Seven Reasons Why I’ll Never Forget Indonesia


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Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Tomorrow morning, I’ll be flying out of Indonesia’s second largest city marking an end to my 9-day trip in this unforgettable country. I have read many good things about Indonesia even before I started planning the trip but nothing could have prepared me for what waits in Java. Like the tasty Nasi Goreng, my experince was a mixture of many things: good memories, unpleasant incidents, and new experiences all held together by the universality of human kindness. Take this case for example: On a public bus ride from Situbondo to Surabaya yesterday, I asked the bus conductor how much I should pay. Not understanding his reply, I handed over IDR 100,000 and relied on his honesty to give me the right change – I received IDR 15,000. I mentally converted the fare to PHP and it seemed correct for a six-hour bus ride in the Philippines. I smiled and said “Terima Kasih”. After what seemed like five seconds, the guy sitting beside me, a member of the Indonesian Marine Corps asked the bus conductor in a calm but assertive voice how much change he gave me. I was floored when the bus conductor handed me an additional IDR 50,000.

Just like that, and I had someone to converse with until we reached Mlandingan .

While it is true that I met some not-so-good people, who tried to take advantage of my relative ignorance, they could never tarnish the positive image of Indonesia in my mind. If anything, they only made me a smarter traveler.

So, here are the seven reasons (in no particular order) why I’ll never forget Indonesia:

1) The Sunrise in Mt. Bromo. I will not say much except this: it is probably the best sunrise I have seen in my life, so far. This deserves a separate blog entry.

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2) Experiencing the ‘art’ of selling Batik. I always trust my instinct. And in this case, I was saved twice. The first near Taman Sari, and the second in Malioboro. The second one was more interesting as it involved five people in concerted effort trying to lure me into buying overpriced Batik Art – the master, three students and the friendly vendor.

While I was looking at souvenir items in a shop along Malioboro the friendly store attendant began asking where I came from, where I’ve been so far in Jogja and if I have heard of the Batik Art Exhibit which is now on its last day in a nearby building. I followed him upon hearing there will be a demonstration of the batik-making process. While there, he offered me hot tea and asked which pieces I liked most. He informed me of the prices and said he would give me a ’last-day’ discount. I told him I don’t have money for Batik Art as it is not part of my travel plan (the same excuse I used in Taman Sari).At one point, he even suggested I use my ATM or Credit Card. Really? In my mind I was laughing.

He got angry and raised his voice when I told him I’m already leaving.

Truth is, the Batik paintings in this exhibit are really beautiful. There’s no way I could tell if they’re fake – but the hard selling technique is detestable.

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3) Being asked by Indonesian students for photos in Taman Sari and Borobudur. Don’t laugh now. Just let me enjoy this fifteen minutes of fame (Haha.Kidding). I wouldn’t say I was surprised by this little oddity because I have read in one blog that students (both male and female) coming from other Indonesian provinces visiting Borobudur usually ask foreigners for photos with their group . Caucasians apparently, are the main target. I asked some of them if it is for school because they also tried to start conversations in English. Some of them said yes.

They would start pushing the ‘bravest’ one to approach you and ask for photos; or sometimes they would say in chorus “mister, photo-photo please?” Well, who am I to say no? lol

At one point, I also asked a group to use my phone (as proof of course!) – too bad, #4 happened.

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4) I lost my phone in Teletubby Land. Somewhere in this beautiful landscape, I did not notice I dropped my phone. I never found it and I’m sure it was not stolen. This is a mistake I hope to never make again – I feel blind travelling without a smart phone. I had a backup which proved useless because I wasn’t able to bring the charger. Complete loser, I know.

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5) Wildlife in Baluran. When I saw a blog post on Baluran, I never had to think twice about putting the National Park in my itinerary. Indonesians should be really proud to have a gem as beautiful as Baluran in their midst.

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The girl-boy tandem from Besuki had a soaring performance. I didn’t understand the song but It was so good I had goosebumps.

6) Indonesian Bus Experience. As a Filipino, I thought nothing would surprise me anymore when it comes to buses. I was wrong. The public bus fare in Indonesia is very low (IDR 35,000 mentioned earlier) but it took more than six hours for the non-aircon vehicle to reach Surabaya from Situbondo. Almost one and a half hours of this was spent waiting for more passengers at various terminals along the way. Public buses I have tried in Indonesia operated in an ‘anything goes manner’ – feet on the chair, cigarette smoking (as the passenger next to you pleases), and overtaking while running at very high speed. But if there’s one thing that surprised me most, it is the succession performers going in and out of the bus from one town to another bringing with them various musical instruments: guitars, ukulele, banjo, pvc pipe drums, and maracas. It was six hours of awe-inspiring, amusing, and sometimes downright irritating performances. I felt like an Indonesian Idol judge by the time we reached Surabaya – punctuated by an unforgetable ‘silent song’ from a deaf-mute performer in Paiton.

