Monthly Archives: November 2011

Desert Camping In Kuwait

When most people imagine Kuwait, they picture blowing sands, scorching sun, and camels. Well my friends, never will I fulfill this stereotype as well as I am about to in describing “desert camping”. I had the opportunity during Eid (remember, the festival of sacrifice) to go on a desert camping trip with around 30 other people from school. I jumped at the opportunity—when else in my life am I going to have such a rare experience?

However, those of you who envision camping as relaxing in a grove of trees on the side of a mountain and watching the sun rise of an alpine lake (*sigh*), this is a whole different ballgame.

To begin, we began driving South out of Kuwait City. Now, I don’t mean fifteen minutes South, we drove as far South as the Saudi Arabia border. I couldn’t believe we had driven so far out into the land of the Bedouin. For miles and miles there was nothing but sand, power lines, and hundreds of Bedouin camps. (The Bedouin people have lived in Kuwait as long as the “Kuwaitis” have, but they aren’t given the same citizenship rights. They live in the desert, in tents with generators, and drive pick up trucks around herding camels. It strangely reminded me of an Indian reservation back home…)

My friend Rachel and I at the Saudi Arabia border. It strangely resembled the Iraq border… and I just can’t figure out why…

Once we got to our desert camp, we found that it was literally a bunch of tents in the desert. Our sleeping quarters were surprisingly comfortable; I slept like a rock all night, lulled to sleep by the icy night air of the desert and the blowing winds…

Above is a very Arabic-style socializing area. This tent was for relaxing and hanging out. In Kuwait, these are called the “Diwaniya”. In the rest of the Gulf world, they are called the “Majlis”. It means the welcoming area to socialize. (When attached to a Kuwaiti home, it is traditionally male-dominated, but certainly not when a bunch of white people rent some tents out in the desert!)

I had to post this picture to give an element of scale to the experience, even though I think it paints the picture a tad on the depressing side… but you know, it’s not about seeking new experiences, but having new eyes.

Even in the desert, I find ways to have fun : )

Our ‘diwaniya’ around dinner time. Thank goodness people brought grills, otherwise I would have eaten soggy garlic bread and raw vegetables!

We passed our evening the way you pass any evening at camp; surrounded by friends, good food and drink, cards, and conversation  : )

And in the morning, AN AMERICAN REVIVAL! …just kidding. It’s actually incredibly popular to rent ATV’s out in the desert; all of my Kuwaiti students tell me how they fly around on these things all by themselves every weekend. (They’re 11, which makes me a little nervous for their safety.) The Arab hosts of the camp actually had an American flag for us to raise, even though half of us were Canadian, and one was Eastern European. I just love how this picture—complete with a shooting practice deer at the foot of the flag—screams America.

We could also rent horses, but Rachel and I preferred to just talk to them rather than ride them.

And then, we found camels! Free range camels in the desert! It’s a dream come true. This really made the whole trip worth it for me. They were just grazing on the horizon when we walked up to them. They were branded so I knew they belonged to someone. They were incredibly calm, and let me get really close to them!

A farmer-friend of ours on the trip said they were eating sheep poop, which is high in nutrients due to a sheep’s poor digestive system. Yum!

No, he did not spit on me! ( I love their noses! )

I was nervous by this point, but thought to myself, “If my sister can jump 4 foot jumps on a horse, I can pet a camel!” (hehehe!)

Lastly, the idyllic (sort of) view of one of nature’s wonders. The camels were a perfect end to our desert camping experience. When the sun was chapping my lips and I had sand in every crevice of my body, I envied these creatures who felt right at home.

Slowly but surely, Sean and I are on our way to making this our home, too.

 

Tune in next time to hear about Kim and Sean’s impromptu vacation to Qatar!

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Categories: Kuwait | 2 Comments

Mutla Ridge & The Iraq Border

I never thought I would be so happy to feel an open breeze blow across my face. Or to hear the sound of complete and utter silence. Or to smell the wet scent of sand and dirt dance with the freshness of the wind. Welcome to the desert!

