Amy and I both had late night flights the day we departed so we decided to make the most of our time. It may have been a little presumptuous on our end to pack in a full day of touring before a 24-hour voyage but there were a few more things in Mumbai that couldn’t be missed!
First stop was Elephant Island. This island takes about an hour to get to by a boat that you can catch at the southern tip of Mumbai (I bet you didn’t know that Mumbai is an island). These caves contain sculptures dating back to the 5th century BC!! These were the oldest things I will probably ever see in my life. If you think about it, these sculptures have been in the BC era longer than they’ve been around in The AD era. It’s incredible.
At 5:30pm we had scheduled a “street food” tour. Amy and I have been dying to try street food since we arrived but were always a little skeptical so this tour was the perfect opportunity. The only thing that made me nervous was the timing. Our flights left around 2:30AM but we would have to leave for the airport around 11:30 (refer to the Ancient Airport Antics post to learn why). Our hotel was near the airport so it would take a good hour in the cab after the tour to get back and we still had to shower and pack! The guide assured us that it would finish by 8:30. We were cutting it close! The food was incredible, I have no idea what the names were of everything we ate but all I know is that they were mouthwatering.
Around 7pm, I started to get a little nervous. Big flights always do this to me. It’s strange because I have traveled so much but my mind gets a little bit restless for the long ones; fear of the unknown I guess. The flight would be the longest stretch that I would have for the rest of my trip, about 24 hours door-to-door. As the minutes ticked by I couldn’t enjoy the food tour anymore, my mind raced with worrisome scenarios; what if we didn’t find a cab to get to our hotel, what if we didn’t make it back in time, what if I ran out of Indian ruppees before I got to the airport, what if I had too much Indian ruppees and couldn’t spend it before I left, what if I didn’t have time to shower, what if my bags got lost, what if my ticket isn’t confirmed, what if my window seat was switched to an aisle. All these thoughts are silly I know, but these long international flights do it to me every time. As 8pm approached I was mentally checked-out of the tour with all my doubts. The area we were in was insanely busy, it would blow your mind. The neighborhoods we walked through were lit up in multi-colored lights, the streets swelled with pedestrians, cars, mopeds and wheelbarrows carrying poles,wood and rice. Buses barreled down these narrow lanes leaving split seconds for people to dodge out of the way. Amongst it all was us, on a tour, walking in a single file line and praying Hail Mary’s when we dared to cross the streets.The beeping of the horns pierced my ears as it echoed through the tiny streets and it was non-stop. Think of a traffic jam and when no one is moving, everyone starts to lay on their horns at once. This is how it was for the ENTIRE evening. It was hot, humid, dark, dusty, I was full from eating, the headlights on the cars were bright and blinding, beggars were endlessly grabbing my bare arms asking for money, and right then and there in the middle of it all, I started to have a panick attack. It was the perfect storm; the surroundings combined with travel anxiety. I’ve had one other panick attack in my life and it was recently. I hope this isn’t a thing now. My breaths grew short, I started to feel claustrophobic, my chest felt tight and I was sweating. I tried to slow my breathing despite all the distractions surrounding me and when that didn’t work I had to squat on the filthy pavement to calm myself down.
We got in a cab a few minutes later fortunately. The cabs in India are super old,they are the kind you see in old fashion movies and they are extremely uncomfortable and don’t have AC for the most part (see picture below). The back seats are raised incredibly high so your head touches the ceiling with every bump and jerk; which is constant by the way because they are all stick-shifts. But I didn’t care, the window was open and fresh air was the only thing I could think about.
An hour went by and then an additional 30 minutes went by and we still weren’t back to our hotel. It was approaching 9:45pm and my panick started surfacing again. Our driver had stopped 2 times at this point asking people for directions to the Marriot. We were driving in circles and it was clear that our driver didn’t have a clue. We were staying at the Courtyard Marriot and apparently there was a JW Marriot in that part of town as well. Everyone kept giving him directions to the JW Mariott which was a completely different hotel! We kept explaining this but unfortunately none of us spoke the same language so we were completely lost in translation and I was about to blow a gasket! None of the directions given led us to our hotel. As a last resort the cabbie pulled up to a tuk-tuk driver who went on and one with explicit directions. I glanced at our driver who looked like a deer in headlights, he clearly had no clue about the explanation he was hearing. By the way, I”m totally assuming this is the conversation that took place because it was done all in Hindi. For all I know he could’ve been asking everyone where the best chai tea in town was. When it was clear that our driver was confused by the new directions we got out of the car, paid him and jumped in the tuk-tuk. In the easiest english possible we asked if the tuk-tuk driver could take us to the Marriot that he was just giving directions for. He gave us a look like, I’m not completely sure where it is. “Are you fricking kidding me??” “What was this whole long conversation you just had giving directions?” I’m convinced they were talking about chai tea! All of the sudden before we started moving, Amy saw our hotel…..it was directly across the street from where we were stopped for the past 10 minutes. I literally started crying! Thank god we found it.
We were home by 10pm, jumped in the shower, checked email and then went for our last rounds of pat-downs and endless security checks.