Our favourite ginger man is trapped in Kuwait! Graham is stuck and he needs YOUR help.
My next country is (hopefully) going to be Bahrain, but there is a problem.
The predicament/dilemma I’m in is that I came here thinking that
1. There was a ferry from Kuwait to Bahrain
2. Failing that, uou could get a Saudi transit visa here
Both of these things are sadly not true!!
The boats stopped 2 years ago and you can only get a transit visa if you’re a resident here. The only ways to get to Bahrain are: on a boat down the Gulf, transiting through Saudi or transiting back through Iran. Iran and Saudi – the two hardest visas to get in the world!!
So I’ve applied for a Saudi visa in London (which could take WEEKS to come through!) and while I’m waiting for that I’m actively looking for a boat to take me to Bahrain or Qatar or UAE. Oil tanker/Container Ship/Cargo Ship/Yacht/Speedboat/Dhow/Rubber Dingy – I have no preference as long as it’s buoyant enough to get me there!!
But so far, George Zipp – there seem to be very few container ships that come this far up The Gulf, and oil tankers (of which there are many) are reluctant to take passengers. There’s hundreds of motor yachts here (not a single sail) but everyone I speak to says that these boats just do not go out of Kuwait waters, even though there is a boat show in Bahrain this weekend!
I’ve even asked the local fishermen, which, considering what happened to me in Cape Verde is saying something!
Any help you can give me would be amazing!!
If you can assist, or know anyone that may be able to, please contact Team Odyssey via the ‘contact‘ page on the website – thanks. We’ll be forever in your debt…
So there’s always plan B, right? Well, it all seemed simple enough. According to the Lonely Planet I could get a transit visa for Saudi as long as I had a Bahraini visa and a valid ticket from the bus station. So first thing I was up and at ‘em heading over to the Bahrain embassy. The weekend here runs Friday and Saturday, so it was open and pretty soon I had my visa and was heading over to the Saudi visa agents to try and get that transit visa. I was a bit worried it would take a few days, but the awful truth was that it wouldn’t take any time at all – they only give out transit visas for residents. As I’m not a resident, I can’t get one.
I had painted myself into a corner.
The next day I tried at the Iranian embassy to get a transit visa (plan C – head back to Iran, take ferry to Bahrain from Bushehr), but again there was no chance. In fact, the guy in the embassy was so rude that I considered dropping Iran a few places in my League of Nations, but that would have been petty.
Plan D was to get on a cargo boat, but nobody would take me without some kind of certificate of seamanship. Plan E was to take an oil tanker, but it was deemed to dangerous. Plan F was to hire a boat but it would cost £12,000. Plan G was to go with a bunch of fishermen, but that didn’t work out so well last time, plus they didn’t want to take me anyway. Plan H was to get a lift with somebody going to the Bahrain boat show next week, but nobody was going and so my last throw of the die – Plan I – was put into operation: get a full, multiple entry Saudi visa.
A transit would be no good, even if it came from London it would only get me as far as Bahrain before I had to send my passport back to London for another transit visa to get me to Qatar and then ANOTHER transit visa to the UAE. And the chances where they wouldn’t even issue the transit visa in London on the grounds that, well, why didn’t I just fly?
It would take a minimum of two, maybe three weeks. I had charged full-pelt through the amazing Central Asia and now I would be stuck in Kuwait for the best part of a month. The driest spot on Earth. No booze, no bacon, no bars, no pubs, no clubs, no dancing, no kissing, no holding hands, no old buildings, no live music, no bohemia and certainly no cavaliers.
Hugh’s dad’s company in Liverpool agreed to sponsor my visa application (there are no real tourist visas, it’s a business visa or nothing) and so I knew I’d have at least a fortnight of twiddling my thumbs until my letter of invitation came through.
But as always it was CouchSurfing to the rescue. Through Michael, my CouchSurfing host, I met the admiral Heitham (from Kuwait but living in Preston) and Josie (from California), and then through them I met the Kuwaiti CSers – a German guy called Dominic (whose place I moved to after a few days at Michael’s so as to not outstay my welcome), a Dutch girl called Jannie (whose place I moved into after Dominic’s) and a top guy from the Philippines called Ruban who was also staying with Jannie.
But first things first, I had to sort my computer out. No sooner had I bought myself a new hard-drive (anxious to rid myself of these troublesome tapes that keep getting me into trouble) than my computer went the way of the Norwegian Blue Parrot – it was in desperate need of one of those wipe-everything-and-install-everything-again malarkey moments. Well, what do you expect after 16 months on the road slutting it about with whatever naughty little wi-fi connection was swanning around at the side of the road?
