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Kiwi pair safely in and out of Baghdad

Kiwi pair safely in and out of Baghdad – Iraqis genuinely friendly

Two New Zealanders trying to visit every country in the world in 160 days have made a safe entry and exit from Iraq without any major hitches. John Bougen and his cousin James Irving have already been in and out Iraq without any problems as they continue their epic and sometimes perilous trek to enter 193 countries before the end of January.

The pair spend Christmas Day in Dubai with their wives and arrive back in New Zealand on February 1. They have so far seen 137 countries in 113 days.

Bougen said from Instanbul today they had so far been on 173 flights, 17 trains, five buses and had travelled more than 170,500km.

They have spent 282 hours in the air and waited the equivalent approximately 17 days and nights in 136 airports.

The pair are seeking to set a world record of entering all 193 recognised nations in 160 days and are expected back in New Zealand in February.

Their intention was to stay the night in Baghdad this week but when they checked in it transpired their Iraqi visa, written in Arabic, had expired two days prior. This necessitated a same plane, same day return journey. ``I have to say that we were treated with the utmost of civility and kindness by all at Baghdad Airport. The flight was absolutely full with three quite distinct groups,’’ Bougen said from Amman today.

``There was a large party from the Norwegian Red Cross, who upon boarding managed to slam their oversized bags into the aisle without apology, which begs the question as to how sensitive they will be on Iraqi soil. ``The other groups were the average businessmen and in all of this I guess we forget that the (Iraqi) economy still has to perform regardless of what Bush is trying to ultimately facilitate. ``The third group was foreign press from every possible nation. The Americans were keeping a very low profile which was a waste of time because their presence was well heralded when we got to immigration.’’

As they exited their plane, they were greeted by the words “down with the USA” handpainted in red paint on the floor of the airbridge.

The airport is new and well equipped with a well stocked duty free store and food and beverage outlets.

Not being an Islamic state meant there was an abundance of alcohol for sale in all outlets.

``We stood at one of the cafes for some time being ignored until we started talking and our Kiwi accents was sufficient evidence that we weren’t American whereupon we were attended to immediately and in a friendly manner. ``Either Saddam has trained all personal at the airport well or the Iraqis are a genuinely friendly and obliging people. We after our brief encounter are firmly of the opinion that it is the latter.’’

The intrepid duo are supporting Save the Children charity as they attempt to travel 200,000km, spend 400 hours in the air and move in and out of 200 different airports. The cost of the trip is about $nz350,000 which they are meeting themselves and through assistance and sponsorship from the Flight Centre, Vodafone and Mike Henry Travel Insurance.

Mr Irving was born in Christchurch and his home is in Brisbane. Mr Bougen was born in Timaru but has spent most of his life in Auckland.

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