27 Nov 15
I chose to stay at a camp site on Easter Island for a couple of reasons. There’s privacy in a tent of your own for one; the stars would be perfect and able to be appreciated only by camping for another but most importantly though, I figured the island would be so remote, camping would really be the best way to understand all it has to offer.
The whole island is a nature reserve and camping is sort of prohibited but regardless, highly recommended is Camping Mihinoa which provides a tent, sleeping bag and mattress for 6,500 Pesos (that’s < US$10). I picked a spot that’s sheltered from the sea winds by the ornamental rocks but which is smack in front of the ocean. Beautiful.
I’ve read that Easter Island is expensive. Food in general is slightly pricier than the mainland. I bought my food from Santiago just in case so I lived off fresh produce (which is definitely pricier on the island) and some tinned items in my 5 days stay. Still, food isn’t as expensive as claimed – you’d get a restaurant meal for about what you’d pay in the US or Europe and the most expensive groceries you’ll buy is probably water for about $3 a bottle. You can drink tap water anyway (it tastes a tat metallic but it’s drinkable).
Your other expenses are likely to be a car ride (or tours but do rent a car). That’s another reason why it’s great to stay on a camp site where you can group up really easily. Cars are expensive but rental is for a full 24h rather than the ambiguous ‘day’. Our rental + gas cost us something like 60,000 pesos in total but we drove to the ends of the island so it was still cheaper than tours. Also, I’ve never driven offroad before so it’s quite an experience.
I had intended initially to ride across the island on my uni. Distances are not great. There are 3 main loops – 20, 30 and 6km one way. It would take probably take a full day on the longest loop which isn’t too bad but the main reason why I didn’t choose to ride the longest loop is that there are no street lights after sunset and there’s no traffic outside of the main town. The island is apparently small enough that everyone knows each other and you can easily hitch a ride back to town but I didn’t feel confident enough to do that from my first day so I didn’t want to risk it.
On the days I did ride though, I think it wasn’t too bad an idea i decided to go by car. My first riding day was down south to the volcanic rim and Orongo National Park area. It was the shortest route, 6km but it was 6km of perpetual gradual uphill which was killer to say the least. Having not ridden properly for a couple of months, I didn’t actually realise I was falling sick so I just thought the hills were worse than usual. I walked most of the way uphill but rode most of the downhills.
The next day – and my last day, I took an easy day and rode just 2-3km just outside of town where some Moais are. There’s a huge plain and some offroad tracks that’s perfect for some quick fun. In general the roads are riddled with potholes and even the main parts of town have irregular roads so the terrain does make for some fun riding. There are some caves a short distance away from town that would be amazing to ride in as well. The paths are not long enough for mountain bikes but for unicycles, perfect. I didn’t get to trek in any of them on that day though since it was raining and the floor gets very wet and slippery when that happens.
15 Nov 15
There are some things you’ll never forget in life including, say that ‘Eureka’ moment when you first realised you can understand Language. I remember the exact moment I realised I can understand some Spanish. It was when, walking down the streets of Valencia, I was mistaken as a Thai prostitute. The first time you’re mistaken as a prostitute is also one of those moments in life you’ll never forget and that wasn’t the first time, just saying.
ANYWAY, for those of you not in the know, I’ve been meaning to learn Spanish since I was 13. Unfortunately, I have the attention span of a ok now where was I?
Right, I never got to learning Spanish but I’ve picked up words from here and there so I do understand simple words and also how to order from a menu – I’m a polyglot when it comes to menus. This time though, I intend to learn proper grammar so I’ve brought along a book to travel with. For me, the Latin American pronunciation is way easier to follow but everyone speaks so fast. In my 2 days here, I think I actually understand more of what’s going on around me. For instance, I totally understood when
- The lift attendant told me that the building is old so sometimes the lift doesn’t work. Like now (hahaha) so maybe we should call for help.
- A guy in the lift chats with me about my unicycle and says that he has a giraffe and juggles (something like that).
- This conversation happened:
- Hawker: Ni hao!
- Me: *smile and walk*
- Hawker: Konnichiwa
- Me: *smile and walk*
- Hawker: Sawadeeka?
- Me: *smile and walk*
- Hawker: Uh que pais?
- Me: Singapore.
- Hawker: Oh. *silence probably cos wtf is Singapore???*
- Because the stars align, I walk into some random circus in the outskirts of Santiago so of course I’d happen to have my unicycle. And I understood more or less what they’re saying but I don’t really know how to say anything.
So I left
14 Nov 15
It’s quite a coincidence my earlier travel-related post was about Morocco and that I spent the last weekend watching Chappie (I’ll talk about the movie in a later post) because I found myself back in the continent again after my original flight got cancelled and my new route became Singapore – Johannesburg – Sao Paulo.
