O Mayotte! (Comoros -> Mayotte -> Madagascar)

O Mayotte! (Comoros -> Mayotte -> Madagascar)

 

After our day in Comoros — the #10-#12 least visited country in the world (depending who you ask) — let’s get even more off the beaten track: Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean off East Africa between Madagascar and Mozambique that ceded to France from the Comoros group of islands in 1843.

In the spirit of anti-colonialism when Comoros voted for independence in the 1970s, Mayotte surprisingly voted instead to remain a French “collective”.

Then in March 2009, the islands sealed the deal by voting 95.2% YES to become France’s 101st ‘department’ effective 2011. Therefore at over 5000 miles, the flight between Paris and Mayotte is the second longest domestic flight in the world, with the first being Paris to Réunion (which I’m flying myself next week!).

 

 

Although France has indubitable administrative control of Mayotte and it is considered part of the EU, Comoros claims it as one of the Autonomous Islands of Comoros. Because pride. We get it.

 

 

So from Comoros, we were picked up this morning by a pre-arranged taxi at 6am to check in for our 8am AB Aviation Y6 303 Flight at 8am from HAH to DZA airport in Mayotte.

 

 

The check-in was as austere as that in Kiribati, with everything happening in one, small, partitioned room.

 

 

Their conveyor belts for checked luggage are shorter than treadmills:

 

 

And the immigrations counter was right behind us in the very same room after checking in:

 

 

And as how it was in Tuvalu, flight tickets are handwritten instead of printed.

 

 

Since we had too much food given to us for breakfast by the hotel, we handed them out to fellow passengers turning the waiting room into something even better than a de-facto Priority Pass lounge.

 

 

We then boarded promptly at 7:45am, taking off on time at 8:00am.

 

 

After 45 minutes in the air, we landed in Anjoaun: one of the 3 autonomous high islands in the Indian Ocean that’s part of the Union of Comoros.

 

 

Although our final stop would be Mayotte and we were expecting to stay on the plane, the staff instead made us disembark with our bags and escorted us into literally an empty arrivals room.

 

 

After 5 minutes here, we were led into the main check-in area, where we had our tickets re-inspected and our carry-on baggage go through security (no x-rays machines here; staff open and comb through your bags instead).

 

 

Afterwards in the waiting area, airport staff asked us one by one to step outside to pick out our checked luggage so they knew which ones to reload back onto the aircraft.

 

 

Once back outside, they then scanned us with metal detector wands and reopened our carry-on items before allowing us to reboard the very same airplane we had arrived on.

FYI, men are asked to go first for this process. This confused me — after being asked to skip past a long line of women who were waiting in front of me to go outside and claim my checked luggage, I left my cell phone, bag, and travel pillow behind in the waiting area thinking I was going to be allowed back in…but nope. Shit on face moment.

Luckily the rest of my group of monsooners were able to retrieve those items for me!

 

 

After a 45 minute flight from Anjouan, we landed promptly at 9:45am in the Mayotte’s only civilian airport (located on the island of Petit Terre).

 

 

You notice the difference between Comoros and Mayotte as soon as you land.

 

 

And unlike Comoros’ long visa process, we instead got stamped as if we were literally entering the European Union (after all, Mayotte is a French territory!)

 

 

And as you can compare with Comoros’ airport, this is apparently what it looks like when you choose to remain a colony instead of independence:

 

 

Alas, the eternal debate between security vs. freedom rages on.

 

 

After retrieving our checked luggage, we hailed a taxi for 15 euros and a 5 minute drive to take us to La Fare Beach Restaurant where Sarah, Ines, and Bessie stayed behind to sunbathe while watching over our bags.

 

 

Evan, Ann, and I instead continued onwards for another 2 minutes to the docks where we boarded the passenger ferries to take us to Grand Terre island for Mamoudzou, the de-facto capital and largest town in Mayotte.

 

 

The ferry departs every half an hour on the :30 and :00. It runs exactly like the Staten Island Ferry.

 

 

There is no payment here as they expect you instead to pay the fare (1.25€) on return. So once you arrive into Mamoudzou, just get off and keep moving as if it were a free ride!

 

 

Once on Grand Terre, we quickly walked around Mamoudzou, running through the streets of its colorful markets. However, there’s really not much else, let alone unique, for the typical visitor.

