Tag Archives: Travel Blogger

I'm Not Supposed to Be Here! (Qatar)

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Guys, I effed up big time!

I fully expected to be flying to Tajikistan, where I would begin to explore the ‘stan countries over the next couple of months. I had my hostel reserved, flight booked, and everything! As it turns out, I’ll have to save Tajikistan, and all the other ‘stans for a later date.

Here is what happened.

I rocked up to the Kathmandu Airport, bags in tow, passport in my pocket ready to go. I proceeded to the desk to check-in my big bag for my flight to Tajikistan. I had an 11-hour connecting layover in Dubai first.

“Your bags will go straight through to Dushanbe (that’s the capital of Tajikistan)” said the airport attendant. “Can I have your Tajikistan visa?”

“Umm…what?” I said, confused as all heck. I was certain I would get a visa upon landing in Dushanbe. I checked that shit.

“Your visa for Tajikistan?” she repeated.

“I don’t need a visa now,” I said to her with certainty. “I will get one on arrival.”

She paused for a moment.

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you board your flight without a visa,” she responded.

We battled back and forth (in a friendly manner), because I was so sure that I didn’t need a visa before going to Tajikistan.

“Can I log into your Wi-Fi and check?” I asked.

I handed her my phone and she input the Wi-Fi password. I stepped aside so she could assist other customers while I checked the visa procedures for Tajikistan online.

Turns out we were both correct. I do get a visa on arrival but only after I apply for it online first.

Oops.

I can’t stay in Nepal any longer. This was day 90 of my 90-day visa!

I apologized to the woman and asked her if it was still possible to go to Dubai. She said yes. I had an eleven-hour layover there, so maybe by some God-help-me-please miracle, I could whip up a quick Tajikistan visa and continue as planned.

Well once I got to Dubai, I was informed that America just dropped bombs into Syria which for some reason slowed the procedural processes down here in the Middle Eastern airports. Great.

I looked online to apply for a last-minute visa, but with no luck. I even spoke to airport staff to see if there was absolutely anything I could do. They wouldn’t let me on the flight because they were concerned I would be trapped in Tajikistan, since I didn’t have proof of a visa yet. The embassy in Tajikistan was closed and wouldn’t answer their phone. I tried everything until I lost all hope. I was stuck in Dubai without a flight out to anywhere.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid me. This was all my fault. No one else to blame. How could I be so careless not to realize? I’m usually so careful!

Alright Daniel, just book a hotel for a few nights while you wait for a new visa, then book a new flight to Tajikistan.

Dubai is not a bad place to be; it’s just expensive as shit. But then I thought… You know what? I’m gonna treat mah’self!

Soft luscious beds with big fluffy pillows and fast Wi-Fi doesn’t exist in Nepal so I decided to book a hotel that had all of that and then some. The hotel I booked just outside of the airport was a lot more expensive than I needed it to be, but after spending three months in the mountains, I’d say this was well deserved.

Another thought occurred to me.

Daniel, you don’t HAVE to go to Tajikistan. Really, you are free to go ANYWHERE in the world you want!

The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to my thirst to see the world. I decided to save the ‘stans for another time and spontaneously head to Eastern Europe to backpack there, beginning with Romania which has been a country I have wanted to visit for a long time.

Some friends that lived nearby in Qatar saw that I was in Dubai and half-jokingly implored that I come visit them while I was here. A flight from Dubai to Doha is only about 50 minutes. It’s also relatively cheap. And I’ve never been to Qatar before. So why not? With that I booked a flight to Qatar. From there I had a flight booked to Bucharest, Romania a few days afterwards.


Qatar

A week ago, if someone told me I would be spending time in Qatar, I wouldn’t believe them. I did not expect to be here, especially on such short notice, but thanks to the magic and enthusiasm of my international friends, anything is possible. And so here I am, in Doha, Qatar!

My friend Yasmin picked me up from the airport.

I met Yasmin while in Mexico a couple years back through our mutual friend Sam (whom I visited recently in Bali). She was happy to have me here! We rode to another friend of ours’, Katie, whom I met in Guatemala around the same time. (It truly is a small world, folks!) Both Yasmin and Katie are teachers in Doha, but previously they both taught in Mexico City. When they taught here during the day, I was free to explore the city much to my anticipation! I knew nothing about Qatar besides the fact that it’s comparable to Dubai in terms of aesthetics and build. One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the heat.

It was hot as shit!

I was supposed to be in the moderate temperatures of the Tajikistan mountains, not a Middle Eastern desert! I took it in stride and walked all along Al Corniche (Doha Harbor) towards the main souks.

Doha is what I expected it to be: a big city that prides itself on suave architecture and man-made everything, just like Dubai.

Many of the hot spot buildings I walked to (in intense heat, I might add) were remarkable in design and not as touristy as one would expect. As a matter of fact, I barely saw any tourists, as far as I could tell, in this tiny hot-oven of a country. Most of them I found in the main souks. This particular souk had a diverse selection of restaurants, specializing in specific international menus such as Turkey, Lebanon, Italy, and even Iraq.

A good amount of the city was under construction, in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup that little ol’ Qatar will be hosting, so walking around wasn’t quite as straight-forward as it should have been.

Yasmin also invited me out to a birthday celebration dinner with her friends in the city. We had Mexican. I LOVE Mexican! It’s been awhile.

Still, I had an underlying sense that “I wasn’t supposed to be there in Qatar”. It was bizarre, yet cool at the same time. This Quest to the Seven Continents can truly lead me anywhere.