The cost of my original flight was roughly SG$1600 (That’s roughly US$1.1k) which is a really good price and of course I would jump at a chance to be rerouted to a Singapore Airlines flight if nothing else.
My new initial plan was to take the Gautrain out of the airport to Sandton, a short ride away so I could make it back in time for my 5 hour transit. My arrival time was a bit disadvantageous though – I’d arrive at 6am and I’d leave at 11, presumably when shops actually open so I was still a little torn about whether to leave the airport.
Thankfully for indecisive folk like me, the airport made our minds up. Before I knew it, I had my passport stamped for transit and I was in the waiting area for the next flight. Well, at least there are shops, right?
I tried to change US$10 to buy me a cup of coffee. The counter lady informs me that ‘the network is down’ which basically meant I can’t change money. Oh well, I wouldn’t be able to purchase train tickets.
Most of the shops in the terminal centered around a safari theme.
I was told by a friend that I needed to get some biltong and droewors. I didn’t have money so that was out of the question.
Most items at the airport were actually… cheap by my standards (which is saying a lot, I’ll elaborate in a future post). An espresso would set you back $1 and water and beer costs about the same. You’d expect airports to jack up the prices so I do wonder how much things cost in the mainland.
I flew South African Airlines from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo. Food is surprisingly good. I was expecting more exotic fare but it’s either that South Africans eat very similarly to Singaporeans or the airline wanted tastes that are more suitable for international palettes.
Apparently, the region’s starting to get into wine production so there’s a couple of local wines that are offered on the flight. I didn’t get to try the white wines which is uncharacteristic I’d admit since I don’t really like red wine but these were really good. I liked how there’s a strong barrel taste even though the tiny inflight bottles were screw-capped.
10 Nov 15
(Rant post alert)
The first time I applied for a freelance position was when I was 18. I knew I could write reasonably well and I loved video games so after a lot of research, I figured I could make it work. I’ll be forever indebted to the webzine (and later print magazine) that took me in with paid work. I’ll remember too the peripheral incidents thereafter which set the tone for how freelance work is really like.
My aim then was to pay off my university tuition. I found another startup magazine looking for game reviewers so I sent in an inquiry (at that time, these were done through an online forum). Days later after starting a flame war centering around the topic of why I’m such a big shot I deserve to actually be paid rather than be grateful for my name in the credits, I quit the forum. The magazine is still available today and the editorial standards are completely embarrassing to say the least.
At some point in university, one of my friends had a one-off task for magazine layout. I did it at some rate I can’t recall and was told later that that client bailed out on payment and they’re sorting it out with them. I bailed out on dates and spent a couple of weekends on campus to get that done and this. It’s a friend and I was young so I let things slip. I’d never be that dumb again.
While in university and early in my working life where money was a scarcity, I was a freelance entertainer too. I’d juggle or unicycle and freelancer rates were good. I maintain that I’ve never worked a day in my life where I felt my job was a pain and I still believe so. That said, the only pain that existed was where money was concerned. You’ve never heard the most ridiculous excuses and unreasonable requests from actual people until you’re in a position where your employers think you’re their well, clown.
I’ve had a large corporation bring midgets to me for unicycling lessons; I’ve had another large corporation ask me why I’m charging money when I should be working for “pocket-money”; I’ve had clients delay payment because they’re caught up with the paperwork (for months); I’ve had clients tell me that since they’re paying me, I should be on my unicycle, screw gravity, even if the crowd is practically manhandling me because of lack of space. From all of this, you’ll pick up skills like how to tell when a client is unpleasant or has a chance of not paying up and you’ll put in effort accordingly.
Fast forward to today and I’m a game designer for hire. I started taking up offers about 3 months ago and boy, has it been fun. My first client wanted to make money. MONEY! MONEY! GIMME MONEY! I explained that well, let’s start a process and we can get there because that’s more polite than, uhm, if I can tell you how to be rich without your effort at no risk, it would definitely not be anything involving game development.
I cut my hours in half even to cater to their budget. After an initial consultation, I followed up, no reply. I sent a courtesy email. No reply. Nothing thereafter. Well, at least they paid me so it’s good.
Then my next clients. I don’t even know what their deal is but a week into it, I supposedly don’t meet their standards because I wasn’t able to write up a document that I was given a 2 week deadline on, in 4 days.
I hope I get paid.
Everyone who’s ever freelanced has their stories from hell. It makes me want to hire people on a freelance basis too because it sounds almost too easy to be a complete asshole and get work done for a pittance. Maybe I should do that.