 

 

Once we were done, we ran back to the docks for a return ferry back to Petit Terre, this time paying the 1.25€/per person fee.

 

 

Once back at the docks of Petit Terre, we walked over 12 minutes to meet with the rest of the group waiting for us at La Fare.

 

 

We then had one of the best lunches on the trip so far.

 

 

Thank you, French cuisine.

 

 

At 12:45pm we wrapped up and called in a taxi to take us back to the airport where we boarded the 2:45pm (which was delayed by an hour) Air Madagascar Flight MD150 from DZA to TNR in Madagascar via another quick layover in Comoros. The flight had us change seats in between to accommodate for a full flight.

 

 

Next up: Madagascar!

 

 

- At time of posting in Mayotte, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 81% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds! A Day Trip from Rwanda to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

U-“Gone”-Da in 60 Seconds! A Day Trip from Rwanda to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

 

Yesterday morning after arriving into Rwanda, Evan and I debated back and forth whether to rent a car for Rwanda. The signs were also pointing to no: the cheaper agency (Eagle) didn’t have one while the other (Europcar) was too expensive despite trying to haggle it down. Our UAE hosts Sean and Chelsea also had told us not to bother with a rental and enjoy the thrill of riding on moto-taxis instead. 

We came so close to deciding against renting that we were just about to get into a taxi before the Europcar agent came running down to us giving us the exact discounted price that I wanted. Fate?

Apparently so; that rental car would later be our ticket for an unforeseen and spontaneous trip to Uganda the next day.

So after exploring nearly all of Kigali yesterday, we figured we could take it easy on our second day in Rwanda. But last night before heading to bed we quickly made a friend at our hostel in Tom Karrell, who happened to be visiting Kigali with friends from his home base in Uganda. At his suggestion for what to do on our second day, and spurred on by Evan’s new lease on the spontaneous travel life, Evan and I decided with this rental car we could drive the next morning 2 hours up north to the Rwanda/Uganda border to have lunch at Lake Bunyonyi.

And despite news reports this past month of recurrent border closings and openings, violent skirmishes where 2 people were killed, worsening trade disputes between the two countries affecting the rest of the region in Eastern Africa, and a current Ebola outbreak where a 5 year old recently died of the disease in Uganda, today belied anything but as it was one of the easiest, most lenient border crossings I’ve experienced. Don’t always fall for what you read in the news.

As we began our drive up at 8am, Rwanda’s ubiquitous cleanliness even outside Kigali never ceases to amaze me:

 

 

The nature outside our window also wasn’t too shabby:

 

 

As we approached the border, Evan and I were stopped for a routine security check by highway police. They would find out our rental car had expired insurance and registration papers but still let us on our way. Thanks Rwanda!

 

 

We arrived at the Gatuna border post 2 hours later on schedule at around 10am.

 

 

As we approached, our clocks soon automatically switched an hour ahead to Ugandan time at 11am.

 

 

Once at the first post on the Rwandan side, we got an exit stamp here. That took a mere 5 minutes.

 

 

Then we walked across to the adjacent Customs office to get our exit papers for our rental car. 

 

 

Even though the car rental papers indicated that we can’t take our vehicle across borders, it seemed that nobody cared.

 

 

After 10 minutes here, we were allowed to drive the 1 minute stretch across no man’s land

 

  

Now at the Ugandan side of the border, swarms of money changers arrived for our business, which we declined. Having nowhere to park, however, we took turns getting our entry stamp at the Ugandan border office.

 

 

The visa stamp into Uganda costs $50 USD (cash only). Evan also went to another office to register our vehicle and all in all this process took us about 15 minutes in total.

 

 

After only 30 minutes of border logistics, we were well on our way into Uganda! FYI, they switch the driving to the left side of the road in Uganda (it’s right in Rwanda), so Evan had to now drive on the same side as the driver’s side.

So we headed onwards into the town of Kabale.

 

 

As we reached Kabale, we drove off onto a bumpy unpaved road towards the lake.

 

 

Nobody seemed to mind our dinky little Toyota Carolla rental struggling hard down the path.

 

 

After 20 minutes swerving down some hills towards the lake, we finally reached Birdnest Resort where we gave our car a much needed break.

Even though we were not guests, the staff were happy to accommodate us here for a long, lazy lunch by the lake. And so we did.