Later on, I met up with another friend of mine by the name of Renata, whom I met way back in the day in Tanzania (2012). She’s also teaching here but in an international school further away from Yasmin’s.

Renata wanted to show me around as well and took me to Katara, a happening area on the other side of the city. There I had THE BEST hummus of my life in a restaurant called Mamig near the bay, along with a dazzling backdrop of Doha lit up during the night.

It’s been about four days. I came here rather unexpectedly and didn’t want to stray around too long. I must continue! Yasmin had a flight to Egypt around the same time I had my scheduled flight to Romania, in the stupid hours of the night/early morning, so we shared an Uber ride there together.


Now, one of the most common questions I get during my travels is:

“Dan, how do you know so many people, almost everywhere in the world?”

Alongside comments similar to this:

“I can’t travel like you because I don’t know people all over the world like you.”

Simply put, all of these people I know are people that I have met in the past years of travels and I have kept in touch with them (not all of them, of course) via social media apps. Many of them I met while volunteering. I met quite a lot while backpacking. Lots of them are friends of friends. Some of them I met in rather peculiar ways.

Interesting fact: the only reason I keep a Facebook is to keep in touch with all of these people I meet, otherwise I wouldn’t have one. The friends I made in Costa Rica, my very first solo trip, forced me to make an account! I’m glad they did.

These travel buddies always come through when I’m in a strange land. There is always someone there I know who is around and that wants to meet. Yasmin and Katie saw my predicament in Dubai (via FB) and invited me over to Qatar.

But as far as Romania goes, or Eastern Europe for that matter, I don’t know a single soul that lives there (I think) and instead will be backpacking freely through the country, as much as my heart’s content.

Let’s see what Romania has to offer! It will probably be good.

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I’m Not Supposed to Be Here! (Qatar)

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Guys, I effed up big time!

I fully expected to be flying to Tajikistan, where I would begin to explore the ‘stan countries over the next couple of months. I had my hostel reserved, flight booked, and everything! As it turns out, I’ll have to save Tajikistan, and all the other ‘stans for a later date.

Here is what happened.

I rocked up to the Kathmandu Airport, bags in tow, passport in my pocket ready to go. I proceeded to the desk to check-in my big bag for my flight to Tajikistan. I had an 11-hour connecting layover in Dubai first.

“Your bags will go straight through to Dushanbe (that’s the capital of Tajikistan)” said the airport attendant. “Can I have your Tajikistan visa?”

“Umm…what?” I said, confused as all heck. I was certain I would get a visa upon landing in Dushanbe. I checked that shit.

“Your visa for Tajikistan?” she repeated.

“I don’t need a visa now,” I said to her with certainty. “I will get one on arrival.”

She paused for a moment.

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you board your flight without a visa,” she responded.

We battled back and forth (in a friendly manner), because I was so sure that I didn’t need a visa before going to Tajikistan.

“Can I log into your Wi-Fi and check?” I asked.

I handed her my phone and she input the Wi-Fi password. I stepped aside so she could assist other customers while I checked the visa procedures for Tajikistan online.

Turns out we were both correct. I do get a visa on arrival but only after I apply for it online first.

Oops.

I can’t stay in Nepal any longer. This was day 90 of my 90-day visa!

I apologized to the woman and asked her if it was still possible to go to Dubai. She said yes. I had an eleven-hour layover there, so maybe by some God-help-me-please miracle, I could whip up a quick Tajikistan visa and continue as planned.

Well once I got to Dubai, I was informed that America just dropped bombs into Syria which for some reason slowed the procedural processes down here in the Middle Eastern airports. Great.

I looked online to apply for a last-minute visa, but with no luck. I even spoke to airport staff to see if there was absolutely anything I could do. They wouldn’t let me on the flight because they were concerned I would be trapped in Tajikistan, since I didn’t have proof of a visa yet. The embassy in Tajikistan was closed and wouldn’t answer their phone. I tried everything until I lost all hope. I was stuck in Dubai without a flight out to anywhere.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid me. This was all my fault. No one else to blame. How could I be so careless not to realize? I’m usually so careful!

Alright Daniel, just book a hotel for a few nights while you wait for a new visa, then book a new flight to Tajikistan.

Dubai is not a bad place to be; it’s just expensive as shit. But then I thought… You know what? I’m gonna treat mah’self!

Soft luscious beds with big fluffy pillows and fast Wi-Fi doesn’t exist in Nepal so I decided to book a hotel that had all of that and then some. The hotel I booked just outside of the airport was a lot more expensive than I needed it to be, but after spending three months in the mountains, I’d say this was well deserved.

Another thought occurred to me.

Daniel, you don’t HAVE to go to Tajikistan. Really, you are free to go ANYWHERE in the world you want!

The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to my thirst to see the world. I decided to save the ‘stans for another time and spontaneously head to Eastern Europe to backpack there, beginning with Romania which has been a country I have wanted to visit for a long time.

Some friends that lived nearby in Qatar saw that I was in Dubai and half-jokingly implored that I come visit them while I was here. A flight from Dubai to Doha is only about 50 minutes. It’s also relatively cheap. And I’ve never been to Qatar before. So why not? With that I booked a flight to Qatar. From there I had a flight booked to Bucharest, Romania a few days afterwards.


Qatar

A week ago, if someone told me I would be spending time in Qatar, I wouldn’t believe them. I did not expect to be here, especially on such short notice, but thanks to the magic and enthusiasm of my international friends, anything is possible. And so here I am, in Doha, Qatar!

