I took a combi in Arequipa today! [YQrtw Day 93 Jul 11]

taking a combi in arequipa

Location: Arequipa, Peru

Taking a combi in Arequipa
Taking a combi in Arequipa

Today’s highlight was my 5 minute bus ride in a combi (mini bus). I wanted to take the bus yesterday but I was daunted by the crowd so I ended up walking to the cinema and missing the Superman movie.

I love taking public transport to save money since taxis are multiple times more expensive than the bus. Plus, I’m very allergic to dishonest taxi drivers.

The combi system reminds me more of buses back home in Kota Kinabalu because it seems to be an unruly system.

The buses have signs of destination in large signs on their windshields. The bus conductor hangs out of the door, yelling different destinations. (Back home, the conductors yell, “Keh keh. Keh keh.“)

One of the reason I finally dared to take the bus was because I realized that “SAGA” was the name of the department store near where I am staying. I won’t get lost if I hop on buses with that destination.

So I walked to the corner of San Francisco street and waited by the wall while other locals eye me curiously.

Many buses with “SAGA” on their windshields stopped in front of me. However, I didn’t want to go on them because the buses were packed almost to the brim with people.

The size of the bus I took was similar to this, but with less people.
The size of the bus I took was similar to this, but with less people.

Finally, a slightly larger bus came and it looked like not much people were inside. I walked to the bus conductor hanging out of the door and said, “Saga?”

She ushered me into the bus. Even though it was a larger bus, there weren’t a lot of seats. Almost all of the seats were taken. I stood awkwardly at the empty space in front of the seats.

I didn’t take my camera out and take photos of people in there. I didn’t want to be the traveller who treats other people as photo opportunities.

I then saw a seat between the driver and a school kid. I went to the front and plonked myself in the tiny seat. The street that I normally walk past didn’t look much different from higher up in the seat.

Then the boy had to get off the bus so I went back to the empty space and stared either out of the window or at my feet. It would be awkward looking at the passengers, some of whom were gawking at me.

When we were nearing my stop, the bus conductor repeated, “Saga. Saga.” I think it was to notify me that my stop was near.

As I got off, I passed 1 sole (S$0.50) and the lady gave me back 20 cents (10 Singapore cents) in change.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my first–and unlikely last–combi ride.

Totally unrelated photo of an alpaca resting:

Alpaca in Arequipa, pretending to be caterpillar
Alpaca in Arequipa, pretending to be caterpillar

PS Mom convinced me to stay in Arequipa for another week for Spanish class. I’ll be heading to Machu Picchu later in the month. However I won’t be continuing my homestay because the walk to school is really time consuming. And I don’t feel like talk to people in the later part of the evening.

The day I ate some alpaca [YQrtw Day 90 Jul 8]

los alpacas

Location: Arequipa, Peru

[The internet at my homestay couldn’t connect last evening so I couldn’t upload this post until today!]

Although today’s main event was my 5-hour long Spanish classes (with breaks in between), I thought you would be more interested in reading about eating alpacas for lunch. I’ll get to school talk soon.

After class, I headed to a restaurant which my teacher recommended. The place didn’t have the Menu of the Day at 2:30pm so I chose something a la carte.

The most interesting items seemed to involve alpaca so I ordered one that was drenched in sweet pepper sauce with some ravioli.

Alpaca steak tastes like gamey beef steak
Alpaca steak tastes like gamey beef steak

The texture of alpaca is a bit like beef–slightly tough. However, the taste is very different from beef.

My dish of alpaca tasted a little like not-so-well prepared mutton. Or as someone on Facebook corrected me, it tasted “gamey” not “smelly”.

Alpaca is definitely not on my list of Best Meats to Eat (TM) and is probably down at the bottom somewhere with crocodile meat.

After my meal, as I walked back to my home stay, I saw two alpacas grazing casually by the roadside. That’s insane!

Cute alapacas grazing
Cute alapacas grazing

Back to school!

I’m taking Spanish classes again in Arequipa. Lessons and accommodation here is definitely cheaper than Buenos Aires. Plus, I get to have one-to-one lessons instead of group lessons.

I was supposed to walk to school (2 freaking miles!) today but the school coordinator and her husband picked me up from my homestay place instead. The morning traffic in Arequipa looked horrible from my view in the car.

I had two different teachers for my lessons. For the first 2 hours, I had Senorita R, the next 2 with Senor J and the last 1 hour with R again.

