Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Spanish lessons in Mexico City

So on my second week in Mexico, I decided to sign up for Spanish language lessons. This was a 3 week course and I had decided to do it in Mexico City itself with the wish that I would reap the benefits for the rest of my journey through Mexico as well as the rest of Latin American.

I joined the University of Lasalle as the timing was right. It started right as I was returning from my short trip to Guanajuato, and it was only 3 weeks long. The other course I had shortlisted was 6 weeks long with UNAM, the local university. All in for the course with Lasalle, I paid 5200MXN, approximately 130sgd. This included 15 hrs of classes weekly from Monday to Friday in the morning and an additional hour of group conversation on Wednesday afternoons. I have to admit learning spanish has not been quite as easy as I'd anticipated. The grammer is totally different from english which is a pain when you think in english and try to translate directly by simply replacing the words into español. Thats before we even get into the aspect of masculine and feminine terms and the multiple conjugations.

Prior to starting, I was thinking it would be smooth sailing and I would spend half a day in class and the other half exploring the city of México. Lets just say that in the past 3 weeks, between class and homework, going to the supermarket to get groceries I pretty much the most exploring I've done. I keep forgetting words ive learnt and on multiple occasions in the same day, I may have checked a words definition upwards of twenty times only to forget it minutes if not seconds later. I did manage to go for some meetups though. Especially friday nights where I'd join a local language exchange at a cafe in Condesa, one of the districts in Cuidad de México.

Well now that the course is over, I still struggle with Spanish. My ear isnt tha great and I generally can't catch what is being said. I can ask questions,  but even though I may know the words in the reply, I generally can't catch them all! Most likely in a few more stops,  I am going to have to sign up for another course in spanish.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Budget carriers.

One of the problems with travelling on the fly with no set itinerary is that when you choose not to take the long haul buses and decide to fly, plane ticket prices can really jump in price. Generally I've found that once it's under 2 weeks, even the budget carriers can cost more than the full fare ones. For my time in New Orleans, I had chosen to fly by Spirit Air as with only about 3-4 days before I had decided to fly, they were by far the cheapest option. I must say I have been really unlucky with this carrier though. Somewhat disappointed with the service but I guess you get what you pay for. On my flight into New Orleans from California, the first flight was delayed and the counter staff were not aware of the fact that I would not be able to catch my onward flight until I brought it up. This is despite there being another 8 passengers who had been sold the same connection! I was already mentally prepared to miss my flight but prior to landing, the pilot made an announcement to say that they would be holding our connecting flight as there were quite a few of us and we were only 15mins late. All the other passengers were also gracious, letting us disembark from the plane first. So the bunch of us quickly got off once the door was opened and rushed over to the next gate , only to be told they had not held our flight. In terms of reimbursement, Spirit is really good. They will refund you any ticket immediately. But I guess they know that anything else is going to be a few hundred dollars more.  And they dont provide you with any meal vouchers or accommodation. Thus I took up their offer to reroute me through Dallas and then New Orleans. Well the funny thing is all of their other flights were delayed, leaving 2-3hrs after their listed times. Which really makes me wonder why they could not hold a flight for 15mins. The only flight that left on time was the one which left without 9 passengers. Thus a 3hr journey ended up with me seeing 4 different airports and taking a total of 22hrs. 

I am aware that sometimes screw ups happen and thus on my outward leg, I decided to give Spirit Air another shot. Guess what, they cancelled my flight. I had to pay for my own transport back to town, pay for another night and get myself back to the airport 24hrs later. 

Oh. That flight got delayed too. 2.5hrs late.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Long overdue update and my maiden seaplane flight.

It's been a long time since I posted anything and I've actually got a few articles still in draft stage. All on the back burner as currently I've been on the road since last October. 1 Month in Japan followed by North America. It's been awesome so far. Food was great in Japan and there was such a diverse range of sights even in a small country such as Japan. I had the fortune of visiting Kamikochi, Matsumoto, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Okayama and Tokyo in that month. When you consider the arm and leg that we get charged for mediocre Japanese food in Singapore, I just went crazy eating in Japan.

