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

 

0. CDMX – Mexico City, Mexico

I landed in Mexico City after a long 11-hour flight from Vancouver. Why is it that my flight from Guangzhou, China to Vancouver, Canada is half the time needed as compared to my Vancouver-CDMX flight? The world map is not accurate in its scale, I suppose.

 
My itinerary was pretty simple this time – 2 weeks, it wasn’t much. (2 weeks now in an office job is great though!!) 
Mexico City, Guanajuato, Oaxaca. I initially planned for Meridand Cancun as well, but decided to spend more time in Oaxaca. No regrets! I felt all was great.
 
 
i’m feeling so sleepy – but i really would like to try to jot down my thoughts before more time passes me by. 
 
after my conversation with Emilio today, I felt like i was surprised at how much I knew about El Chapo than before already – when i noticed that what he was sharing with me were things i somehow already knew. 
 
going back to my first night – i stayed over at a fancy hotel in GuangZhou, thanks to the free layover accomodation provided by China Southern airlines. Despite all my previous apprehension, almost all my doubts have disappeared! CSair might just be the way to go for such long flights lol!
 
There I was, all ready to camp overnight at the airport with the most expensive flight tickets I’ve ever bought in my life, and imagine that happiness when I was told that the airport was going to arrange transport and hotel for me. I could pick from a list of hotels too, many looking grand and much unlike the backpackers-style-accom that I am, fortunately or not, still used to. What can I say? Trade-offs in life. If i travelled with such a style of luxury, I would probably be travelling a lot less frequently. 
 
I think that might be me in the near future with the limited opportunities CRIES.
Still, it’s not even about that though. I just enjoy CSing too much.
 
Just the other day, i was just thinking about the hosts that’ve changed my life in ways they probably wouldnt know or realise. Life-loving individuals who inspire be to seize! cherish! hope!
 

 

i was actually very scared being in the hotel alone and i washed my hair hurriedly and quickly crawled to bed with the TV on. honestly i would rather be in a dorm or couchsurfing host than to be in a hotel alone. or in particular this sort of chinese-ish hotel…

el metro

solo para mujeres

in the metro on my first night, where i wanted to eat tacos because! i was so excited! I was so happy to be surrounded by Spanish again. as i walked around the bus station asking for directions, buying my tickets, i thought to myself – i could do this, live here… i think. for a while. like half a year, i could.

 

my landing. into this chaotic city – or so my geographical imagination told me.

 

cdmx. what an edgy name, suitable for the city-reimaging scheme they were looking at. also, love these water coolers at the metro!

Xochimilco. I loved the sound of this word. Darinka brought me here. We took a long bus ride, and when we arrived, the place was rather empty. it was low season, i think. i had no interest in taking the touristy boat anyway, but i thought i’d visit for the colourful scene. it was o-kay – quite like what i saw in the videos/pictures.



sometimes i have these places where i kind of know what it’s like, but still want to go, knowing that after i go, i’d be unsurprised, hence questioning – do i really want to go? then again, i had no strong desire for alternatives, so i suppose having seen this place for myself, i do feel good about it.


 

 

 

frida kahlo – so easy to spot her in so many corners of the city.

 

mmm. that bluecorn tortilla. the warmth of tortilla in the cold, i love.


pinata!!!

 

 

i was so fascinated with the pinatas that i saw around me. i loved it so much, it actually makes me so excited to see them everytime i walked into a market and spotted this section. there’s so many incredible designs out there, and the idea of a delighted child smashing its belly open, waiting for the candies to fall out – it makes me feel like a kid again, wanting to attend a party to smash my own pinata. i guess that’s one thing i could have – but didnt manage to do – in Mexico, attend a party and smash a pinata. awwwww!


cactus fruit on the right. worst fruit ever. oh my gawd cant get used to that cucumber taste.

 

 

cute spongebob pinataaaaaa

 

hello kind lady who agreed to let me take a picture of her

 

more market food

even the candy shop was interesting

this is a… candy. i think it’s a hawthorn candy. i googled – it seems right! it was sour-ish and also a little spicy. this brings back the memory of my surprise when i first found out that Mexicans sometimes eat their fruits with chilli powder/ chilli flakes. i was stunned! 

i love these. taco sweets. so much love. love that cultural reference.

 

much love!

 

 

 

Random horse on the streets – the hats!

