5. Izta-Popo National Park, Mexico

On the atv. he was inspiring – he was an avid hiker who had ascended Popo before. Years on, his knees were weak by now, and so he rode his atv just to be here, to breathe in the fresh mountain air. it reminded me to cherish my time with my working knees.

 

Emilio talked to almost everyone – the guards, the random people, the travellers..

this church was pretty amazing for me. i probably wouldnt have made my way here, if not for him.

i can still recall the feeling of being in this place – the tranquility, the peace. we took off our shoes and embraced the silence here; you could almost hear the drop of the pin. it was quiet, dark, and absolutely peaceful. i can understand how and why people were drawn to this place, as some form of a sanctuary. this remains an interesting experience for me.

Popocatepetl 



“Look, El Popo is breathing,” Emilio said, somewhat amused at my wide-eyed fascination. “That is good, because it means he’s releasing some steam.” #popocatepetl #stratovolcano

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Met so many kind souls today, who saved us some miles of walking with their trucks / ATV. Met Jorge, who’s hiked to the summit of Popocatépetl (5, 426m) several times in his youthful days. At 60 now, he drives the hours here on weekends just to take in the fresh mountain air.

I watched the longing in his eyes as he gazed at Izta-Popo and I thought: I’m going to cherish my time en mi vida, and my knees.

beautiful skies of the morning


my first time being this close to a ‘breathing’ volcano. 

 

one of my favourite experiences in my life!


hitchhiked with this lovely family who spoke but Spanish, which was great for practice.


the Paso de Cortes I kept reading about


 

 

 

occasionally blocked by the clouds, but absolutely lovely

 

a photo after I came out from the sanctuary of silence

 

4. Puebla, Mexico

Puebla, I somehow spent a longer time here than I initially wanted to. Puebla turned out to be a surprise of sorts in my trip, I actually can’t remember where I stayed… but I remember I had to walk some way from my hostel to the corner where I met Emilio 2 mornings.
Puebla is like a student city of sorts, it’s quite happening with many museums that were open. I was lucky because I happened to arrive on Museum Night! This meant the museums were free after the evening hours that Friday.

Wow, I spent a good 5 minutes trying to recall where I stayed in Puebla. Was it with a host? Unlikely, because I would definitely remember my hosts and their homes. I did a brief Google search and remembered that I stayed in Hostel Rhodas, highly rated. It was an interesting hostel that, like Chalchuapa’s hostel by alexis, did not have a sign that said it was a hostel, even though it was the right address. I assume it’s similar reasons relating to gangs extorting fees.

It was pretty quiet, probably off-peak when I went, so i had the whole room to myself the first night. i hogged all the plugs, sat outside and watched a movie while having tacos for dinner. i had some orange milkshake too. I can still remember these so fondly. Yummm those tacos… sigh. It was cooling in the night, and the shower was super hot and lovely.

 

overcast skies

It was at this library, that I had met Emilio and the 2 students. It was so coincidental, it was as though I was meant to meet him. I say this because I was halfway through the trip and I was almost waiting, for that opportunity to teach, to reach a classroom. and somehow we crossed paths, in some fated moment, at a random timing, and I found my way to the mountains, and the classroom. What I had wished for – pretty amazing.

Churrossssssss love this

 

In the central square, where there’s wifi.

Puebla sign, which was too crowded for me to take a photo with

i was so surprised to find mini-toons here!

forky for one USD :p so creative!

so cuteeeeeee. Mexicans looked like they loved these things in mini-toons. the shopkeeper thought i was Japanese.

 

a church

Cholula.  Pleased that Emilio showed me the way here.

 

Walked up some kind of hill to this view. at some point, there was a huge blast that sounded like a gunshot, and i was frightened out of my wits. then i realised, as Emilio chuckled, that it was some sort of religious ceremony and it was a firecracker lit by the people performing the religious ritual.

beautiful flowers

 

nopales! i was very fascinated with the existing cacti here, and the fact that these could be collected and eaten

 

they had to be dethorned carefully, and then sliced before cooking

selling the sliced ones

 

mmm… they look like… long beans?

