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  • Writer's pictureRaj Kukreja

Failaka Island, Kuwait

Time stands still for this tiny island in Persian Gulf, as it continues to live in a time warp from 1991 -- shocking it's few and scant visitors with raw after effects of war.

Located just fifteen miles off the coast of Kuwait City, this barely known and largely forgotten island is rich in history. Originally settled by Mesopotamians in 2000 B.C., Failaka has flourished under many great ancient cultures including the Sumers and the Greeks. Unfortunately, it hasn't fared well under our current civilization.

Iraqi forces occupied the island during the 1990-91 invasion of Kuwait and they either slaughtered it's inhabitants or drove them away to mainland Kuwait. While the allied forces freed Kuwait shortly thereafter and the oil rich nation has since redeveloped itself into a bustling first world metropolitan city, strangely Failaka has been abandoned as if plague stricken. To get here you take a two hour ride on a barge that has zero comforts to offer and to get a seat under shade is a luxury, more so when the temperatures are generally over 100 degrees for majority of the year. The ride is ominous of what's to come.

Unlike other ports of the world, there are no taxis or touts waiting to greet you. I also did not pack any water or food. Why would I? I am in one of the richest nation catching a "ferry" to visit an "island destination". Thankfully there is a water fountain to hydrate, but you drink at your own risk as the filtration system has probably been untouched for many years too. You take your chances because the closest and only convenience store is located 2 miles away (I was not aware of this fact but it did not matter anyway since it was closed when I accidentally stumbled upon it). Now, I have had my fair share of strenuous hikes, but nothing can prepare you for walking on a flat paved road under blistering dry heat of 120+ degrees. I barely managed for about two hours before I eventually lucked out and flagged down a rare SUV to take me back to my water fountain. The driver was from UK and was here to scope the potential for a business of renting out water scooters. He was to spend 8 weeks on Failaka doing this. It takes all kind to make this world tick, and I bet we both thought that we have run into a rare blend of crazy. I can vouch for that thought. I did thank the guy profusely for offering me a ride back to the port. Under usual circumstances I would have offered to buy a couple of pints, but given we were in a dry country and sort of stranded on an abandoned island, I returned the favor by not sharing my two cents about his preposterous business plan. I let him savor the pleasure of seeking an untapped mine.

As for the two hours spent walking around Failaka, the pictures are supposed to tell that story. Exploded grenade shells; walls pockmarked by bullets; exposed skeleton of school classrooms; an audio tape; emotionally charged graffiti; and crumbling city structures. We all know that war is brutal but witnessing its effects up close provide a small window into the nightmares of the people who lived through it. Maybe the government of Kuwait left this place untouched to serve as a museum for it's war. No one needs a reminder of war. Especially not in our connected world. We see it everyday already and worse still, now it gets streamed live. I however will like to see Failaka transform into a premier destination for water sports. I personally know of a crazy guy working on that dream. Anyone first to the game is always considered crazy. But then, they usually win!

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