I think I spoke more broken Spanish in these 5 hours than the whole 1 month and a week that I’ve been in South America. Most of the time, I spoke like this: “I loves to eats Japan food.” “I have a journalist.” or something grammatically, vocabularly incorrect.

Of course it’s all about learning and I’m learning a lot. In fact, I felt like I was learning too much after 2 hours but got into the groove by the 5th hour. I hope that by the end of the week, I’ll be rather good at Spanish. Hopefully.

Visit to the colorful La Boca [YQrtw Day 65 Jun 11]

La Boca Buenos Aires

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

This morning, I had my first taste of dulce de leche. I had been avoiding it because it came in a box that didn’t look very sanitary.

But I decided to give it a try after Macarena said a restaurant serves very good dulce de leche pasty.

Dulce de leche is a jam-like substance that is muddy brown but tastes of milky caramel. It’s quite nice as a bread spread but between you and I, kaya is much better.

After breakfast, off to Spanish school I went.

Class went well, we learned how to talk about the weather which is very useful as small talk.

La Boca

Same as yesterday, there was an after-school activity. Today’s event was a trip to La Boca.

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Our guide was still Macarena. This time, we were given a sheet of paper with explanation of different important sites in La Boca. The whole sheet was in Spanish. Gulp.

Macarena was around to help with deciphering the sheet. It’s good that I didn’t visit La Boca on my own because I wouldn’t have known the significance of important buildings.

We started at the pier. The water was muddy and didn’t smell so good. On the pavement, there were chalk-drawn games.

One of the games was this box jumping game. Back in Malaysia, we call it 跳飞机(Translation: Jumping from [or is it on] airplanes).


There was also a gigantic tic tac toe which requires people to stand in the little circles. It reminded me of Hogwart’s gigantic chess pieces.

Our tour involved walking into one small lane, being stopped by touts to go sit in their coffee shops, looking at tango shows for tourists and lots of listening.

One surprising thing was that one of the coffee place touts managed to figure out where I was from. It started out with the usual calls of “Ni hao. Annyeong hasseyo” which I ignore.

Suddenly, the guy said, “Malaysia.” I stopped in my tracks, turned to him to give him a thumbs up and a “Muy bien!”

He proceeded to explain why he said Malaysia. “No ‘ni hao’. No ‘annyeong’. No ‘konnichiwa’. Is Malaysia.”

OK. That’s a good deduction, I suppose.

Bit of history of La Boca

La Boca

I’m terrible at recounting history so if you want a proper version, Wikitravel La Boca will be great help.

La Boca used to be the living area of immigrants who found work at the shipyard. They built their houses using left over materials from the boats. The colorful walls were the result of using leftover paint from ship.

Writers and painted moved to La Boca, probably because it was rustic, and the place became a bohemian place.

From what I saw now, La Boca is mainly touristic. It’s a nice place to take photos that say, “Hey, I’ve been to Buenos Aires!”

La Boca Caminito

La Boca's colorful buildings

La Boca's colorful buildings

La Boca's colorful buildings

La Boca's colorful buildings

After La Boca, we took a bus back to the main city area.

At night, I went to a tango show. I’ll tell you more in a separate post.

Would you paint the walls of your house like how they do in La Boca?

1st day of Spanish lesson [YQrtw Day 64 Jun 10]

Fideos Semolados

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of my goals for South America is to get my Spanish up to conversational level so I signed up for a week of class here in Buenos Aires.

I believe I searched for my school using Foursquare. I really do not like walking in the cold so I figured that my school should be very near where I stay.

Luckily, there was a school on Foursquare. I checked out the place, paid a deposit and became of of their students.

The school is literally opposite my hostel. I only have to go over a crossing to get there. Wonderful.

YQ goes to school

First day of class

My class was small, with only 3 students. Our teacher is Felisitas, who’s younger than I am. Actually, I’m the oldest in class and the youngest is a 19 year old. (NINETEEN!)

Our class started with lessons in the middle of nowhere. We were asked to read a passage on our photocopied textbook (or really just sheets).

I realized that I’ve forgotten almost everything. I don’t remember how to conjugate verbs “to be”, “to have”, to anything, actually. I even have to count on my fingers to get to number 9 which means I probably have to use my toes when counting to 19.

Still it was quite fun, although I do not look forward to memorizing all those new words I learned. Blergh.

After school, one of my classmates brought us to the pizzeria below my hostel for empanadas.

Empanadas are curry puff-like pastries, only it’s much much better. I’m not a big fan of curry puffs because I find them boring. But empanadas are totally different.