 

 

After about an hour taking it all in quietly, we then made the uneventful return drive back towards Rwanda.

 

 

The border crossing back into Rwanda is exactly the same but in reverse, with the exception of a Rwandan border official checking your temperature for Ebola:

(thanks Evan for taking this sneaky photo as I was being questioned by the police for taking photos of my own)

 

 

We also paid another $30 USD for the entry fee back into Rwanda, which we expected. Along with the Ugandan visa, the total cost of this little trip: $80 USD.

What I found amusing was that none of the border guards seemed surprised at our quick turnaround as it appears a bunch of other tourists have done similar day trips before.

After crossing, Evan then put pedal to the metal, bringing down what was supposed to be a 2 hour drive into an hour and 20 minutes! We would make it just in time for our 3:30pm massage at Zenora Wellness Center.

 

 

- At time of posting in Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda, it was 20 °C - Humidity: 53% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea

 

On my way to Isle Of Man this evening, I enjoyed an unexpected 8 hour layover in lovely Manchester.

Taking the 10pm Thomas Cook Airlines flight from JFK Airport in NYC, I arrived 7 hours later at 9:55am local time at Manchester Airport.

 

 

My morning started with first going back and forth between Terminal 3 and 1 to find a left luggage facility to drop off my big bag (the guy at Terminal 3 said “I’m not trained to use the x-ray”…erm yeah). 

Once solving that, I headed over to The Station on the 7th floor and took the 20 minute shuttle train into the city.

 

 

I got off at Victoria station at around 11am.

 

 

From there I began my walking tour north at Chetham’s Library, a public library built in 1653 housing thousands of books & manuscripts. There are set times for entry for otherwise free public tours inside.

 

 

Afterwards I walked 5 minutes south to and around the Manchester Cathedral:

 

 

It’s free to enter:

 

 

After a few minutes, I walked 10 minutes south to an oasis of calm at Trinity Bridge:

 

 

Then turning east, I walked 5 minutes towards Saint Ann’s Church:

 

 

Down the block south from St. Ann’s Church is John Rylands Library, famous for being the home to the ‘Manchester Fragment’: the earliest known fragment of the New Testament and part of St. John’s gospel that was found near Alexandria. It dates from 2nd century, shortly after the gospel itself was first written.

 

 

If you come at around 12pm, they’ll open the upper galleries for an hour for you to take photos.

 

 

As UK’s notoriously perennially bipolar weather went from sunny to rainy back to sunny, I happened to come across a religious parade/procession right outside:

 

 

Across the street to the east and through a small alleyway lies St Mary’s Church, Manchester’s oldest Catholic church and built in 1794.

 

 

I then kept walking along Princess Street and passed by Manchester City Council:

 

 

Next to the city council is the Manchester Central Library:

 

 

Manchester Chinatown, the new center of Manchester’s changing and evolving youth culture, which is right down a few streets:

 

 

And The Village (aka Gay Village) is embedded within this neighborhood along Canal Street:

 

 

And from the Alan Turing Memorial in a quiet park across the bridge, I walked along the canal back west.

 

 

After a nice 15 minute walk, I reached Castlefield, a relaxed neighborhood of public esplanades, canals, casual waterfront bars and green spaces.

 

 

And the best part was that this whole walking tour took about 2-3 hours at a turtle pace. 

At around 2pm I decided to get back on the train here towards the airport o catch my onward 5:35pm Flybe flight out to the Isle Of Man.

 

 

- At time of posting in Manchester, UK, it was 16 °C - Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: manic depressive: sunny, cloudy, sunny, and rainy

 

Raising The Barbados

Raising The Barbados

 

Like many of my trips before, a day in Barbados wasn’t really planned to happen. But things that happen are meant to happen right? I dare say this one was from the old habit of having 2 consecutive days off and wondering: Where’s the next place I can go next?

Well, after considering my options with Barbados being one of them (especially with the flights costing about $300 round trip), I pondered that with the weather warming up back home in NYC I could save such a warm destination for winter weekend getaway instead.

But then Evan Danek, who had just joined me for my last 3 trips to Prague, Budapest, and Pakistan, jumped at the offer (while it was still in its early brainstorming stages!) and bought his tickets without much of a discussion. And who was I to give an excuse and flake on him? Never done that in the past and I don’t intend to do it now.