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7) Blue Fire at Kawah Ijen. This is an out-of-this-world experience and deserves a post of its own. Along with the sunrise in Mt Bromo, I would consider this as the highlight of my trip to Java. I greeted a brand new day at the mouth of an active volcano with the sulfur miners. IMG_4909 Indonesia and its more than 17,000 Islands has so much to offer. This ‘unforgettable’  list could easily reach 100 in no time: getting inside a Mosque for the first time, an indecent proposal while checking out at a hotel in Jogja, eating a hot Bakso one chilly evening at Cemoro Lawang, and so much more. For now, let’s have seven, if only because it’s my lucky number.🙂

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Dinagyang, With Eyes Wide Open


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A sustained whistle followed by three successive short blows signals the beginning of a multi-sensorial feast. Consider the tribal warrior covered in paint wearing  fire-colored headdress making aggressive steps towards the center. Behind him, the tribe members aim their arrows at you: together, they kick, jump and roll with the brute force of an exploding volcano. Movement after movement, in synch to the beat of 70 drums they tell different stories: the journey of island natives from animism to Christianity, the triumph of good over evil, the pain of unrequited love, or the price of war and tribal conflict.

Are they the same people you see everyday in the streets of Iloilo? Don’t blink now because the show you are seeing is just a prelude to the greater Ilonggo story that continues to unfold before the eyes of the world.

On any regular day before Dinagyang, a visitor will likely notice the laid-back, small-city vibe of Iloilo.  Food and language contribute to this unhurried atmosphere: the sing-song quality of Hiligaynon projects Ilonggos as a very affectionate, gentle people; while the hearty goodness of Pancit Molo and Lapaz Batchoy is meant to be savored slowly.

The Ilonggo in me find it interesting that every fourth Sunday of January, we shed our usual laid-back disposition and allow another facet of our collective identity to shine through. As performers, we dance to the beat of drums – unrestrained in our pursuit of fun, devotion, and thanksgiving in the company of our visitors. As spectators, we erupt in applause at the sight of jaw-dropping choreography and artistic, colorful props – always appreciative of the visual banquet laid down before us.

Last Sunday was the first time I experienced Dinagyang after nine years. Many things have changed – the choreography, music, even the commercial aspect of the celebration. But even with all these changes, I’m happy to see that the foundation of the festival remains very strong. Dinagyang after all, does not only tell the story of the Atis – our ancestors and earliest settlers of Panay. It also manifests a vision of a progressive future built on strong ilonggo values of cooperation and unity – the same values that make this festival unforgettable.

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From Mt Pulag to Banaue (and everything in between)


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Banaue

Banaue, Ifugao. Remembering the last 364 days is made easy by the sound of water streaming across this little town famous for the handiwork of its forefathers. From where I sit, I can see the mountains carved over the last few hundred years by industrious human hands: the famous Rice Terraces is bathing in the soft glow of the morning sun.

Two days ago, the INTP in me made a last-minute decision to ride a bus to Banaue. I was a chance passenger for the 10.45 PM Florida trip from Sampaloc, Manila. It was a decision prompted by my fear of spending New Year’s Eve alone: the first time without any family member with me.  I call this my year-end retreat: a remembrance of things past.

This year was remarkable. There were a few disappointments but I was able to tick 6 out of 8 major personal goals. 2013 will also go down my memory as the year I traveled the most: 4 foreign countries, and 12 Philippine provinces.

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Q1 2013

The first quarter of the year was marked by an unforgettable Mt Pulag trek which was also the first ‘solo’ trip I ever did. I consider The Mountain Whispered my personal favorite blog entry.  In February, we had a strategic planning near Taal Lake. In March, I mended a pseudo broken heart in Santiago, Isabela.

 It was also in March that I had my first out-of-town trip with friends from J&J – we managed to squeeze in 4 Northern Mindanao Provinces in 4 days; waking up as early as 3 am just to stay within our schedule. This trip reminded me how nice it is to be young and full of energy.

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The second quarter was all about new experiences and time for family. In April, I started the 7-day out-of-the-country trip in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Here, I met warm, friendly people – the last thing you’d expect from those who have been through much difficulty because of the Vietnam War: they wear the badge of experience on their sleeves without remorse or regret (and full of hope!). From Vietnam, I went to Bangkok to join Songkran. I met the fun people of couchsurfing and spent 3 days visiting temples, eating delicious Thai food, and ‘getting wet’ in Khao San Road. In this trip, I got to meet a lot of new acquaintances with whom I continue to connect through facebook. A week after my Thailand trip, we had a Finance Group outing at Mt Pinatubo (my second time there).

In May, I went home to spend Mother’s day with my mom and grandmother. It was a quick trip such that a visit to nearby Guimaras did not push through; But I was able to have my fill of Guimaras mangoes (which I miss a lot) – I boarded the plane smiling.

Before the first rain of May, I went to Singapore for training and stayed at Fairmont – my favorite hotel, so far. We ended the four-day business trip with an unforgettable Singapore Pub Crawl experience – I boarded the plane with a little hangover (but still smiling).  In June, I traveled with Mom to attend my uncle’s wedding in Ilocos. Bagnet, longganisa, and the old streets of Vigan are still in my mind. I am yet to write about the experience in this blog (I’m hoping I’d be more productive this coming 2014!).

