Day 2 started early as I had signed up for a group day tour to UNESCO World Heritage site Viñales Valley famed for its stunning valleys and Mural de la Prehistoria. After a 3 hour drive, we arrived in Viñales with stopovers at a rum factory and a cigar factory selling cigars dubbed as Fidel Castro’s favourite brand. Our tour guide has warned us against the bogus cigars sold on the streets which were substituted by banana leaves. “ I can guarantee you that they are excellent excellent.. garbage,” she joked.
During the course of our sightseeing, I struck up a conversation with a fellow Asian solo traveller, Shota, in the group who bore an uncanny resemblance to Steve Aoki. It is never easy initiating conversations with strangers without appearing like a pick-up artist, but I genuinely love listening to stories of travellers from diverse backgrounds (other than people witching). Turns out, he spent a semester in Canada learning English while working as a stylist and Ramen chef before embarking on a world trip which included his favourite city, Mexico city. Goals. I have always admired people taking the leap of faith and paving the way for their passions. Shota was featured in various high fashion magazines as both a model and a designer which puts myself to shame for someone who even has difficulty threading a needle. The closest thing I had to fit into his world of quirky fashionistas was probably my hot pink hair then which got me mistaken as a Japanese by some other Japanese tourists during lunch.
We then headed for lunch at a restaurant next to the popular rock face Mural de la Prehistoria. Our dining table consists of a solo Mexican traveller, a Brazilian couple, 2 Guyana-born New Yorkers and myself. After spearheading a round of self introduction, we began to converse over lunch despite the language barrier.
The loving middle-aged Brazilian couple continued to engage us with Portuguese and that was when I realised the importance of body language and laughter as I was visualising ourselves communicating as if it was the Stone Age. This fuelled my need of learning basic conversational phrases of foreign languages for my future travels. The Mexican girl was like myself , taking a short solo trip in Cuba but she definitely felt more like home being proficient in Spanish. If only I had taken the time to practise my basic Spanish rather than just humming to the tune of Despacito, I would have impressed more Latin Americans. Urgh. Amidst a conversation, I had misheard Guyana as Ghana and I started flaunting basic Ghanaian greetings which I picked up from a few Ghanaian tourists during my previous trip in Dubai. I’d I’ve always joked that I am a Jack of all languages but a master of none. “Ma-che, ma-jo!”
The 2 ladies from New York threw each other a blank look. Trying my luck again, I repeated myself, this time slowly, and tweaked my tone hoping it will sound right but they continued to look puzzled. “OH, we are from Guyana not Ghana.” The sudden realisation made time freeze and I wanted to feign passing out out of embarrassment and spinning my own version of “The Five People You Met in Cuban Heaven” from the fun and fruitful lunch conversations we had. They explained the geographic location of Guyana and that they are the only country in South America whose first language is English. We continued to chat about the crazy cold weather in New York where I visited a week before and they were so sweet to have gifted me a Cuban cigar to compete my Cuban experience. Alas, we exchanged contact details should they visit Asia or Singapore in future and I will be more than honoured to be their guide.
I always felt like I was the prototype of Singapore to enlighten fellow travellers who knew little about us and emphasising that we are not part of China nor are we rigid citizens with strict laws. Well, at least that was before the Trump-Kim summit held in June 2018 and the release of blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians which has put our red dot on the map.