 

aww, this was the fair of the chillis! it was so fascinating for me, the fact that they had a celebration, a fiesta to celebrate the new season of this type of chilli, which is known for making this dish in the picture. people were dancing to the music, there were performances with latin music, and free chili sauce!! salsa with tortilla, free, to celebrate the fiesta! i loved the atmosphere and the culture, they were always looking for opportunities to celebrate.

mmmm yummm that fried tortilla – there’s a name for it but i cant recall the name

 

Mexicano hat

 

love such murals, with Popo there!

3. Teotihuacan, Mexico

i remember this- chilli flakes with watermelon / guava / other fruits. that was interesting to me. we use sour plu, powder, yes, but chilli flakes hmm…

 

fascinated with wild cacti!

 

such an interesting and charismatic guide, really expressive, funny, and confident in his sharing.

 

ah, me with the money belt tucked inside, as seen by the belly. also, half-awake because i barely slept on the overnight bus ride. gosh, i miss this, the waking-up-to-a-new-city-after-an-overnight-bus-ride feeling. it’s almost a year, wow.

when’s the next time, when a vaccine arrives?

 

teotihuacan

sun moon temple (?)

 

i remember sitting on the steps, and watching these ruins, thinking about how.. it’s always amazing, coming to this part of the world and seeing the heritage and legacy these ancestors have left behind, revealing the hints of their ingenuity. without much technology during that time, they had to find ways to navigate, store water, do their measurement in ways.

the most salient point for me is how, in machu picchu, they were able to think about creating terraces/steps and to consider the altitude’s role in deciding the types of crops to grow. how they formed a temple in their ways during their time. these things, they don’t quite occur or sink in to me when i was 13 and forced to learn these ancient histories, but now that i’m older, it is pretty fascinating how mankind has evolved from these times.

pretty amazing stuff

 

mexicano hat

 

 

cactus!

more!

me trying to seize opportunities to have pictures with cacti, and looking horrid with that shoes paired with a skirt. well, not much point trying to look fashionable when you have many overnight bus rides and are travelling alone. that’s one of the reasons why i enjoy travelling alone :p

this reminds me of bromo.

up the stairs

stopped mid-point to catch my breath

 

met another mexican-american here – his parents had migrated to Texas for better employment opportunities, and he was here to revisit his roots

 

good weather day

this was an absolute lifesaver in the heat, it was so delicious eating these cold, juicy watermelon under the scorching sun, i felt tremendously thankful

they did warn us of the heat and told us to bring loads of water before we started the excursion

Teotihuacan!!

love this

helped some travel influencer take a dozen of pictures, and she was kind enough to direct me on multiple poses and helped me take mine

 

yay!

used my film camera to snap a shot of this too

this. sigh

miss. the freedom in just watching over these views, alone in a foreign land, observing

 

miss you muchisimo mexico!!!

 

wow my hair was really pretty long then

 

12. Panama City, Panama Canal, Panama

Border crossing was horrid. The bus journey started from 11pm (1015 we had reached to check in), and by the time we had reached Panama City it was almost 7pm. We had reached the Costa Rica – panama border at 4am, and had to wait till 6am for the border to open. After which, we waited and waited and waited till 10am before we finally left, after a manual bag check. What was all that waiting for? Honestly, I do not know.