And so 4 days ago I bought mine and found myself on my way for a 36 hour trip to Barbados.

Taking the 2:00pm American Airlines flight to Miami, I caught a connecting 6:24pm onward flight to Bridgetown, Barbados, landing at BGI airport at 9:56pm.

 

 

After passport stamping, I was picked up outside by the hotel’s complimentary car service for my first night’s lodgings at Coconut Court Beach Resort. I had picked there only because Evan used his Marriott points for a free night stay across the street at the Courtyard by Marriott the next evening.

So I turned in at 11pm while Evan arrived the next morning on the 11pm-5am direct JetBlue flight from NYC. After he waited another hour for me to wake up, we rendezvous’ed at my hotel at 8am to begin our trip.

If you’re new to Barbados, a great starting point would be at the Charles Fort in the Historic Garrison area:

 

 

To reach it, the fort is located inside and part of the Hilton Barbados Hotel & Resort property on the southwest-most point of Barbados. That said, if I was bringing my girlfriend, the Hilton would be my primary choice to stay as you immediately start your walking tour with a well known sight.

 

 

The fort is tiny and seems more like an alternative event space for Hilton, so after 5 minutes here we hopped in Evan’s rental car and drove into the center of Barbados’ capital city, Bridgetown, and oriented ourselves at the Parliament Buildings.

 

 

Across the street is the National Heroes Square, a popular central meeting point for locals and tourists.

 

 

If you’re feeling a little peckish like we did, we crossed the bridge over the canal for the restaurants by the waterfront.

 

 

The most popular joint was Waterfront Cafe.

 

 

We then strolled for 15 minutes or so around town.

 

 

…and then drove 20 minutes up north to Harrison’s Cave.

 

 

The entry fee is $30 USD ($60 Barbadian Dollars) for a 45-minute guided tram tour of the mile-long cave. You can also take a 3 hour “wild tour” that involves hiking and getting chest-deep in cave waters.

 

 

For those of you who want to go on an even further extended adventure, we then drove up another 25 minutes to the extreme north of Barbados to the Animal Flower Cave. It costs $12.50 USD ($25 Barbadian Dollars) to enter and it includes a 15 minute guided tour.

 

 

In another part of the cave, you can take a dip for 10-15 minutes after the tour. It can get up to 8 feet deep near the edge.

 

 

Afterwards you can dine at the outdoor restaurant just above the cave that boasts great views of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

Afterwards we drove back south for a quick peek at Hunte’s Garden on a spur-of-the-moment recommendation by my friend Tamara (who was happening to be following my Instagram Stories).

 

 

We then checked in at the Marriott and then beached it: Miami, Bath, Accra, Crane, Gibbes, Silver Sands Beach… you can’t go wrong here.

 

 

For dinner we treated ourselves with a view at Champers:

 

 

And to finish off our whirlwind tour of Barbados, we drove by the bar scene at St. Lawrence Gap (aka The Gap) only to determine it dead on arrival on a Thursday night.

Not much else to do here, but if you’re in a place like Barbados, why do anything else?

 

- At time of posting in Bridgetown, Barbados, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 27km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Happy Thans-Kiev-ing!

Happy Thans-Kiev-ing!

 

Thanks Fanny for the pun of a title!

I realized that whenever people ask for advice for what to see in Kiev and I look through my blog to rev up my memory again, all I have on Kiev is a crazy night out that began at the infamous Palata no. 6 (aka Hospital Bar), and nothing on what to actually see.

 

6 years ago in Kiev:

 

And we returned to Kiev today after a week in Armenia for an extended layover, I understood nostalgia and traditions are hard to quit.

Today in Kiev:

There’s been a few more tricks up their sleeves since then:

And yes, we even returned to Sorry, Babushka! afterwards.

 

 

But we also saw things this time! And when Ukraine International Airlines e-mailed me to say that our final flight home from Kiev to NYC would be delayed a whopping 8 hours, that left us with plenty of time to explore Kiev the next morning sober. 

Let’s begin — (Some of these photos are credited to Mihaela, who arrived in Kiev on an earlier flight than the rest of us)

 

 

From our hostel, we started at Andriyivsky Uzviz (Андріївський узвіз) or Andrew’s Descent, a steep but charming cobblestone path lined with souvenir sellers, art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and museums.