After Japan, I headed to North America, starting in the East coast hoping to avoid winter. Didn't quite work out as it snowed in Niagara. After  the east coast, I flew to San Francisco where I met up with a cousin to do a road trip where we drove down to Big Sur through Carmel, cut up to Las Vegas and the Grand canyon, down to San Diego and finally ended in Los Angeles. My cousin flew back to Singapore whereas I carried on with my trip, Greyhound-ing my way north to Portland, Sacramento and Seattle where I spent Christmas with another cousin and her family. Since I was so close to Vancouver, I took the amtrak over, spending 2 weeks in British Columbia visiting Whistler and Vancouver Island as well. This would also be the first time I tried skiing though it was really expensive at Whistler. In Vancouver Island I stayed in Nanaimo and Victoria but had to skip Tofino as I couldn't quite make my connection work. Transport within the Island is really spotty, you would only have 1 bus crossed the island the whole day. Miss that bus and it's wait for the next day. It kind of worked out in the end as while I was researching alternative transport options, I came across Seaplanes. This option lingered in my mind when I was leaving Victoria for Seattle and I ended up catching a direct flight instead of the Clipper ferry I had. This turned out to be a great choice. The staff, ticking off the namelist of passengers,who I chatted to turned out to be the pilot if the plane. Having heard that it was my first time taking a seaplane, he let me sit up front in the cockpit.  Talk about having the best view! Mount Rainer and the cascades were right in view the entire 45min flight.

Snowboard on Big Bear mountain,  California

Right now I'm on the southern leg of my North America journey. Having some epic fail on my flight on Spirit airlines which is why I have the time to write this so there are always some silver lining. Update more later.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

ESTA applications for those nationalities under the USA Visa Waiver Program

So I was applying for my ESTA again since I was making an impromptu trip after Japan to the States. As what most people do I a just typed in ESTA USA in Google search, took a cursory look at the search feed and saw that first links are actually not to the actual US Government Customs and Border Protection (CBP) site. It should be https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ . The current fee charged is 17USD for Singaporeans if you apply directly on the CBP website and is a very straightforward process. Applying through an agency which appears on the top of the feed however can end up costing an additional 50-80USD in addition to the 17USD.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Iran December 2014

So this is the follow up to the sneak preview post of my trip to Iran in December 2014. This was a country which i had been planning to visit if my company sent me to Dubai again which never occured so after a year of waiting, I decided to just clear my leave and take a trip myself. It helped that my Sister was staying in Dubai as well so I had a (sort of) base of operations to operate out of.

One of the things you would notice is the number of negative news reports you see about Iran. This also translates to a lot of naysayers when they heard about my plans to travel there. All I will say on this matter is that anyone who has travelled there will tell you to go and almost all the people who will tell you not to go will have never been there before. Visa wise, it was very easy for me, with a visa on arrival for 15 days available at 75USD. I had a copy of the lonely planet on my tablet, so while waiting for the visa to be arranged at the airport, I searched for my first accomodation which was Firouzi Hotel. This would turn out to be an excellent choice as the hotel manager, Mr Mousavi, was a wealth of information and a great help during my stay. I called him a number of times during my travel as well when I needed some help even after leaving Tehran but he was always willing to help me. (Hopefully i was not too annoying).

Over this 15 days, I managed to squeeze in quite a number of cities and my journey was like this: Tehran, Tabriz, Ardabil, Rasht, Kashan, Yazd, Shiraz and finally Esfahan. I have to admit that in terms of the sights, there are many other countries with more majestic or better conserved buildings. But the real beauty of Iran is the people. I have never felt safer walking on a dark street at night or been helped as much by strangers on the street. They really made my short jaunt one of the most amazing trips of my life and made memories which I will always hold dear.

Just to give 2 examples, Firstly, this gentleman I struck up a conversation with at the bus terminal in Tehran offered to show me around Shiraz. When i was approaching the town, he picked me up from the terminal despite the early hour and showed me around town including taking me to the nearby Persepolis. He also brought me around to different accommodations until I found one that was within my budget. When I was in Ardabil which was an unplanned stop, two young lads accompanied me the whole day despite me not speaking farsi and they not speaking english. They were also unwilling to leave me alone until they were sure that I was able to link up with my host. This despite me wanting to walk an hour instead of taking a shared taxi.

If you are unsure on whether or not to go, all I can say is go now!!