 

 

 

It had troubled me all month, I thought. Perhaps all year, even.
Back in SG:
After this, after this I promise! I SURRENDER! Surrender myself to the dreary tasks that alas, I have to do! That I have desperately found all possible ways, all possible sites to escape. The girl next to me typed furiously earlier on, and I was slightly stressed. Now it’s her turn to procrastinate, and for me to act like I’m finally getting some shit done. T.T Cries.
As i continually refresh my Carousell page for the gym membership owner to get back to me, I’m mentally preparing myself to finally start this. I took my time this morning, as I have the past week, to get ready, have some calm breakfast, hot Nesquik… and I was thinking some lines in Spanish. It occurred to me that actually, it’s been a month-long Spanish immersion trip. That was a lovely way to think about it. This year, both my long trips have been dedicated to Spanish countries. It pleased me very much to know that I now had the confidence to converse, although my listening was still.. to be improved. It was still lovely to have people asking me where I learnt it from, and me explaining it was through online sites… it’s funny. 
3.5 years since my last trip to South America. 3.5 years on, I suppose I could have progressed faster if I were more structured in my learning, instead of using only the free time and the free months. In the next phase of my learning (i.e. by 29 or 30), I hope to achieve greater fluency, especially in writing and listening. And get that past tense / future tense / imperatives sorted out.
Gracias por todo, Centoamerica. Amo toda la música, la cultura, el idioma, los bailes… 

 

11. Manuel Antonio National Park from San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica (‘rich coast’) fit my geographical imagination well: poster child of eco-tourism, gentle waves falling into a tight embrace, sloths, raccoons and other wildlife scampering along twinkling beaches and coconut trees.

Costa rica is kinda boring by this time. Maybe because we were tired, maybe because it’s the last part of our trip, maybe because we didn’t get to meet anyone – would have been more fun.
But it’s too expensive, and the developments seemed similar to Singapore – ecotourism with its national parks. Nonetheless it was beautiful, but so? Fleeting beauty.
I wasn’t quite keen on exploring too many parts of Costa Rica for some reason. I had googled on the attractions but they seemed like the sort that I could almost imagine — Monteverde, the treetop walk along the cloud forest; another volcano, another crater lake; national park with animals. The latter seemed the most appealing, so we went for that. 3.5 hours on the bus there, 9usd. 16usd for the entrance fees. Another 9usd back. (As mentioned, after having seen some of the volcanoes in other parts of Central America – and cheaper ones too – it just seemed a little too much effort to travel for hours there. If I could choose again, I would probably have done Pacaya or Telica. But it’s alright, every place was still interesting.)
The national park was pretty much how I imagined it to be – like how Singapore would do it, perhaps. Restaurants by the beachside, tour guides advertising their services for $20, carrying binoculars with groups of tourists along the way. We happened to follow behind a few tour groups along the Sloth trail. It was easy to spot when there was a sloth – the group of humans would be staring up at something, and you’d know there was a sloth up there. The tourists would pass their phones to the tour guide, and he would snap a picture from his binoculars, and would pass them back one by one. And the tourists would say – oh I see it!
The rest of us craned our necks to the skies, spotting the shadow of a figure high up amongst the leaves.
The most exciting part was seeing the raccoons scampering along the sand. The monkeys were akin to macritchie’s.
San Jose was another city – somewhat more developed than the rest in Central America, but as I saw the trash and the countless birds and bird poop in the Central square of the capital, I couldn’t help but think – it’s still Central America after all. We also queued for more than an hour at the bank to change our notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Masaya Volcano, Masaya / Granada, Nicaragua

Granada was quiet, very quiet. Even in The Central square it didn’t seem like there were as many local / communal activities happening, though the bars were active in the night. Ivo brought us to walk around the city the next day. It had a lake, which was oddly black, probably from some volcanic eruption from the last. It had a yellow-orangey cathedral I had seen in pictures. We mostly ate at his restaurant, which had a really chill ambience.
The Masaya volcano was amazing though. It was probably the highlight of my trip, the one I’d most anticipated visiting. Do I regret not visiting Pacaya or Acatenango? Perhaps, but I try not to be. After all, there’s too many volcanoes in this region! And Southeast Asia of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

one of the most incredible experiences of my life, no doubt!

