NOTE: This post will be updated almost daily so bookmark it, check back, scroll down, and see what happens day to day!
Boy oh boy, do I have a huge adventure announcement for all you today. As the title suggests, I’m heading out on one of the wildest trips I’ve taken in quite some time. Give it a watch below.
For those of you who perhaps can’t watch the video, let me get you on the same page. I’m actually heading back to the wildest country I’ve ever been to: India! Yep! My friend Nixon is getting married and I have the honour of attending.
On my first visit to India this was something I missed out on and I very much regretted it so when the invitation came I couldn’t turn it down. The only catch is that we’re visiting in the hottest and most humid time of the year: May. Phew! It was the same time of year I visited last time in fact and I vowed I wouldn’t return in the month of May. Whoops.
Now, of course, I couldn’t fly all the way to India and not see a new country so I’ve worked out my flights to visit a few other places along the way. I will start in Muscat, Oman where I will visit my friend Raymond from the travel blog: Man on the Lam. Then, I’m off to Abu Dhabi in the UAE for a 15 hour layover, just enough time to jump into the city and look around for a bit.
Next stop will be India for the wedding where I’ll be joined by my friends, the other guests, for a week. After the wedding we fly down to Sri Lanka for 36 hours and when they fly home I zip off to the Maldives for 2 days then BACK to Sri Lanka and then, after 3 weeks: home. Jeez, I’m tired just from typing all that. ha!
Anyways, it’s going to be a fun trip and I am excited to kick it off with a 13 hour flight on Etihad Airways! Thanks to all the wonderful visits and catch ups I had the last week or so in Toronto and to my India travel pals Brian, Nunes, Jenna, Art, Ryan and Nixon (the groom) – I’ll see you soon!!
Alright, they are calling my flight! Gotta go!
Day One – Arriving in Muscat, Oman
Well, I made it! My 13 hour flight from Toronto to Abu Dhabi was a piece of cake. It was a full flight and the Etihad Airways crew did a great job keeping us comfortable and happy thousands of feet up in the air. Thanks team! The man sitting beside me was flying back to New Delhi, India for his mother’s funeral which reminded me that we all travel for many different reasons. Some fun, some sad but all for a reason. Dinner, wine, snacks, beer, another dinner, two movies and some sleep had me touching down Sunday night with a quick transfer to my one hour flight to Muscat. Landing a little after 11pm (oddly ’24 hours’ after I’d taken off from Toronto – though I’d only been in transit for 16 hours) I quickly zipped through customs, grabbed my bag and was welcomed by the smiling face of Raymond! He lives just outside of Muscat so we made the 45 minute drive there stopping for a bite to eat along the way. The only thing open so late at night was McDonalds and we were starved, so we went in to see what unique meals they had. I went for the McArabia Chicken! How fun! Raymond’s 4 bedroom – 4 bathroom house was slightly bare bones as he is moving in a couple days but he still had a bedroom set up for me with a towel and even my own slippers to wear around the house! Somehow, despite jet lag and having just slept a good 6 or 7 hours on the plane, I was out like a light! I had no idea the scenery and landscape that awaited for me when I arose the next morning…
Day Two – Exploring Wadi Shab & the Sink Hole
Somehow, with the time change and subsequent jet lag, I woke up to my first day in Oman bursting with energy. It’s a new country and place to discover, how could you not. A quick shower later, Raymond and I were on the road. Destination: Wadi Shab! I had pretty much left the itinerary open to do whatever he recommended as I knew essentially nothing about Oman or what to see. After 2 years living there, I figured the Man on the Lam would know how to best spend our time. What awaited me, I could not have expected. The drive was stunning and seeing the dusty and rocky landscape of Oman was a nice treat to wake up to. Once we arrived, we hopped in a tiny boat to cross a small river. Then, the hike began. For 45 minutes we climb over and through rocks and ridges and water. Having just come from an oddly chilly for May Canada, I was feeling the heat! Fortunately some cloud cover and sometimes having to swim to the next path kept us cool. Early in the walk I asked Raymond if there were snakes. He’d never seen on he said. I should have known better as not 5 minutes later don’t we come across a snake. He seemed harmless but we kept our distance anyways. Getting a deadly snake bite wasn’t exactly on my agenda. At long last we came to destination. A pool of water leading through some narrow rocks to a waterfall. The water levels were higher then Raymond had seen before which made it difficult to swim to the waterfall. I used every last muscle in my body to get close enough for what turned out to be this terrible photo. Win some, lose some. As I swam back out, Raymond was being bitten by water beetles. That was my sign it was time to go! We hiked back out through the rocks, surrounded by towering, beautiful cliffs all around us. I was in heaven. On our drive back to Muscat, we made a quick stop at a massive sink hole that was actually turned into an official park. Raymond tried to convince me that lightening makes the hole deeper. I sort of fell for it. What a trickster. The drive back to the city was magical. Talking about our love of travel and seeing the world with the a stunning sunset to guide us home. As Raymond was moving out of Oman the next day, I helped him move a refrigerator he sold to a local and then we finished off our adventure filled day with dinner and beers overlooking the harbour. I have made a new, good friend. Thanks for an incredible day Raymond. Take a minute and check out his blog: Man on the Lam. You can also find him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. More adventures tomorrow!