My friend Yasmin picked me up from the airport.

I met Yasmin while in Mexico a couple years back through our mutual friend Sam (whom I visited recently in Bali). She was happy to have me here! We rode to another friend of ours’, Katie, whom I met in Guatemala around the same time. (It truly is a small world, folks!) Both Yasmin and Katie are teachers in Doha, but previously they both taught in Mexico City. When they taught here during the day, I was free to explore the city much to my anticipation! I knew nothing about Qatar besides the fact that it’s comparable to Dubai in terms of aesthetics and build. One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the heat.

It was hot as shit!

I was supposed to be in the moderate temperatures of the Tajikistan mountains, not a Middle Eastern desert! I took it in stride and walked all along Al Corniche (Doha Harbor) towards the main souks.

Doha is what I expected it to be: a big city that prides itself on suave architecture and man-made everything, just like Dubai.

Many of the hot spot buildings I walked to (in intense heat, I might add) were remarkable in design and not as touristy as one would expect. As a matter of fact, I barely saw any tourists, as far as I could tell, in this tiny hot-oven of a country. Most of them I found in the main souks. This particular souk had a diverse selection of restaurants, specializing in specific international menus such as Turkey, Lebanon, Italy, and even Iraq.

A good amount of the city was under construction, in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup that little ol’ Qatar will be hosting, so walking around wasn’t quite as straight-forward as it should have been.

Yasmin also invited me out to a birthday celebration dinner with her friends in the city. We had Mexican. I LOVE Mexican! It’s been awhile.

Still, I had an underlying sense that “I wasn’t supposed to be there in Qatar”. It was bizarre, yet cool at the same time. This Quest to the Seven Continents can truly lead me anywhere.

Later on, I met up with another friend of mine by the name of Renata, whom I met way back in the day in Tanzania (2012). She’s also teaching here but in an international school further away from Yasmin’s.

Renata wanted to show me around as well and took me to Katara, a happening area on the other side of the city. There I had THE BEST hummus of my life in a restaurant called Mamig near the bay, along with a dazzling backdrop of Doha lit up during the night.

It’s been about four days. I came here rather unexpectedly and didn’t want to stray around too long. I must continue! Yasmin had a flight to Egypt around the same time I had my scheduled flight to Romania, in the stupid hours of the night/early morning, so we shared an Uber ride there together.


Now, one of the most common questions I get during my travels is:

“Dan, how do you know so many people, almost everywhere in the world?”

Alongside comments similar to this:

“I can’t travel like you because I don’t know people all over the world like you.”

Simply put, all of these people I know are people that I have met in the past years of travels and I have kept in touch with them (not all of them, of course) via social media apps. Many of them I met while volunteering. I met quite a lot while backpacking. Lots of them are friends of friends. Some of them I met in rather peculiar ways.

Interesting fact: the only reason I keep a Facebook is to keep in touch with all of these people I meet, otherwise I wouldn’t have one. The friends I made in Costa Rica, my very first solo trip, forced me to make an account! I’m glad they did.

These travel buddies always come through when I’m in a strange land. There is always someone there I know who is around and that wants to meet. Yasmin and Katie saw my predicament in Dubai (via FB) and invited me over to Qatar.

But as far as Romania goes, or Eastern Europe for that matter, I don’t know a single soul that lives there (I think) and instead will be backpacking freely through the country, as much as my heart’s content.

Let’s see what Romania has to offer! It will probably be good.

How I Spent My Christmas Completely Lost In The Mountains

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As much as I love Christmas, I felt a lot of pressure about where to spend my holidays while in India. I wanted to be somewhere cool and special for it, but I had no clue where. I found Mumbai not to be too celebratory in those regards.

I’ll just chill at the hostel and let something fall into my lap.

Thus entered Navneeth, who delivered an unexpected adventure right onto my lap!

Navneeth is an Indian on travel in Mumbai from Hyderabad. I saw him over a couple of days at the hostel, but never spoke to him until the 22 of December, just two days before Christmas Eve. We made general, friendly chit-chat. Then he popped the question.

“Would you like to go on a hike with me and a friend over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?” he asked.

“Where at?” I asked.

“A place called Fort Torne, just outside of Mumbai.”

Never heard of it. I already had my laptop open and google image searched Fort Torne. The photos were amazing!

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My answer to him was a definite “heck yeah!”

“But I don’t have any gear…” I began to tell him. “I have a pair of hiking shoes, but no camping equipment.”

“My friend who lives near there will have extra stuff for you,” he said.

Perfect.

The plan was to bus it over to Pune, just three hours east of Mumbai during the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Then, his friend will meet us there and drive us over to the start of the Fort Torne trail. From there, we will hike in the evening to the summit and spend the night under the open stars and wake up on Christmas Day to one of the best sunrises one could ever witness.

The only issue I had was my rumbly tummy. The food in India has been great but I’ve been having to run to go number #2 a lot more than usual lately. As soon as my stomach unexpectedly began to grumble, I literally had two minutes to find somewhere to “drop the kids off” otherwise I’d soil my pants. Luckily, the bus ride to Pune was rumble free.

We arrived in Pune much later than planned. Navneeth was busy running errands before our bus trip which delayed us by a few hours.

“We just have to wait for my friend to meet us,” Navneeth said.