On hand to resuscitate old Dell-Boy was a guy who spotted me looking lost with a computer under my arm and invited me into his workshop. His name was Abbas and he ran Tip-Top computers in the IT district of town. A Tip-Top chap too – he not only bought me lunch and dropped me at the Aquarium while my computer was being fixed, he also waved the fix-it fee and loaded my laptop up with all my favourite programmes. Hats off to ya, Abbas!!
Meanwhile, Heitham (the coolest Kuwaiti in the world) and I hung out over the week. He busted a gut trying to get me onto some kind of maritime transport to Bahrain, but without success. On the Friday he invited all of us CouchSurfers up to his family farm near the border with Iraq. We all piled into a convoy of 4x4s and headed out onto the large but deserted highway north of Kuwait City, stopping on the way to mess about in the sand-dunes and to take this picture:
Once we got to Heitham’s farm, we broke out the barbecue and I had myself a cracking night with my new CouchSurfing buddies from all over the world. See? Even in a place as dull as Kuwait you can still have a good good crazy time if you know where to look.
My second week in Kuwait was a little more sedate than the first. I managed to pull some awesome shapes on the website… check out all the new features – GPS, playlists, passport photos, updated heroes, new forum, at-a-glance diaries, a checklist and a brand new forum. Phew.
Kuwait is… well, how can I put this…? Not the most Graham Hughes of cities. There’s no old stuff, the buildings are ALL concrete (as if there was a build-one-get-several-hundred-free offer on), there’s no booze (legally at any rate), you can’t kiss/dance/hold hands with the opposite sex (you can do all three with the same sex, that’s fine and not a bit gay in the slightest) and it seems that the only god worshipped around these parts is mammon – hanging around the shopping malls are literally the ONLY thing to do.
Ah, well, no – there is something else you can do, and that’s to drive like a maniac for no apparent reason other than you want to get yourself and everyone in the local vicinity killed. In souped-up sports cars, boy racers and spoilt rich kids race up and down the dual carriageways at arse clenching speeds, attempting to outdo each other as to who can produce the most mangled corpse.
The sad thing is that given the lack of sex, booze and rock n’ roll, this is the only way these kids (and they are all kids – not many make it to the age of 21) can blow off steam, strut their stuff and make their mark in the world. Death by channelled testosterone. Whoopee. But even the adults seem to be all to willing to join the choir invisible – you’ll see them cut you up – they’ll have no safety belt on, they’ll have their four year old kid on their lap and they’ll invariably be on the phone.
Oh, and those who aren’t driving sports cars are driving SUVs – you know those horrifically ugly Chelsea Tractor pollution-mobiles favoured by the lower orders that are 27 times more likely to kill you if they smash into you at speed? Yeah, them. Wonderful. The driving here is (in my humble estimation) the second worst in the world after Nigeria. The sad thing is that everybody tells me it’s the same story all over the peninsular.
The big news of the week was that the admiral Heitham went home to Preston and left me in the capable hands of Jannie and Ruban. On the Friday we went to Dominic’s for a house party were I met a guy from Chile who had lived in Nigeria for a few years and explained the way of thinking there in one clear sentence. Every day IS the last day of the world. Put like that, I get it – the corruption, the madness, the religiosity, the suicidal driving… it all kind of makes sense.
This week I’ve been staying with a guy from Austria called Martin. His flat is spanking – it’s in a brand new apartment complex and the apartment is so neat and tidy just my mere presence is enough to destabilise the Xi. It’s warming up here in Kuwait – the rains of last week are but a distant memory and it’s hard not to be enchanted by the thought of running from one air-conditioned building to another.
There was still no sign of my Saudi Letter of Invitation coming through and so I cracked on with website updates. On Friday I met with Ruban and we crashed a rooftop party held by a cool British guy called Wes. There I met a ton of tip-top people. First up, there was Kassie from Australia, who offered me a place to crash now that I was in serious danger of outstaying my welcome at Martin’s.
Secondly, I met Andrea and Eric from Canada who gave me a ton of advice about getting the Saudi visa – telling me I was best going to a little copy shop in Salmiya which is tasked with processing the Saudi visas. Yeah, a copy shop – go figure. Andrea would also be instrumental in introducing me to the British Ladies Society and thereafter the British Embassy. Thirdly, I met Bernie, an Aussie living in Dubai who put me in touch with Colin, an intellectual copyright lawyer from Sydney who might be interested in helping out my poor impoverished ass to, you know, make some money out of this whole hilarious adventure thing because I sure as hell made no money out of that television show I made.
