Friday, April 03, 2009

The ultimate in adventure tourism: Embedding with the National Museum of Iraq?

I've always been a history buff and also a big fan of religions. What better way to spend one's life than scheming up ways to visit such holy and historic places as Angkor Watt, Manchu Picchu, the Potola Palace in Tibet, Mecca, Timbuktu, Jerusalem, the Ganges or the pyramids at Giza -- all on a shoestring budget?

Right now, Number One on my list of holy and/or historic places to visit is the Fertile Crescent -- aka the Garden of Eden. "There's only one problem with that, Jane," you might say. "This legendary part of the world that you are so gung-ho about is situated right in the middle of war-torn Iraq!" Au contraire. Things are starting to settle down in Iraq right now. Your chances of getting blown up in the marketplace are highly reduced. Plus adding a little touch of adventure to your travels is supposed to be very popular right now. Where else, besides the rollercoaster rides at Disneyland, can you get so much of that than in Iraq?

According to USA Today, "Iraq still receives roughly 350,000 religious tourists and pilgrims a year who come to visit some of Islam's holiest sites, such as the Shiite shrines of the Imam Hussein in Karbala and Imam Ali in Najaf."

I want to go to Najaf!

But perhaps other American tourists might be looking for something a bit more, er, non-religious. Iraq offers you that kind of stuff too. Take the National Museum of Iraq for instance. Or the excavations at Ur. I want to go see those places! Who cares if there's a war going on. This here is CULTURE. This here is ART. The insurgents and the occupiers are just gonna have to get over it. "Ars gratia artis." Art is its own reason for existing. A very good reason for visiting the National Museum of Iraq is simply because it is THERE. And recently refurbished and re-opened too.

And did you know that there are actually real tours -- with tour guides and everything -- now going to Iraq? According to Welt Online English News, "For the first time since mid-2003, a group of Western holidaymakerers toured the historic sites of Iraq. Iraqi tourism officials hope their visit will herald a new era of antiquities tourism in a country known as the cradle of civilisation and which gave birth to such milestones of development as writing, codified law, the wheel and agriculture."

I'm there!

PS: Wanna help pay for my airfare?

PPS: How does one get there? Apparently you can just fly to Jordan and hop on Royal Jordanian Airlines, which operates two roundtrip flights daily from Amman. According to, "Internet booking has recently become possible for RJA flights to Baghdad, and Iraq has now been effectively opened to the public." And apparently the Sheraton Baghdad is now open for business too.

PPPS: Here's my letter to the prime minister of Iraq's media coordination department, asking them to help me embed at one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Wish me luck!
Dear Iraq Media Coordinator:

As a travel writer, I have noticed that Americans in general seem to be very interested in antiquities, ancient civilizations and artifacts from the past. For this reason I would love to write an article on the treasures of the National Museum of Iraq. Would you please be able to help me with this?

First, I would very much appreciate it if you could please e-mail me any information, photos, press releases, etc. you might have regarding the museum itself, its recent re-opening and the treasures it contains? I will hopefully then be able to use this information to write an article about the museum itself, the Fertile Crescent and Iraq's important role in the legendary history of the Middle East.

Second, I would love to visit the museum itself. Would you have any suggestions regarding how I could do that? Is it possible to fly to Baghdad commercially, stay in a hotel and then visit the museum? Or would it be better to embed with Multi-National Force-Iraq and then make arrangements to visit the museum from my base with them at CPIC in Baghdad?

I would appreciate any and all help that you can give me in making my dream of actually seeing the treasures of the ancient Tigris-Euphrates civilizations and the legendary Baghdad caliphate come true. In addition, I think that any articles I would write on this subject would benefit Iraqis and the GOI as well, showing Iraq as the cradle of modern civilization and also as a currently-successful nation wherein culture, museums, tourism and safety are being encouraged to grow and flower.

I am also including a link to a recent article I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle regarding travel to Burma:

Thank you again for your anticipated help in this matter.

Jane Stillwater

PPPPS: I'm hoping that the National Museum of Iraq is wheelchair accessible just in case my knees give out again.