Over our 9 day break, Sean and I took a trip out to Mutla Ridge in Kuwait. It’s the highest point in the country, even though it’s only 475 feet in elevation. In order to get to Mutla Ridge, we had to drive on the “Highway of Death”. It’s the road the Iraqi’s took to high-tail it out of Kuwait when the American troops arrived. For a long period after the war you could still see abandoned Iraqi trucks and military vehicles alongside the famous highway. (Addendum: Courtesy of my father via email, “The reason it is called the highway of death is because of the US Air Force.  When the Iraqis fled Kuwait their tanks, trucks, cars, everything was stuck on the road in a hugh traffic jam as they knew they lost and had to escape.   Our planes bombed everything on that road all the way to Bagdad.   It was the biggest massacre of the war.   Many of them looted Kuwait and thought they could take it back with them.  They all died on the road.“) Mutla Ridge is about forty-five minutes outside of Kuwait City. Once we got off the Highway of Death, we followed a side road until we found the following view:

Here I am overlooking the Kuwait desert from Mutla Ridge. It felt SO good to be outside the city!

Our friends who enjoyed the afternoon with us. It was a great time playing around on the dunes and exploring!

This is the idea of a Kuwaiti picnic…

This is our favorite picture from the trip. I like to call it our “wedding pose”. You can see the Kuwait skyline on the right side, the Arabian gulf spreading out, and the happiest couple in Kuwait 🙂

I love this picture because it is so quintessentially Kuwaiti. They take there 2012 edition Range Rovers out into the desert for off-roading. They completely demolish them on the rocks. While walking we saw two separate cars smash their passenger doors in on the rocks. They have these cars torqued at 45 degree angles at times. But you know, they are probably watching us and thinking, “Poor, uncivilized, fools. Dragging themselves across the hot desert on foot, torturing themselves. They just don’t know any better.”

This is where your gasoline comes from! (Should I mail some home for Christmas?)

After Mutla Ridge, we decided to head North to the Iraq border, just to see how far we could get. (Well, I suppose that’s a dumb sentence; we obviously can’t go any farther than the Iraq border…) Anyways, on our way along the highway of death, we came upon a few of these government issued road signs. It made us feel good… in a strange way… kind of like a, “Well that’s good to know.” Kind of thing…

Again, an oil rig. How wild, to see with my own eyes to force that controls much of the world.

Here we are at the Iraq border. (Note the “No Photography” sign. It will come in to play in a moment.)

Here is Sean and our friends Eric (second from left) and Jeremiah (far right) with the guards at the Iraq border. They’re the ones who wanted me to take their picture! Despite the no photography sign…  They were SO welcoming. They smiled, asked us where we were from, and when they heard we were all Americans they said, “We love America! America very good! Welcome, welcome! You want arabic coffee? We have coffee.” And sure enough, there was a man with coffee. We made a few jokes with them, just standing around talking. It sure was different than the US-Canada border… every time I try to enter Canada I get pulled over and searched thoroughly. The border patrol always treats me like I’m smuggling something. This, on the contrary, was a pleasant experience! (Despite how nervous I was when we first got there!)

My friend Rachel and I at the border. All the land you see behind us is bona fide Iraq!

After we left the border we headed back into the city. When Sean and I got home, we collapsed on the couch and ordered “6alabat”. It’s an online delivery website that acts as a hub for basically every restaurant in Kuwait. McDonald’s, Cinnabon, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, you name it. You order online and they deliver the food to your doorstep in 45 minutes.

All I’ve got to say is that it’s a rough life 🙂

Categories: Kuwait | 4 Comments

Eid Al Adha! (9 Day Vacation!)

It’s currently November 10, and a breezy 75 degrees outside. The sun is shining, my bicycle justs coasts along the gulf as if I were carried by the clouds. This time of year in Kuwait has proven to be exceptional.

Speaking of exceptional, Sean and I just got back from Dubai, worked for 2 weeks, and were greeted with a 9 day vacation. The vacation is called ‘Eid Al Adha’, which—according to my Kuwaiti students—is the equivalent to Thanksgiving in terms of importance. It’s known as the ‘festival of sacrifice’ and commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead. (Wikipedia)

I bet you Christian readers out there didn’t know there were such close similarities between Islam and Christianity!

There is normally 2 or 3 days off of school, depending on when the holiday falls; Islam follows a lunar calendar remember. THIS year, the holiday fell so that we would have only had 2 days of school this work week (Wednesday & Thursday). The ministry of Kuwait called a national holiday those two days, so we had this entire week off of school.

