In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dash through the New World - Part 2, Peru

The second month of my travels in South America this Summer was spent in Peru, known mostly for the pre-colonial Inca civilisation and Machu Picchu. I got back to the UK mid August for a Zoology field trip in Holt, Norfolk, and while I drafted parts of this post during the field trip, I didn't have much time and the field trip has ended. Currently in Iceland, trying to catch up on my backlog of posts I meant to write... 

It's been very tempting to just sweep aside that past month, but I find that blogging helps consolidates my thoughts and makes me reflect on my experiences, so here goes an attempt to recall the past month. Squishing a whole month of experiences and thoughts into a blogpost is always tough and so I apologise in advance if it gets draggy.

View of the Andes from the airplane

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

I went for the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, an alternative trek that was highly recommended. The traditional Inca trail is supposed to have more ruins on route, whereas the Salkantay trek is mostly for the mountain scenery. I was rather unsure if I should be doing a 5D4N hike after just 1 night of acclimatisation, cos Cusco is about 3300 masl and Salkantay will entail going up to 4500 masl. But having already planned to do it and not really wanting to abort plans, I went for it anyway. Scouted around the afternoon I arrived for treks leaving the next day, and found a company that offered me US$200 + $25 for sleeping bag and hiking poles rental + $25 to change my return train to an earlier timing (1pm instead of 7pm). Kinda on the lower end of prices, a couple I met later on apparently paid US$350+ for the trek, but they also had better service, I think. Also, it turns out that it was more of a 5D5N hike, cos if you don't change the train to an earlier timing, you'll probably get back to Cusco about 10pm, or even up to 1am. I was leaving for my volunteering stint the next day and wanted a good night's sleep, so ended up paying to change to an earlier train.

Horse just minding it's own business.
Day 1
Started at 4am, for the pick up. Then a 2 hour bus ride to the starting point of Mollepata, where we had breakfast. There were about 20+ of us in the group, and I later discovered we all booked our tours with different tour operators, and paid slightly different prices. After breakfast, we set off on the hike. It turned out that drinking water wasn't provided (and neither was toilet paper), and we would either have to buy bottled water, or purify tap water for ourselves. For some (stupid) reason or other, I decided that I would drink purified tap water and proceeded to fill my bottle. A decision I later regretted...
It was quite a nice walk, a fair bit of uphill, but it started raining about midday. We got to the campsite at Soraypampa, 3880 masl. It was really cold, and I was glad our tents were pitched under this huge canvas sheet that blocked most of the wind so we were nice and warm. And the sleeping bag I got from the trekking company was really good and warm too (: The night sky was amazing, filled with thousands of stars that make identifying constellations an impossible task. And I don't really know constellations in the Southern hemisphere (or anywhere really) in the first place anyway :P But we could see the milky way quite nicely, and it was just amazing.

The start of the trek, before it started pouring on us.

Day 2
We were prepped that this would be the most difficult day of the hike, entailing 9-10 hours of walking. We would be going up Salkantay pass, then a little downhill before lunch, before another 2-3 hours of downhill walking to our campsite for that night. I had no idea it was going to be as difficult as it was for me though, nor as horrible. 
We got up nice and early, and set off for the pass. The view wasn't as stunning as one would have hoped, for it was rather cloudy. Our guide gave us some coca leaves to chew on, and I did not like it at all :/ The going was really quite steep, and I was getting exhausted and lagging behind everyone else. Eventually though, I got up to the pass, we got a quick group shot, before heading back down towards lunch. I was feeling rather better (than the uphill climb), but was still lagging behind everyone else. By the time I got to lunch, I was thoroughly exhausted and had no appetite, and so just sat there watching everyone else have their lunch. Tried to eat a bit of the pasta but didn't have much success. I was getting really cold as well, and felt like throwing up, and people thought it might be the altitude, so I took half a Diamox pill. As everyone else got up to continue the journey though, I was feeling completely numb and weak and incapable of walking, and very very thankfully, one of my trek mates (my tent buddy!) had rented the mule for the day and kindly let me sit on it for the trek down to the campsite. There was absolutely no way I would have made it to the camp site that day if not for her kindness, and I'm super thankful for that. 
The mule ride was not particularly enjoyable, I was desperately trying to stay on the mule and not fall off cos my limbs were feeling rather numb and incapable of holding on. Even after getting to the campsite, our tents weren't made yet, so I couldn't crawl into my sleeping bag and sleep. Threw up several times rather violently in the evening, while trying to sleep the sick feeling off. All in all, not a pleasant night/day :/ 

