Volunteering in a wholly new and foreign country is surely incomplete without visiting some of the must-see sights. Here, we zoom into Lau’s interaction with the Peruvians, his travels, and the comparison between South Africa and Peru. Click here for Part I of his story if you missed it
Lau Kia Yong, 23
Volunteer at Tinkuy Peru, Peru and Wildlife Act, South Africa
Tell us about the food there.
Peruvians roast and bake everything, and use traditional methods like charcoal to cook. I am a fan of food, so I can pretty much eat everything. But to those who are picky, Peruvian food might be a bit difficult. They use a lot of local spices and fruits such as avocado and bananas, and a lot of homemade sauce in their cooking.
How was interacting with the Peruvians, and Tino, like?
Tino speaks English and Spanish. Interacting with him taught me more about the Peruvian culture. Every conversation with him was like a cultural lesson.
As for the Peruvians, it was difficult at first because Spanish was foreign to me. Only a handful spoke English. But after two weeks of Spanish lessons, I picked up a little bit. I felt luckier than my peers who learned Spanish in Singapore, because I had the opportunity to practise with the locals.
Where in Peru did you visit?
I visited Mirra Flores, Cusco and Agua Caliente – the site nearest to Machu Picchu.
At Mirra Flores, I surfed and explored the beach. There was a shopping centre by the beach that was an out-of-the-world experience for me. Well, there was not much to buy there, but you can dine at the restaurants or watch a movie. The closest we have to this is Vivocity in Singapore, but it still pales in comparison.
My final stop was Agua Cliente. I decided to hike up the mountains via the Salkantay trail. I spent five days hiking and it was such an eye-opening experience.
“It was really cold then, but worth all the effort.” | PHOTO: Lau Kia Yong
The wonderful city of Agua Caliente | PHOTO: Lau Kia Yong
Machu Picchu | PHOTO: Lau Kia YongI was mind-blown when I got up there (Machu Picchu).
The sights and scenery in Peru can never be found in Singapore. Once, I had to cross a waterfall, so if I slipped, I could probably die. Safety, of course, was my primary concern. I took good care of myself.
Did you enjoy hiking over there? Are the treks for the faint-hearted and ill prepared?
I loved it! I would not go so far to say it is impossible for the faint-hearted, but you will definitely need a good deal of stamina to ascend because it can get quite steep. If you are up for an adventure, that place is perfect. I love challenging myself whenever I can, especially in foreign places. That is when you learn more about yourself and expose yourself to many new and exciting things.
Peru is less developed compared to the popular tourist destinations, and you might find yourself getting into uncomfortable situations, for instance, long bus rides, poor infrastructure and a lack of proper roads.
You volunteered for Wildlife Act in South Africa too. How was that in comparison to Tinkuy Peru?
My volunteer experience in Peru was definitely more personal as there was more interaction with the locals. I was more exposed to their culture.
In South Africa, however, I hardly interacted with the locals. Most of the time, I was with the other volunteers and the game guides, and dealt mostly with tracking equipment. I went on road trips frequently to look for wild dogs, to tag and feed them. I had to find animals such as rhinoceros and monitor their activities.
How would you compare the different countries?
Most Africans speak English, even though they have their own native languages. Peruvians speak Spanish most of the time.
South Africa is rich in culture and has a lot of safaris. I did not visit the city but saw many of them (safaris). The people there are nice and social groups are very close-knitted.
Peru has a strong national culture and is really exotic. I would say it is more urbanized than South Africa. At least there are shopping centres there. There is much less to do in South Africa and life is slower paced than in Peru. However, Machu Picchu is quite touristy.
I felt that South Africa was more of a place for you to relax and reflect on your life. There were vast spaces of empty lands and a lot of nature there. Singapore, however, is a metropolitan city with a fast-paced lifestyle.
Did you see any opportunities for businesses in Singapore or from any countries to venture in Peru or in South Africa?
Yes, in Peru as it has a more actively growing economy than South Africa. I think Singaporeans can introduce their huge arsenal of local food to the Peruvians, which can be a big hit. The food and beverage industry in Peru is quite small. I think Singaporean companies may be able to do well there.
What should our readers keen to visit Peru or volunteer for Tinkuy Peru prepare themselves for? What do you think they can they expect?
They can definitely expect an experience of a lifetime.
First of all, work out your finances because flights can be quite expensive. Spend some time searching for cheaper deals and book your flights early. Secondly, one must be able to embrace the culture and be open. Finally, buy travel insurance. It really helps! Anything can happen during the trip and you definitely want to travel with an ease of mind.
They can also expect exotic food, a fabulous city as well as landscapes and very friendly people!
How much did your whole trip to Peru cost?
It cost about SGD$8,000. The return flight was SGD$3,000. Accommodation was free, since I stayed at Tino’s house. Food and transportation in Peru did not cost much. I paid a few hundred dollars for the volunteer program – I cannot remember the exact amount – and that included the costs of the bike tours and hikes I did. Tino was a great host. He prepared everything for us.
What was your takeaway from your trip to Peru?
It was one of the most amazing and defining trips of my life. I learnt so much about myself and ignited my passion for travelling and seeing the world. There is so much to see and learn!
The most heartwarming thing that happened after I left was that the kids I taught at the school connected with me via Facebook. Even until today – it has already been a year – they still regularly drop me Facebook messages and comment on my photos. I would definitely not forget the strong bond we once shared.
Now that you are on an overseas student exchange programme in Canada, how different does it feel from Singapore and Peru?
Well, Canada is cold, and Singapore is just way too hot so I would say that Peru has the perfect weather for me.
It is more comfortable living in Canada and Singapore than in Peru. Internet connection is fast here (in Canada) and we have a proper roof over our heads.
However, the friends that I made in Peru beat everything else. They are the closest to me and I still keep in contact with them, but I also have great Singaporean friends that I treasure too!
Communication in Canada is easy as English is commonly used. However, I preferred communicating in Spanish back in Peru because it was really fun. Well, a clear and definite comparison cannot be made between these three countries because all of them have their pros and cons and very different things to offer.
Share with our readers what is next for you. Would you travel to Peru again?
Sadly, I will not visit Peru again because I would like to expose myself to other cultures and visit Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile. There is so much to see in this world!
I will be travelling to the northern and southern part of the American continent over the summer this year. I plan to visit three countries and participate in three different volunteer projects.
Know of other volunteer opportunities? Catchus@gobeyond.sg!