Day Three & Four – The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Tim Hortons and Driving a Car in Oman
I am shocked by how much I have already seen in Oman, despite jet lag and the incredible hear.
As Raymond headed off to Portugal, I needed to find a new place to stay. Since I hadn’t tried it in a long time, I opted to give couchsurfing a go and would be staying with an expat from Italy who works as a chef at a local hotel.
There were a couple things I still wanted to see before leaving the country, one of which was Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world.
The challenge would be getting there. It was too far to walk and public transit was not very easy from where I was staying. Without thinking twice, my host offered his car for me to drive there. Me, this guy he had just met, who had only been in the country a few days and was not used to the style of driving in the middle east. He wasn’t worried at all. I was reminded why I love travel so much. He reinforced my faith in humanity.
Driving his car was one the scarier things I have done. While the roads were in fantastic condition I did not have a GPS and the driving is quite aggressive, so you must be as well. After a few wrong turns and helpful locals (one of which pulled up beside me, leaned out his windows, pointed me in the right direction and then blocked traffic so I could get a head start), I arrived at the mosque.
It was over 40/100 degrees out and I was wearing jeans but I didn’t care, I hadn’t really seen anything quite as grandeur as this mosque.
Here are some photos I snapped during my visit. A few things to note: it has the second largest chandelier in the world, the second largest rug in the world and the white marble outside reflected the sun so much I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It was the wrong day to not wear sunglasses.
The first site upon entering the grounds.
The main prayer room and second largest rug in the world.
The detail and colours were incredible.
The second largest chandelier in the world.
My second stop of the day was to the Grand Mall where I heard they had a Tim Hortons location. It didn’t take me long to sniff it out and I was soon beating the middle eastern heat with a Iced Cappuccino. It tasted exactly the same as back home but was three times the price, but boy, it was worth it!
Next stop is Abu Dhabi and I have a few videos to post for you once I have a better wifi connection. Thanks for following along the adventure. Don’t forget you can get more updates on Instagram at: www.instagram.com/backpackerbrock Addition: Here’s a little video hello from the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque!
Day Five – A Layover in Abu Dhabi and Masdar City My flight out of Muscat, Oman came early! If a 5:30am take off time wasn’t enough, I didn’t get any sleep the night before. A mix of jet lag and excitement for seeing my friends in Mumbai resulted in my mind not being able to shot off. At 3am, my wonderful couchsurfing host amazed me again by offering to drive me to the airport. My connection would be through Abu Dhabi and last a whopping 15 hours. That’s long eh? I had chosen this to allow me plenty of time to leave the airport, go into the city and see something – meaning I could count it as a new country. Beyond exhausted and Brian’s flight being redirected through London instead of Abu Dhabi, which meant I’d be landing in India at 3am by myself, I knew I couldn’t bear to do the whole 15 hours. The first thing after landing in Abu Dhabi I went and had my reservation bumped up 7 hours to an earlier flight. What this meant however was that I only had a couple hours to get out of the airport. It was Friday so the mosque (which everyone had told me to see) was closed. Instead I found a place not far from the airport called Masdar City. I was intrigued to check it out as it sells itself as a zero-carbon emission project city that is powered completely by wind and sun. I took a taxi part of the way there but once on the property, you must move around by pod. They were really neat! No driver, lithium battery powered and ran on invisible tracks. There wasn’t really anyone there to talk to or ask questions as it was a holiday but it was neat to look at the buildings. The city is still growing, and acts an institute for researching natural energy and initiatives. It’s even partnered with MIT in Boston. Here’s some shots from my walk around.
The first building I saw, after stepping out of the pod. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all but I felt it was very beautiful.
The UAE flag.
Natural and artificial textures.
Likely my favourite building in all of Masdar City.
Me and the pod that drove me around.
I had officially made it to my 67 country!! Eventually, I was back in the airport, through security and waiting for my 3:40pm flight to Mumbai that would get in shortly after 8pm. Exactly 4 years later, I was on my way back to INDIA!!
Day Six – The Return to India. First Stop: Mumbai Well, I have arrived in India! Although I vowed to never return to the south of India in the month of May, here I am. As expected, it is hot! It’s nice to be reunited with friends and explore a city I’d been to before with people who’ve never visited India before. I feel as though I’m mentally prepared this time and am able to watch how they experience the chaos. As there are 5 of us, we rented a driver for the day. This made hopping around to the sites in the heat much easier and more manageable. I’ll go into more specifics about how are day panned out in a later post but here are some photos for a quick highlight.