The size is about 2 times larger than a regular curry puff. This means more filling. My chicken-filled empanada was bursting with chicken. I fell faint remembering how good it was. I’ll get you a good photo one day.

Tour of the avenue

Our school organizes after-school activities. Today, it was a tour of Avenida de Mayo with Ms Macarena (I am not kidding).

It was less of a tour and more like one hour of intense intermediate Spanish listening lesson.

Ms Macarena spoke at full speed Argentinian (lots of “sh” replacing the usual “y” sounds). I could catch about 20 percent of what Ms M said and was too confused to ask about parts I didn’t understand.

After the tour, I headed to Carrefour for groceries. I am finally cooking, after two months of travelling!

I was planning to make tomato soup but at the supermarket, the tomatos were expensive and half of them look like they were rotting.

Broccoli was much cheaper so that ended up on my menu. I also tossed in a packet of small pasta called Fideos Semolados Ave Maria.

Fideos Semolados
Fideos Semolados

In the first floor kitchen, I manage to make my very first dish: Broccoli soup with pasta.

Based on the other half of broccoli, I’ll be having the same thing tomorrow but maybe I’ll throw in an egg or two.

YQ made brocolli soup
YQ made brocolli soup

Do you cook when you travel? What’s your secret recipe?

Trip to La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires [YQrtw Day 62 Jun 8]

la recoleta

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that I like creepy things, such as places where skeletons are artfully arranged and cemeteries.

When I learned about La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, I knew that I must visit the place. I didn’t have an exact visit schedule so I slotted it in for today.

Since Google Maps does not have public transport directions for Buenos Aires, I did the safest thing and walked all the way from my hostel.

Good thing Buenos Aires has a grid system. I just needed to walk straight and turn when there is a bend and continue walking.

On my way, I stopped by a GIGANTIC Carrefour for a pack of biscuit (in case I get hungry from the terrible hostel breakfast) and a cup of coffee at the Carrefour Cafe.

I found out that raw steak is sold at as cheap as A$22, making me determined to make my own steak instead of spending A$80 outside for a restaurant steak.

Back to the cemetery… I found it easily since the crosses and angels peeped over the high walls surrounding the resting place.

The place was amazing. Larger than life statues were littered everywhere looking mournful.

La Recoleta Cemetery

Many of the mausoleums were exquisite. My sister mistook the crosses for churches when I sent her and mom photos of the cemetery.

La Recoleta CemeteryLa Recoleta Cemetery

I walked for so long that I decided to take a rest at one of the partly sunny benches. I read through several chapters of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban during the wait.

At last, it was time for me to leave. Before that, I visited Evita’s grave. It looked more like a small black marble box, not as glamourous as many of the “houses” in the neighborhood.

After seeing the cemetery, it got me wondering what people nowadays prefer to be placed after they die.

Swindled by a restaurant

As I walked back from the cemetery, I peeped at the different menus. Alas, everything in proper restaurants cost about A$80 (S$20). I was in my miserly mode of mine so I didn’t go into any of them.

In the end, I found a dingy place near my hostel that offered set meals for A$45. I was tempted by the photo of the steak.

When I went into the restaurant, there were 3 men sitting side by side with their backs to the counter. They stared at me when I walked in. Oh well, I guess none of them wanted to handle the foreigner so I grabbed a menu and read the dish, adding a “Si?”

They said, “Si.” I mimed sitting down and one of the man nodded.

He asked, “Frites?” I replied, “Si.”

The dish took a while to cook. When it came, it was decent but not spectacular. If I wanted spectacular, I should have just gone to the A$80 shops.

When it was time to pay the bills, one of the man asked another man something. The other man said what clearly sounded like “30 pesos” in Spanish because the “t” was audible.

But the change I got back from the first man was change for A$45. I stared at the bill, turning it over to see it taped down the middle.

I could have asked the guy who gave me change, “30 pesos or 40 pesos?” I could do these numbers but it didn’t seem worth it making a scene for what is only S$2.50 of change.

I took leave, vowing to have enough guts to confront that swindler in the future.

#Bilingualsummer achievements

O Google Tranlated “Can I buy a SUBE here?”, memorizing the translation and using a broken version of it to ask for a SUBE. Extra points for understanding the lady’s question of how much I want to load into my card.

X Not asking for the correct change during lunch.

Thrift shopping in Buenos Aires [YQrtw Day 61 Jun 7]

vintage Juan Perez

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

After yesterday’s frozen knees incident, mom told me I need to get something warm for the winter. (I still have hopes that the weather would not get too bad or that I could just stay indoors while it’s almost-freezing outside.)

