Iraq can be a hot place. The afternoon sun beats down with an intensity that makes you want to wither up into a little ball. Or just chill and do nothing. Not the best combination for traveling, if I do say so myself.
Let’s rewind for a second. It was my first full day in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan Region and I was pretty miserable. As I wandered the streets of Dohuk (also spelled Duhok or Dahuk) I saw a pretty dead city. And for good reason…it was miserably hot out (about 45 Celsius or 113 Fahrenheit). Wiped and unhappy by 1:30pm, I retreated to my air-conditioned hotel room. But I couldn’t stay here all day. I mean, I didn’t travel all the way to Iraq just to hang out in a hotel!
I had a plan. I’d spend my evening at Dohuk’s star attraction, an amusement park by the name of “Dream City.” I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “but you didn’t travel all the way to Iraq to just go to an amusement park, right?” Well, as they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans…errr, when you’re in Iraq, do as the Kurds?” Point is, “Dream City” is the evening thing to do in Dohuk.
About 4:30pm, I set off on the rather long walk to “Dream City,” located on the outskirts of town. As I arrived upon a seemingly endless parking lot, surrounded by knock-off Western outlet stores, I saw the not-so-gleaming gates ahead of me, complete with a faux Donald Duck and Micky Mouse statues to give the place a nice family feel. After passing through the obligatory security checkpoint (in some ways, Iraqi Kurdistan feels a bit like Israel with the endless security checkpoints) and paying the 1,500 Iraqi Dinar (IQD) entrance fee (about US$1.28, rides are priced separately) I was greeted with…almost nobody!
It was a fairly modern amusement park, with your typical sort of “State Fair” attractions. A tilt-a-whirl, a ferris wheel, one of those free-fall things and a pretty epic looking roller coaster flying a German flag over it’s highest point (alas, it was broken down). But it was still a rather empty place. It didn’t help that rides required a minimum number of people to run. It was early still, though, and as the hours became later, and the sun continued its descent in the sky, this park soon became crowded with families enjoying themselves!
“Hello! Where you from?” asked a young man in a t-shirt with an American flag splashed across it. He was accompanied by an even younger guy (his brother). We got to talking a bit but English was not their forte. Though oddly enough, Spanish was (sort of). These two brothers (18 and 16 years old) worked for an oil rig that was run by Spaniards. They worked every single day and had only received the day off because there was a fire and they couldn’t go to work! Let me say that again…they didn’t get days off. The fact that they were there today was an anomaly. Thanks to their bosses, we had another common language we could speak!
Between their smattering of English and Spanish, a friendship was born. “Paisano!”, I was called for the rest of the night (it means “civilian” or “one from the same country”). And my new friends simply insisted on taking me on a few rides!
First, the Tilt-a-Whirl, which, in this case, was set up as a discotheque, complete with people standing up and dancing in the middle of the Tilt-a-Whirl as it was spinning and tilting wildly, thankfully, while maintaining their balance, lest numerous folks be severely injured! I was so taken by what was happening that I filmed it the next time it went around, which you can see in my video from the evening below.
Next it was on to the Ferris Wheel, where my new friends proudly showed off the views of the park and their city. “Work, there!” said the older one, pointing towards the mountains off in the distance. They had a long drive back to their jobs tonight, which was close to two hours away. I certainly didn’t want to keep them, but they insisted on showing me more!
We were all hungry, so into the arcade/game room we went. Amidst the rows of arcade games and ping pong, air hockey, foosball and pool tables was an eatery, run by the park’s sponsor. My new friends watched what I picked out before getting the exact same thing and then paying for all of us.
Before we parted for the evening, the elder one insisted on one last ride. He pointed to one of those “hammer” things. You know, the ones where the two different sides swing in opposite directions, ultimately spinning around completely? You spend a lot of time upside down. I sat down, pulling my harness towards me. As the ride went up and up and up and I suddenly found myself facing the ground with my entire body weight pressed up against that harness, I panicked every so slightly. See, nobody had checked this harness, that was now the only thing between me and falling to my death…
Fortunately, we returned to the ground in one piece, my heart finally settled out of my throat! It was now 10:30pm and it was time for my new friends to start their long journey home. As I looked around on the way out, the place was still packed. Packed with young couples and their children. Families out enjoying the cool weather. It was about as far from what you would think Iraq would be as you could possible get, the first of many times in this trip that I’d experience that!
During my walk back to my hotel, still beaming about the evening, a man passed by. “America?” he asked me in passing? “Yes,” I replied. “I love you!” he shouted back at me. And thus ended the first day in this strange land. I’d gone from a miserable afternoon to one of the greatest evenings in my life.
“Dream City” in Video
Read More About My Adventure in Iraq
- So, What’s it Like to Travel in Iraq?
- Meet Kurdistan: The Other Iraq
- Is it Safe to Travel in Iraq?
- How to Cross From Turkey to Iraqi Kurdistan by Bus
- Inside Saddam Hussein’s House of Horrors
- Photo Essay: Inside 7,000 Years of History at Erbil Citadel
- Amadiya: A Charming Paradise in Iraqi Kurdistan
- Road Trip Iraq: Kurdistan’s GORGEOUS Hamilton Road
- How to Drive in Iraq