Start of the day.

Our guide Edwin giving us coca leaves.
Late morning/mid day, at the top of the pass. So cloudy you could barely see anything :/


Day 3
Got up feeling a little better, the charcoal pill that another one of my trek mates gave me the night before worked and I was no longer throwing up (: This was also the last proper hiking day. The weather was a lot better, with clear blue skies and it was really hot and sunny. Towards mid day though, I was starting to feel the exhaustion again, and I was really glad to arrive in Santa Teresa for lunch. We parted with the people doing the 4D tour (instead of our 5D one) after lunch, and waited for the minibus to return to bring us to our campsite. We waited for a really long while, during which I napped, but by the time I got to the campsite I was feeling ill again, and while some of the rest in our group went to the hot springs, I huddled in all my layers in my sleeping bag and raged a fever. Eventually the fever broke, and I slept through the night, though that campsite seemed to be a particularly happening one, and was playing quite a lot of party/club music. 

Pretty awesome view from our campsite before setting off in the morning

Day 4
The last bit of hiking, though mostly on roads and rail way track. There was the option of taking the zipline and cutting out 2 hours of walking, for US$70, but I was too cheap/poor for that, so just walked with the rest of the group. It was a really nice day as well, clear and sunny, but it made walking on roads really uncomfortable. It was also the first time in a while I felt good enough to chat with my trek mates while walking, and so managed to have some conversation along the way instead of just monologuing in my head.
Even so, by the time we got to Aguas Calientes, I was desperately needing the toilet, and dashed into the first building I saw, which happened to be a really nice hotel, and again was the last to arrive and join the group. Felt well enough to explore the town a little before and after dinner though, and was also pretty glad we were staying in a hostel that night, where there was wifi. I also managed to catch up with a Singaporean couple who were also doing the Salkantay trek (albeit with a more expensive tour company) whom I met the day before on the trek, always nice to hear the familiar accent (: 

When the weather is beautiful, the trek is really quite awesome

The hidroelectrica railway track

Machu Picchu is located on that dip between the two peaks there, or so I was told...

Day 5
Finally the day that we were all looking forward to, when we finally arrive at Machu Picchu. The rest of my group decided to do the final stretch of walking up, but though I was no longer feeling sick, I still didn't think my body was up for it, and so "cheated" by taking the tourist bus instead. Joined the queue at 5am, and was on the 5th bus up. The lining up and boarding of bus were pretty efficient, though there was already a queue outside the gates of Machu Picchu formed by the trekkers. Some in my group were literally the first in line! 
Machu Picchu was really pretty, I particularly liked the sunrise over the mountain range. Our tour guide gave us a quick tour of some landmarks, then we were free to roam around as long as we made it back for our return train. A few of us climbed up to the sun gate after the tour, where you get a really nice view of everything and made the stair-climbing up worth it. I couldn't stay too long cos my return train was at 1pm, and I decided I would save the US$10 and walk back down to Aguas Calientes, which didn't take as long as I expected. The train ride back to Ollataytambo was pretty luxurious and really scenic, which is why I guess the cheap tours organise the return trains at night when there wasn't much to see and tickets were probably cheaper. 

Just a typical "I've been there!" photo

Really awesome trek mates (minus the 4D people) :) 

View from the sun gate.
After a night in Cusco, I left for Villa Carmen biological station the next day.