Since Sean and I don’t have our passports (recall the Dubai adventure to get our paperwork filed?), we were lucky to spend this entire break in Kuwait. At first, I’ll admit, I sulked the first few hours of Eid, complaining that we’d having NOTHING to do…. boy, was I wrong! This Eid has been absolutely amazing. I look forward to sharing it with you over the next week or so through photographs and stories.

Hahaha, don’t worry, this isn’t how Sean and I normally dress. (Unfortunately.) Eid fell right before Halloween this year, so I decided to stick two Halloween photos in here with the rest of our vacation.

Can you guess who we are? Lancelot and Guinevere. It was surprisingly easy to create the costumes; we went to the Friday Market (open-air bazaar) and there was no shortage of tunics, dresses, and odds and ends. I love making costumes, and these were a hit! It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was easy to find conservative floor-length dresses here…

The primary reason I chose to share this photo with you is because I’m proud of how our apartment looks in the background! We’ve really been able to call our house a home… it’s a beautiful apartment building and we’ve been lucky to have great neighbors who helped us furnish it 🙂 We even have a buiding ‘harris’ who lives on the first floor. His responsibility is to fix leaky sinks, take out garbage, change lightbulbs, the works. Looks like we’ll never need to call an electrician or a plumber… aren’t we lucky!

The first night of Eid we visited the Old Souq (Souq Mubarakiya). I just love their displays of fruits and vegetables. I actually started a HUGE argument this evening between two vendors… I pointed to Vendor A’s pomegranate and asked Vendor B how much is cost. Vendor A stormed over to tell me the price, while Vendor B was trying to get me to buy HIS pomegranate instead. They complete forgot about me and got into an intense screaming match that I quietly escaped.

The ladies I went to the Souq with found this amazing semi-precious stone shop. They specialized in prayer beads (in the above photo), but also had lapis lazuli, amber, and other beautiful pieces for very cheap. Whenever you see a Muslim man in a dishdasha, chances are he’ll be carrying a string of prayer beads with him. (Side note: On our flight to Dubai, Sean and I got to talking with the man sitting next to us on the plane, a young Kuwaiti man, and at the end of the flight he gave Sean his prayer beads as a gift. It was a magical moment! I hope he’s not reading this, because I am currently using said prayer beads as a decoration around one of my candles….)

My good friend, Heidi, inside the scarf & abaya shop at the old souq. Look at all those beautiful scarves! They all sell for around 1KD, or approximately $3.50 USD each. Can I also mention that Heidi is from Minnesota? 🙂

Heidi and Rachel inside the Iranian carpet shop. There are SUCH beautiful carpets here, I can see how a hobby could turn into an addiction. Many of the carpets you can see in this photo would cost around $400 USD; many are made with real silk!

After our adventure at the Old Souq, we headed back to our neighborhood where we found a great place for some ‘hubbly bubbly’, or shisha. It’s an open-air hookah bar, where you sit on deck chairs under the trees. We sat around and smoked shisha until late in the evening. It’s such a relaxing, social activity, in a country where there’s no alcohol. I think it’s a pleasant alternative; you can sip on homemade chai tea, smoke a little shisha, and enjoy hours of un-inebriated conversation. (It’s also a lot cheaper!)

 

WARNING. THE NEXT PHOTOGRAPH IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

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I gave you a warning, didn’t it? I also said that Eid Al Adha is known as the ‘festival of sacrifice’. Put the two together, and you have the Islamic tradition of sacrificing a sheep during Eid. While walking home the night prior, I saw a group of men on the side of our apartment building huddled around a live sheep! Sean and I kept watch all night, and thought the sheep was going to survive. Little did we know, the next morning we woke up to a soft hacking sound, kind of a chop-chop-chop. Looking out the window, only 25 feet away, we witnessed the above photo. The bucket of blood is unfortunately still there… 7 days later… Our whole apartment did smell like a delicious lamb stew for a few days afterward!

To brighten the mood, here’s another photo of a lovely hookah restaurant in Kuwait. It’s a Lebanese restaurant in Marina Mall. I had a lovely time sharing conversation and delicious food with my coworkers and friends.

