Loyal readers of my blog know that I like to travel to dodgy places, and I have had some amazing trips to many of the world’s most famous hot spots such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, all over the Middle East and Africa.
Probably the coolest experience of my life was in 2010 when I took a taxi at night from Beirut to Damascus, Syria and had an amazing day and half adventure in the oldest city in the world.
During these travels, I have never faced any problems.
About 6 months ago, I promised a client that when we closed an investor for his company, I would come visit him to have a celebration dinner; and since it would be one of the biggest deals in naseba’s history, I happily agreed to this dinner.
I am all up for meeting important clients for dinner, especially, when there are significant success fees involved…
However, this client lives in Iraq.
To be honest, I only halfheartedly agreed and pushed this dinner to the back of my mind … even when the deal was done I didn’t think the client would remember and/or want me to come to Iraq right now for the dinner.
But on Sunday, I got a call from my client saying he was looking forward to our dinner and to be in Erbil (Iraq) on Tuesday.
I admit … this time I was a bit nervous about my trip and debated with myself on not going.
But in the end, I figured it’s a very important client and since he had proven to be honorable, I trust him and he assured me over and over that I would be safe.
It’s an easy 3 hour flight from Dubai to Erbil and the plane was nearly empty, thus comfortable and efficient; It took less than 20 minutes from landing to go through customs and to leave the airport.
Although I visited Iraq back in 012, it’s a much different Iraq today compared to then.
My client took me directly from the airport to his compound outside Erbil.
His compound is a massive walled in “fortress” as he calls it, and we had a nice tea, cigars and discussion. He told me some amazing recent war stories, and as he told me the stories he pointed in a direction and said, “the front line is over there.”
His compound is only 13 kms from the city of Mosul which is controlled by ISIS.
I never felt in danger, and he made sure he took me himself to my hotel by 16:00 or as he said,“before it gets dark.”
On the drive to the hotel, he drove me around the city, and everything appears to be churning along as normal – you don’t notice anything different to how it was in 012, except for less people, and less excitement – but all in all you don’t feel like you are in a country that is in turmoil.
I stayed in a modern, 5 star hotel that is now surrounded by very high cement walls (it was not “walled in” when I stayed there back in 012)
The hotel is still very nice, but it’s a much much different “tightly secured” experience today than it was the last time I visited.
When my client dropped me to my hotel, he told me to be ready for dinner at 20:00, and he would come back at that time. I was thinking/hoping we were having dinner in the hotel … but I didn’t ask.
The security at the hotel was great – and after checking into my room and resting a couple hours, I went to the lobby to wait for my client — as I was waiting, one of the security guards who spoke with an American accent and was carrying a very modern looking machine gun told me “the hotel strongly, urges clients to not leave the hotel at night.”
A few minutes later, my client drove up in his brand new Toyota land cruiser, and I left with him for dinner to his favorite Syrian restaurant which was along one of the main streets in Erbil.
Our table was outside under the stars and group of his friends joined us.
We spoke for several hours about everything … and they told me some incredible stories.
My client is one of the wealthiest business men in Iraq, but I don’t think the people we ate dinner with are wealthy at all, and surely, the war has negatively impacted their lives – yet, I never heard any of them complain or be negative about anything.
I never heard anyone complain about anything during the 36 hours I was in the country.
Ultimately, I had a safe trip, and was back in Dubai by mid afternoon the next day.
Upon returning, I had several American and British friends get upset and tell me that I was a fool to travel to Iraq because of the threat of being kidnapped by someone who would sell me to ISIS — and although I never felt in danger, I understand that it takes just one instant for everything to change.
Most readers of this blog will probably consider me naive for travelling to Iraq, especially with ISIS controlling Mosul which is less than 20 kms from where I stayed … but before i travelled, I looked into the security issues, and spoke to the US Embassy and decided I could minimise my risk by being extra careful.
And I reiterate that I never felt in danger during my trip.
For me, these trips and adventure experiences further open my mind to the world, and help me climb higher on the proverbial mountain I have chosen to climb.