Volunteering with Association para la Conservacion de la Cuenca Amazonia (ACCA) 

Villa Carmen (VC) is one of three biological stations run by ACCA, located fairly close to Manu National Park, within the buffer zone. I had originally intended to volunteer at Wayqecha cloud forest biological station, but was told that there weren't many volunteers there at that moment and the science coordinator was on leave during the same period, and so decided to go to VC instead. 
View of Villa Carmen and the surrounding area from the top of one of the trails
The mischievous pair of Scarlet macaws that used to be someone's pets and now hang around the station.

A gondola/cable car that connects the two sides of the river.

The river Piñi Piñi is super tempting to swim in on a nice hot day.
The land used to belong to a guy who used to run a small domestic airlines, but a couple of his planes crashed. Not sure if this was one of them though..



I spent a little more than 2 weeks there, and it was pretty nice. Much warmer weather, compared to Cusco, though for the first few days after I arrived, there was a cold spell. The nearby town, Pilcopata, runs on hydroelectric power, and the dam was under repair/maintenance/improvement works during the period as well, and so we went without main electricity/internet. I didn't mind much, rather enjoy these periods of disconnection, though my parents were probably rather worried :/

Cute fluffy little chick! At the native Indian village near the biological station.

I think this is the cat eyed snake.

Capybara! But not wild, it was being taken care of by this animal shelter not too far from the station (1 hour walk). Though I'm not sure what animal shelter this was, cos the animals didn't seem injured or anything.

So cool to see cicada just after it has moulted and emerged!


VC had lots of visitors, which made staying there rather interesting as there were always new people to talk to. There was a hymenopterist conference in Cusco, and some of them came to VC to collect specimens afterwards, and I went out with some of them during their stay here, which was pretty fun. Most of my time though was spent looking for tadpoles and frogs and snakes, as the volunteer coordinator for ACCA was trying to compile a checklist for species found at that station. 
Update: A Troschel's tree frog (Hypsiboas calcaratus) previously mislabelled as Hypsiboas geographicus

Sunset, while lazing on the banks of the river Pilcopata.
Another amazing view of the area from another hike up the mountain.

All in all, it was pretty fun, with nice long hikes to waterfalls, swims in the river and various others. I will get round to blogging more about the biological side of things at some point, together with my experience at Bilsa biological station in Ecuador.


I did manage to spend a few days at Wayqecha cloud forest, which was between VC and Cusco anyway. There really were very few people at Wayqecha, mainly just 2 students from Lima conducting a research project and 1/2 staff. However I really enjoyed my time there, where all I did was go for solitary walks after breakfast and lunch, and I can take my own time to walk at my pace, enjoy the scenery, listen to the calls of the forest, admire the moss gardens, write in my journal and just chill. The cloud forest is really beautiful and picturesque, though it did get pretty cold at night, and I was rather reluctant to leave, especially cos I knew I wouldn't be getting this kind of experience again in a while. 

The cloud forest

Awesome moss garden!

Back in Cusco, I spent most of my time walking around the city, visiting the Inka museum and the tiny natural history museum, and I was really proud of myself for finding places that sold nice cheap food (just 5/6 soles, or a little more than a pound).

The next day was spent in Quito in transit, slept in the airport cos the plane touched down at 1am and I was too lazy/cheap to find a hostel to sleep in for a couple of hours. Went to the city for the day though, via public transport, managed to make it to the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary mass, visited El Panecillo (which I managed in my previous blogpost that I meant to visit), the vivarium for snakes and amphibians, and their natural history museum too. Rather productive, I thought.

The two months in Ecuador and Peru have been amazing, and I can't quite believe how fast time flew. The whole of this summer has been passing pretty quickly in fact, and I can't seem to keep up with my blogging. But this post is long and draggy enough, and I want to sleep, so that's it for now (: 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dash through the New World - Part 1, Ecuador

 I am travelling through Ecuador and Peru this summer. Left London on 19 June, and will get back to London on 16 August. I'm writing this post as I travel, though to be honest it's almost a month since I left the UK and had yet to blog. 