Good, because my stomach began to rumble again. I needed to find somewhere quick but there was no toilet in sight! It was night-time, so I snuck in someone’s backyard and popped a squat under the cover of darkness. Whoever wakes up and comes in this yard tomorrow is gonna find a very unwelcoming surprise. I had to do what I had to do. Besides, there is shit all over the place in India from all the stray dogs and cows anyway.

When I walked back to find Navneeth, he was already joined by his friend.

“Hi!” I said to him. “I’m Daniel.”

“Hello, I’m Bop-It,” he said.

Like…Bop-It?

bop_it_extreme

“No!” he laughed. “Bapat.”

Bapat indicated that we had a problem. Since we arrived later than planned, he warned us that it was too dangerous to hike at this hour (Midnight) because of leopards.

“Leopards!” I said in somewhat disbelief. “Really, leopards??”

He wasn’t kidding. The highest concentration of wild leopards in the world are right here, just outside of Mumbai.

“We’ll have to sleep a couple of hours in the temples at the bottom of the mountain and then start the trek at 3am,” he said to us. “Just to be safe.”

Leopards? Temples? This sounds like something straight outta Indiana Jones  🙂

He wasn’t kidding about the temple part either. Down at the base of the mountain was a community of temples and shrines we could dwell in. They weren’t exactly made for sleeping but it provided the cover we needed I suppose. Bapat pulled out a few thin mats and laid them on the floor of a small and suitable temple we found. He then opened up a few thin blankets for us to use. Thankfully I brought my travel pillow. We set our alarms for 3am and tried to get some shut-eye.


But it was just too cold.

I barely got a wink as I shivered in my cocoon of shirts and jacket layers. Navneeth barely got any sleep either. 3am came faster than we wanted, but not before a group of ten other trekkers came and disturbed us.

Ten local Indian men, all suited and ready for a hike found us sleeping, woke us up, and suggested we hike with them. Larger numbers means lesser chances of leopards mistaking us for food. Plus, at least one of them had to know the correct way up.

We gathered our belongings and followed the group of ten out of the temple grounds into the foot of the mountain. A stray dog found us and began to follow our pack. It was completely dark but we all had torches at our disposal. Bapat, who’s been to this mountain years before looked confused.

“I don’t think this is the way,” he said. “None of this looks familiar.”

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Our group of thirteen scattered about for a bit trying to find the correct path, but with no success. It seemed like each guy found what they thought was the correct route, but no one could agree on which. Navneeth and I stuck with Bapat.

“Let’s go this way,” he said to us.

We split from the confused group of ten and separated ourselves from them, going forth on our own as originally planned. However, the stray dog decided it was best to follow us as well.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Bapat led us through the thick of the night along half-assed trails. I mean, they were barely trails that guided us through overgrown grass and quick jaunts of forest. Then the trail would disappear and we’d have to find another route. At least it wasn’t cold for the time being. Hiking up and down warmed me up.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

We tracked and backtracked on a consistent basis. It was pitch dark outside and we couldn’t see anything more than a few yards in front of us. We wandered for two hours going every which direction until we came to a few trapped dead ends. Where the heck do we go?

Bapat was growing a bit frustrated but no one blamed him. It was way too dark and there was no visible path. The dog continued to follow us without hesitation.

We stumbled upon what appeared to be a small farm, kept by one tiny home just on the forefront. Bapat paused and we decided it’s best we find a place to rest and wait for some daylight, otherwise we’d continue to wander around aimlessly in the dark. We found some hay and soft dirt scattered on the ground just outside the tiny home. We fell on top of it and tried to get comfortable. We stuck together, in the rare chance a leopard did appear. This was gonna be a cold night.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Suddenly my tummy went rumbly. Not right now!

I didn’t make aware of my situation to Navneeth and Bapat but instead, I grabbed the toilet paper out of my bag and casually excused myself for a bit. I walked among the farm field to a log I found where I could pop a squat. To say it was the creepiest poop of my life would be an understatement. My mind went crazy and heard crunching leaves and weird noises as I was doing my business. This would be the perfect opportunity for a leopard to come get me. I quickly buried my toilet paper and went back to the others to fall asleep.

Not much longer after, we heard footsteps nearby.

Was it that group of ten? No, the footsteps we were hearing was the work of one being.

Was it our dog? No, he was right here huddled beside my right leg, loyal as ever.

It turned out to be a very old lady, who spoke a language only Bapat could understand. I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying to each other, but it was in a tone of the utmost formality. I noticed Bapat occasionally referring to her as “maushi”, whatever that meant. The elderly woman would often point to a pile of rubble out in the middle of her crops as she spoke to Bapat. Then she disappeared back into her home.

Bapat told us that in that rubble, underneath the tarp was a pile of old wool and blankets we can rest on until daylight. Then in the morning, Maushi would point us in the direction to the summit of Fort Torne. It’s too risky to continue during the night. We were way off path.

We pulled the tarp off the pile of wool and blankets and plopped down onto its softness. Yes, this was perfect and a lot more comfortable than the temples down below. Maushi came back out to us with a few blankets she brought from inside her home to help keep us warm through the chilly night. We set our alarms for 7am.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

It’s Christmas morning and I’m lost in the mountains, sleeping outside on a pile of wool and hay, on some elderly woman’s farm, with a couple of random Indians I barely know along with a stray dog who won’t leave my side.

I couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere nearly as interesting at that moment.

