November 2013: I visited Kuwait with my friends Tim and Dan for 3 days as part of a long 20 someday trip to the middle east and West Africa. The main reason for coming to the middle east was to visit Socotra in Yemen but since I had not been to Kuwait yet, I decided to incorporate a stopover in Kuwait. I was also interested in Kuwait for than other Gulf States like Bahrain, UAE and Qatar.  Kuwait was a country I watched on tv as a kid when Iraqi tanks under Saddam Hussein came rolling south into the country to steal its wealth and vast oil fields sparking the 1st Gulf War involving the USA. I wanted to visit Kuwait and see if I could find any relics from the Gulf war and experience the country with my own eyes. Here are some interesting facts about Kuwait:

  • Historically, most of present-day Kuwait was part of ancient Mesopotamia. 
  • The Iraq–Kuwait dispute also involved historical claims to Kuwait’s territory. Kuwait had been a part of the Ottoman Empire’s province of Basra, something that Iraq said made Kuwait rightful Iraqi territory. Kuwait’s sheikdom was created as a British protectorate that later became a sovereign country. 
  • Kuwait is ruled by an Emir.
  • Foreign workers outnumber native Kuwaitis 2 to 1.
  • It has the 6th largest oil reserve in the world. A large reason for the Gulf War in the 90’s.
  • All of the water comes from desalinization plants from the Persian Gulf.
  • Slavery was formally abolished in Kuwait in 1949.

 

 

Location of Kuwait

Mural of Ruling Kuwaiti Sheiks and Emir in the Middle-a Common scene across the country

Dan at the airport in Kuwait City looking out of place

My friends and I flew into Kuwait late in the evening via Kuwaiti Airlines from the USA. We stayed 2 nights in Kuwait City at the Hotel-Continental Suite Farwaniya, one of the more affordable options. Hotels and pretty much everything in Kuwat is expensive because of the Kuwaiti dinar being the most valuable currency in the world.

I laughed when my friends awakened before sunrise to the chorus of prater calls loudly blasting from multiple mosques across Kuwait City. I for one find the call to prayer most of time kind of enchanting but my friends who had never experienced anything like it before were perplexed by its meaning and questioned why it had been done so early in the morning.

 

 

Desert Trip to look for an Iraqi Tank Graveyard

 

 

We had one full day in Kuwait, and I wanted to visit the vast desert to the west of Kuwait City that looked like a Noman’s land. There was an Iraqi tank graveyard left over from the Iraq war that I read might still be in existence that I hoped to see. I had the coordinates and some loose instructions from other travelers. We flagged down a taxi and negotiated a price per hour to drive into the desert but first we stopped at Starbucks to get coffee. Kuwait may seem exotic, but it is also very Americanized in many ways.

 

Tim in the Kuwait desert

We drove hours into the desert and discovered at an American military guard post that the Iraqi tank graveyard was located on the property of the base and all of the tanks had been recycled for their metals and the tanks no longer existed. There was another one, but it was located at Failaka island, and we didn’t have time to go there. Instead, we explored more of the desert, which was a barren featureless hot windswept desert of plastic bags and garbage. Of all the deserts I had visited in my travels, it was one of the least visually appealing. The only excitement was the occasional camel and large tent camps erected in the middle of nowhere where we learned from our taxi driver, a foreign worker, are used by Kuwaiti families, who still have an inherent connection to their desert roots and want to escape the city for a day or maybe even all weekend to have a family outing and barbecue. 

 

A patch of desert with no garbage-a rarity where Tim tried to smack Dan with a piece of wood he found on the ground.

Camel being hauled on the back of a truck on the highway

We also stopped to visit probably what is Kuwait’s most famous landmark the water towers constructed in the 70s that were shelled by the Iraqi army in the Gulf war. The towers were closed during our visit, and we were unable to enter and climb to the top, which is normally a tourist attraction.

 

Iraqi water tanks

Iraqi water tanks

Our favorite part of Kuwait was exploring on foot at night along the Persian Gulf waterfront cornice and souq. Kuwait is hot and humid and nighttime was really the only time to feasibly walk around outside. At night we walked along the shoreline of the Persian Gulf and walked out to the end of a pier and sat and drank tea and smoked hookah tobacco pipes in outdoor waterfront cafes. Most of the markets we found were indoor and air conditioned like a fish market.

Kuwaitis seemed to be friendlier compared to other Gulf countries, if you could actually find one that wasn’t a foreign worker. We met a few when walking around the waterfront and we were even invited in for tea with a group of men when we accidentally walked into their hoe when looking for a cafe.

 

Cafes

Dan smoking a hookah pipe in an outdoor cafe

Fish market

We decided to watch a movie at the movie theatre in the shopping mall, which in itself was not exciting but since we were doing it in Kuwait it was exotic and more fun. The theatre was empty, and we sat down in the middle section but were quickly relocated to a corner of the theatre where a group of men were seated together. The theatre worker explained we were seated in the family section-off limits to lone men. Even though there was no one over there given the possibility a woman might sit there we had to be relocated to the only part of the theatre where others were seated and, in a corner, where the seats were not as good. But this was another country, and we were visitors, so we had to play by their rules.

The shopping mall like much of Kuwait City was rife with Americanized chain stores like Burger King, Starbucks, and luxury designer clothing stores. There was definitely money in Kuwait and those who had it came to the malls to spend it. Most men in the malls wore the traditional those and women black abayas. But I observed in the shopping mall that women in black abayas carried designer purses and men luxury watched beneath their thobes.

Typical scene in shopping mall

From Kuwait City we flew to Dubai to spend the night in Sharjah, where we planned to depart to Socotra Island, Yemen the next morning.

 

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