Wednesday, February 26, 2003

We've arrived at Arbil -- journey's end -- after 3 days travelling, totally exhausted. More tomorrow but here's an upload of what's been happening for the last few days...which have possibly been the most eventful of my life.

The convoy’s stuck again although we have managed to get above 1000 metres this time, which is more than we did last night.

The soldiers don’t seem to be too bothered. They’re enjoying a snowball fight while we wait. Given the size of the weapons they’re carrying I’d say it’s a relief they’re only engaged in this form of combat.

26th Feb 11:10am
It appears that J’s box on Upmann No2’s was stolen from the lobby of the hotel last night, allegedly by the PDK soldiers. Like good Muslims, they left the whisky behind. Whoever nicked them is in for some disappointment because they’re not very good cigars but it’s a personal tragedy for their former owner.

I, however, don’t go anywhere without the Preservador travel humidor. If I had a link to the company I would add it because it’s one of the world’s great inventions (if anyone finds a link please e-mail me). On this trip it’s gently humidifying a selection of Rafael Gonzales, Partagas, Montechristo and Ramon Allones half coronas. UK price about £8 a stick, plus handling charge, plus mark up….I think about £20 a cigar sounds about right for the cigar-less correspondent. This could prove to be a very profitable assignment.

26th Feb 10:30am

First of all an apology for the delay in uploading this little lot. It’s been an eventful 24 hours.

In brief….

Finally made it to the border town of Salopi, the jumping off point for the bus to Northern Iraq. One of the maps I’m carrying doesn’t feature Salopi on it. After visiting it, I can see why. After the best day of hanging around while the soldiers did nothing in particular we piled onto a fleet of 7 coaches for the 300km trip to Irbil.

Christ knows how many hours we sat around at the border but eventually and amazingly we were allowed through – seven buses, countless hacks (including….Dad, you’ll be impressed, Don McCullin and tonnes of equipment. We’d made it….sort of.

About 100kms into the journey the coaches climbed steeply into the mountains by 300m….and them promptly ground to a halt in the snow. According to the map the hills were going to rise to 3000m and would be completely impassable. No option but to turn around at 2 in the morning and head back to the nearby village of Dahuk. Mad bun fight at reception with CNN and ITN trying to snaffle as many rooms as they could but we managed to secure three rooms for 12 people and were able to bed down on the floor for a few hours. A sleeping tablet….then blackness.

Groggy this morning as we head for the hills again. Second time lucky.

Inching our way to Cizre at 40km/hr because of ice on the roads. I’ve stopped checking the GPS because it says that if we keep up this speed it’ll take us another 13 hours to get there and frankly I’d rather not know.

It’s already been eventful. Somewhere between Adana and nowhere in particular D, J’s fixer, got news of the birth of his first child – a girl. We celebrated by passing around a bottle of 12 year old Ballantyne’s. The call of nature soon ensued and as In Charge Oggy wouldn’t let us open the side door and piss out of the moving coach (health and safety regs you understand) we pulled over at a toll booth and wrote our names in the snow. Mine was in someone else’s hand-writing.

It occured to me for the first time that we’re an all male team….a dozen stinking blokes. If the war drags on I’m going to need a stint in finishing school before I can return to civilisation. My social graces are going to be shot to shit.

On our way to the border… last. The flight to Adana left Istanbul an hour later than planned and once the 47 (we counted them) pieces of luggage were stowed on the coach we were finally able to head off on a bus chartered at extortionate expense.

Watching J at work is something else. J doesn’t carry bags but somehow they seem to make it on and off planes. He gets up from the table without paying for his meal – and yet the waiters don’t seem to complain. Taxis, buses, porters and refreshments just……appear – he didn’t order them, but there they are. Does he understand that someone’s pulling the strings? Or does he think life’s really like this -- that restaurants provide free food for the hell of it, that cabbies are more than happy to offer their services gratis, that guys at the airport wheel huge trolleys full of luggage around just because? I wish I knew.

The most frustrating morning.

Arrived at the airport at 0600 to be told the flight to Diyarbakir had been delayed for an hour because of the snow. This soon turned into a cancellation. Cue much head scratching and map consulting. Plan B….fly to Adana at four o’clock this afternoon and arrange for a coach and two drivers to pick us up and drive the 8-12 hours to the border. Not ideal but if it gets us there, so be it.

So we’re currently getting some sleep at a hotel near the airport while we wait for the afternoon flight.

By the way, the sooner Turkey gets accepted into the European Union and joins the Euro the better. The bill from the hotel came to 1644 Turkish lira followed by six noughts. How many is that? A billion? A trillion?


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