Our first stop of the day was the Haji Ali Mosque, located out in the water. It was stunning and many people were visiting to pray.
As we walked out, it was low tide and this revealed all the garbage sitting on the seabed. India struggles with it’s garbage and this was a perfect example of how it impacts the environment and really needs a solution.
Making our way to downtown Mumbai, we stopped at some gardens along the way and were treated to some stunning views of the coastline and beaches with the tall skyscrapers in the background.
A visit to Mumbai is not complete without stopping at the Gateway to India. The crowds were massive but we managed to find a spot to snap a group photo. From right to left: Art, Jenna, Andrew, Brian and me. Big smiles, despite the heat, humidity and noise.
We wanted to get to some markets and in doing so, ended up driving right through the middle of one. We got stuck amongst the people a few times and could even feel the car being rocked by people pushing into it. Still, no one seemed phased that we were driving through.
Eventually, we got to a silk market and did some shopping for pashminas and other silk. Everyone had a fun time haggling over prices and picking their favourite colours.
All this adventuring, especially with the four others having just hopped off transatlantic flights, had us pretty tired. We headed back to our hotel north of Mumbai and caught one last glimpse of Haji Ali Mosque, lit up in the night.
I’d say the day one in Mumbai went off without a hitch. Having a driver take you around is certainly the way to do it, allowing you to focus more on enjoying the sights you are seeing. Back at the hotel, we rested up for the next which also had many adventures waiting for us. Until then!
Day Seven – Visiting Dharavi Slum & Indian Cricket Madness! Thanks for all your patience for this next update to come. I was sick as a dog for a few days and unable to do anything as a result – but – I’m feeling much better and back to tell you my stories! Without further adieu.. Our first day in Mumbai, the heat and jet lag helped us all get a solid nights sleep the first night in Mumbai and we needed it as day two turned out to be just as busy!
To kick off the morning, we went to the Dhobi Ghats. This a massive public laundry where there are thousands of people washing laundry at any given time. It took a bit of work to see it because of an altercation with a moody local, which I’ll tell you more about in the extended post, but boy was it worth it. I loved all the colours and different sections of clothing styles and pieces. Notice the 100 or so khaki style pants in the left side of the photo.
We were then taken through the Dharavi Slum by Be The Local Tours. There aim is to educate people on what is actually happening inside the slum and to remove a lot of the stigmatism that surrounds it. Our guide Razzaq grew up in Dharavi and had a wealth of information about the place and the many positive things that happen there.
It’s really amazing how many things are made in the slum. These are parts for blenders and we had the privilege of watching this young man make them as well as stopping in many other workshops and meeting the locals.
Did you know Dharavi Slum has an economy of over 1 billion dollars? It would actually at how much stuff we use from day to day comes from here. One of my favourite stops was watching the two guys dying fabrics in these massive vats and all with natural dyes. I walked away from Dharavi with a new perspective and a respect for the people there and industry they have created. I would recommend a visit with Be The Local Tours to anyone visiting Mumbai.
To finish off our day, and visit to Mumbai, our friend Rohan treated us to our first every cricket game. This wasn’t just any old game though, it was a deciding match. The winning team would move on to the national semi finals!
The audience had 40,000 cheering and excited Indians all hoping that their home team, the Mumbai Indians, would win! We were the only white people and they welcomed us with open arms. We of course got right into the excitement of it all, jumping and yelling, even in the heat!
The game went on for quite some time but I fell in love with the sport. There is always something happening so you are never bored. The energy in the room kept us on our feet and by the end I was pretty familiar with the rules of the game and a new fan! It got pretty close and we thought we lost it, but in the final play, the batter beat the odds and made hit no one expected he’d make, winning the game and advancing the home team to the semi-finals. The stadium went bananas and we did too!
A huge thanks to our friend Rohan for making this experience happen! We are officially hooked on Cricket like the rest of the Commonwealth! It It was so great to see you an explore your city.
Next, we’re off to the engagement. Come back soon!
Day Eight and Nine – An Engagement and Wedding Outfit Shopping
It was an early flight from Mumbai to the south of India. We flew into Trivandrum airport in Kerala and then zipped over to our hotel: Coconut Bay.
A quick change and we set off on the 2 hour drive further south to attend the first of the wedding festivities: the engagement.
As expected, we were the only non Indians there so we stuck out like sore thumbs but everyone welcomed us with open arms, making sure we were as comfortable as possible in the blistering heat.
The meal consisted of rice and goat and different curries. The true joy came in eating it with our hands. They offered us spoons but, when in India, do as the locals do! Everyone joined in the fun and used their right hand to eat their meal.