I did look around the shops but everything was over A$200 (~S$50) so I didn’t want to get them. In the end, I decided that I should visit the second hand stores for something warm.

I followed the directions on Foursquare and found Juan Perez’s collection center. The real shop’s just a block away.

Juan Perez thrift store
Juan Perez thrift store

When I entered the shop, I was required to put my bags in a safety bag that was locked. This was to stop people from stealing, I suppose.

The shop had a lot of thick jackets. Some of them had fur and some of them didn’t look warm enough. I searched high and low for something cheap. Sadly, the cheapest I could find was A$145 (~S$36).

I also spotted a Le Sport Sac bag for A$180. My second hand bag of the same brand was tearing at some parts.Even though I really wanted that to replace my old bag, I resisted because finding something warm was more important.

In the ned, I did find a coat that I quite liked. It had a A$145 price tag, a little out of initial goal of A$100. I brought the coat to a mirror.

Then I discovered the stairs to the second floor.

The second floor had a cheaper selection. It didn’t take me a long time to find something I like. Guess how much it was. Only A$70 (~S$18).

After the thrift shop, I decided to visited one of the world’s most beautiful bookstore since I was on the same avenue.

Turns out, El Alteneo was only next door to Movistar which I went to yesterday. Based on photos I’ve seen, I imagined that the shop was huge so I was kind of disappointed to find that the size wasn’t that big.

I just walked around the shelves, looking around. I’ll come back another day and soak in the book smells.

Cycling in the park

After a quick lunch, I joined my future Spanish language schoolmates and one of the school’s advisor for some cycling.

Getting to the bike shop took a long while and loads of walking. The bike ride was very nice since we got to see the park.

The weather was beautiful. It didn’t feel like winter at all and I wished that everyday was the same.

Buenos Aires city and nature.
Buenos Aires city and nature.
Don't do this at home. Taking selfies while cycling.
Don’t do this at home. Taking selfies while cycling.
Derailed. I swear the gods of bicycles don't like me. I've had this problem in San Francisco and Hoi An.
Derailed. I swear the gods of bicycles don’t like me. I’ve had this problem in San Francisco and Hoi An.

The advisor walked us back to the main avenue and I walked back to the hostel. DInner was two microwaved eggs, to save on eating expenses.

Cloudy Buenos Aires. The building has Evita on it.
Cloudy Buenos Aires. The building has Evita on it.

#Bilingualsummer achievements

I signed up for a week of beginner’s Spanish at a language school just opposite my hostel. I cannot stand walking in the cold so the distance is very important for me.

At a cafe, the lady helpfully wrote down the Menu of the Day. Seeing the words on paper made it easier for me to understand, although I thought that papa was actually “father” and found out that it stood for “potatoes”.

I also made use of body language. I passed a tuck shop with a “Reload your Movistar” sticker. Like a caveperson, I pointed to the sign and said, “Si?” The rather cute shopperson said “Si” back and I said “veinte” (I actually remember the number 20!).

And that was how I got my phone credit reloaded with body language.

How do you overcome language barriers?

Speechless in Buenos Aires [Day 60 Jun 6]

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’ve been on the road for about 2 months and not being able to speak the local language hasn’t been that much of a problem for me.

But when I went out on the streets of Buenos Aires, I realized that not being able to understand Spanish is not an option here.

I figured that English is widely used in Buenos Aires. I keep reading stories about how Spanish-learners kept getting responses in English so I thought I could survive a while with only knowing how to count to 10 and ask for the toilet.

But I found out the hard way that the only place where people would speak to me in English is in my hostel. Dios mio!

I did take Spanish-for-fun lessons in Singapore because of a cheap Groupon. My favourite line from the class was, “What is your favorite color.” I suppose it’s good as a pick up line and for buying presents for people.

Let me summarize my Spanish fails in the next segment which I’ve enthusiastically call:

#Bilingualsummer achievement

If you remember, #bilingualsummer is a self-imposed period of intensive learning of a foreign language.

O Asked for SUBE in Spanish, retreat when didn’t understand shopowner.

O Understood 20% of hostel employee’s speech about heater in the room.

O Didn’t understand anything Movistar employee said about getting a SIM card but understand that I didn’t need to pay anything.

X Keep mixing up gracias with grazie. Damn you Italian.

X Keep trying to use French to replace Spanish. Apparently it does not work.

Other strange things that happened

Being  person who was raised in the tropic, I am defenceless against cold weather. I didn’t realize how cold Buenos Aires could get in winter until I checked my Weather app.