 

frida y dietro


in their park – of course a photo



at this park, a group of women were dancing. i stood there for awhile, watching them move in the shade. 


bookstores

so  lovely to think that she once stood at this spot where i was. fleeting time.


dia de los muertos?


frida frida everywhere


more frida

love the art pieces hanging here. 


hats

streetside stalls.


the queue to frida kahlo museum / house. i would advise everyone else to reserve their tickets beforehand. this was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me 😀


chapulines! i actually couldnt bring myself to try one of this size, i really really couldnt. i really wanted to step out of my comfort zone, but i just couldnt do it for this size. i did for the smaller ones though – small enough to taste like… a tiny crisp.

 

a corner of the street


what an interesting exhibit – such an open culture? no more violence against men and women homosexuals.

My wonderful CDMX hosts. Only Darlinka could speak English, and she knew I wanted to practice my Spanish so we spoke mostly in Spanish, and she helped to translate occasionally.

Such a gathering, such a crowd is unthinkable now.

I appreciate the women-only zones. I generally felt more secure surrounded by women.
I grew complacent though, after getting used to taking the metro. I started entering mixed cabins and thought it was fine, so i continued to do that. on my last day, a man caressed my butt! in the mixed cabin. I was furious but he gave me a “what?” shrug like he didn’t do anything, and i didn’t yell or call him out either, being alone in Mexico. I’m not sure if I’d do anything if I’m brought back to that time, to be honest; i do feel pretty powerless (and maybe i’m also perpetuating it).
That incident really sunk in then, on why there’s this women-only cabin, and how important it is. I was pretty affected by that incident and made sure I went on only women-only cabins after.
 
I haven’t been using much of my camera (DSLR), mostly snapping from my phone. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because it’s latin america (safety), maybe there’s not much fancy stuff that I find that worthy to use my camera. I feel that’s a little different from my past trips though. 
 
The night I landed in CDMX, I took the metro to the central bus terminal (Terminal del Norte). It was easy. I was surrounded by Spanish again and I thought, elated, I could do this for a few months actually. Sadly I am on the path with limited time. I could improve so much here.
 
Even though it’s only been less than a week, I feel like my listening has improved tremendously. I’ve had full-fledged Spanish conversations that squeezed my brains, but left me satisfied. I’ve learnt some words and phrases to remember, like sequestros (ha ha, not the best thing to learn), soy afortunada, y tengo muchas suerte. difference between amigable, amable y simpatica. quiero mejorar mas!
 
One thing I found interesting was the place-rebranding of CDMX. It’s actually implemented only a few years ago, and it faced some backlash with people still referring to the DF (district federal). I do like the idea though, CDMX has a distinctive and edgy feel to it – though non-Spanish speakers may not know ciuded de (city of) – and the kind of edgy artsy mysterious exciting (?) chaotic(?) experiences that lie within the city is conveyed.

 

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.

 

3. CS in Guatemala – Maria y Mia Valentina

Memories of Flores:
1. At the ancient heartland of Guatemala is Tikal, the greatest of the Maya cities and at its peak had over 100,000 residents.
2, 3. Un día con Mia Valentina y su familia
0. La casa de la noche #csguatemala

The next day was spent with Maria, and Mia Valentina. We spent the morning with oatmeal / banana / omelette for breakfast, followed by drying clothes, card/board games with Akiko before setting off for Orly(?)’s home. There, we had lunch and played ping pong. There, I successfully clocked more Spanish conversations with people understanding me and continuing to speak with me, acting as a translator at some points. These, for me, are forms of affirmation and building blocks of my confidence ❤️ voy a estudiar más!!!

 

 

 

 

The native dress of the Mayans — which is called traje — may vary by village and language group. But the intent of native dressing remains the same: To preserve the rich culture history provided by the Mayans from days of long ago. To Guatemalans, their native costumes are their identity. There are 22 Mayan ethno-linguistic groups, which mean a wide variety of colors, emblems and styles in costumes. But bold colors like reds, blues, yellows and pinks are found on all types of dress.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.2 CSing near Sibayak, Medan, Indonesia

Another CS experience to remember. 

The family members were gathered on the mat on the floor after dinner, chewing on their bethel nuts. She showed me how to wrap it up for the final product.




leaves, first. all ingredients obtainable from the nearby small shops / the market.

dinner!

married couple.

host

looking through wedding photos.


it’s funny, but they had multiple copies (10?) of their wedding photoshoot, this one. they insisted on giving this to us.
past vs present. happiness is simple?
just sitting. eating. chilling.
huddled in the living room.
we slept on the mats in the living room. it reminded me of the time in kampong luong.