 

 

The descent’s official start is at Saint Andrew’s Church, and it ends at Kontraktova Ploshcha in Podil.

 

 

From Saint Andrew’s we walked 10 minutes over to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev’s oldest church dating back to the 11th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts the world’s largest ensemble of frescoes and mosaics. 

Admission fee is 60 UAH.

 

 

For an extra fee you can climb up the bell tower for these views:

 

 

We then walked 5 minutes over to Golden Gate, which is a 1982 reconstruction of the Golden Gate of Kyiv, which was immortalized in Mussorgski’s “Pictures of an Exhibition.”

 

 

Afterwards we turned onto Kreschatyk Street, the main path of Kiev’s center, where we took advantage of it being closed on weekends for pedestrians.

 

 

This street would then lead us to Independence Square or Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності), which as I recall was also where we scrambled around for an hour thinking that we missed our bus to Chernobyl 6 years ago. 

More importantly though, it is Kiev’s central meeting place as well as the site where people camped for weeks on end during the Orange Revolution in 2004 that led to the election of Yushchenko and the violet crackdowns of the 2014 Ukranian revolution that led to the ousting of President Yanukovych.

 

 

You can take a small set of stairs above the mall for elevated views:

 

 

Nearby is a tribute composed of scattered bricks to the 113 of those who died during the 2014 Revolution.

 

 

We then walked to Globus Mall for dinner at Ostannya Barykada, a famous speakeasy restaurant devoted to purely Ukrainian cuisine.

 

 

You have to find the dedicated entrance first:

 

 

Then take an elevator to a hidden floor:

 

 

Grab a few drinks at the simple bar and give this password in Ukrainian: Boritesya i poborete! (Fight and you will win!)

 

 

Once your table is ready, head through a hidden entrance inside the walls:

 

 

And eat, eat, eat away. Our recommended dishes were the goat, steaks (big cuts for $10 USD!), catfish, black pudding (pork blood), and borscht.

 

 

After a filling dinner we walked about 8 minutes to St. Michael’s Monastery, which is an active monastery that dates back to the 12th century.

 

 

If you’re still up for a longer walk, head 20 minutes south to Friendship of Nations Arch where you can get great views of northern Kiev.

 

 

From there you can walk into a pleasant park beginning with Park Bridge:

 

 

Right at the end of the park is 140 year old Mariyinsky Palace, which was designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who is also famous for designing the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.

 

 

Walk another 25 minutes south to reach the Holodomor Holocaust Memorial and its underground exhibit in the park.

 

 

A few more paces south from the memorial will be the entrance to Kiev Pechersk Lavra, one of Ukraine’s oldest monasteries. Dug out by hermit priests, these cave monasteries are still intact today for visiting, where pilgrims and tourists alike can venture to see their mummified remains.

 

 

Finally, at the southern end of your walk will be The Motherland Monument, adorned by scores of military vehicles and classic Soviet-era memorial statuary dedicated to the sacrifices Kiev made during World War II.

 

 

And the motherland statue itself looks much larger in real life. Of note, the design on her shield is the only example of a Soviet hammer & sickle insignia allowed in Ukraine.

 

 

This whole walking tour took about 4-5 hours, after which we returned back to our hostel to pick up our bags and headed to the airport for our return flight home.

 

 

Perhaps because it’s my birthday tomorrow or Thanksgiving Day is in 2 days, I gotta say when this group first spontaneously formed a few weeks ago I remember not being able to help myself but have this gut feeling I would be traveling with and getting to know a solid bunch of special, amazing, funny, mature, and down-to-earth people. I didn’t know why; except for Mihaela, I never traveled with any of them before. While I tried hard not to overhype expectations, my expectations instead would be exceeded. By being themselves and coming on this trip with me, they gave me one of the best birthday presents I could ask for.

I’m already finding myself missing everyone before the trip even has ended, and I’m beginning to feel this sense of bittersweetness that because there are so many moving parts in this thing called life, these 4 people may never travel together with me all at once like this again.