Buenos Aires weather
Buenos Aires weather

Uh oh… Somebody is in trouble.

But I do have enough clothes to layer on so I was quite warm when I went out. What I didn’t realize was that the exposed area between the end of my skirt and knee-length socks would be assaulted by the wind.

I tried not to care and went to sit on a bench in front of the congress building. Then something wet dropped on me. I realized that it was bird poop. I should buy lottery because this means good luck.

Thank goodness there wasn’t anyone around me or I would think that it’s one of the bird poop scams.

I took out some money from the ATM (charged a crazy 0.038% transaction fee–on top of my Singapore bank fee) I had to come back to the hostel and type away until past noon when the sun.

At night, the hostel had a BBQ (A$70). The BBQ pit was enormous and was roasting slabs of meat. Slabs of meat, I repeat.

The strangest thing was that I didn’t have as much meat as I thought I could. Maybe I was still jet lagged or the smell of meat was too much to endure.

Until next time!

Which country did you have the most difficult time communicating with locals?

I’m joining Bilingual Summer

speak spanish, directions in Spanish
speak spanish, directions in Spanish
Directions in Spanish

Photo by Tom Magliery, source.

Starting June 5, I’ll be in South America for 2 months.

One of my goals for South America is to learn Spanish. That’s why I’m joining the Bilingual Summer suggested by Christine Gilbert.

The Bilingual Summer steps are:

1. Pick a language
> Mine is Spanish.

2. Set an intention to learn it
> I want to have conversational Spanish skills before I leave South America

3. Create an immersive environment this summer full of movies, music, books and other media in that language. Reach out to native speakers on sites like LiveMocha.com for language exchanges. Find local resources. Be creative.
> I will be in South America. I guess it’s immersive enough unless I lock myself in my room.

4. Do a little bit, at least, every day
> Gulp.

5. Keep yourself motivated, by participating in our summer long language love-fest.
> A dessert after every milestone.

My problem with languages

I have a problem with speaking foreign languages.

I took Japanese and French while I was in school. Even though I can understand what people are saying and I have enough vocabulary, I am unwilling to speak to native speakers because I am afraid that I might butcher their language.

Of course, those are just excuses. I’ll be in South America and everyone would know that I am foreign. Perhaps they will be more forgiving when I pronounce things wrongly.

Will you join Bilingual Summer too?

Hola! Let’s learn Spanish.

Spanish in 30 Days

I’m travelling to South America some time next year and I want to be able to speak Spanish to help me go through life easier.

I went to a Spanish language school a few months back and quite enjoyed it. My four semesters of French made it easier to pick up the language compared to my other classmates who were were thrown into the deep end of the Spanish pool.

Even though the language school has higher level classes, I don’t think I am want to spend about S$300 to improve my Spanish.

Self studying Spanish

What will I do then? I plan to self study.

I’m a fan of self-proclaimed language hacker, Benny Lewis, who evangelizes speaking from day 1.

While I probably won’t be as hardcore as he is buy speaking from day 1, I plan to learn from his methods and do a lot of self studying.

Spanish in 30 Days
I don’t think I will be able to speak Spanish in 30 days.

I’ve borrowed some language books and CDs from the library which I can practise reading and listening from.

For more listening and vocabulary practice, I can check out Spanish versions of pop songs (although I’m not that sure of some of their accents).

I also discovered that my current-favorite TV show/band (Flight of the Conchords) has Spanish dubs. I’ve put up a playlist of Los conchords in Spanish. If I can get my hands on the lyrics, I’ll be able to learn new vocabulary.

If you are interested in laughing out loud to songs, I recommend:
– Fashion is Danger [English | Spanish]
– You Don’t Have to be a Prostitute [English | Spanish]
– Business Time [English | Spanish]

Even though it’s still too early, I have a Spanish version of Bridget Jones’s Diary which I bought second hand while in San Francisco. I have the English version, maybe I can do a side-by-side readings? My goal is to understand at least 50% of the content by the time I leave for South America.

Bridget Jones's Diary, en espanoil
Bridget Jones’s Diary, en espanoil

To end this post, I bring you the only Spanish song I know all the lyrics to.

Indie Travel Challenge
This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.

Week 43 of the Indie Travel Challenge is a challenge to start learning a new language:
Q: Do you speak two languages or more? What are those?
A: Fluent English, Mandarin Chinese and Malay. Conversational Japanese, French.

Check out my other #indie2012 posts.

Do you have any recommendations for beginners in Spanish?

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