After Wes’s we crashed another party – I don’t know how to spell her name, but it was pronounced ‘E’, so maybe I’ll just call her E until somebody corrects me. This party was even better than the last and – oh yes – there was alcohol! Homebrew and ethanol, but hell, it did the trick! It was like the goddamn United Nations (only more use) with not two people from the same country at the entire shindig. As my friends can no doubt attest, I’m a huge fan of house parties (it’s the Gatsby in me) and if I could attend a couple of these things a week I can see why Kuwait has its appeals.
But the moonshine will no doubt break your head in the morning, as I found the following day. It was the evening before I shook off my hangover, gathered up my things and moved my stuff to Kassie’s flat, just over the road from Martin’s. Something you should know – staying with (or even visiting) a member of the opposite sex is against the law here (as is Skype!) and they think nothing of throwing people in jail for six months without charge for even lesser misdemeanours – so I’ve got to keep my head down.
Yes, we are children in a 1950s all-boys boarding school. Females are dangerous creatures who must be avoided at all costs lest you – you know – fall in love. Love is not a big thing in the Middle East. Sex and money – that’s all marriages are about here – children and dowries. I can’t be the only one who finds the whole set up (arranged marriages and the like) dripping with sin and depravity. To remove the whole love thing from getting hitched removes the only wholesome aspect of this marriage business, leaving only a seedy transaction that might as well be sorted out with a prostitute. My dad gives you money, you lie back and think of England. Deal?
On Sunday morning came the news I was waiting for – my Saudi invitation was in the bag! Within just a few days I’d be finally buzzing through to Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. I headed like a bonanza bongo bang bang buckaroo over to the Saudi embassy. Only I found myself stopping along the way in a copy shop to get the letter of invitation printed out. But this wasn’t just any old copy shop – this was the copy shop that Eric was talking about the other night! I could get the visa here! Of all the copy shops in all the Kuwait Cities… Awesome. I printed out my letter of invitation (which was all in Arabic) but it was up to Captain Hugh back in the UK to rush back to his office in Liverpool and write me a letter of introduction (HUGH……. You are an Odyssey GOD!) that afternoon I handed in my application – stamped, sealed and signed on the dotted line. All was good. Five days, they said, Ishallah – meaning god willing. Hmm… I guess that means seven.
Either way, this should be my last week here in Kuwait.
The next day I was invited by Andrea, Eric’s wife, to give a talk at the British Ladies Society of Kuwait. I was promised tea and cake, how could I say no?! The Ladies were wonderful, taking a keen interest in my mad adventures and even having a whip-around to help me and WaterAid on our way. From that talk, many doors were opened to me…
I was invited to give talks to the girl guides, the boy scouts and various English schools around Kuwait. Kids ask the best questions – out of all the people you’ve met, who had the best name? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten? Do Somali pirates look like pirates? But best of all I was invited to come and watch the British election at my embassy – something which made some of my other British chums a little uppity… we’ve been here six years and we’ve never been invited to the embassy!
Something you should know about the British Embassy in Kuwait… they have booze. And my surname doesn’t rhyme with ‘booze’ by chance. After four weeks of 7up and ethanol, drinking an ice-cold Stella is like a little taste of heaven. I think there was an ulterior motive in inviting me to the embassy… there was a politics quiz on. My reputation must precede me.
Of course my team won (could there have been any doubt?) and since we won by one point, my firm belief is that it was me getting Rebel Rebel by David Bowie in the lyrics round that made all the difference. I miss quizzes, it’s one of the few competitive events that I kick ass at – seriously, if you’re ever on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire you want me as your phone-a-friend!! As the night went on I sat with the British ambassador in the Embassy garden watching the election results come in. I remember discussing the cons and cons of PR, getting more and more sozzled and demanding to know where on Earth he was hiding his tray of Ferrero Rocher.
Before I knew what was going on, Gordon Brown was squatting in number 10 and Nick Clegg was umming and arring about who to team up with. I was just looking forward to Sunday – my Saudi visa…
Well then, it should all be over, shouldn’t it? First thing Sunday morning I hurried down to the copy place to pick up my shiny happy visa, only for the guy to pull it out of the drawer with a despondent look on his face.
