When What Should Be the Worst Day of the Trip Turns into the Highlight of the Trip.

At the end of December of 2018, one of my best friends and I embarked on a journey to India. A friend from college was getting married, and she invited us to her wedding. Honestly, I was shocked that I got asked, but so grateful that she wanted me to come and experience one of the most special days of her life. My friend and I started planning our trip months before the wedding, and since we were both living in different countries, there was a lot of back and forth communication via WhatsApp. One of the first decisions that we made were the places and sites that we wanted to see while in India. There was the Taj Mahal in Agra, which is a no brainer, but there were honestly so many places besides Agra that we weren’t sure about what to choose. We started researching into each of the sites that popped up, and one by one made a list of what we considered to be the MUST-SEE cities in India for our first time.
After we had our list, we began researching travel, accommodations, and all of the boring, but necessary things that you have to have booked for the trip to run smoothly. One of the things that I suggested was that we book a tour. Instead of trying to do India on our own because the task just seemed so daunting. My friend was reluctant at first, and I said how about we book a tour but do one day of India totally on our own. We reserve the accommodations, and we figure our way around the city and just kind of not have a plan just do everything on a whim. For all of my over planners, I know that idea sounds insane to you, but I love booking a place and figuring it all out when I get there. It’s part of the adventure. I must say though, choosing Mumbai as the place where we would just fly by the seat of our pants was probably NOT the best choice.
Remember how I said that my friend and I were in different countries and everything was being communicated via WhatsApp? Well, what I forgot to mention is that we were both teachers in other countries so between classes, planning, grading and trying not to lose our minds because, well, STUDENTS, we were messaging back and forth and basically just saying yes or no and not going into much detail. That was my first admitted mistake. My friend sent me 3 Airbnbs on WhatsApp for Mumbai and gave a quick description of each and pointed out that one of them was located 15 mins away from the airport and since we had an early flight the next day, well, CONVENIENCE! I just browsed over the photos and said yeah that one works.
Flash forward to Christmas Eve, we are flying into Mumbai from Vadodara (where our friend got married) and as we are flying over the older gentleman in our row points out at the world’s largest “slums” and says that’s where we were flying over. It reminded me of the favela’s in Rio except 10 times bigger. It was enormous, and you could tell how impoverished it was and that’s just from the view of an airplane window. The gentleman who was pointing it out to us was from India, and he said that it was an “eyesore,” but for me, it was a glimpse of the very harsh reality of India. Many Indians live in extreme poverty, and it would be ignorant of me to not acknowledge the fact or not mention how heartbreaking it is to see. Everyone posts amazing photos of their time in India at the Taj Mahal and Varanasi and I’m in the pool of people who do this, but the truth is that while we are all parading around India trying to get the most instagrammable shots there are people who are struggling just to stay alive walking around outside the Taj.
Although seeing the slums was our first impression of Mumbai, we decided to approach the city with open eyes and welcome the new experience. After arriving and gathering our luggage, we ordered an Uber to take us to our Airbnb. We entered the location that was provided by the owner, and we were quickly on our way. Immediately, we realized that the owners were not lying when they said it was close by to the airport. We began to look around trying to locate the apartment and quickly realized we were smack dab in the middle of a market in the slums. The fact that the property owners said “Directly across from the Milk Market” should have been our first clue but since neither of us googled the location beforehand, we were both pretty thrown off. Our Uber driver tried to help us find our Airbnb because the only thing directly across from the “milk market” was a statue of the catholic saint, Our Lady of Fatima. Weirdly reassuring, but still, it wasn’t our Airbnb.
After several phone calls to the property owner and finally meeting someone that they sent to find us, we were guided down a tiny corridor that had no lighting and barely enough space for a person and motorcycle to get past each other. The passage was about 3 city blocks in length and while we were walking all I kept thinking in my head was how unsafe it seemed, but I kept telling myself to suck it up, and I’ve been in worse places so not to be a diva. We were finally approaching our Airbnb, and we noticed that a lady was sitting on blankets watching t.v. in the entrance. Before I could even take one step inside, my friend said, “Janel, I’m not staying here.” Apparently, he saw a bloody band-aid, and that was what made him uncomfortable. It wasn’t walking in a tight, dark and winding corridor that made it easy for anyone to jump out and rob us, nor was it the fact that it was a dirt road or that we were literally in the middle of a market, none of these typical red flags jumped out at him, but a bloody band-aid was the “no way Jose” moment. We made our way back to the main road, and I got onto booking.com and found a hotel nearby for $20 more than the Airbnb.
After taking another Uber to get to our new hotel, we arrive at what seemed like a 5-star hotel. It was sprawling. There was a metal detector machine that we had to go through to even get to the lobby. We were greeted by Christmas carolers and a massive Christmas tree. We had both forgotten that it was Christmas Eve and we were in India, so the last thing we thought that we would see was a Christmas tree. After we get checked in and into our lavish room, we decided to take a little rest because the total shock of being in the middle of the world’s largest slums and not expecting to be was a bit much to process.