 

8. Leon, Nicaragua

The thought of work made me cringe, made me feel like procrastinating, doing anything else except work. Could I blame the nature of my work, or could I blame the way that I was? I knew it was probably the latter. Nonetheless, I had composed several dialogues in my head, drifting in and out every few days as I thought of an analogy. It was akin to a relationship – (but also not really, i didn’t have that much of a relationship experience, and i feel less for my current job than my last relationship – it was the idea that IF i did not try anything else, it’d be hard for me to appreciate what i had. and did i regret? i didn’t. i learnt that there were pros and cons in the next situation i was in. and that knowledge, that new environment, it did help me to grow and to learn and to grow the different aspects of myself. 
Despite the many hours on the bus and the plentiful stretches of waiting time, a part of me feels ever-tired, and even tired to make time to reflect and to write down my thoughts. But now in Leon, Nicaragua, it is slightly past 8pm and i’m sitting on my bed (upper bunk) and trying to feel pensive, though the sleepy bug seems to be kicking in. 
I saw her crying and i couldn’t help thinking — one is just never the same after a heartbreak. Really, never the same. The world could be split between people whose heart has been broken before and deeply scarred, and those who haven’t, who were still living in their little bubble where they had no idea about this dark tunnel etched with pain, possibly for years. You could see it in the faces, i thought. 
Nicaragua was calm and quiet. We visited Leon and Granada.
Both sites were interesting, but I preferred Leon. Sunday seemed quiet at first, but the next day there were activities buzzing in the main square, and a strange festival where they made fun of their Spanish colonial master with a huge walking female figurine and a short man. I bought a hammock here.
The owner of our guesthouse gave us a tour around the city. He showed us the sites where the ‘resistance movement’ in June took place, and some photographs and footages of the scenes that took place that day. He seemed proud to be / have been part of that movement, and despite the many arrests made around him towards the people he knew, I sensed a fighter in him that wouldn’t wish to back down against this lingering fear. Policemen could be seen around the city, both in the day and night. Previously it was not quite so, and previously Nicaragua was known to be the safest in Central America – it was peaceful and well.
Sadly, the recent resistance has caused a large drop in its tourism revenue. When I knew about the ‘opposition protest’ on the 20th, the fear got to me as well and I was intent on leaving before that.

 

6. CS in San Salvador, El Salvador

San Salvador was made much better with Sofia. It was rather refreshing to be able to know, and to have the freedom to bombard your local host with questions, and to probe for deeper responses without the language barrier. Alexis was great, but with my level of Spanish and his level of English, it was hard to ask anything too tricky and likewise comprehend his responses where he had to speak more slowly, rather than a stream-of-consciousness, seamless conversation that flowed. 
Many people had skipped El Salvador (and Honduras) due to their reputation of high homicide rates, but she was glad she showed us the pretty views of the city, malls and suburbs and restaurant with volcanic views and xmas markets and all. 
– staying in safe areas and security guards – reminded me of Johannesburg
– turkey for $40-50USD nearing xmas at the market – the explosion of sounds and colours that triggered every part of my senses – a hundred people yelling at you or at the top of their lungs to promote their products, and everything was happening at once
– gangs – children avoiding school (rural areas), recruitment outside school, homicide rates
– protection fee – local businesses hard to thrive because once they start getting successful they start getting attention from gangs, different gangs took different areas. Alexis put ‘booking.com’ instead of his hostel sign outside his apartment. 
– abortion as illegal – to go to US / if found with attempt, could be jailed for 20 years – no exemptions for now
– little prince park
– restaurant with a view

 

 

selling food at the back of a van

 

 

 

 

 

the xmas markets

 

 

 

 

 

san salvador city centre and those birds!

 

BESTTTT CHINESE FOOD EVER!!!!!!!!!! PANDA EXPRESS. It was soooooo delicious we had such a hard time choosing which cai fan ingredient we wanted oh my gawd.

best meal in el salvador? LOLLOL

 

 

Hilarious. Up past midnight with the crowd, watching them dance with the latin music blasting into the night.

5. Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador

One thing I found interesting about El Salvador was the many sellers who boarded the bus at stops to sell their items / share – ranging from chips, drinks, fruits, sandwiches, to gadgets like iPhone cables, and even bible preachings.
More interestingly, some would stand at the front of the bus to present to all the passengers on their products for minutes, their advertorials complete with demonstrations on how to use them. They would then get off a (few) stop(s) later.

I was beginning to feel at ease in El Salvador, a country that just last year I had some preconceptions about. One of the highest homicide rates in the world – that was a scary thought. But on the bus here everyone was another ordinary person, going about their ordinary lives. Smooching on the bus, playing with their babies, texting heart shape emojis to their loved ones.

It was a long ride from Antigua to Chalchuapa. We took a tourist shuttle at 8am from Antigua to El Tunco, which was very comfortable and which I would recommend for tourists (RooneyShuttle – 18usd after a firm deal with a tourist agency who was a father with a sweet child and her bear), and from there we took a bus to San Salvador and then Chalchuapa. By the time we reached Chalchuapa it was past 7pm. I started worrying from 5.30pm, when the sun had set and the chicken bus was full, my sense of safety not much aided by the glowing red lights at the side and back of the bus. But all was well – people were very helpful, a man offered to walk us to the park, another delivering food waited till we had rung the doorbell of Yuca Mix hostel and Alexis had opened the door.
Santa Ana volcano was the highlight. And the delicious food, of course.
The hike costs $8 for the parking?, $1 for the guide, and $6 for the park fees. It only started at 11am, and the park ranger explained the rules of the hike – the three different sections (forest, volcanic ash and a rock path to the summit) and shared that we should refrain from too much noise or play our music loudly, but listen to the ambiental sounds.
  • why are milkshakes hot in El Salvador?
  • Back of vehicles as a way to sell food
  • Taking pills 2x a year to clean their stomach – water
  • Land of hammocks

Couldn’t have missed hiking a volcano in El Salvador – aka ‘land of volcanoes’ with more than 20 surrounding ones. Muchas gracias por la buena comida y los recuerdos!

Santa Ana was a lovely start to El Salvador. As usual, I felt the flurry of excitement when crossing the border. I was in El Salvador! 
It was a long, long journey to reach Chalchuapa (Santa Ana). We caught the Rooney Shuttle from our hostel (villa estrella) at 8am, to move towards El Tunco. By the time we had reached El Tunco it was almost 2pm; by the time we ate lunch and the bus came it was almost 315pm. Another hour or more to San Salvador, and then many hours to Chalchuapa as we were caught in traffic. By the time we had reached the hostel, it was 7pm. That’s almost 12 hours of daylight travel.  And what did I do during all these time? Let my thought drift – luxurious.
I had a few conversations. The conversation with the man at the bus stop who was a primary school teacher and who loved it. The man who was recovering from depression – he shared that his mother had passed away from a sickness in her intestines, and his brother had passed away, and his sister was a traveller in her motorbike and had travelled to so many countries, including Egypt. In Latin America, or rather in this part of Latin America, it pleased me greatly that they almost had no choice but to converse with me in my mediocre Spanish, because my mediocre Spanish was in fact better than their basic English. It also pleased me greatly that I was in fact able to converse – to express my thoughts about their opinions, and my own. It made the hike down from Santa Ana volcano shorter. Ilamatepec, it’s called, the volcano in Cerro Verde, Santa Ana. 

I loved how there were so many signs promoting the benefits and importance of the forest. It made me feel like the person who conceptualised these signs, he or she must have felt passionate about the environment and the things it had to offer. Listen to the environment, it had suggested. Take nothing as everything goes back to the ground where it belongs, he said. Nothing leaves – it only transforms and takes different forms along the way.

In the evening, Alexis took us to eat some delicious food around Chalchuapa. The cheese sticks were amazing, so were the pizzas and the typical Salvadoran breakfast the next morning.