You need to get the visa in London.
I took a deep breath, nodded, smiled, exited and screamed an obscenity to the sky that would have woken Rip Van Winkle.
No visa. No dice. What now?
I rang Eric who has become my unofficial Kuwaiti Yoda, he said he could get my passport DHLed back in the UK for just a fiver through his company. Thus began my week of visa madness.
On the Monday morning I was invited back to the British Embassy to see if they could musta some ‘wusta’, the word for influence around these parts (and my collective noun for Kuwaitis). They tried their best, but as the guy in the Embassy said, he could help me get me a visa for anywhere in the world – except Saudi. They are more awkward than a spoilt child designed by Apple.
So Andrea picked me up (THANK YOU!!) and took me over to Eric’s workplace. The passport was dispatched to London. I sent it to my friend Lindsey for her to give to my dad. So the frickin’ Saudis essentially forced my 73 year old father to go all the way down to London because my letter of invitation had ‘London’ written on it – in Arabic I might add.
The answer is no, now what’s the question?
But even all that did not suffice, in London they wanted the passport to be submitted by an agency, not a individual. So my gallant father had to come all the way back to Liverpool, gather even more forms and crap and nonsense and then return to London the next day. And would it take three days (as advertised on the Saudi website) for the visa to come through? Would it buggery. It would take a week, now sod off we tire of you.
I sat in Kassie’s flat, incapacitated with a firmament of fury towards the bureaucrats of the world. I hate you all, why don’t you climb aboard the B-Ark and go torment somebody somebody else’s planet? At this rate, I’ll be in Kuwait longer than anywhere else so far on The Odyssey – even Cape Verde.
500 days on the road and a good 200 of them have been wasted waiting for either visas or boats. In situations like this you can’t help but acquiesce and go with the flow. The other plans you could have gone for – maybe a new visa for Iran would have been quicker (and cheaper) – will only serve to taunt you. I’ve made my bed and one way or another I’ll have to lie in it. The maddening thing is that I know once I reach the UAE and Oman I’m going to be stuck there, perhaps for a comparable time, waiting for a way to get to Eritrea.
On Thursday this week my dad returned to London for a third time. The visa was ready. We looked into getting my Eritrea and Indian visas, but they would both take too long to come through, so we looked at just getting the passport back to me asap. As Friday and Saturday are the weekend here, sending it DHL would not get here until Sunday. That being the case I roped in the magnificent Stan Standryt into helping me get the passport back the next day.
How do you do that Graham? Well, you do what Bono did when he forget his stupid hat – put it on a plane. Only I’d be using a scheduled service – not a charter job BECAUSE I’M NOT A SMUG MULTI-MILLIONAIRE TAX-DODGING CREEP. Sorry – Bono. Hate him. Can’t help it. So ANYWAYS… Stan picked the passport up off my dad went all the way to Heathrow. BA were happy to put it on tonight’s flight – that was until they discovered it was a passport. Can’t send passports – use DHL.
I understand why courier services are reluctant to take passports – they could lead to all kinds of trouble. But this wasn’t a stack of dubious passports on their way to Nigeria – this was a single passport that would be picked up by the guy whose passport it was. After wasting £47 in taxis getting shunted from pillar to post around the Heathrow site, Stan was forced to give up and send it DHL the next day anyway. BA – you just posted another massive loss. I was willing to pay you twice the cost of an average easyjet flight (for a person) just to put a document on your damn aeroplane.
You fools. Your airline is made of poo and FAIL!
Well, one way or another this was my final weekend in Kuwait. I have been here for SIX WEEKS waiting for this damn stamp in my passport. On Friday I was desperate for a party, so I met up with a cute CSer from South Africa called Janine. On discovering she was being put up by her company all expenses paid in the five-star Marriot Courtyard Hotel, I suggested we invade the buffet. Yes I have no shame and nothing cheers me up more than turning up to a posh do in my scuffs looking like I’ve just stumbled out of a particularly gritty western onto the dancefloor of the Ritz.
Later, Ruban got everyone around the pool at Jannie’s place for some final soft drinks and Pringles. Awesomely enough, there was another party happening down the road later on. We crashed it with aplomb and – joy of joys – they had a cooler filled with REAL ice-cold beer!!
So so happy! We shimmy shake-shaked the night away with our chums from the four corners of the planet. If nothing else, Kuwait is one hell of a melting pot. And you want to know something cool? I had been to everybody’s country (with the notable exception of the Philippines – why didn’t I hit that gaff in ’02, I’ll never know).
