Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A quick stop in Kuwait

I had a layover (transit) in Kuwait for about 9 hours on the way back to Bangkok from Amman. I'm still here actually, an hour or so until I board. Thank you McDonalds Wi-fi!! (Update: laptop ran out of battery and i didn't bring a power adapter, so I'm finishing this post in BKK, arrived safely!) I decided to exchange my last bit of money for Kuwaiti Dinar (KD) and cruise into Kuwait City and see what it had to offer. So here is a little of how my half-day in Kuwait City went:

Hot and Dry!
I got out of the airport and was greeted by a welcome sign with a small digital temperature reading below it which read "+42C". I calculated on my iPhone and it's 107.6 degrees F. I immediately started to burn and I bitterly thought, to the sign, "Do you really need to remind us that it is a 'positive' 42 degrees?" I don't think in Kuwait anyone will ever question whether it is + or - especially since all temperatures are measured in Celsius.It was not only hot, it was dry. I bought a bottle of water that was frozen. So basically, a big block of ice in a plastic bottle. The second you pull one of those puppies out of the freezer in Bangkok, the water vapor in the air will immediately start condensing on the outside of the bottle and the bottle will sweat or perspire...I carried this ice bottle around several hours and not one drop of perspiration condensed on the outside of it! There is like zero percent humidity here! This next picture is one of many mosques I passed right after the call to prayer, people taking their shoes off and going inside to pray.
Bus beats Taxi

I left the airport through immigration where the officer told me not to pay more than 3KD to go to Avenues Mall...I figured I'd just walk around in the air conditioning and "people watch", so I chose a nearby mall. The taxi drivers outside all wanted 5KD ($15 US or 450 THB) so I decided I'd find a bus. I walked over near a Muslim prayer room and asked what bus to take...the guy told me bus #99 but there was no bus #99 on the signage at the bus stop so I just got on the first bus that came and pointed to stuff on a cartoon map that I ripped out of the inflight magazine on Kuwait Air. The mall wasn't on the cartoon map, so I just pointed at the furthest landmark on the map and the driver pointed to a smaller hotel withing "walking distance" from the tower I decided to go to...I gave the guy 1/4 of a KD and began my trip. So far score one for me...1/4 KD beats paying 5 KD any day!Riding in a taxi from an airport usually brings you on freeways and highways...boring! The bus took me through little parts of the city that I never would have seen. Full city blocks that looked like a desert, but with ten or twelve wooden soccer goals set up for kids or adults to play, in the sand. I saw apartment complexes, shopping places, places that weren't set up for foreigners (English speakers) to navigate well through...all Arabic lettering. So, rather than seeing quick moving traffic from the highway, I got a little peek into the way Kuwaitis live and their culture in the smaller, less developed areas of Kuwait City. Granted, a taxi would have gotten me to the tower in about 20 minutes whereas the bus took an hour to get me several kilometers away from it. But, I had all day! I barely caught this picture of the setting sun as I weaved my way through the city.
I Walk
The first day I got to Amman, I took off on foot to explore the area while Pae was at work. I did the same thing when I got to the center of Kuwait City. I looked at my cartoon map and got oriented with the lay of the city and started to walk! I played hide and seek with Liberation Tower for the better part of a half hour as it kept sneaking behind tall buildings and I would keep zig zagging through small alleys trying to take the shortest non-main thoroughfare route to, again, to see some of the hidden stuff. Whenever I saw it I would auto-timer a photo really fast and keep on walking.One such instance I nearly died as an SUV zipped past me as I was being a poser for the picture. The wind from the truck blew me forward and only when I looked at the picture did I realize how close the guy came to picking me off. Liberation Tower, thank you George Bush, google it.After I made it to the base of the tower, I imagined I was with Pae, I stopped and enjoyed a chocolate ice cream from a street vendor. About this time I imagined Pae would be packing her luggage in London and getting ready to head back to Heathrow for her return flight to Amman. I hope she had a chance to get out in London, although I know she was worn out by the days leading up to that flight.
Cartoon Maps
From the Liberation Tower, I decided to try to find Kuwait Towers. We'd seen pictures of these towers on mugs in Starbucks in Amman and were like, "That's all they have?" I mean, NYC has the Statue of Liberty. Jordan has Petra. Paris has that big metal tower. India has the Taj Mahal, etc. So, since this was supposedly the biggest site in Kuwait City, I kept walking, even as the sun had already set. Something of note, it is said that there are one million gallons of water in the lone ball tower and a revolving restaurant in the large ball on the two-ball tower. It was taking me forever to get to the Kuwait Towers. Apparently cartoon maps are not to scale.
Beach Sand Beats Desert Sand
I walked and I walked and I walked until I could smell the sea. I was nearing the towers when I saw the beach. I decided that I should walk on the beach in Kuwait! It was a nice 100 meter or so walk with shoes on and I decided immediately that beach sand beats desert sand by a thousand miles!! The tide was low and I could see and smell oyster beds or rocks with oyster shells attached to them. Definitely not somewhere to go wading with the kids, but it was peaceful. No waves. Only a dry, hot wind blowing in my face, lips cracking, eyes roasting.I took some pictures in the dark, by the water. There were several couples sitting on the beach just talking and some groups of three as well. There was a Ruby Tuesdays and a seafood restaurant nearby, but I didn't think I had time to eat. I had ice cream already though, so I'd be good until the midnight meal on the plane.This is a picture from the airport of what the towers look like during the daytime. Mine are obviously taken after dark. Not the best pictures, but I managed, alone, to take some pictures to memorialize the occasion.
Solo Travel
Final lesson is that I really don't enjoy traveling alone. Everywhere I've been lately has been with Pae. I enjoy experiencing new things with her, exploring new places with her, eating ice cream anywhere with her! So, although I saw the city, it was a lonely trek to and from the airport. In fact, my last day in Amman was kinda lonely as Pae had her London flight the day before I left, so i spent the better part of two days in Amman alone.I did talk to Abhud, Pae's neighbor, and drove with him to pick up some photos as he refused to let me walk all the way to the photo store and back after dark. I think he was just bored and lonely like me. He's always hanging out on the corner near the DVD store at the bottom of Pae's hill. We talked Jordanian history, Shia vs. Sunni, Muslim population in Indonesia, and other things people talk about when they are getting to know each other. So a lonely last day of my visit, but I'm glad that Pae had her first London trip and I'm grateful for the time that we were able to spend together! Paris flight for Pae next week...hope they can fit a Bangkok in there somewhere!!

Kuwait isn't always hot according to a guy I met on the street. He said that only 8 months are HOT HOT and two months are cooling down and another two months are cool. His cool is probably Hawaii weather! Props to the boys and girls who are out in the Kuwaiti desert sporting digital camouflage. The same guy who gave me a Kuwaiti climate lesson also said that Kuwait has changed ALOT since 1990. When I asked him "Change good or change bad?" He smiled, raised his eyebrows and replied "Much better". Excellent.

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