Iraqis startled at the emergence of nation's first tourist since the war

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Downtown Fallujah in 2003.

There's a half funny, half sad article here at the International Herald Tribune about what seems to be a really, really ballsy Italian tourist that made his way into Iraq through the northern region (Kurdistan) just because he wanted to see the sights and experience the country first-hand, which kind of flabbergasted the authorities in the cities he visited because they were pretty taken aback at the sight of a tourist all alone, with no security detail and just wanting to see the sights.

"He told us he just wanted to see Baghdad," Yacoub said.

Asked whether he thought Iraq was ready for tourists, Yacoub said no. Asked whether he believed Falluja, Marchio's next destination, was safe for tourists, his emphatic no was echoed by staff and guests standing within earshot.

But there was no stopping Marchio. For an extra fee of $40 the hotel agreed to give him a tour of parts of Baghdad, driving along the riverfront to photograph a statue of Sheherazade, the narrator of "A Thousand and One Nights," and children playing in a riverside garden. He proceeded to the artificial lake near Baghdad University and on to the square named after Baghdad's founder, Abu Jaafar al-Mansour, on the west bank of the Tigris. He went to Zahra Park, a popular family spot with a small zoo and carnival rides. He finished his day in the affluent but bomb-scarred shopping district of Karrada, where his guide for the day, Ramez Fa'eq, 23, said, "When it became dark, he got afraid and wanted to return home to the hotel."

The next morning he set out for Falluja despite the efforts of the hotel staff to dissuade him, insisting on taking a public bus to the city 65 kilometers away.

Within hours, the hotel received a call from the Falluja police.

"I wasn't surprised when they called," Yacoub said. "The police found him in a mini-bus next to the woman who sells fresh milk, yogurt and cream door-to-door. They were very worried about him."

For the eager Marchio, that was the end of his bello viaggio in Iraq.

The police summoned local journalists to tell them of the wandering Italian, U.S. marines were pulled in and the Italian Embassy was notified.

Luca Marchio...if this guy doesn't have a blog he should definitely start one. I can't find anything written by him online. I'd love to hear the first-person account of how he found his way from Baghdad to Fallujah and then to some mini-bus with a woman that sells milk and yogurt. Though I stay away from dangerous regions, this is also my favourite way to travel - arrive at the general location first, then start walking and see what happens. It's always, always much more interesting that way.


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