Our first stop outside of the city was Korei, where the Peshmerga stopped the advance of Saddam's troops in 1991. There's a monument there with three wrecked tanks.
We went through a mountain pass (S. said "Just like in Lord of the Rings!") and stopped at an overlook.
Then we went on to Bekhal. There's a waterfall there that you're supposed to see by taking off your shoes and climbing a bunch of wet, slippery stone steps, mostly with no handrail. It is insanely dangerous. Every step of the way I thought I was going to slip and bash my skull in on those rocks.
Forget car bombs. I'm going to have nightmares about those steps at Bekhal for the rest of my life.
Our final destination was the resort at Mt. Korek. Korek is a well-known destination and the local telecom company is named after it. There's a big resort up there now with playgrounds for kids, a climbing wall, and a variety of attractions. There's an aerial tram (they call it a teleferic) that's like a ski lift that takes you to another peak.
View from the Teleferic.
Peshmerga training camp, junior division.
In a busy season a year or two ago, S. told me, this place would have been packed. After the fall of Saddam in 2003, Kurds were for the first time free to travel within Iraq and abroad, and to participate in all avenues of public life. The Kurdish economy boomed.
But the onslaught of Daesh (Islamic State, or ISIS) last year put that on hold. The conflict itself, of course, is an enormous drain on resources and manpower. And even though the Kurdish-controlled territory is very safe (last Friday's attack was an outlier), a lot of foreign investors were scared off. Add to that the refugee situation, ongoing Baghdad/Erbil disputes, and increased Arab/Kurdish tensions, and the result is that the boom is on hold. So the resort, like most of the places we visited, was a ghost town.