So I'm trying to escape from Kuwait, its heat and expensive hotels and blowing dust, but the ferry to Iran isn't co-operating. I originally thought it would leave Sunday morning, then was told Sunday evening, and now it's tonight (Monday). The sooner it leaves, the happier I will be; Kuwait's charms are getting more threadbare by the hour, with its rubbish Internet connection frustrating my attempts to make the most productive use of my time. I'm still searching for bungy cords to hold my backpack and tent on my back rack; I foolishly forgot to buy them in Canada and have been going into and out of malls in search of them (and of air conditioning: did I mention that it's 48 degrees here every afternoon, with a scouring hot wind that sucks moisture out of every pore in my body?) since I got to Kuwait.
For an oil-rich state, Kuwait is kind of down-at-heel looking. Partly it's inevitable, with the desert winds depositing dust on everything faster than it can be cleaned off. Partly, though, it's in the nature of the place, a meeting place for locals and for immigrant labour (from Egypt and other Arab countries, the Indian sub-continent and the Phillipines) to make money as quickly as possible, not a place to settle and put down roots and lawns. It reminds me quite a bit of Cairo, although with newer cars.
On Friday, I arrived in the mid-afternoon, put my bike and luggage together fully for the first time, and cycled off down the road looking for the only "cheap" hotel in the city (still 50 US dollars, which passes for cheap here). It took longer than I had hoped, but I found the Hawally Continental and checked in, the only Caucasian guest among dozens of Indian workers in from the desert for a few days off.
I spent Saturday cycling around the vast sprawl of the city, navigating its perilous motorways (in this land of the car, there are no non-motorway roads to get from one neighbourhood to another) and checking out its seaside Corniche road. It took a long time to find the ticket office for my ferry to Iran, and by the time I'd bought the ticket, everything was closed for a sensibly long siesta (12-4), so I cycled along the Corniche, had a dip in the dubiously clean water, trying to avoid being run down by the swarms of young men on jet skis, and finally made my way to the one thing I've seen in Kuwait that is truly excellent and beautiful: the Tareq Rajab Museum. I spent a couple of hours wandering through the outstanding collection of decorative arts, calligraphy and textiles from across the Muslim world and other parts of Asia. The jewellery collection was particularly impressive, even to someone like me who is generally unimpressed by rocks and metal. I walked out relieved that there was something of real beauty in Kuwait that speaks to the human spirit; modern Kuwait seems to be an empty shell of fast cars, shopping and mobile phones.
Yesterday morning I checked out of the hotel, loaded my bike, put my backpack on my back (since I haven't found the damn bungy cords yet) and rode off to the port, only to be told to come back today. I left the bike (they have to pre-load the luggage) and took a (mercifully cheap) taxi back through the horrific lunch-time traffic jams back to the hotel, where I checked in again, took a nap at 2 pm and woke up after midnight, only to roll back over and sleep until morning. I think I may have been a bit jet-lagged.
The one redeeming feature here at the moment is that there are great English-language papers, so I am catching up on world affairs. The news from Iran sounds unpromising: a few more protests, more arrests of journalists and bloggers, uncompromising words from Khamenei. It will be interesting to see what public opinion is while I'm there (assuming that they let me into the country!!)
I've posted a few pictures. Most are of the bike (still looking shiny and new), although there is one photo showing the magazine censorship; check out the black ink on exposed cleavage and midriff on the magazines at the newsagent's. It's funny; Kuwait is much more liberal in terms of attire than Iran or (I gather) Saudi Arabia; women seem to choose how much or how little of seventh-century Arabian dress codes to adopt. I suppose that the fact that most people here are not actually Kuwaitis affects the situation too.
I don't know if I'll be able to post from Iran, so if not, I'll talk to you all in a month!