Once eating was complete and we were introduced to everyone attending, we got a chance to take some photos with the couple to be: Nixon and Tiny!
Of course, a token thumbs up shot was compulsory!
Start to finish, the engagement was pretty short and we were soon back in our van returning to coconut bay through the intense roads of India. The driving was just as hectic as Mumbai, just everyone was moving a lot of faster, making it even scarier.
We were due for some R&R at Coconut Bay and took the rest of the afternoon to simply chill out and cool down by the water.
The next day we managed a slow start and then were off to the mall. It was the day that we would pick out our outfits for the wedding.
A gentleman took us through the many different style and prints he had, finding each of us our unique piece. The colours were brilliant but you’ll have to wait to see our selections when I write about the wedding day.
After shopping, Brian, Andrew and I decided to do some walking around to look in shops. We also found an incredible white, Hindu temple in Trivandrum.
As the day was coming to a close and our friends had taken the vehicle back to the hotel, we hopped in a rickshaw and made the half hour drive back. Zipping through the streets in this little three wheeler was a great thrill but our driver kept us safe and got us home before dark. We tipped big as it cost a mere $5!
So far, our southern India adventures were off to an excellent and oh so hot start!
Day 10 & 11 – Indian Haircuts and Weddings
With the wedding just a day away and my outfit purchased, it was time to tidy myself up a bit. Four years after my first epic Indian haircut, I found myself back in the barbers chair getting my hair snipped and my neck cracked! A dedicated video post on that experience to come!
While it was a bit of risk to get a haircut, in India, right before the wedding I needed some way to beat the heat. I felt so much lighter and refreshed with a shorter cut.
I also managed to convince Brian to hop in the chair and get a massage as well. It takes a lot of focus as you can see.
Part of our visit to India was to see where Nixon grew up. His family hosted for a bbq the day before the wedding and took us for a walk around the village. The beautiful tea fields, countless palm trees and oh so friendly neighbors made for a wonderful stroll and escape from the loud and busy India we had spent most of our time in.
Before we knew it, wedding day was upon us. While we couldn’t understand anything that was being said, I loved watching everything happen. There were so many clergy members for one wedding and the colourful saris were mesmerizing.
Our new friend, Nixon’s cousin, who we had met the day before stopped to snap a photo with us. He collects coins and I was excited to have some Canadian coins to add to his collection. He also correctly guessed that the $2 coin is called a Toonie. Honoury Canadian right here people!
The newlyweds and their families!
As you can see, there was a slight purple theme. These were some of the most important ladies of the day: Nixon’s Grandma, Auntie and Mom. His Grandmother and I decided to pick complimenting outfits – don’t we look pretty in pink?
The local men were wearing more western style dress shirts and slacks, but we went all out. Here is myself, Andrew and Brian. What you don’t see is that it’s over 40/100 degrees. Melting.
And of course, when you travel all the way to India for your friend’s wedding, you can’t leave without a classic photo with the bride and groom. The perfect end to our time in India!
Oh, and don’t forget that time there was an elephant just walking through the streets. Who gets the right of way?
Countries 68 & 69: Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Getting Sick
With not much having after the wedding, the crew and I decided to spent the final 36 hours in Sri Lanka. A quick 1 hour flight had us arriving in Colombo, Sri Lanka – my 68th country! We made our way to a temple I’d been wanting to see for quite some time called Gangaramaya Temple. There were Bhuddas everywhere!
And then this sitting Bhudda. It was massive!
When everyone flew back to North America, I planned to spend a bit more time in the region and see if I couldn’t sneak in an extra country. Just a short flight from Sri Lanka you’ll find the Maldives. I made my way to the island of Maafushi and found a cute little Inn at this beach.
I had officially made it to my 69th country!! BAM!
Then, disaster struck. I got sick. Like, REALLY sick. I spent my entire visit to the island paradise that is the Maldives in this bed. Womp womp. Not how I planned to experience this place. The upside is I found a room with a view so at least I could look and hear the sea while I rested and nursed my 103 degree fever.
My flight home was from Sri Lanka, so I actually had to travel back to the country, while super sick and spend a couple nights near the airport in a place called Negumbo. Fortunately the hotel I was staying at, Jetwing Lagoon, had delicious food and a relaxing atmosphere for me to continue healing in.
Did I mention the hotel has the largest swimming pool in Sri Lanka? 100 metres long. Yes, even though I was sick I swam it. You’d never guess from this photo that I felt like death.
And then, after 2 weeks, 5 countries and Indian wedding and too many adventures to count, I was off to the airport to fly home.
Thanks for following along on this wild experience in a slightly different way than I usual document things. Stay tuned for more fleshed out posts on some of the days and adventures I’d like to explore a little deeper for you.