You know that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer adopts a section of the highway? He decided he wants to have double wide lanes for a leisurely driving experience, except it creates complete and utter chaos on the roadway… That’s what driving in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region is like!
I, for one 24 hour period, rented a car to go explore the stunning vistas along the Hamilton Road, linking Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, to the Iranian border and said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. En route to the wonders ahead, I picked up on how to drive like an Iraqi Kurd. A few important lessons:
1) Lanes Don’t Matter
Some roads lack lane markers entirely, but many do have them, giving you the impression that people might be used to them… No, no… Those handy lines on the road mean absolutely nothing. Why not drive between lanes? Heck, why not drive on the shoulder? Oh wait, the shoulder is a lane too, or, whatever you want to call it…
In short, the roadway is like a big river. Faster cars weave around one another. And sometimes slower cars just drift in the roadway as if they were having a nice relaxing drive in Kramer’s wide lanes.
Except for an outsider, driving with no concept of lanes isn’t relaxing…it means you’ve gotta stay on your toes!
2) Your 4-Way Flashers (Hazard Lights) Mean a Lot!
Slowing down? Turn on those 4-way flashers! You know, the ones you usually turn on if you, say, pull over on the side of the road when you have a problem? Or the ones you use if you’re temporarily leaving your car behind on the side of the road? Yeah, those.
See, Kurdistan is full of speed bumps, so many drivers, especially taxis, will turn on their lights when they slow down to head over them. It’s not actually a bad idea as they’re a bit more visible than break lights! Or, as my friend living in Iraq put it, “Dude, turn on your lights, you’re gonna get hit!”
3) Turn Signals and Slow Driving are for Wimps
Letting others around you know that you’re turning or changing lanes is certainly nice, though with no real lanes, why would you need to do that? Yes, the turn signal is frequently not used, you just go for it. No break in traffic? Doesn’t matter…just barge right in!
And speeding? That’s normal just about anywhere. But prepare to face the wrath of others for going too slow. You could be going the speed limit and people will honk at you and flash their lights at you to go faster. That is, until they can speed past you at 140km per hour (87 MPH) or so (in a 60km per hour (37 MPH) zone at that)!
4) Roads are a Real-Life Obstacle Course
Imagine you’re driving in a non-existent lane and suddenly you have to veer out of it because the other side of a divided road has a U-turn opportunity and they turn into their own dedicated lane separated by cones for a bit that just so happens to sit RIGHT on top of the “lane” you’re in. But there are no signs to warn you of this or large arrows on the road telling you to move over…
Or imagine a truck is trying to turn across the other side of a divided road. It’ll just keep pulling into the road and you can just drive around it. How about the guy who just came down your side of a divided road going the wrong way?
Cattle on the road, odd parking jobs, people partying in the street, multiple cars trying to enter a small area at once. And I did mention the goats, right? These are all realities of driving in Iraqi Kurdistan. None, however, comes close to the massive obstacle course I encountered in Rawanduz…
5) Detours for Road Construction? Fughettaboutit!
So you’re driving along and take a turn onto the one road that goes where you want to go, except they’re doing resurfacing. Ok, fine. Except they were resurfacing both sides of a divided road at once… It’s not like there’s a detour or anything though. So you’re supposed to drive on the side that they’re not currently working on. Easy, right?
Except that side everyone is now driving on has already been stripped down to its bare surface, hardly fit for driving on. And the road is absolutely covered in large piles of rubble on both sides of you. So basically, you have enough room for one car to fit through at a time. But there’s nobody to direct you, so you weave around piles and take turns. There were no signs. No information. I didn’t even know if I was still heading the right way (I was)! And I’m fairly certain my rental car got a bit scuffed up in this otherwise 4WD experience (with my car that looked to be almost 15 years old).
So there you have it! Renting a car in Iraq? Bear in mind these simple road rules and you’ll be just fine! But do remember, there’s no such thing as car insurance, which makes driving under these conditions pretty terrifying!
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
- A Night at an Amusement Park in Iraq (With Video!)
- 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