The sun began to show itself, but the three of us were too lazy to budge. We’ve been trekking all night. We awoke, covered in random debris of straw, dirt, and dead leaves.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Maushi was already wide awake, working on clearing some dried bush near crops just down below us. She pointed Bapat in the direction we should be going. Thank you Maushi for your kindness.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

At this point we realized we wouldn’t make it to the summit of Fort Torne in time. Navneeth had a flight to catch later in the day to Hyderabad. Bapat estimated we only had a couple of hours of trekking before we had to turn around, in order to catch the bus back in time for Navneeth’s scheduled flight. So we proceeded to ascend as much as we could, as time allotted.

Fort Torne Trek

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Although we weren’t near the summit, the views surrounding us were absolutely stunning! The early sun cast a gradient of pinks, oranges, and blues in the distance, showcasing the perfect backdrop to the valley of mountains that circled us.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

The creepy hike at night turned into a delight during the day. Sunil Wakde followed us along playfully. Who is Sunil Wakde? It’s the name Navneeth and Bapat decided to give the dog who remained loyal to us. I’m not sure where they got that name from but whatever. He must be really hungry and thirsty.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

We ventured upwards for about an hour and spotted a motorbike just beyond the tall grass.

“What is that?”

A few more parked motorbikes popped up on a perfectly paved road. Turns out this is the road that we began on last night but went on an alternate route because it wasn’t familiar to the others. Why wasn’t it familiar? Because this road was newly paved just recently. Before, one had to hike their way all the way up to the top but now with this new road, two-thirds of the hike can be driven up to.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

We laughed at our mistake. Our alternate course turned out to be interesting at the least. Still, we continued up, hiking to around 11:30am. We came to a halt and decided we should turn around, in order not to get to the base too late. On the way down, just a few meters below, were a mother and daughter who lived on Torne, in what appeared to be the most beat-up lemonade stand in the universe.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

“We gotta try some,” Navneeth said.

“What is it?” I asked. “Lemonade?”

“It’s Limbu Paani.”

The woman poured some water out of her tin canister into a bowl and added what looked to be a squeeze of lemon and some sugar, and poured the contents into three tin cups. We each took one. I watched Navneeth and Bapat chug theirs down. I held mine in my hand, unsure of whether to drink it or not. The water didn’t look boiled or anything. I didn’t know where it came from. I’ve been careful with the water since I arrived in India and this just looked suspect. The others assured me it was fine and so I took a sip.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Limbu Paani is kinda like lemonade except it’s not good. I wasn’t sure what the heck it was and my instincts told me to stop drinking it. I gave it to the others to finish it off. We continued on, but instead of the beaten path, this time we chose to go down the paved road which took as all the way down to the temples and shrines we began at the night before.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

We found an empty restaurant at the base where we decided to get some quick breakfast.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

My goal was to find food and water for Sunil Wakde, who followed us all the way up and down. There wasn’t anything around I could use as a bowl to pour water, so I snuck a cup sitting on one of the empty tables and filled it with some of my water. Sunil nearly drank half my water bottle! The others told me that I shouldn’t use the cups to feed the dogs because the dishes here aren’t washed very well.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

I figured as much already.

We walked back to the car and began our drive back to Pune, completely satisfied with our morning. Goodbye Sunil Wakde.

My stomach began to rumble again and thank goodness it was now instead of while being on the toilet-less bus!

That would have been a horrible way to cap off one of the most unorthodox, yet satisfying Christmas’ I’ve ever had.

Fort Torne India Hike Adventure

The Curious Kids Who Led Me Through The Slums of Mumbai

 

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The one thing I knew I wanted to see in Mumbai was the Dharavi slum, one of the largest slums in the world, home to approximately 1,000,000 people; almost 55% of the people in Mumbai!

Upon arrival to my hostel in the Andheri East area of Mumbai, I noticed posts for guided tours through the slums.

Psshh. I didn’t want a tour. I wanted to explore on my own whim and meet some locals there who could give me the scoop. The only things I would miss on a tour was the safety aspect and the information from a knowledgable guide. I didn’t care though. That’s what google is for anyways.

Are the slums really that dangerous?

Will I be a walking target prone to mugging and harassment?

Possibly. Although, I used to volunteer in shanty towns in South Africa and I never felt in any danger. The key to exploring the slum is to do it on my own, with no other backpackers with me. The reason being is because I tend to blend in here a bit. I’m the same complexion as all these locals and don’t get bothered any where near as much as any of the “blonde haired, blue eyed” backpackers that would typically join my party during travels. My hair and beard has grown out a lot longer too which helps with blending in.

I was dedicated to exploring the slums without a tour guide, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a buddy or two? Two buddies max! So I told my idea to Fin (England), another backpacker I met at my hostel. He was game to join.

And just like that my plan to “blend in” was out the window. But it’s okay. I don’t think it will be that bad.

I did some reading on the slum and if anything, it excited me more. It’s also the same slum where they filmed parts of Slumdog Millionaire. To take precaution, I dressed in my crappiest clothes and only brought a handful of rupees in my pocket. I kept some rupee notes hidden in my right shoe. I left my wallet, watch, and anything valuable back in my dorm. I debated on bringing my phone and ultimately decided to bring it. I’ll keep it as secure as I can.

Fin and I took an Uber to the outside of the slum in the afternoon of the next day. The plan was to be finished before nightfall began, otherwise we might get lost in the hundreds of alleyways in the mazes of the slum.

