Erbil is the shining capital of Kurdish Iraq; the place many dub the “next Dubai.” That’s a bit of a stretch, as Erbil will always be synonymous with a Sausage Factory to me. It is one of the most prosperous and safe cities in Iraq, as well as being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (at least that’s what my guidebook says). The ancient bazaar has been attracting people from all corners of the region as long as history has been recorded. Men still come from all across Iraq to sell their wares. Because of that there is an undeniable presence of men, with, at times, a complete lack of female presence. One day i sat on a corner and counted 8 female sightings in a 15 minute period, and 2 of them were prostitutes. I must have seen 8000 men in the same time frame.
Because of that there’s also a real lack of hotels that a female would find suitable. Most hotels have no concept of tourism, so when I asked for a room they would simply say: no. Many times what they meant was that they only have rooms with say, 4 beds, so they do not want to rent it to just one person. Never mind that there was no where else to sleep and I was desperate.
One night, after much looking, i found a double room (2 single Flintstone beds) for about US$40. Let’s just put it this way, there were human “remains” in the corner of the bathroom the ‘plumbing’ was just a hole which led to the bathroom floor, the sheets were stained with a kaleidoscope of colors, and the sheets smelled like dead animal. My last day I broke down, went to the new “suburban” Christian part of town & laid down US$100 for a windowless (but clean) walk in closet.
No matter how nasty the rooms in the bazaar may be, or how many inappropriate the come on lines from porn movies i heard, there’s no denying that staying in the ancient market, with the backdrop of the towering citadel, and the giant statue of historian Mubarak Ahmed Shraffaddin turning a million different shades of gold as the sun set, is a memory I will always cherish.