of Geli Ali Bag waterfall. Rather, it was a vibrant and family friendly atmosphere with music and dancing in the ankle high water. They might generally not be outdoorsy in the European sense, but I really appreciate that the kurds have their prime family time in their beautiful nature. And in that culture, family is everything.

While the water in the gorge flows northeast, meaning I was headed downstream, the northern road hugs the wall up to the surface. After that climb I was done cycling, found a hotel and forgot all about local culture for two days. I focused on the writing and the presentation with a touch of relaxation. I knew I would eventually have to rest more fully, letting go of both physical and creative work for a time. In that moment, I felt good catching up with my story while staying away from curious locals.

The next day in the afternoon, there was one excursion I felt almost obligated to do. Rawanduz, a town atop of not one but two canyons, squeezed between them in a way that made my mind go to epic fantasy tales with cities spralling on cliffs just like this. The water flows from a valley that continues all the way to Ranya. Sitting by the edge of town, looking out to the distance, I knew one path that I would take next time I travel this land. There is no shortage of spectacular scenery in kurdistan, but if I want to impress someone with beauty from my journey, or just challenge their perception of what Iraq can look like, I show them Rawanduz.


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