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We entered into the narrow alleyways of what appeared to be the industrial area. Two people could not walk through side by side. Busy laborers, all of which were men, came and went carrying hunks of goods and chunks of plastic around and about. Wet litter and rodents took over the pathways that we thought would lead to the epicenter of the slum. We saw plastic being chopped into bits and densely packaged into tight boxes. Amazingly, the Dharavi slum is known to rake in millions of revenue from its vast recycling efforts even though India has no government waste management system or recycling program. Dharavi truly is a recycling phenomenon. We were barely given a glance, as the slum dwellers were mostly engaged into their duties. Eventually we stepped into what appeared to be the main street that cut through the slum.

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We were in another world compared to the Mumbai we were used to. It was like a city within a city, except this city was bustling with the upmost of everything absolutely hectic-even when compared to the craziness of the outer Mumbai metropolis. Rickshaws and cars that were way too big to be driving through honked constantly and without pause. There were people of all ages everywhere around going in every which direction. Small groups of slum kids ran about, mostly barefoot, flying their skimpy kites. Stray, beat up mutts roamed the grounds, some laying in patches of dirt dead-smack in the middle of the road. Goats everywhere. It was dirty and as filthy as I imagined. Fin and I were in the middle of it, a bit rushed in the head by the scene of it all.

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I read that it was frowned upon to take photographs, but to be fair, most of the photos of the locals are ones I took with their permission. Still, I was uneasy about pulling out my giant phone. One quick snatch and then I would lose the culprit to this elaborate maze. I was more careful than I’ve ever been.

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We followed the main road to the edge of the slum walls. Along the main road is a bridge that takes you all the way on the other side of the slum. We decided to go up there and follow it. As we went up the metal stairs, a group of four kids came up to us with smiles on their faces. Four boys around the age of eleven.

They were full of ‘hellos’ and ‘namastays’ but their English was broken. I could barely understand them when I asked them their names. We made short chit-chat before I asked them if they could show us around. These kids would be the perfect guides! They can show us the cool stuff that regular tourists don’t ever go to. They didn’t understand my request, but after some hand gesturing, they understood and happily agreed.

“Come!” said one of them. And so we did. We followed them down the steps back into the main street.

We followed without question. They led us onto another bridge that took us just outside of the slum.

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“Where are they taking us?” I asked Fin. Not like he would know the answer or anything.

The boys had a respectable English vocabulary but didn’t know how to put the words together into sentences. So most of the time, their communication was just a word or two at a time. From that we had to make sense of what they were trying to tell us.

“Beach!” said one of them as they pointed ahead. “You will swim?”

I guess we’re going to the beach, but I ain’t swimming. The boys were all about it though.

Once we approached the beach, we walked into a carnival that was being dissembled. This was the most beat up carnival I’ve ever seen. Still the boys were eager to show us and they asked some of the workers there if we could go onto some of the rides. Not to actually ride them, but to just go onto them. The worker looked at us and then gave a head bob which meant ‘ok’.

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Afterwards, we walked onto the shore which reeked of sewage and piss. And just like anywhere else in Mumbai, there was trash everywhere. It was actually pretty sad to see. We walked closer to the ocean filled with India’s pollution. The boys went right in.

 

While we were there, one of the boys picked up a bag of gravel from someone that he intended to carry back to the slum. He slung it over his shoulders and carried it with all his might. It looked kinda heavy. We offered to carry it back for him but he kindly refused. All four boys took turns carrying the giant sack of gravel before they finally gave in and let Fin and I carry it back. I stopped to get water for myself and offered to get some for the boys but they kindly refused.

These kids are so self reliant and wouldn’t take anything from us initially.

They guided us through more of the slum before we paused.

I fully intended on giving a few rupees to a local we met that would show us around. I wasn’t sure how I would give money to these kids without causing a scene.

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100 rupees equals to about $1.50 USD. That would be suitable for each kid. It may seem like nothing but 100 rupees can last a couple of days here. I brought the kids into a quieter alleyway as not to whip out my rupees in the public. I handed each kid a 100 rupee note and off they went. Not before they were arguing and bickering. I think a fifth kid came out of nowhere and took one of their notes. Still, it didn’t sit quite right giving a kid money. I much rather would have given it to the parents of their families. When I suggested that to one of them, he made a face-slapping motion with his hands, indicating his mother would slap him. I didn’t question him. I just left it as is as they ran off and waved goodbye.

Fin and I had to find ourselves out of the slum before it got dark. We had no idea where we came from either, so we just walked through the alleys of any one direction.

We walked through several residential and school areas where the kids rode their bikes past us back and forth, smiling and saying hello. As a matter of fact, the kids in the slum always said hello to us. The adults did not. But still the adults never came up to us and begged for anything, unlike the outside world of the slum. It’s crazy how the people here are less intrusive than the ones out in the open world.

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We stumbled into what I believe was the women’s sector of the slum. Either that or the men were all out working. I deduced that based on the fact that there were dozens and dozens of women and children with no men in sight. Should we even be here? Fin and I, two adult men, were the only males among hordes of Indian women. None of them gave us a weird look. They just walked past us and went about their business. We could venture further into the sector but I wasn’t sure if it was rude to do so and plus the day was beginning to fade. We have to leave.

We rickshawed it back to our hostel, pooped from walking all day.

It’s strange to say but the slum was impressive. It’s what many people may consider an eyesore but it was definitely a sight to behold beyond its cover. The people there were hard working, busy souls who didn’t bother us one bit. I felt just as safe there as anywhere else.

But I wasn’t completely satisfied. I felt like there was more to see. I read up more about Dharavi once I got back to the hostel. Now that I was better informed, I needed to revisit.