I hope the universe may one day prove me wrong. Thank you for an amazing 9 days. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

- At time of posting in Kiev, Ukraine, it was 5 °C - Humidity: 72% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

24 Hours In Kuwait

24 Hours In Kuwait

Preface — To give you an idea what my life has been like this past month:

  1. Exactly a month ago, I was the Caribbean for a 3 day weekend in Turks & Caicos
  2. Then I returned to NYC for 4 straight night shifts in the ER (getting sick with a 103ºF fever in the interim!)
  3. Then I headed to the Gulf/Middle East for a week in Iraq
  4. Then I returned to NYC for 3 night and 3 day shifts in the ER
  5. Then I headed back to the Caribbean for a week volunteering at an ER in Haiti.
  6. Then I returned to NYC for 2 hours to do a connecting flight, switching from Terminal 5 to Terminal 4 at JFK Airport
  7. Now I’m back to the Gulf/Middles East today for Kuwait.

So NYC –> Caribbean –> NYC –> Middle East –> NYC –> Caribbean –> NYC –> Middle East.

Worth it.

 

 

It’s very well known amongst travelers that Kuwait isn’t much of a destination for tourists, let alone a place to visit during the summer when the weather is 105ºF and up, or even worse, during Ramadan when everything is closed until 7pm.

Well, we just did Kuwait in the middle of summer during Ramadan: how about THAT.

 

 

Before we get there though, it wouldn’t be a monsoon without beginning one with series of inconveniences that work in our favor:

Originally I scheduled an itinerary to depart from Haiti – NYC – Amsterdam – Kuwait, but KLM Airlines cancelled their NYC – Amsterdam leg (due to inclement weather there) and instead rebooked me, adding in an extra leg to make it NYC – Brussels – Amsterdam – Kuwait. 

However, once I was in the air on my way to Brussels, KLM then also cancelled their Brussels to Amsterdam flight, leaving me stranded in Brussels by the time I landed.

After arriving in Brussels I ran around the airport, even through an extra unnecessary security screening to connections, with no staff member bothering to help. I then finally found a kiosk representing KLM who helpfully rebooked me on a Lufthansa Airlines itinerary that would take me from Brussels – Frankfurt – Kuwait that was leaving in 35 minutes.

I ran back through security again and made it to the Lufthansa flight on time, getting to Kuwait an hour earlier than my original itinerary with an 8pm landing. Huzzah!

Once you land in Kuwait airport, you’ll may likely need a visa on arrival. So instead of going through passport control, head upstairs to the departures level and turn left around a corner towards a long hallway. There should be a sign pointing right to a visa office.

 

 

 

Except it’s not an office but rather a large banquet hall that sometimes functions as a visa office with a large waiting area. You first have to fill out a quick form, get your passport xerox’ed, and take a number. 

Once they call for your number, you present your documents with your passport where they fingerprint you and give you a huge piece of paper that’s your visa.

  

 

You then go to a desk on your right to get confirmation of your visa with an officer, and then you can head back downstairs and whisk through passport and customs without having to be stamped.

 

Once at arrivals, I took an airport taxi waiting outside.

FYI: Looking back, if I were to return to Kuwait I’d rent a car to get around. Every cab driver we hailed tried upsell us such as asking us to pay 1 extra KWD on top of the listed meter fare, telling us that their meter was broken, or giving us the runaround route, which wasted a lot of time. It was not until we used the app Careem — the few times when it actually works — where we got more of a fair deal.

I eventually got to my lodging in the city, Arkan Residence, at around 9:30pm where I met up with therest of the crew of monsooners

Although Ann and Mihaela is traveling with me for the whole itinerary, Donavan just joined us at the last minute for Kuwait as he just happened to be scheduled to work here for the month. I have to give props to his reaching out to me a few days ago about joining the trip for just 24 hours, as he and I had met way back in 2014 for only a mere few seconds at the ECAASU conference in DC. I remember he had stopped by my suite with a few friends, we then introduced ourselves, and that was that before 80-90 more people started coming in. The fact he’s now here hanging out with me 4 years later in Kuwait is mindblowing to me and I’m grateful he’s kept up with The Monsoon Diaries since then.

 

Since most of you reading this might be budget backpackers: There are no hostels in Kuwait City. Your best bet is sharing an apartment on Booking.com.

What I found, Arkan Residence, is one of the few affordable options if you want to stay inside Kuwait City. However, it’s an odd place being that although it looks fancy and has a gym, kitchen, two bathrooms, a pretty water filter, laundry machines, dryers, microwave, TV, shampoo/conditioner amenities etc., there’s somehow no toilet paper, the bedroom door doesn’t quite shut all the way because the corner of one of the beds blocks it from closing, and there’s only one electrical socket per room (even the living room) with no power strips to fix the situation. That means a room may have multiple unplugged lamps or a washer and dryer with no power strip to share between the two — you have to unplug one to start another.

