Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Day in the Desert

The weather has been beautiful this week. Absolutely gorgeous. It is so great, that no one wants to stay indoors. This is a rare - almost never - feeling in Kuwait. We get maybe 20 days a year that make people want to run outside, and I swear, nineteen of those days land on work days - sunny days where I sit at my desk or stare out my classroom door and dream of a game of beach volleyball, just to finally have Saturday roll around and the whole city be enveloped in a sand storm. That is the springtime norm in Kuwait, five nice weekdays followed by an overcast, sandy weekend.

However, this Saturday, the mythical gorgeous weekend appeared and the whole of Kuwait raced outdoors.

On a beautiful Saturday in March, there are a surprising number of options for how to spend your day. You could BBQ on the beach, take a boat out to Kubbar, go visit the farmer’s market downtown, or even just hang out in the courtyard. However, we chose the best option of all, a desert day!

The country of Kuwait is 95% desert and therefore I was under the impression that finding some desert to play-in would be a simple 10-15 minute drive from our apartments. We did have some expectations, though, we wanted no people, no trash, and lots of sand dunes. This seemed like a simple wish – but in actuality it was difficult to find.

The deserts near the city are full of wind blown litter and electrical poles. They are also filled with canvas tents – hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. There is a culture in Kuwait of desert camping, of going off into the desert with just your family and finding your Bedouin roots. This is a cool idea but the reality is miles of canvas cities, with electricity and mini-water towers, situated one after another, mere steps from each other’s doorways.

This tent-filled, litter-covered desert was not the desert of our dreams and so we carried onward, toward the Iraq boarder. We passed the last buildings, the last highways, the last buses,  even the last camel caravan, until we started to see nothing, and then, before we could get excited, we saw something again.

Signs, huge signs, everywhere, stating: No trespassing. Military Installation. No photography. Big signs, little signs, red, yellow, blue – it seemed really clear we were headed into an area we were not supposed to visit, but we drove on.

 Now, before my bravery is spread throughout the interweb, I need to correct a misconception. I would have turned around. I would have turned around immediately. I would have never known the sheer number of signs and tanks and roadblocks and guard towers down the road because I would’ve flipped a U-turn at the first tiny red sign we saw.

But I was not driving, B was and he was following our friend Mace. And Mace is a true adventurer, a man of spirit and bravery and a man holding a Google map that clearly showed how cutting through this military installation would save us many, many minutes and miles. And so, with Mace at the wheel we drove on.

Pulling up to the guard tower we expected to meet some resistance. Off to one side was a desert army tank and all along the road were the numerous signs. A guard walked out in full military fatigues and glanced at our vehicles.

There wasn’t any way he could mistake us for military. The girls wore tank tops and ripped jeans. Our feet were propped up on the dashboard. The guys wore t-shirts and cargo shorts. Pop music was playing on the speakers. We were definitely not military. The guard looked again and waved us through. Clearly, the signs were overkill.

We cruised through the military installation. The desert stretched endlessly in both directions. There were no tents, no litter, and no electricity poles. It would have been the perfect place to play except for the signs. These were new signs, and they didn’t warn us that we were on a military installation, no, they warned us that we were on an active bombing site and that we should touch nothing. The signs were very clear - written in both English and Arabic with little drawings of explosions they made their point. We stayed on the road and then the sand track, hoping to find a place without bombs in which to spend our desert day.

Eventually, we came out the other side of the military installation. The desert was vast and empty. We began off-roading. Mace’s truck was much sturdier than ours and he climbed dunes rapidly, coasting down them casually, while we listened to his passengers’ cheers echo across the desert. We stuck more to the track, occasionally climbing a small dune and getting a rush when our jeep landed on the hard sand again. After a few hours of this, we were ready for a break and found a nice desert berm to picnic near.

Mace had brought an instagrill, a common contraption Kuwaitis use when BBQ-ing on the beach. We had also stopped and bought kebabs. The kebabs were simply labeled “butter and garlic” and were a bright green color. As we tossed them on the grill, we all took bets on what type of meat they might be. The girls were pretty sure they’d be chicken; Mace thought beef and B was starting to be concerned they might be a form of vegetable. Upon biting into one though, we all realized we’d missed the obvious choice – they were lamb.

 After a picnic lunch of lamb kebabs, pistachios, grapes and water, we were ready for our final adventure: magic carpet rides.

Mace had recently watched a YouTube video of some girls in abayas riding a carpet through the desert. He had thought this would be fun and so had decided to recreate it. The night before he had bolted a small carpet to a PCV pipe. He then ran a towrope through the pipe and attached it to his back bumper. One by one we climbed on while he pulled us behind his Pajero and through the soft sand. Watching the rider it looked slow, almost comically so, but when you climbed on the carpet yourself, it really did feel like you were flying. Racing over the sand, the camel dung and the random blocks of concrete that occasionally appeared, you were torn between joy at a carefree afternoon and fear that if you rolled off the carpet you might rip your face off.

We all rode the carpet successfully and no lasting injuries were sustained. In fact, we all felt so capable we agreed that on a future weekend we might have to take the carpet down some dunes. But that was a future plan. For now, we simply packed up our picnic and drove off. Back through the military installation, back across the minefield, and, eventually, back to the city, the buildings, and the people.

1 comment:

  1. I truly admire your adventure and your willingness to surpass your own limits.