A few days later Mischa, a backpacker I met in Goa came up to Mumbai wanting to visit the slum as well. I was able to revisit the slum and show him the ropes.

We went on a bit of a tasting spree, to pump some rupees into the community. Of course we had to try the chai tea here among others.

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We spent more of the day exploring the sights, without anyone wanting to bother us. Everyone was busy doing their daily chore. Like tiny ants in a complex ant farm, they all had a vital role to play.

Amazing.


To My Fellow Eager Adventurists:

*The Dharavi Slum is definitely a sight to behold and what I consider a must-see. However, I found that most tourists opt for the priced guided tour as opposed to just walking in freely as I did. With the tour, know that most of the money you pay is invested into the slum community and you gain a wealth of information from a knowledgable guide. If you do decide to venture on your own, please be respectful. Try your best not to take photos and if you do, make sure it’s not intrusive. If taking a picture of a local, get their permission first. The slum dwellers were friendly and I never felt in any danger. The kids there will love to show you around! Don’t linger during the night hours where things could get dangerous, just like anywhere else in the world*

Happy Adventuring!

The Land Where The Ice Age Lingers: The Kenai Fjords of Alaska

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The next event, Event #3, took us 24 hours to complete. 24 LONG ALASKAN HOURS! 

None of us realized how long it was going to take; not even me and I’m the one who booked this thing. All I knew for sure was that we had to wake up freakin’ early for it. I’m talking around 1:30am (01:30) to drive from our geodesic dome in Eagle View to Seward, the location of Event #3. After the first couple of events in Denali, we drove five hours south to our new accommodation right outside of Anchorage to a geodesic dome I found on AirBnB. It’s someones home that we rented, located on a bee farm but central to everywhere we needed to go. It’s perfectly Alaskan!

Our unique geodesic dome style homestay we found on AirBnb.
Our unique geodesic dome style home-stay we found on AirBnb.
After settling into our wonderful new home-stay, I decided to break some news about Event #3 to the gang. Out of all eight events that I planned, this particular event took me the longest to organize based on how elaborate it was. I sat them down on the couches in the main room.

“We’re going to Seward to kayak through glaciers, icebergs, whales, seals, and all that stuff,” I began to say, almost with a tone of exhaustion. “It’s an all day thing and we have to be out the door at 1:30am in order to make it to Miller’s Landing by 6am, which means we should all go to bed around 7 or 8pm tonight. We are kayaking for eleven hours!”

They were astonished. They couldn’t believe or really grasp what we were about to do.

I decided to tell them so they could dress appropriately for the glacial chill we were about to endure and to mentally prepare themselves for the fact we were about to be kayaking for eleven hours in elusive waters where whales like to play. We spent the next hour looking up videos online of the area we were going to, the Kenai Fjords, but more specifically Aialik Bay. Everyone was brimming with excitement!

I woke up around 1am and rounded up the gang for our drive south into Seward. Leaving at such an early time gave me peace of mind for the drive. If anything were to go wrong during the drive, we’d have plenty of time to get it resolved. Plus, getting there about an hour early gave all of us time to snooze once more before our long haul into the glaciers.

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Event #3 of 8 – Glacier Kayak in the Kenai Fjords of Alaska

I woke up my car mates at 5:30am (05:30) to meet up with our guide, Ben, at Miller’s Landing. I’ve been in contact with him for the last couple days to make sure the weather was fitting and our dietary requirements were in order. We walked up through the fog and the mud puddled road to the cabin property, where we were able to check in and grab a light breakfast.

“Meet me at the dock behind us in just a few minutes,” Ben said as he walked off with a random assortment of boating equipment. Ben was an older man, I’d say early 50’s, with a single yoga-style tone to his voice. He’s been doing this for awhile and you could tell. He wasn’t the most enthusiastic guide I’ve ever had but still he was kind and most certainly knowledgeable.

I walked outside to the dock…the eerie dock where our small boat bowed out into the mist. Ben told us that this boat would transport us about 100 – 150 miles into the fjords. But where in the heck were we headed? I could barely see a few yards in front of me.

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We boarded the small transport boat and set off to Aialik Bay, wherever that was. On the way there, Ben said we could potentially spot whales and seals. I personally found the opportunity to catch a little more sleep. The drive back home was going to be exhausting, so any moment I could find to rest my eyes was absolutely necessary. Besides, the fog covered everything. I was still most anxious about actually kayaking through icebergs and glaciers, something that I’ve never done before. Same goes for the others.

This is the area of our event. Courtesy of Google Maps.
This is the area of our event. Courtesy of Google Maps.

The boat ride to Aialik lasted a little under two hours before we docked on one of the stone riddled beaches. We unloaded our kayaks and gear onto the shore. They were double kayaks while Ben had a single. We briefly went over proper packing and paddling procedures and what to do if the kayak flipped or if a wild animal approached us in the water. If anything, it’s important to remain calm because the last thing we would want is our kayak to flip. The waters here were the coldest I’ve ever felt in my life! If we fell in, our bodies would instantly tighten from the freezing sea and wouldn’t be able to function before we succumb to hypothermia. Thankfully we were bundled up and vowed not to flip our kayak.

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Aialik Bay Kayaking

It was just the five of us on that shore. There were a few other kayaks around but we lost them in the murky distance. It felt like a weird dream. The water resembled a milky steel and was as calm as you could imagine, but teaming with mysterious life right below and even above. There were only sounds of nature and a sense of tranquility among the isles in the short distance. The only nuisance were the pesky flying insects that swarmed the shores. How are these bugs so active in the cold like this? The shore was piled with smooth stones and plates of slate. The stones were the perfect size for skipping rocks across the liquid steel.