So the overall plan was/is: UK --> Bilsa Biological Station (within Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve in the province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador) --> Quito --> Galápagos Islands --> Cusco --> Machu Picchu --> Wayqecha Cloud Forest (near Cusco, Peru) --> UK (Holt, Norfolk for Zoology field trip) --> Iceland --> Spain? --> UK

Part 1 - Ecuador

I booked my flights in January/February - prices were still kinda alright, but having to plan travels during school term meant I overlooked some stuff. 
Lesson #1 Book multi-city tickets if arriving and leaving from different places! I booked 2 one-way tickets instead and it cost me some $100 more. Felt so dumb when I realised this. 

So as always with booking cheap long-haul flights, it's a trade off between cost and transit time. In my case, I chose to try and keep things as cheap as possible and ended up with lots of transits - 1 night in Madrid and 1 night in Cusco. 

Upon arrival in Quito, I was supposed to be picked up at the airport by someone sent by Fundacíon Jatun Sacha, a local NGO that runs conservation programmes in 5 different stations in Ecuador, of which Bilsa was one. I waited for 45 mins, and nada (nothing). So I decided to take a taxi to the office myself, since I thought I was gonna go there anw. Arrived at the office to find out that it was closed, and cos I thought they had arranged for me to stay with a host family or sth that night, I had not booked a hostel prior. So I ended up just asking the taxi driver to bring me to a hostel near the bus station. 
Lesson #2 it's a great idea to have at least a basic grasp of the language of the place you're travelling to. Or a dictionary. The taxi driver didn't speak English and all I had was my super basic and broken Spanish. But hey, at least I got the message across somehow. 

Booked myself on the inter-city bus ($6) from Quito to Quininde, left the next day. Was a 5-6 hour journey, clean and comfortable enough, with a number of stops where they waited long enough for you to pop to the loo/get some snacks. In Quininde, the org had given some rather vague directions on how to proceed from there, along the lines of "wait at the pharmacy opposite the gas station. There are usually a lot of trucks parked there, and one will leave for La Y de la Laguna every 1-2 hours. Check that it is going to La Y before getting on." Waiting there, I was stressing out that the last one would have left without me knowing (no one there speaks English). But thankfully people around were nice enough to let me know when the truck to La Y arrived. 
Lesson #3 there are some genuinely nice people who want to help (esp if you look like a lost foreigner I guess...) and I have been blessed to meet many of these people. But still, be cautious cos some may want to rip you off etc. 

Truck (known as rancherio?) arrived and I hopped on quick as I could, and could thankfully find a seat with my bags piled on me (and the boy sitting next to me offered to help with one). Other people were standing at the back or on top along with squawking chickens and gas cylinders and what not. Would have been a very uncomfortable 2 hours. 
The rancherio/truck from Quininde to the little towns/villages around the area

At La Y (a small village) I was to "look for Mr. XX and follow the instructions that was sent for me". The guy wasn't around, and once again I was 'stranded' (I was supposed to get to Bilsa that night). Thankfully someone else figured I was a volunteer with Bilsa and showed me a place to stay and eat and stuff. I was so hungry (had a bar for lunch), and I wasn't sure what the 'restaurant' had, I asked for "anything". They gave me fried plantains and a huge omelette - with cheese in it :(  Met the guy later on to arrange the ride for the next day. 
Lesson #4 They put cheese in everything (including soups, as I discovered later), and things never go as planned. But then again, we always knew that. 

Finally left for Bilsa the next day, in a rather beaten-up truck. Got stuck in the mud, took at least 30 mins I think to get out. The truck then dropped us off at a minute village called Santa Isabel, from where I had to proceed on foot. There happened to be a guy with a mule going the same direction so he carried my big backpack for me. I struggled in the mud, didn't have the foresight to change into my wellies (rubber boots) before heading off, so it was a pretty horrible walk. Thankfully there were a couple other guys heading to their own village on the way who helped me along. Eventually got to Bilsa after maybe an hour plus of walking/struggling/cursing internally. 
The truck got stuck in the mud for like 45 mins or so.