 

2. Pematang Raya, Lake Toba, Medan, Indonesia (Couchsurfing with Mery)

It was a memorable stay, and meeting Mery made a difference. We first contacted on CS, and while we were uncertain about going over to Pematang Raya (not a particularly strong part of the touristy trail hence the location was a little bit of an uncertainty) – but we managed to follow her instructions and made our way to this little town.
Mery’s an English teacher, and here the kids of the town come over for enrichment classes, as well as computer classes. It was really nice contributing, to be a part of the kids’ real-world application. They would learn some English vocab for the day, and at the end of their lesson I stepped in, for them to ask me those questions they learnt in English.
I remember sitting down in a chair while they crowded around me, and while some were shy, they managed to ask me their questions. Their look of absolute delight and giggles when I answered their questions – memorable. It was sweet, while briefly reminding me of my p-school teacher thing I had.
ew fringe

 

We went on a ‘field trip’ around the neighbourhood, led by the older kids who were supposedly more experienced / higher level. They were rather shy, but tried their best.

We looked at different types of plants /fruits in the neighbourhood.

We played some orientation games. lolll

 

aww

 

me being teacher-ly

 

 

dinner.
it was lovely. speaking to mery, too. she’s a strong woman, who clearly has a strong sense of drive and will. not dependent on a man, but clearly wanting to impact the world as a better place, and strive for a better life for herself in the process. i hope i can strive to be like that.

 

7. Johannesburg, South Africa

It’s been almost 5 months since my first step into Southern Africa. It’s so different from Morocco though, and at the same time many of my conceptions towards the continent has been challenged. It wasn’t as… frightening as I thought it would be. I didn’t see starving children, malnourished, mud cookies, which were part of my Geographical Imagination of the continent. It almost surprised me to see those huge supermarkets with shiny floors and rows of fresh fruits, french fries and meat and cakes and SUSHI behind the glass counters, tall air-conditioned malls, inter-city buses that were just like all the others – air-conditioned, sometimes promising wifi, with music occasionally blasting in the trip. Was I that ignorant, to feel this surprised? I suppose so. Nonetheless I do acknowledge that as a tourist, I saw the shiny bit of things.

Some things poignant to me was how my notion of animals have changed. Wild animals, not the ones I’m accustomed and largely exposed to, locked in the zoo. My notion of fearing wild animals, and the idea that I do not have to worry about HIV in my home country, and the large network of land transport services in my homeland, these were great.

​ Summing up my first evening in Johannesburg – emerged unscathed, had a Joburger, and listened to the various stories about getting and avoiding attacks/carjacks (18 times, he counted). Despite these, the driver and Peter both shared the sentiment that they enjoyed the energy of the city, and loved the city in ways – a ‘un-boring’ place amidst the ‘chaos’, they found a place for themselves.
Free education, free healthcare (even the HIV pills are provided by the government) unemployment benefits, pensions. 11 official languages.
Observing blacks speaking English, or Zulu (the next most common?) language to each other. Medium in schools dependent on which schools you go to.
So many cars, seemed like everyone had a car because of a lack of public transport systems. Didn’t see any bus stops around (although there were those mini-buses), nor motorbikes (too unsafe, Peter suggests).

6.3 Isfahan with Fatima

​ Fati told me about a French guy who thought Iran was a place ‘with many camels on the streets and only chadors and things like that’. She wants me to tell everyone COME TO IRAN!! IRAN HAS MALLS AND CARS and your m&ms and sushi and Coca Cola and your favourite cereal, just sometimes in different names ~~ And cool things like carpets of course.
We went into the shopping mall with glass-paned windows and doors, and M.A.C.
With a car inside.

 

 

 

‘Take pictures of these and show your friends!’

 

 

Sushi in the Iranian supermarket

On my way home that day, this kind lady helped me find my way to my host. She got off the bus and walked with me / waited with me for 15 minutes. I gave her a chocolate bar, the only gift-able gift I had with me.

6.4 Sofeh Mountain, Isfahan

Hello, Sofeh mountain.
selfie-ing every few steps, i recall

Our chicken rice for lunch. In my opinion, it tasted great :p I miss how Azar’s mum would prepare the SWEETEST HONEYDEW i’ve ever eaten in my life (no lie), so juicy and an absolute bliss in the heat 😥

 

Set off to Sofeh mountain!

 

 

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t complete the hike (barely started) because a man started asking me many questions about where I came from, how long I was here for, etc. Elhem got worried and decided that we shouldn’t proceed with the hike. While I was hesitant to stop, given my one-chance at Sofeh mountain and Cz’s recommendation, I could tell Elhem was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we bumped into the man again. Eventually she persuaded me again and i relented, and we went down. While I was a little disappointed about missing the hike i was looking forward to, i found consolation in spending the rest of my day with the girls.

Thank you Isfaha, it has been absolutely lovely 🙂