Tracking numbers are so cool. I got to watch online as my passport arrived in Bahrain yesterday and then arrived here just after 8am today. The DHL guys even called me and explained where I had to go to pick up my maroon booklet of doom. As always, Andrea was on hand to help me out. She picked me up and we grabbed the passport. I checked it over and all was good.
I had my ticket to ride.
After picking Eric up from work, we headed into town to visit Andrea’s mate who fed us the yummiest sausage salad (chicken sausage of course, but whatchagonnado?) before Eric and I braved the bus station to find out times of buses to Bahrain. Oh dear. You would think that given all it’s immense riches Kuwait could afford a bus station that wouldn’t have looked fitting in 1980s Beirut. The hilarious thing was that it adjoined the police lock-up – so, so many cars impounded (I don’t think Kuwaitis are capable of driving more than a few meters without breaking several international driving laws). Eventually we found a guy to ask – nah, these were all local buses – we wanted the SAPTCO place out by the United Nations roundabout. No worries. I’d give them a call in the morning and find out the SP.
Afterwards I met up with Janine – we well and truly abused the Marriot’s roomservice together and since she had already ruined the end of Prison Break for me, it did no harm to watch The Final Break which I guess was all the stuff that was meant to happen in Season 5, but then the damn thing got cancelled on the grounds that it wasn’t Lost.
I could tell you I got up bright and early and rang the bus company only to discover that there was no bus to Bahrain today (there wasn’t), but to be honest, even if there had of been a bus, I would have missed it on purpose. I had bigger fish to fry. A fish called Lost.
Last January, Mandy and I made a pact to watch the last episode of Lost together, just like we watched the first episode together back in January 2005. She was planning to fly out to meet me in India or China or wherever I was. Well my enforced sojourn in Kuwait threw that idea out of the window. Plus there’s the fact that we haven’t got enough money left to fly Mandy to Bali, never mind Bahrain. So we did what we always do and muddled through – if we couldn’t physically be together to watch it, then we could certainly be together through the wonderful power of Skype.
I tell you what though, I have no idea why it took so long to download… there must have been a a few zillion people seeding it. But eventually Mand and I had it. I wore my special DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN’T DO t-shirt and we counted down to when we had to PUSH THE BUTTON (to start the video) with an 4 8 15 16 23 42 for old times sake.
Damn, I can’t believe it’s over. I need to think of a good replacement…
How about a mystery TV show called ‘Nightingale’ which is set in the outback of Australia – Mad Max meets Twin Peaks. After the inhabitants of the small mining town of Nightingale (pop. 108) awake to find their children missing, and in trying to discover where they have gone find themselves activating an ancient evil – one that might just destroy the world.
Oh yes, I’m back ON THE ROAD! After saying my final farewell to the delectable Kassie I bundled myself on the 9am bus to Bahrain via Dammam in Saudi Arabia. Panicking over all the horror stories I’ve been told about Saudi customs, I wiped all the TV shows and Hollywood movies off my hard drives (lest they contain kisses, witchcraft or a picture of a cross) and made sure I didn’t have a single used videotape on me (remembering Iran and Congo).
In the event, they didn’t even open my bag. Hilarious.
I had my photo taken and my fingerprints scanned and that was it. Easy as pie. I arrived in the wholly unremarkable town of Dammam in the early afternoon and it wasn’t long before I was excitedly crossing the MASSIVE causeway to Nation 156, Bahrain – the Las Vegas of the Middle East.
Oh yes, Bahrain – Bands, Broads and Booze on tap and the parties don’t even get started until after midnight. I met with Tim, my CS host and one US Navy Lieutenant. His apartment was so kick ass it made me wonder why I never went to officer school. Oh yeah and then there was the fridge – stocked to the gills with beer, lovely cold refreshing beer.
After a few we hit the streets, grabbing some authentic Bahraini KFC on the way to the Irish pub (there’s always an Irish pub). There we watched a band that were so-so before pushing on to a Pilipino joint with a much better band who actually put some pizzazz into their cover versions. From that point on my recollection of the night kind of falls apart. I remember meeting some girls from Ethiopia and asking why they wouldn’t let me open the windows on the bus. I don’t think I did any Karaoke, but it’s a possibility.
How on Earth Tim dragged himself into work in the morning is a mystery I’ll probably never fathom.