The muddy road in to Bilsa. Trust me you don't want to get stuck in one of those. I had to dig my wellies out once.


At Bilsa for the next 18 or so days, pretty uneventful. The place is really isolated and peaceful, which I really enjoyed. Bilsa is some 4000 hectares of private reserve established since 1957?, set within Mâché-Chindul which is a government reserve. A lot of studies have been done in Bilsa, especially bird diversity surveys, and Bilsa is one of 17 biodiversity hotspots. I was expecting that there would be several researchers there conducting their projects and I would be able to tag along and help out, learn what they're doing etc. Unfortunately, I was most disappointed, and most of Bilsa's current projects revolve around planting seeds (whether fruit or native trees or medicinal plants). I decided to spend some time teaching English in the village school (Escuela Bilsa) and the rest of the time planting seeds (or associated work like making compost, putting sticks around a soon-to-be garden etc). There was an American phd student from Tulane University with a bunch of research assistants at the station as well, and I spent a day out in the field with them, which was really fun. He was studying the dispersal of one of the native palms, whose seeds are part of the diet of an endemic bird, the long-wattled umbrella bird. I also had 2 days of hiking in the forest, which was super awesome. Didn't see many animals while we were in, but during the 2.5 weeks I spent there, I saw lots of birds, frogs, some snakes, lots of insects and other critters. Including my first hummingbird and toucan! Super exciting. 

Histrionic poison arrow frog (Oophaga sylvatica)

Megasoma actaeon, I think?

Hiking through the South American jungle (:

View from one of the disused dorms. We saw a sloth climbing down a tree (presumably to pee/poop?) at dusk one day (:

Equally exciting, I actually watched 3 of the World Cup matches while I was there. Had to walk 20 mins trying to avoid getting stuck in the mud, then watch black and white TV with lots of static - can't say I don't really care about football! Though tbh it's more cos 1) was the Ecuador match 2) was the USA match and 3) was the quarter finals. I can't rmb which right now, oops 

Trying to watch the world cup.


Also read quite a bit there, learnt some Ecuadorean card games and such. I was rather reluctant to leave, cos I would have liked to do more field research and see more animals, and the company was great, but at the same time I knew my parents were rather worried about the lack of communication and I was disappointed enough about being 'short-changed' (cos the organisation explicitly told me Bilsa was where there was lots of research being done that I could help with) that I didn't really want to stay longer and give them more money. 

Anyway, so left Bilsa, and walked back to Santa Isabel, where I was supposed to be picked up by the same guy with the truck at 1pm. He showed up about 2pm. I meant to catch the rancherio back to Quininde city at 3pm but well that did not happen, and I had to wait an hour plus for the next one instead. Wasn't complaining too much cos well I can't really, and 2 of my students were also headed to Quininde with their mom so I whiled away my time talking and entertaining them. 
Lesson #5 Ecuador time is different from standard time. Give 1-2 hours buffer for everything. 
Two of my students, their mum (who was really keen to learn English too) and me


Stayed over at Quininde (Hotel Costa, super nice owner whose grand daughter was around when I was and showed me where the bus station was and brought me there to get my ticket), and made my way back to Quito the next morning. 

Quito is really picturesque, especially the historic centre (centro historico), lots of pretty churches side by side all crammed into a tiny area, with alleyways going upslope and downslope all the time. It's pretty easy to figure your way around once you get the hang of the street system. The roads stretch forever, pretty much like in NYC but with names like "Chile" and "9 de Deciembre"... 

