Caleb and I got Open Water Diver certified and the urge to do so every weekend now is strong. Caleb looked into Oman, where you can dive with four of the seven sea turtle species, but the timing wasn’t right. He’d go back to work and I looked into Kuwait – a country that has some dive spots of its own, and a place that’s new to me.
I tried Airbnb – again, and again I was disappointed. The man raised the price and changed the days. Luckily, this time, I had two girls willing to host me in different parts of Kuwait, which would be helpful in keeping me close to the dive port, Al Kout, and then closer to the downtown area of Kuwait City.
I booked my ticket for 9:50am and would start packing 11 hours before I was due at the airport – and at which time I still didn’t know how I was getting there until I talked to Quinn going to Dubai who would be taking a taxi at 7am. We agreed to ride together and have breakfast while we wait – eggs on toast at Sky Restaurant – all these flights and I didn’t know this place existed.
Our gates were switched and Quinn waited with me, while we sipped down frappuccinos, till I was the first to board at 9am. I would move from a middle seat across the aisle so that two sisters could sit with their mom. The staff member of Gulf Air was kind to offer to look for another seat for me, but it’s only an hour flight and I have plenty of space to read a bit before I fall asleep.
I land in Kuwait at 10:45 and am welcomed with 2G Internet speed. I get in line and feel out of place without my work visa. The customs agent tells me to go upstairs, with the other tourists, and get my visa there and then I can walk through the VIP line. I don’t need to buy the stamps (entry fee), but the guy next to me is nice enough to let me look at his. I’ve only planned on four days and am granted three months.
I get my bag scanned and am surprised when I look up to see so many American restaurants – they have Taco Bell out in town here (where in Bahrain it’s only on the military base). I was going to rent a car, but Kuwait is one of the picky countries that wants me to get an International License (issued from the same country as my driver’s license). If only I’d have gotten a Bahraini one upon arrival, since I didn’t get an official CPR card, I could’ve gotten one issued at the traffic school here.
I had contacted the Kuwait Embassy, went to the traffic place in Bahrain, and called AAA in the States and I got the same answer each time. I didn’t bother with Budget Rental, since it was their website that told me the rules. This would give me the opportunity to take public transportation – and I walked past the row of taxis and the cars parked in the shade to the bus waiting to leave – packed with male workers and their boxes.
I showed the guys my map and they helped me with the bus route. It’s 250 fils (83 cents) each time to get on a bus – length of time unlimited. Women have a right to the front seats – I thought the man was being kind giving up his, and I was grateful to have access to the window and the stairs – where all the action is – and views of the traffic and parks with their carnival rides, which we’ve passed two so far.
The bus will stop where people are, or want to be, as long as police aren’t present. The driver holds a few fils and the tickets in one hand, and the wheel in the other. The duct tape holds the rest. One guy jumps from the bus and tears the knee of his pants. Then a woman sits next to me and complains when the school children hop on for a free ride – which apparently is the hassle-free method for everyone.
I’m dropped to a bus stop with no idea where I’m at, but it’s only seconds before the next bus, 66, arrives. Kuwait’s buses are frequent, but the route that should’ve taken 25 minutes by taxi will take me an hour, but only cost 500 fils. I ask the driver if we’re still going to Salmiya and request Marina Mall instead as we pass through Hawally. He drops me at the crosswalk at 12:30.
I walk into Kababji Lebanese Restaurant to pee and end up ordering two tiny pastries (one the size of my palm) instead of the eight-inch pan-size I’m used to for 400 fils. This will give my phone some time to charge as having unknown plans and 38% battery can be risky. I walk through the mall’s parking lot, past the ladies section (and wonder if this is woman privilege or segregation), and into the sun on the other side.
I have to go inside, past the Cinnabon (800 fils later), and up the escalator to take the foot bridge across to Marina Crescent. My first objective was to find nature, with tourist sites nearby, to keep me busy till I meet Misha and Ben (couchsurfing couple) after work. They finish at 2:30, but are ok with me taking a cab to their hard-to-find place alone – and I’m still going on the non-plan itinerary at this point.
I put my feet in the sand and look left to the sheesha boys, right to the exercise guys, and in front of me is waves and lots of coast guard ships. I look down and one of the pebbles is winking at me. It’s nice to be on a beach that has more birds’ footprints than trash on it. My return trip will be through the inside of the mall, and past Pinkberry to try their lotus flavor, and settle on the pomegranate. I should take it easy on the junk food on the first day, but I feel balance with walking.
That treat will cost me 2.150KD and I finish it while waiting on the fourth bus to pass that’s not going my way – and that’s when I notice the bus stop down the street. I get into a taxi and the driver says it will be 3KD to get me to the British School of Kuwait – and a 15 minute ride is only 1.5KD. We negotiate that I’ll pay two or get another taxi. I don’t know if it’s language barrier, inability to read maps, or a basic lack of knowledge about his route, but I’m concerned if we’ll find the school until I see all the buses and children.
I hop out and put the cash in the window. I give up my driver’s license for a blue visitor badge so the guard will unlock the door and let me in. I ask a group of teachers for directions to the toilet and then squeeze through the students upon exit. I’m looking down the hallway at ‘The Great Fire of London’ when I hear my name behind me. Misha and Ben are curious to my plans and we agree that Ben will stay for CrossFit while we take a cab home because the museum nearby doesn’t open for another 1.5 hours.
Misha invites me home and offers me drinks and books; and views of the highway from her corner window that is filled with the plants that survived. She shows me her wall of maps, flags, and memorabilia from their travels – together and alone. We talk about work and our history, and then we get into the kitchen at 4:30pm to prepare dinner – a stir-fry that’s done when Ben walks in the door. I talk the most, so I’ll be the last to finish my second plate before we get ready to go out.
They’re exhausted from the week, but figure 6:15 is too early for me and agree to walk to the beach. Along the way, there’s a red brick wall with two windows in it. The women’s side has newspapers and there’s a baker in the men’s window giving a guy 15 pieces of fresh bread. Ben buys us two to share and I tear into my half as it cools in the night air.
It’s nice to take our shoes off, all of us wearing Birkenstocks, and listen to the waves. We find a Yoda in the sand and start towards the house. We passed some women with cake and candles and I stare more this time passing. My curiosity is rewarded with a photo and a piece of their celebration – one of them is a bride-to-be. It’s chocolate with nuts on the outside and reddish with maybe dates on the inside. It’s delicious and I share.
We take a shortcut through a park – either one in the making or it’s been deserted – and stop at the corner store for milk, bread, and eggs. Misha comes in at 8:20pm to let me know they’re going to sleep soon. I’ve also spent the last 40 minutes unwinding, but I’ll stay up till 11:30 and then switch couches to find a more comfortable sleep.