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Veronica was my kayak partner for this event. Katelin and Chris manned the other. We put on our skirts and packed our kayaks with our bags and food that Ben prepared and set off into the mist. Almost immediately we could spot many small icebergs that have just calved off from an approaching glacier.


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Aialik Bay Kayaking

The first glacier we approached, Aialik Glacier, was massive! Ben told us that it stretched a mile long, even though it didn’t look like it from where we were. We couldn’t get too close to it just in case ice started to calve off. From our distance, we could see humongous thumps of ice fall off and two seconds later we would hear a loud “thunder” followed by an intense surge of water spouting into the air creating waves that we could feel from our kayaks. It was too surreal!

As for the whales? We didn’t see any around, which I wasn’t mad about but still a little disappointed something monstrous didn’t pop out of the water. Only a few otters and seals. The cold didn’t bother them one bit. It started to take its toll on us though. Our pants were drenched from the water that was already in the kayak. Veronica and I had the same mental thought process.

“This is fun and amazing. We both aren’t fond of kayaking. We both hate being cold. Why is our kayak going slower than the others? Let’s get the heck out of here.”

We followed Ben and kayaked around the isle back to our shore where Ben would prepare lunch that he made at his home for us. We were all starving and were ready for whatever he was about to serve us. But first he set up a tarp between two of the kayaks to shield us from the drizzle. It barely made do.

As he prepared our lunch, Chris and I went further along the shore to break slates while Veronica and Katelin built a fire to keep warm.

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After a cold yet much needed lunch (pasta with veggies on a corn tortilla), we geared up to paddle around and through the inlets around us, which proved to be way more strenuous than we all anticipated. We basically paddled out into the open sea of nothingness, with the current along the shorelines of the isles.

Aialik Bay Kayaking

“Why is our kayak moving so slow?” I would continue to say. Veronica and I were baffled. We were kayaking at normal pace and usually in sync, but for some reason, the other two kayaks were always out ahead in the distance. Thankfully after paddling for what felt like hours into a void, Ben had us dock at an isle inhabiting bears and some of the mossiest forests I’ve ever seen. The forest floor was essentially a giant blanket of cushiness. Like a natural downy fabric softener. Nothing but a soft baby green moss…with animal skulls lying around. I could have slept right on the moss if it weren’t for all those skulls laying around. There was a resident murderer around here somewhere.

At this point, I began to feel miserable. I enjoyed everything we were doing but I was soaked from waist down. I didn’t wear the proper pants for this event and I was tired of kayaking forever. Veronica felt the same way. However, that miserable feeling went completely away when we kayaked towards this…

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There were chunks of icebergs everywhere, all coming from another large glacier called the Pedersen Glacier. At what first seemed like a dangerous maneuver through the icebergs turned into a real life game of Frogger for me and Veronica.  The chunks of ice flowed every which way, with some even turning right-side up in the water creating small shocks of waves that shook the surrounding bay. It was impossible for me to perfectly steer our kayak through the ice and eventually accepted the fact that were just going to crash into a few chunks. May as well have fun with it? I was laughing the entire way at Veronica’s expense, since I was doing all the steering and she was sitting in front, she had no idea what direction I was taking her. Add on the fact that there was an evil-eyed seal chasing our kayak and poking its head out the water, leering at us. We definitely pinballed our way through the ice chunks, much to our amusement. We were fine as long as our kayak didn’t flip and that stalker seal didn’t come any closer. We were eventually treated to the Pedersen glacier, which was smaller than the Aialik Glacier, but the challenge was welcoming and rewarding. Thousands of ice chunks and dozens of seals surrounded us. It was by far one of the most amazing sights in all of my travels.

Aialik Bay Kayaking
Aialik Bay Kayaking
We explored our surroundings on foot for about 20 minutes until Ben suggested we head back to our original beach. This leg of the trip would be the longest so far. We had to kayak all the way back, but this time against the current!

The current was so strong that at times it didn’t feel like we were moving. It was a little frustrating but we knew we had to keep paddling or else we’d be stuck out here forever. It took us about three hours to get back to where we needed to be and by that time we were beat. Cold, dead, and beat. Shivering beats. Once we docked we saw that our kayak had all the heavy bags and the heavy bag of storage water. “That’s why we were going so freakin’ slow!”

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Now all we had to do was wait for our boat to come pick us up. The boat was about an hour late but came in the nick of time. We were all soaking wet and freezing. As soon as we boarded, everyone changed into their dry clothes while I remained a still statue nestled in the corner of my seat until we got back to land. I eventually changed at the car, thankful that the day is over, but even more thankful that I was able to witness everything we saw in the Kenai Fjords. We were the only ones out there and had the whole bay to ourselves. We didn’t see any whales up close but we did see a couple of whales breach on the way back to Miller’s Landing. Now all we had to do was drive a few hours back to our geodesic dome and become enslaved to our dry warm beds. We got back to the dome at the same time we left, exactly 24 hours ago. But WELL worth it. This event gave us more than we all expected.

I told Chris, Veronica, and Katelin that we didn’t have an event tomorrow, but instead it would be a day of rest. “Event #4 takes place on Sunday when we fly to Juneau, Alaska” I warned them.

What they didn’t know was that I was about to pull the rug from right underneath their unsuspecting feet once again…