Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Bright and early I got in my car and headed to the airport. I had paid close attention when the taxi had taken me the other day, and now I u-turned, went right, over to the right lane, into the tunnel, up to the airport, and... there was the 'car rental returns' in a lane I couldn't get to. Okay. Round the airport loop, back up, and... I was back on the freeway to Dubai.

Aagh! And rush hour traffic to boot. Patience. Ten minutes and a u-turn up ahead. And then I was back there and in the right lane.

Whew. Now into the airport, check in, and wait. And wait. By the time I got to Kuwait 6 hours later it would have been faster (if I drove at 100 and IF they would have let me go through Saudi) if I had driven.

Anyway, entering Kuwait was painless, and as I left the airport it was immediately apparent that Kuwait was a LOT more lowrise and lowkey than Dubai. Surprising, considering that it has more oil reserves per capita than anywhere else in the world. I took a bus into town so as to hang out with the 'real' Kuwaitis.

Which were mostly Indian, at least on the bus. And the neighborhoods we went through were almost decrepit. Strange.

When we got to the central bus station I got a slick city bus map and went to find the cheapest of the 'real' hotels. It was $110. So I kept walking and tried to locate a cheapo that I had read about. When I finally found it it was indeed a steal at $40, and though basic it did have a/c and hot water.

After resting I set out to get to a highly recommended museum before it closed. This involved taking a bus for about a half an hour to the middle of nowhere. I got off at the right stop, and the book had said to walk 5 minutes, turn right, and go another 50 yards. It was 14 minutes and 290 yards, but who's counting? When I found it it turned out to be really good, but now I only had 30 minutes to see it.

The museum was one man's lifelong personal collection of artefacts of the Muslim world, from Morocco to Kashmir, and it really impressed one with the history and depth of said culture. We in the West tend to think of Islam as the dumbest of the dumb guy religions, but the historical fact is that almost all Christians and Jews who converted did so willingly. And it is difficult to deny that as the result of this new religion in the eighth through tenth centuries, the previously uncivilized Arabs made some of the most beautiful things ever.

My favorite part was the Arabic calligraphy. It's the most incredibly aesthetic groups of squiggles ever, and it actually means something to someone. And my favorite part of that was a teeny tiny Koran done in the 10th century.

The ethnic wear and jewelry of the womenfolk showed that everywhere in the Muslim world women traditionally wore colorful and ornate stuff, so that the current black robe fad is an aberration. Incidentally, almost all Muslim women here are covered in black except for their faces, although a few of them have on the amount of makeup that would scream 'slut' in the West. Also, the stores all sell regular women's wear, so I guess that they wear that at home.

I found my way back to the center of the city and my hotel, which turned out to be in the center of the 'souk', or old market, area. And although not exactly old, it did have a lot more character than the rest of Kuwait. Most of the Kuwaiti men wear the white robe and headress, they all come out at night, and they like to sit around in open air restaurants eating with their friends and toking on giant four foot high hookahs.

The next day I started out again, this time to see all that was interesting in Kuwait. Armed with my spiffy new bus map, I hopped on the 15 and confidently waited for it to reach the Salfiya endpoint. At some point the driver looked at me quizzically, I looked back, and showed him my map. He said, 'That KPTC map, this KJN bus'. I got off and looked at the side of the bus... It turned out that there are about 5 competing city bus companies, each has its own version of each route, and this one was a mile away from where I wanted to go. I started walking in the hot sun.

A mile later I got to where I was going, the Kuwait Scientific Center, and spent an hour or so touring the adequate aquarium. Now it was time to head back along the coast towards downtown again. I took a cab for $6 to Green Island.

Nothing was happening there, so I decided to go to the Kuwait Towers, which are the country's biggest tourist attraction. This involved heading back inland for about a mile, but my trusty map said that once I did I would find the 505 bus, whose route went the exact rest of the way I wanted to go. I dutifully got to the place on the map, and there was a freeway. After standing there for 10 minutes in the by now 100 degree heat, I took the first bus that would stop.

After asking about the 505, I got off at the first place where there was any civilization, and kept asking. It turned out that the 505 didn't exist. I now took a taxi for $4 to the Kuwait Tower, which looked exactly like a Soviet World's Fair Exhibit from 1970. The concrete at the base was even discolored. I rode the elevator up to the top where there was a restaurant that was seemed to be the meeting place for every officer in the Kuwait Army. I rode it back down.

I realized that the whole place reminded me of a fairly prosperous city of 1970 that wasn't spending too much on its upkeep. And what was weirder was that the only 'good' part of its location was the shoreline, but that that was hardly developed with more than a busy road and the occasional Applebee's by the Sea.

LA is built more for walking than Kuwait. Of course, what idiot would want to walk in this heat? But I had something to prove to God and Nature, so I continued on for two miles to a Kuwaiti mall.

Outside of a little action in the Food Court, which took up over half of the place, the mall reminded me of one of those malls that cities build to try to spruce up their downtown, and then nobody goes there. For all the wealth that Kuwait is supposed to have, this was weird.

I couldn't help being underwhelmed by the entire place. If Dubai was like Shanghai on steroids, Kuwait is like a really hot, dusty Indianapolis. Except with less to do.

Oh, and all this time I was less than 100 miles from Basra. But there had ben no scenes left over from the first war, and no sense whatsoever of the current one. I suppose though that it's like when you're in San Diego, you really don't think about Mexico all that much.


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