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A disappointing trip to Failaka

Unreliable ferry service, lack of facilities and a mostly abandoned island leave little to do on one of Kuwait’s (former) gems
Unreliable ferry service, lack of facilities and a mostly abandoned island leave little to do on one of Kuwait’s (former) gems

KUWAIT: It’s been 25 years since the residents of Failaka, the only inhabited Kuwaiti island were forced to move onto the mainland. The idea, back then, was that the island would be developed and serve as a major tourist destination for Kuwait and the region. More than two and half decades later it stands mostly abandoned, with only a small resort for visitors and a few chalets. Some of the original inhabitants have returned to their abandoned properties and weekends especially see a small but steady influx of day tourists visiting via the Failaka ferries.

Apart from private boats, visitors have only two options to reach the island. They can either sail onboard the ferry of the Kuwait Public Transport Company (KPTC), which also allows them to transport their vehicles onboard to Failaka. This ferry trip usually takes about 90 minutes or a little longer and the ticket costs KD 5 roundtrip per person and about KD 30 per vehicle. A second option is the ferry boats of a private company which sails from the Marina Crescent and costs KD 15 per person. On board of this boat, a passenger can reach Failaka in around 40 minutes.

The ferries, however, aren’t as reliable as they used to be. When this reporter took a recent day trip to Failaka, I was surprised to find that the ferry departed only a few minutes after arrival – without any notice or warning , although it should leave after an hour, and left me and my companion stranded. It took a few worried phone calls and a wait of an hour to get back to the mainland.

According to the ferry captain who returned in a small boat to rescue us, the shortened departure times are due to the fact that the ferries can only dock or exit the Failaka port during high tide due to damage sustained to the harbor there.

Captain Columbus (who requested we use a pseudonym as he wasn’t authorized to give interviews to the press) started working as a captain in 2007. The ferry sails daily but he is not the captain every day. “I’m usually standby captain and some days I’m the main captain. The trips rotate on all the captains. Depending on the reservations one or two ferries sail to Failaka. The ferry is not equipped with autopilot, so the pilot should be controlling the ferry manually all the time. I have to be cautious and ready for any situation,” he explained.

Preparedness is much needed because overall the deterioration in services reaches far beyond the timing of the tides. Ferry rides are unreliable. Trips can take up to more than an hour and a half. Some days the ferries don’t run at all, even though no changes in the weather would warrant a suspension of service.

In the past, the ferry would dock at the Island for around six to seven hours, enough time for visitors to tour the island and do some sightseeing including visiting the petting zoo, renting paddle boats in the lake, visiting historical areas including the cemetery, the traditional village, historic ruins, as well as camel riding or renting ATV vehicles. Visitors could also hang out at the beach and get a tan, play pool, smoke shisha or have a picnic at the beach.

But nowadays, the ferry departs shortly after arrival and its never clear if it will make a second journey on the same day. This leaves little time for visitors to tour the island. So either they must aim to stay in Failaka overnight or leave after only a short visit. There is a hotel but for those without a vehicle, getting around is impossible as there is no transportation available except for the hotel bus.

More changes. Also the ATVs that used to be for rent are no longer available. The small restaurant that was selling two or three kinds of sandwich meals closed up a few months ago according to the grocery shop next to it. In this case, hungry visitors can only dine in the historical village, where one restaurant, saag shop, café, and ice cream shop, are available.
I didn’t have fun or enjoy my recent trip to Failaka in the way I used to which is a shame because this used to be one of the gems of Kuwait.

By Nawara Fattahova

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