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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Travelers, Your Tour Bus Is Boarding for Basra

Ali Yussef/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Bridgett Jones, 77, a British tourist, bought wine and beer in Baghdad on Friday.

Published: March 20, 2009

BAGHDAD — Jo Rawlins Gilbert, a 79-year-old retired probation officer from Menlo Park, Calif., started traveling, as she put it, "as most people do."

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Ali Yussef/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Bridgett Jones and Gordon Moore, British travelers in an officially sanctioned tour group, taking an evening stroll in Baghdad.

First England. Then Europe. Eventually she and her husband, who died in 2004, made it to Tibet for his 80th birthday. She became, late in life, an adventure traveler, visiting Syria, Yemen, Bosnia and even Afghanistan.

What could top that? Well, here she was in the lobby of a Baghdad hotel, ending a 17-day tour around one of the world's ultimate danger destinations.

"It had always been on my list," said Ms. Gilbert, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a cartoon cat and the phrase "Life Is Good." "If it opened up, I wanted to go."

Whether Iraq can be described as open is debatable. But Ms. Gilbert is a member of a group, mostly middle-aged and older, that has the honor of being on the first officially sanctioned tour of Westerners in Iraq since 2003 (outside of the much safer enclave of Kurdistan). Her guide is Geoff Hann, 70, the owner of Hinterland Travel, a "specialist adventure travel company" based in England.

 

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