31 Oct 15
I’ve been looking up camping this week and got reminded of my time in Morocco. I made a detour to Marrakesh 3 years ago and heard so much positive things about the place. It was supposedly a good introduction to how Africa is and words like ‘exotic’, ‘flavor’, ‘atmosphere’ were thrown around so much around the internet that I really did buy into it.
In retrospect, the main thing that ruined the trip for me was the heat. In Singapore, we’re perpetually in a high-humidity, 26-32 degrees Celsius type of weather but that has no competition for the type of heat you’d get in the Sahara in the middle of summer.
The thing is, you usually look up your next accommodation from the comforts of an air-conditioned couch even in a hostel. You’ll be munching on some chips, surfing the net and EVERYTHING YOU SEE looks great. If your hostel looks like this, you’d think words like ‘exotic’, ‘chill’, ‘atmosphere’.
I had stayed in a really budget ‘hostel’ in Marrakesh which is really a riad. Riads are basically houses built around a courtyard in the middle which is supposed to disperse heat from the surrounding rooms. In the riad I was at, there was no aircon and there was ONE fan to share in the room. It was also 40 degrees and I swear I’ve never in my life experienced air that still. There was a steadfast blanket of heat around me and it’s made worse by the thick carpeted mattresses that we slept on.
Living in the heat automatically puts you in this really shitty mood on landing at the airport. There aren’t public buses as far as I could tell and I had to use one of the overpriced cabs. It wasn’t too bad a move either because there’s really no directions anywhere in town. Once you’re in town for a couple of days you’ll figure out where to go but til then, no signs no nothing but you can rely on this.
One of the sights I’ve consistently noted being raved about are the souks or markets. They’re hustle and bustle and most fun. In fact, one of my earliest memories of Morocco, nerd that I am, was from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis which had a puzzle portion where you followed a guy through the confusing souks. I loved that game and was sure I’d love this too.
I liked the colors of the souks. I’d have taken more photos if I didn’t feel as intimidated by the bombardment of hawkers and store-owners who’re telling me to buy everything in sight (possibly because I was walking around with an older lady who’s too white and too smiley for our good). I’d revisit the area again with ironically, a fresh, preppy white American dude and we actually got harassed less so maybe it’s vibes too. I did really like the food there which involves lots of couscous and vegetables and stewed meats and sometimes kebabs.
I’m quite used to spices and stewed foods as a Singaporean who eats pretty much everything so there’s nothing particularly weird about the foods though I did note that the Australian couple with me on the tour group to the Sahara wanted everything with fries. You’ll find staples like this everywhere and they’re cheapest around and about in the markets.
Speaking of markets, I remember looking them up online and the sights we see are closer to photos like these
In reality, most photos are closer to scenes like this.
My photos are shit, I know that. Why are they so far away and terrible, you ask? Because there are touts bugging me to buy something when I whip out my camera and I don’t like being surrounded by a horde when I’m travelling solo. I’ve learnt one thing about travel blogs – when the pics are too good and the experience is fantastic, chances are 1) the blogger’s travelling as a group, probably in a tour group or 2) the blogger has a good camera and even when pics are massively cropped, still look good.
In my 2 days in Marrakesh, I made up my mind to skip Fez and travelling southwards and fly back to Madrid after a Sahara tour (which anyone sane would need to do). I don’t know if it’s a bad decision but regardless of your feelings about Morocco, you’ll want to camp in the Sahara.
The standard Sahara tour brings you to Ouazazarte. It’d pass through M’Hamid and of course you’ll have to pay more for extras like entrance fees and whatnots to wherever and some part of your itinerary will depend on if your tour group members are game enough for it. I booked my tour with the hostel and I think the hostels/hotels in the area work with the same travel agencies anyway and you’ll be charged according to how much you can afford.
I booked a one night package that involved camping in a tent but the whole group decided that the tents were too hot to stay indoors so we lugged our mattresses out and slept open-faced under the stars. No bugs, no wild animals. It’s too hot for anything to want to bite you. If you’re used to camps with some semblance of a bath, well, you’re in the Sahara where water IS scarce so no baths.
We watched the stars and fell asleep as a blanket of fine sand and heat cascaded over us. We woke in the morning, sandy, sticky and a little parched but I think that might have been the happiest time I’ve had in Morocco. Sleeping outdoors also means everyone will be awake by sunrise and can watch the sun peek out from the dunes before the heat engulfs your soul.
In retrospect, again, I think Morocco can be worth a revisit. I remember feeling very tired at having to reject shop owners at every turn and having to bargain for water at every shop but outside of Marrakesh, if you speak a little French, you’ll get by better and of course there are sights like these to marvel at.
In retrospect of course.