Meant to spend the only whole day I had in Quito going up El Panecillo, where there's a huge statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city, to the vivarium to check out the collection of herpetofauna and exploring the rest of the historic centre / Mariscal Sucre (the new town) but all that went down the drain when my bank cards gave me issues at the ATMs. Spent most of the day trying to find a solution instead, and credit to HSBC Premier for really trying to help, though I think they need to fix the problem first (still can't draw money from any ATM, whether in Ecuador or Peru...)
Lesson #6 have a back up plan for getting money! Western Union is super awesome (IMO) cos they saved me from... Starvation and being stranded in a foreign country. With WU, you can get someone to wire money to you, and you collect it from the nearest agent. 
View of the statue of the Virgin Mary on El Panecillo from the city

Eventually I got what I needed, just in time to leave for the Galápagos islands (it's an archipelago of islands, of which 4 are inhabited - Santa Cruz, with the largest population, Isabela, the largest island, San Cristobal, the provincial capital and Floreana). Easily the most expensive leg of the trip, cos flights + ferry rides + accomms + food are all pretty pricey. When leaving Guayaquil for Baltra, there's a $10 fee for some kind of immigration card, and your bags all need to get screened just in case you're bringing introduced species over. On arrival, the $100 park fee is paid in cash. So I flew into Baltra, then had to take a shuttle bus (free) to the port, a ferry ride ($1) and a bus ($2) to Puerto Ayora, which is the main town on Santa Cruz. It's also possible to fly into San Cristobal, but I think the flights are less frequent. Anw, I had no clue what to do once I touched down and just followed the crowd, and it was easy for me (just one person) to squeeze onto the buses. The shuttle bus was a short ride, but the one to Puerto Ayora was about 40 mins. If you miss it, you'll have to pay $18 for a taxi instead. 

My expectations for Galapagos was sky high, cos of all the stories I've heard and read. And by and large, I wasn't disappointed. The Galapagos sea lions are everywhere, as were the marine iguanas and brown pelicans, and I sighted the Blue-footed boobies, Galápagos penguins, Great Frigatebirds, some of Darwin's Finches. The Nazca boobies I only saw on one outcrop, Union Rock, during the Los Tuneles tour when I was on Isabela. But the disappointing bit was the snorkels - everyone came back gushing about the rays and sharks and turtles etc, but I barely saw any :( the few days I was out snorkelling we had pretty crappy weather, and the vis was quite bad. I wished I had the time (and money!) to go diving at least once, cos the wildlife sightings are a lot more spectacular! A bunch of Brits I met went on a 9 day dive cruise and saw whale sharks 4 times! And apparently at Gordon Rocks, there is always a school of hammerhead sharks... There weren't many corals - from what I was told, about 90% of the corals got wiped out during the last El Niño (1998) and they never recovered :( but I did get to snorkel with the sea lions and a penguin and some really huge Pacific Green Turtles so overall it wasn't too bad. 

A Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) snoozing on the bench (cos why not?)

A lazy Galapagos marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) chilling on the ground

A blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii

One of Darwin's finches, I'm sure...


I spent most days on Santa Cruz, where things are cheaper (hostel for $10/night, possible to find food for $4, though most cost between $8-15. Though if you cook it of course makes things cheaper.) I spent one night at Isabela, where the cheapest hostel was $15 (hostel pasado del caminante, wifi was rather crappy but they did have unlimited supply of oranges). The ferry ride there (2 hours) cost $25, which I bargained down from $30, and was at 7am. But they don't tell you about the boat taxi from the pier to the ferry which cost $0.50 at Santa Cruz and $1 at Isabela, and it was a horrible ferry ride. I usually love boat rides, but felt rather horrible halfway through it. The ferry back cost $30 cos I bought the ticket right before it was about to leave, at 3pm the next day. Went for the Los Tuneles tour in the morning, where we mostly snorkelled around the lava formations looking for sharks in caves (only saw one unfortunately), and saw lots of blue footed boobies. 

Didn't really have enough time to visit all the attractions, only went to Tortuga Bay (a very nice beach but the way there isn't really marked) and the Charles Darwin research centre, as well as the Tour de Bahía (bay tour). Would have been nice to explore the highlands a bit, and go diving!