A quick nap later, and we were ready to head out and explore what Mumbai had to offer. Before leaving the hotel, I told my friend that my stomach wasn’t feeling quite right, but that it was probably just hunger since I had only eaten a veggie wrap on the plane. As we were heading into one of the busiest shopping areas in Mumbai, I told my friend that I needed to get out of the car. That funny feeling in my stomach wasn’t hunger. No, that was more like my stomach saying, “WTF did you eat?” I threw the door open to the car and jumped out as quickly as humanly possible. The next thing I know my mouth is like a fire hose, just spewing veggie wrap madness all over the streets of Mumbai. You know that saying, “paint the town red”? Well, I painted Mumbai with my intestines. To quote my friend, “Homie, I’ve never seen anyone projectile vomit that far in my life. It was pretty impressive.”
I was able to pull myself together and stop spraying the street with spoiled veggie wrap long enough to tell my friend that we should leave the shopping market and head to the sites instead. I didn’t know how long I was going to be able to keep myself together, so I wanted to take full advantage of the only day that we had in Mumbai. We took off to India Gate which is a staple monument of India. Little did we know that it was Sunday and fun fact, EVERYONE goes to India Gate on Sundays. It is also December so not only are tourists everywhere, but a lot of Indians are on holiday, so they are enjoying the sites as well. We get to India Gate and make our way through a sea of people to get a half way decent photo in front of the gate. While my friend was taking my picture, I felt like my stomach was doing cartwheels. I told him to stand where I was posing for the photo so I could take a few shots of him. Before I could even click the camera, I said, “Homie, hold this. I’m going to get sick.” I looked for the nearest spot away from the crowd and where I could get sick. I found a grassy area and bent over as my stomach decided to take revenge on me for eating an airline provided veggie wrap. I felt like I was in the middle of the ‘Purge’ except it was my lower intestine that had 24 hours to do whatever it felt necessary.
The last thing that you want to happen to you after you “release the Kraken” is for a group of young girls to come up to you wanting a selfie, but that is precisely what happened. I washed my mouth out with the bottled water that I had, and as I lifted my head, I was surrounded by 4 young teenage girls saying, “Selfie, selfie, selfie.” I obliged with their request and was ready to run away from the atrocity that I just committed at a historical site. As I try to exit with what little dignity I had intact, I was approached by couples and more groups of people wanting selfies. I said yes because I felt like I would be a bitch if I said no. Next thing I know I’m stuck in the middle of a small crowd and can’t see my friend. Then I feel his hand grab mine, and he yanks me out of the crowd and helps me get out of the India Gate quicker than Hussein Bolt running the 500m.
Once outside of the Gateway of India, we order an Uber to check out another area of town to see about buying a sari because I wanted a sari to wear to the Taj Mahal in a few days. While we are waiting for our Uber to arrive, we are standing in front of the Taj Mahal Palace, one of the swankiest hotels in all of Mumbai. While on the corner waiting for the Uber, I decided to take some selfies so we can remember our experience at the India Gate and have physical proof that we were there. The Uber arrives, and we get in, and not even turn the corner when I yell out “STOP!” I swing the door open and begin to violently projectile vomit yet again. This time there was a group of young men standing where we stopped, and they quickly jumped back. I’m almost 100% positive that they took a video of the whole thing so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a video of me upchucking floating around on Instagram or WhatsApp somewhere in India. After I thought that I finished, I told the drive sorry and to please go ahead. Literally 5 seconds later I had to yell out stop again. I officially regretted every bad thing that I have ever put in my body. My body was quivering, and I was sweating and in the middle of India with the worst case of food poisoning that I have ever experienced.
I didn’t allow “Delhi belly” to get the best of me. We continued on with our original plans in finding a sari for me to wear at the Taj Mahal and then went to dinner at my friend’s friends’ house. Luckily, his friend is married to a doctor, and he gave me a few suggestions on what to drink and take to help with the raging food poisoning. It had been hours since I had last gotten sick (thank God) and we decided to head back to the hotel to get some rest before our early flight in the morning. As we were headed to the hotel, we began to talk about how crazy our day was. Arriving at an Airbnb in the middle of the slums and then my nonstop rounds of projectile vomiting. Honestly, it sounds too crazy to be true, but there is video proof of my guts splattering all over the streets. I wish I could say that this story was fiction, but it’s not, and it’s only one of the best memories that my friend and I have of India. For most people, it would be their worst memory of the trip, but for us, it turned out to be the highlight.

Standing in front of the Gate of India. Just moments before I lost my lower intestine.
Trying to keep a half way decent face even though I felt like I was slowly dying.