Yes, it looks pretty but still very much a work in progress.

 

 

At least the kitchen works well enough to boil ramen (hey, it’s Ramadan here and we’ve been doing our best fasting with them the whole time here).

 

 

After freshening up we headed out to a free Art Space event in the Salmiya District. Mihaela had heard about this from her couchsurfing host the night before, and because why not.

 

 

We spent about half an hour here before heading to Sky Lounge Café nearby for shisha, food, and endless rounds of watermelon juice (it’s in season here!) with rooftop views of the city.

 

 

We headed back after their 2am closing and turned in at 3am, sleeping in until 11am the next morning where we got ready for our day in Kuwait.

Except you probably shouldn’t start your day early in Kuwait if it’s during Ramadan.

Pro-tip: If you’re visiting during Ramadan like we’re doing, this should be your itinerary: visit the Grand Mosque at 10am and then head to the malls to wait for everything else to open in the afternoon. Then see everything in the afternoon and the evening.

If you don’t want to visit the mosque, then don’t bother starting your day early otherwise: Not even the main tourist attraction of Kuwait Towers opens until 3pm. We found that out the hard way when we made that our first stop of the day — we took a quick 5 min cab there and broiled under the 105ºF sun all alone and by ourselves.

Nevertheless standing under this iconic pair of glittering blue towers with not another soul in sight around during Ramadan can be pretty surreal.

 

 

Next to the towers is a Fish Market, but it’s really a seafood restaurant.

 

 

We then fled for shelter from the heat and hailed a cab after Donavan found us nearby Souk Sharq, a mall with its very own island (and is open during Ramadan!).

Although nearly all the shops were closed except for Zara, Bath and Body Works, and a grocery store, we found a small and cute open café inside the grocery store that was allowed to make food but not have it’s customers eat anything in front of it (because of Ramadan).

 

 

So we ordered some smoothies and snuck into the back kitchen to consume our goods.

 

 

Although this may not be on the level of exploring the fifth floor at the North Korea’s Yanggakdo Hotel or riding in a convoy of bullet magnets into Mosul, we felt a little criminal inside all of us surreptitiously sipping on our smoothies. We did try our best to fast, but we’re pretty new at this.

 

 

Afterwards we then explored the real fish market on Souq Sharq:

 

 

By then it hit 3pm, so we returned to Kuwait Towers and paid the admission ticket of 3 KWD to go up to the 4th floor, which sports a revolving viewing deck and a snack bar.

 

 

After about half an hour here, we took a cab to Mubarakeya souq, which is a covered market of connected outdoor shops. Some were open.

 

 

Around the souq are some small parks and fountains where you can get more views of downtown Kuwait City.

 

 

We tried to walk in the heat to the National Assembly of Kuwait, famous for being designed by Jørn Utzon (who also designed Sydney Opera House) but gave up after 15 minutes and took a cab for a fly-by. 

For many Kuwaitis, the National Assembly building is a symbol of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

 

 

We then tried to get into The Grand Mosque as their opening hours are listed to be 10am-11am in the morning and 5pm-7pm in the afternoon. However, we would find out from the security guards that during Ramadan the mosque is only open in the mornings.

 

 

We tried to sneak in anyway from the back.

 

 

Across the street from the Mosque is Seif Palace, which is best known for its watch tower covered in blue tiles and with a roof plated in pure gold.

 

 

Afterwards we hailed a cab and took it to Liberation Tower, a 372-meter-high telecommunications tower, the 39th tallest building in the world. It was built to symbolize Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq.

 

 

We then returned to our hotel to pick up our bags, heading to KWI airport afterwards to catch our 9:05pm Oman Air flight to Muscat.

Get there a little early even if you already checked in online; you still need to wait in the check-in line for a printed ticket and then wait in another line at security, and then it’s another line for passport stamp out, and then another security line to get into your gate.

Luckily for us there’s not much to do in Kuwait during Ramadan so we got there really early and used our Priority Passes to enjoy the best of the lounges, Dasman First Class.

 

 

- At time of posting in Kuwait City, Kuwait, it was 40 °C - Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear