Exactly three years ago I got on an airplane from Washington DC to Florida for my first ESPN assignment - covering India's first official match in the US, against West Indies. I interviewed MS Dhoni, then India's captain, and later woke up to messages from friends and family excited on my behalf. And here I am today in Guyana, driving through pelting rain and winding alleyways to cover my first international cricket tour.
"I detect several accents. Where are you from?" the cashier at Oasis Café, a coffee shop in Georgetown, asks me. "Oh I am here for the cricket," I say. "You just missed the Indian captain and his wife - they were super nice," she says and shows me a picture she snagged with Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma.
She talks about Guyanese spices, her Venezuelan father and Guyanese mother, how much she enjoys selling coffee, and meeting people from all over the world. Of course, I have to buy the tiger teeth pepper - the spiciest pepper grown in Guyana - because as American as I feel, I still have to eat eye-wateringly spicy food to feed my Indian soul.
"How are you?" I ask as I get into Clyde Andrews' taxi. "You know, I am a content man," he says. "I am always going to say 'I am happy' when you ask me that question."
I ride with Clyde every day of my stay in Guyana. Every morning he turns up outside the inn I am staying in without me having to remind him.
After the first ODI is rained out, he picks me up from the Providence Stadium and says, "Let me take you around Georgetown. You have to see this place a little!" We see the president's house, the parliament, the Supreme Court, the seaside, which is calmer than the backwaters of Kerala, and then to get some legendary fried chicken from a food truck.
Clyde, 68, was raised in rural Guyana and I in a semi-urban, rather conservative, part of south India, so we talk about how we always wanted to break free, explore the world, question the rules. He tells me he remarried three weeks ago and talks about his sons from his previous marriage.
As if on cue, one of those sons appears in the car in front of us. Clyde honks and we wave at his son as we pass. If he is even mildly confused by the tiny Indian woman waving at him, he makes sure to hide it.
The next day, I walk out of the inn at 5.20am, rubbing sleep out of my eyes, headed to the airport. The rain is coming down so hard, it's difficult to see in front of me. Clyde is there, wearing an orange poncho, holding the door open for me. He is ten minutes early.
"Thank you for coming," I say. "If I tell you I am going to be there, I am going to be there," he says. "My word means everything to me."
Port-of-Spain is mostly built vertically, up into the hills. The lights on the winding at night make it look from afar like fireflies twinkling in a glass bottle. The hotel I stay in is built into the base of a hill. The lobby is on the highest floor, and to get to the rooms, you take the elevators into the hill. "Here you are, at the upside-down hotel," the taxi driver announces.
I make my way to the restaurant. Commentators Ajay Jadeja, Murali Kartik and Ashish Nehra are there, posing for photos with a group of loud and cheery Indian men who have travelled from India, the US and Canada to watch the series.
To get to Queen's Park Oval from the Hilton Trinidad, you have to walk down a hilly road and make your way around Queen's Park Savannah, a gorgeous circular park that separates the stadium from the rest of the city. There's everyday green and then there's Port-of-Spain green - which feels like every shade of the colour mixed together and splashed across the terrain.
All through my trip, I am taken aback by unprompted nice gestures from people. In Trinidad, a woman jogging on the road stops and asks if I'm going to watch the match. When I say yes, she tells me to take an inner road that will lead me directly to one of the gates. "You'll bypass the crazy crowd outside," she says.
I get back from the stadium late at night after the game and in the 15 minutes I'm away from my phone to drink some coconut water and eat dinner, I receive an outrageous number of notifications on Twitter.
I've become a meme.
Kohli posted a selfie with Bhuvneshwar Kumar after the second ODI and there I am behind them in the photo, looking into the distance.
"That's Kumars with Virat," a friend tweets.
Top win and top bowling from this guy . pic.twitter.com/TX5FkhpTCX— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) August 12, 2019
Maracas Bay is the most beautiful beach I've ever been to. Clouds float over the mountains that enclose the beach, coconut trees arc by the water, and the few makeshift eateries add a splash of bright orange and yellow to the natural shades of blue and green.
"Wait, you work for ESPN? So you get to travel the world and watch sport live?" Sterling, the owner of Sterlyn Designer Jewelry, asks. He is a ball of energy, wearing a bright shirt and a big hat. "Can I write this over to you and take your place in this world?"
I taste shark for the first time when I try Bake and Shark, a Trinidadian staple in which shark meat is batter-fried and served on flatbread with vegetables and sauces to add to it. I choose freshly cut and seasoned ripe mangoes, garlic sauce, tamarind sauce and Chadon Beni sauce (from the cilantro family).
While in Trinidad, I also try "doubles", the famous local street food, fried discs of dough (like Indian pooris) served with curried chickpeas on top.
I've come to the point in my journalism career where I have been around enough famous people to not be flustered in their presence. Sir Vivian Richards is not one of them. Growing up, my mother would tell me stories of Richards. So naturally, whenever I see him in the press box, I ignore him.
Then I walk into the elevator in my hotel and come face to face with Viv.
"Hey, I saw you in the press box today, how are you doing?" he asks.
Words fall out of my mouth before I can process them. "My mom is a huge fan. I have heard so many stories about you. I didn't want to be weird and bug you, so I didn't approach you. I hope you're well. It's so good to see you."
He's incredibly sweet. "Oh wow, that's so nice to hear. Hello to your mom and have a good rest of your day."
After the ODI series, I miss the Antigua Test. I have to return to the US to cover the Aurora Games - an all-women's sporting festival in Albany - talking to Olympic athletes like Lindsay Whalen, Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu.
At the Sabina, I want to speak to Jeff Dujon for a story I'm writing on Jamaican Test cricketers. I ask the ground staff how to find him. They point me to the office staff, who point me towards the club. The club manager dials Dujon's number on his office phone, and before I know it, I'm having a conversation with the man himself. No emails, no appointments.
More random niceties.
When I get in the cab this morning, Olando, my driver, hands me a bag. There are four bottles of water inside. "You're going to have a long day. It's very hot outside, so I brought water for you."
Ray Ford, a freelancer, introduces himself and compliments me on the Jamaica story. "It's rare somebody from the outside gets the essence of a story right," he says.
Three wickets in three balls. Six out of the seven wickets to fall in the day. Twelve Test matches and five five-wicket hauls. Now that I have had time to process what happened, I can't believe I got to watch Jasprit Bumrah's hat-trick live. I got to hear the ball rap the pads, see his sheepish smile, feel Kohli's emotions as he said, "What a bowler, man." A special, special day.
I want to try Jamaican jerk chicken, so Olando and I set out for Pepperwood, tucked into a gap in a parking lot in Kingston. When we pull into the parking spot, I don't see anything at first. Then I spy a small gate opening into a green pathway and there it is - a huge counter where meat is being prepped, and wooden tables and chairs surrounded by green ivy. The chicken is juicy, smoky and spicy, and the fried green plantains that come on the side are perfect with it.
I step out of the hotel early to buy a bag of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. I had had a cup at the hotel and it was one of the most exquisite things I'd ever tasted - rich, acidic and nutty but not bitter. I'm the first customer at the Wallenford Coffee Company and walk out with a huge jute bag of medium-roasted whole beans.
The Test, and the series, end early on day four. I head out for some local seafood. Olando then takes me to historic Devon House, a Caribbean Victorian house built in the 19th century, for some "I Scream," which is No. 4 in National Geographic's list of "Top ten places to eat ice cream in the world". The Devon Stout, a beer-based ice cream, is bitter, sweet and beer-y.
It's my last day in the Caribbean, so I pack in as much sightseeing as I can. I head to the Bob Marley Museum and then drive up to the village of Port Royal, the harbour located at the end of the Palisadoes. The village, which was founded by the Spanish in 1518, offers guided history tours and some seafood at Hellshire beach. One last incredibly fresh seafood meal before heading back to the US.