Another night of Eid, Sean and  I went to 360 Mall. Sean had his first Italian restaurant experience in Kuwait! He ordered—you guessed it—fettuccine Alfredo with chicken. I ordered a delicious spinach and mushroom pasta dish. Our meal came with freshly-baked bread, and in the true Italian style, I ordered a single espresso to top off the night 🙂

Here I am in front of 360 Mall. How beautiful! While the mall was insanely crowded with families for the holiday, we really loved seeing the architecture and landscaping. (Don’t forget… we’re STILL in the desert…)

Speaking of families out for the holidays, these next few photos are from “InFUNity” in 360 mall. It’s a kid’s paradise… complete with hanging obstacle courses, roller coasters, and indoor rock climbing walls. (Yes, Emily, we can come here to play when you visit.)

I was so tempted to join the kids on the rock wall!

Sean and I just couldn’t refuse documenting this bastardization of Western culture. The Native American totem next to the cowboy’s horse… *sigh*

Lastly, in 360 mall, they have Dale Chihuly pieces!!!

Can you believe it? Dale Chihuly is a famous Seattle glass artist, who is world-renowned. He’s the one who did the glass sculptures in the entrance of the Kohl Center. I never in all my life thought I’d see a Chihuly sculpture in Kuwait. Click on the link of his name above to read more about the installations. He was apparently commissioned to create two works; one of the sun and one of the moon.

 

There you have it, the first few days of our Eid break. It’s been really lovely and relaxing. We’ve seen parts of Kuwait we never knew existed, and spent time with people we’ll never forget.

Stay tuned, for later this week you will be treated with the following tales…

– Our visit to the Iraq border

– Desert Camping!

– The Saudi Arabia border

– The tallest point in Kuwait, Mutla Ridge

Categories: Kuwait | 1 Comment

Dubai: Part 3

As the weather in Kuwait gets cooler, and the clouds float slowly across the sunny skies, I am becoming more fixated on outdoor activities here in Kuwait than ever before. For example, we have a rooftop garden that I have been frequenting a lot more. It’s wonderful for nighttime cookouts, too. I ride my bike to new parts of the city (with a helmet, of course!) during the DAYTIME now – not just the brisk hours of the morning when the temperature is lowest. I can’t wait to tell you more concerning the Kuwait seasons in my next post…

But for now, Dubai! Stories remain yet untold, and souls are still undesired. You need closure, I understand that. Today, I will bring you to the end of our idyllic stay in the city of the future.

Picking up where I left off, our day began with a trip to the beach. Doesn’t the above picture look just like Hawaii?! It’s so GREEN! Hard to believe that we’re in the desert. Sean and I went first to Jumiera beach, which is the most popular public beach. It cost a mere $1 per person to access the beach, and we were met with beautiful landscaped gardens, palm-tree lined beaches, white sand, picnic tables, and little shops selling sunscreen and umbrellas. I never wanted to leave!

I love this picture because it captures the essence of Dubai; sand in the background and flowers in the foreground. It was really beautiful. At the beach, there were hundreds of families picnicking, but it’s not like what you imagine back in the States. Here, to picnic means to gather your friends and twenty closest relatives, reserve a picnic table at the beach, set up tents, bring in catered food, and sit around for hours socializing, snacking, and enjoying the company of your loved ones. It’s really cool to see! (Except when I’m on my bicycle and I have to try hard not to hit the little kids scurrying across the path…)

There you have it, the Burj Al Arab. It seems to be the staple of Dubai (excluding the world’s tallest building). This photo was taken from the monorail we took out to The Palm. What is ‘The Palm’ you may ask? Well, it is the man-made islands that you probably heard of one time and said, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Well, let me give you a clearer idea of where the next few pictures are located by providing you a picture from the internet to clarify:

To quote Wikipedia, and explain what you’re looking at here:
“The Palm is in the shape of a palm tree, topped with a crescent, and has a large number of residential, leisure and entertainment centers. The Palm Islands are located off the coast of The United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf and will add 520 kilometers of beaches to the city of Dubai.

The Palm comprises approximately 100 million cubic meters of rock and sand.  All materials will be quarried in the UAE. There will be over 100 luxury hotels, exclusive residential beach side villas and apartments, marinas, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, sports facilities and health spas.”


Now, moving on to MY photographs, because that is what I promised you once I moved to Kuwait. Only organic eye candy on this website!

