Sophia's Peace Work

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's going to get hot out there....

The Tigris River Flotilla got off to a roaring though rather chaotic start on 15 September.  We started the trip 10 km upstream from the town of Hasenkeyf where we were based.  The Tarada, Quffa and both self-bailing rafts were ready to go but the Kalak (the traditional raft of the Tigris River) was still a work in progress right up until the start of the Flotilla.  The sheikhs were getting antsy in the hot sun and at one point, as we waited on the Kalak to be prepared they started talking about going back for lunch!  Lord knows how long we would have waited if they had done that.

The main problem were the goat skins ... they hadn't tanned properly and some were literally rotting away.  We felt very sorry for the builder, a Hasenkeyf local who had spend countless hours preparing the skins.  Everything was looking good until we arrived in Hasenkeyf and got a whiff of the skins! It wasn't going to be a pleasant-smelling trip down the river with those supporting us ... so our Kalak took a modern twist with 4 truck tire inner-tubes.  But overall the Kalak proved a stable boat.

We also had a few standup paddle boards along and the kids of Hasenkeyf had enjoyed them tremendously before the start of the Flotilla ... but somewhere along the way we lost one of the paddles and had to jerry-rig a replacement ...

Once we got loaded up, the float down the river was a great success and we were surprised by the speed of the Tarada, our fastest boat, with Jassim at the helm and the Marsh Arab Sheikhs on board.

Even the Guffa proved to hold is own and was fairly maneuverable.

But we had our on-the-water problems as well.  The local guide in my boat shouted to all that would listen to go to the right when we saw the island before arriving in Hasenkeyf, but the Iraqis on board the Tarada decided to go their own way (left) and unfortunately, almost everyone else followed suit.  The result: the Tarada, Quffa and one of the rafts got hung up on a rocky ledge.

This of course is both the problem (and perhaps the advantage) of going in the fall during the low-water season ... the potential to get stuck is greater but fortunately in this instance, it was easy to get out and push the boats over the ledge ... still most of the sheikhs ended up entering Hasenkeyf in different boats.

All told it was a great day and a successful start to the Flotilla.  We wish we could have done more of the river in Turkey but without permissions, the tensions in Turkey and a difficult border crossing with all of our boats and equipment ahead of us, we decided not to risk it and the next leg of the trip will start near the town of Fishkhaboor close to the Turkey-Syria-Iraq border inside Kurdistan, Iraq.

Some of us did decide to take a follow-up trip to see the Ilisu Dam that is under construction downstream from Hasenkeyf.  There have been long struggles against the building of this dam, which will flood the ancient town of Hasenkeyf along with hundred of other settlements in Turkey and which will come as a big blow to Iraq and the marshlands of southern Iraq.  The dam is nearing completion and at this point the effort is mostly focused on trying to convince the Turkish government that filling the reservoir behind the dam is in no one's interest.

As we had a little time on our hands before shifting to the next leg of the Flotilla.  I organized a side trip on some rivers in Iraqi Kurdistan with Waterkeeper and owner for SouthEast Expeditions, David Burden and the owner of the Erbil-based guide company, Majestic Heights, Andres Bleiker.  We visited and floated the Zrara (Rezan River) near Barzan and a part of the Rawanduz Gorge.

I think it is important that local people see folks boating on and enjoying the rivers here.  The rivers in Kurdistan, Iraq are often only valued for the gravel that they hold to make cement and as a convenient way to get rid of garbage. During the trip down the Rawanduz, I was the driver and waited at the halfway point at the base of Bekhal Falls (a resort area) for David and Andreas to arrive.  A very helpful gentleman who guided me down to the rivers edge and waited with me (Muhammed, the owner of a picnic area and teashop at Bekhal, who is pictured below on the gravel bar) kept telling me that there was no way that any boats could come down this river.

I told him over and over again, that it was indeed possible.  Imagine my vindication when David and Andres finally showed up at the base of the fall!

This was all a nice interlude before the next big Flotilla push on the Tigris River .... wish us all luck and cool breezes.  Its going to be hot out there on the river!


  • Wow! Amazing photos and description. What an epic journey you are on. Looking forward to following you on the blog. Keep up the amazing effort guys. Loads of love!

    By Anonymous Beth Newton, at September 22, 2013 11:07 AM  

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