When visiting Kurdistan, always bring a map

Back in 2009-2011, you may recall seeing story after story about the three American hikers who crossed into Iran and were jailed for more than a year. It was one of those stories that was difficult to follow (much like the current missing jet saga) because of both the subject matter and the lack of new information.

So it’s with interest that I’m watching a series of videos one of the hikers, Onamia, Minn.-native Shane Bauer, is posting on The Daily Dish this week. In the videos, Bauer answers the questions we were all asking ourselves when reading the initial headlines years ago.

In the latest video, Bauer explains why someone would vacation in northern Iraq in the first place, and why they crossed the border into Iran:

Bauer says he and his friends, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal, were tricked into crossing the unmarked border by Iranian soldiers. Read the blow-by-blow account in this excerpt of the hikers’ new book.

What I find interesting here is Bauer’s contention that he didn’t consider vacationing in northern Iraq to be particularly dangerous.

For someone from a state where one of the most perilous activities is driving through a snowstorm, that sounds kind of crazy. But as I’ve learned in my own travels, the dangers abroad can often be overstated and mitigated if you are smart.

Let’s take a closer look at northern Iraq:

These are the waterfalls Bauer and his friends were hiking to in northeastern Iraq. They are a popular site (rated 4.3 out of 5 on Google+).

Northern Iraq, near Turkey, Syria and Iran is a semiautonomous region known as Kurdistan that Bauer calls “very safe.” The New York Times included it on its list of “41 places to go in 2011,” writing that the Kurdish region “has enjoyed relative safety and stability in recent years” and that some travel companies were offering excursions there.

A photo album from an American college student I stumbled across a few years ago really hits home why Bauer and his friends chose to visit Kurdistan. It shows stunning vistas, friendly people, and few tourists.

Before you go though, learn from the mistake of the American hikers: Trust your map over Iranian soldiers.