We took the monorail out, which runs the length of The Palm in the picture above. It allowed us to get a birds-eye view of the entire thing, which is actually incredibly complicated to navigate. It’s huge! Here are the private communities on The Palm in the above picture. I wonder how much it costs to live on this thing…

Here is the world-famous hotel, Atlantis. It it at the zenith of the crescent in the picture of The Palm I posted above. It is an amazing hotel, incredibly opulent. I think I am going to save up and splurge next time I’m in Dubai, and spend just ONE night here! There are tropical fishtanks in every hotel room built into the wall…. You are met by endless coastline on either side of you… it is just incredibly surreal. I always say that this hotel looks like the “seamonkey kingdoms” we used to buy as kids…

Maybe only I ‘sea’ the resemblance. Ha. ha. ha.

Anyways, the hotel was absolutely amazing. I want to go back.

Here is the waterpark that’s on The Palm; it’s owned and operated by the Atlantis hotel. Notice how you can see ocean on either side of the waterpark in the background of the picture. There’s something strangely eco-sinful about that to me…

While we didn’t go to the waterpark or stay in the hotel, visiting The Palm was quite the experience. I’m glad we did. My sphere of understanding just got a wee bit larger.

Speaking of “wee bit”, now it’s time for the Irish Village! That’s right, we were recommended by at least two or three people from back in Kuwait to visit the Irish Village. We were skeptical at first, wondering why in the world would we want to go there when we’re in the diamond of the Middle East, but am I glad we did!

It really was set up IDENTICAL to an Irish town. Note the cobbled streets, facades, and pint’o’Killigans Irish Red!

Sean had a cider that he particularly enjoyed as well. The outdoor seating was really nice, and it was right next to a pond. ALSO, this place served PORK! That’s right, Sean got a ham sandwich and washed it down with cider!

For those of you who have no idea as to why I am obsessing over the fact that Sean ate pork, let me back up a little bit. Pork, in Islam, according to the Koran, is seen as dirty and ‘haram’ (forbidden). It is mega-illegal in Kuwait, along with alcohol. Even in Dubai, we couldn’t get pork in any other restaurant. This place got away with selling pork and alcohol because of two reasons, according to our waiter:

1. They are on the airport grounds, and are owned by the Duty Free company… which somehow makes them exempt from local law. I don’t get it.

2. It is co-owned by the Amir (president) of Dubai. I REALLY don’t get it.

But, hey, who cares if we don’t understand it? It makes for a good story.

The next morning, post-libations, we needed to walk off the excess weight from the night before. We went to the “Mall of the Emirates”, which is the OTHER famous mall in Dubai.

You guessed it, this is the place with the indoor ski hill! All of you Glacier National Park aficionados, note the “St. Moritz Cafe” sign and the Swiss lighting in this photograph. I feel like I should be sipping hot chocolate looking out over Swiftcurrent Lake!

The indoor ski hill in the mall was HUGE. I was going to go skiing there, but we had to catch our flight at 3pm and it would have been too short on time. Looks like we have to go back.

This is my favorite picture. There’s even a chairlift…

We then strolled past the arcade in Mall of the Emirates, and I posed on top the faux camel.

We were also rather amused by this simulation guy; he was having a lot of fun off-roading in his virtual world. Also rather appropriate for our ‘city of the future’ theme.

Well, there you have it. Dubai. Filled with world records, vices, natural and artificial beauty, and—for a short time—two cheeseheads who walked around with wide eyes and wider smiles.
I can’t believe I haven’t pitched a request to you guys yet. How many blogs have I posted and NOT asked you to come visit?! What have I been thinking. Well, now, come to Dubai! It’s a mere hour’s flight from Kuwait, and a ticket roundtrip from Kuwait-Dubai costs $75 on weekdays. You can stay at our apartment, explore the streets of Kuwait, and then high-tail it to the city of the future for a weekend of fun and record-making.

Stay tuned for next week, when I give an account of our nine-day vacation, “Eid Al Adha”. (Yes, you heard me right, nine-day vacation after our trip to Dubai. We ARE teaching over here, too, you know.) Because we had to go through all of the visa work in Dubai, our passports are now in process at the Ministry in Kuwait, and we can’t leave the country until we get them back. So our nine-day break has turned into a Kuwait ‘stay-cation’ with friends. Excitement is sure to ensue!

Categories: Dubai | 1 Comment

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