Ecuador overall is a really really nice country (muy bonito!) and I have not gotten mugged/had any unpleasant experiences (apart from the bank issue). I honestly thought, before coming over, that I was sure to get robbed at some point in Quito, from the stories I read online. But I guess prudence and prayers paid off :) 
The people I've met here have all been really nice as well, from super helpful locals to other travellers. Travelling alone has some downsides (fewer eyes to watch out for danger/belongings, fewer discounts...) but also it makes people more willing to chat to strangers, and make friends (:

Part 2 - Peru

From Galapagos I flew to Guayaquil to Lima and now Cusco. 

It is cold here, 3399m above sea level. Feeling a bit of the altitude, but really hoping me having gone up higher before will mean I won't get altitude sickness, especially during the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu (I first heard about it here, I think), which I'm starting tomorrow. Super glad there's hot water for showering!

[Update 18 Aug 2014: Put in captions and added links in this post. Gonna write a new post for the rest of Peru, will link once I'm done.]

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Happy national day!

19,122 km, or about half a world away, friends and family back home are celebrating national day! It's my third year running that I'm out of the country during national day (in 2012, I was in the Philippines, 2013, South Africa, 2014, Peru), but that national pride hasn't died. In fact, the more I travel, and the more people I meet, the more national identity I feel. 

One of the things I really enjoy about travelling (especially when alone) is meeting people and chatting with them, and when they're interested, telling them all about Singapore. How we're a tiny country/city (about the size of NYC), how English is kinda our first language (tho I never thought about it that way previously) tho we all still learn our mother tongue, how life is like in Singapore, our laws and cost of living and educational system and wildlife and especially food and Singlish! :) basically everything I think is quintessential to being Singaporean. Or how I identify myself and fellow compatriots. 

And when you're travelling in a place as far from Singapore as South America, which is not only geographically far but also a continent that far fewer Singaporeans travel to, as compared to North America and Europe, hearing that familiar accent is always comforting. In the month and a half or so that I've been here, I've met just 3 Singaporeans, a guy travelling solo through S. Am whom I met in the Galapagos and a couple who was also hiking the Salkantay trek though with a different group. 

I found it interesting how you can usually tell when meeting Singaporeans overseas whether they studied overseas or locally. Cos for example when I talk to non-Singaporeans (and Malaysians), I usually end up speaking with a weird 'international school' (or chapalang) accent, which I've been told sounds North American/British and is some mix of both. It's incredibly difficult for me to talk to them in a Singaporean accent, cos for the most part they don't get what I'm saying anw. But Singaporeans who study locally don't have this issue, tho to be fair I have friends who still always speak in Singaporean English. 

It seems to me that there are various kinda of Singaporeans that you might meet overseas. On one end, you get those who hate everything Singaporean and went overseas to get away from it and try to avoid their roots (I personally haven't met any, tho that girl who became briefly famous/infamous for some of her non-nationalistic remarks after her kpop contest thing seems to fall in this category). Then I guess on the other end you get those who think singapore is the best at everything and don't appear to embrace local culture and try and understand and appreciate it (also haven't really met someone like this haha). And in between, I suppose most people, like me, fall in this category, you get those who enjoy learning about and appreciating new and foreign cultures, but at the same time feel proud of my own heritage and distinct culture. I never tire of sharing what Singapore and being Singaporean is like, and there's nothing more satisfying than knowing that you made a good impression of Singapore on others and they would love to come visit. And I only wish they could see my Facebook feed and realise how awesome our wildlife is despite Singapore being highly urbanised. 

It's almost the end of the day in Singapore now, tho it's kinda just starting here in Peru. I'm off to look for tadpoles and frogs in the forest here, but I'll be thinking of our little patch of rainforest and our reefs and seagrass meadows, and wishing I were home celebrating with family and friends, especially the annual National Day cleanup run by international coastal cleanup singapore! 


Happy national day! Photo taken and sent to me by my dad :)