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Q3 2013

The third quarter was a blur. It went by fast like water rushing down the slopes of Banaue. I downed cups of caffeine and unintentionally collected stars in Starbucks while writing my Strategic Management paper. Looking back, writing that paper (which ended with a successful defense in October) almost strangled this blog to death – I had a hard time going back to the habit of writing after being absent for 3 months.  I also had to cancel Bohol and Palawan trips because of conflicting schedules.

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Q4 2014

I visited Tacloban in October after my Oral Defense. It’s unfortunate that only two weeks after that visit, a very strong Typhoon ravaged the city. The same typhoon destroyed much of my hometown. It was a sad experience; but one that made us stronger (and hopefully more ready in the future). 

In the third week of November, my trip to Korea with friends from Petron challenged my perception of the country and its people. I never knew I’d be very fond of Seoul. The Korean embassy gave me a multiple entry visa; and I might break my promise not to return to a country I’ve already visited to prioritize those I have not yet been to.  It was a liberating experience- something which can be likened to walking naked among strangers. Which I did, after downing 2 cans of beer, through a  jimjilbang experience.

I spent Christmas with my family in the province, played with my young cousins and before I knew it, the 5 days ended.

Now, I’m here in Banaue nursing a sore body from yesterday’s trek – or maybe from everything that happened in 2013.

I don’t regret making this last-minute decision to celebrate New Year’s Eve here because it made me realize that I have come a long way from the guy who would never start a conversation with strangers.  Before I started writing this entry, I was engaged in a warm exchange with a Vietnamese couple whose road trip started in Baguio, Sagada, and now, Banaue; and with two German guys who talked about their plans of visiting the southern part of the country.  

 I’ll spend the rest of the day writing my plans for the coming New Year. It will be about the things I want to achieve in 2014, the people I want to share them with, and all new experiences close to my heart

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Solitude: The Glory of Being Alone


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“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god” – Aristotle
 
In this sense, I guess solo travelers are wild beasts – never hindered by personal limitations, and always feeling the need to roam. For many, it becomes second nature to feel the ‘itch’, pack clothes and excitement in the bag, and GO.  You can accuse me of romanticizing solo travel – go ahead…because I’m sure you’ll smile in agreement if you read Eve Ensler’s line : “Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars.”
 
I don’t know how it is with others but I have never equated solo travel with ‘loneliness’; Instead, I  saw it as an opportunity to celebrate personal freedom  and show self-sufficiency. It is probably due to this mindset that I’m always drawn to people who, within my camera frame, are basking in the glory of being alone [1]
 
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[1]Paul Tillich

 
 
 
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Chasing Dreams and Sunrise: Two Mornings at San Juanico


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Looking outside the plane window made me realize I won’t make it to the bridge before sunrise. It was only 5:35 am but the golden disc is already rising from the sea.

I first saw San Juanico Bridge as a child on one of my mom’s photos taken during the late 70s; and hearing from her how it was the country’s longest bridge spanning two islands made me wish that I too, could visit one day. To my seven-year old mind, the bridge represented aspiration and wonder.

I became more impressed with the project when I learned from my third grade Sibika at Kultura class that this “magandang tanawin” was intended to become a “tulay ng pag-unlad” or bridge of economic progress.

Well, as it turns out, some dreams, like setting foot at San Juanico bridge, take 20-plus years to fulfill – for others, as in the case of economic progress for Eastern Visayas*, even longer.

I hope this will come sooner than later. It’s time we allow San Juanico Bridge to become more than just a sexy, curvy, structure. I cannot wait for another 20 years.

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The bridge shakes a little when huge delivery trucks pass over it. 

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*Based on the latest GDP figures, Eastern Visayas is still among the slowest growing regions in the country.

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Temporary


Low, dark clouds hover above Manila bay obscuring the famed sunset. From where I stand the city is literally under my feet. And without the bursting colors of twilight, the Philippine capital is reduced to a vast cheerless landscape broken into smaller parts by lighted highways .

I can’t wait for the rain to come.

The good thing is, (my) life doesn’t always mirror the weather like it does for characters in literature. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my version of ‘grey clouds’ and ‘impending rain’. I do – and now, they take the form of a Strategic Management paper and oral defense.

And they will come in August.

Until then, I will temporarily leave my blog so that I can focus on my paper. (Acting as if I have a large following.haha)

#Wake me up when September ends.

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The City as an Impetus of a Deadly Sin


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If Singapore is a deadly sin, I would name it Envy because of the feeling this city stirs in me every time I step on its soils. The mall-like atmosphere of Changi Airport, tree-lined highways with flowering plants in the middle, and the harmonious fusion of modernity, nature and tradition all contribute to this.

“Singapore is very small. But there are many things to do here” – this is what the taxi driver told me while we made our way to Grand Copthorne during my first visit in the country. He was driving a Hyundai Sonata, and the taxi to our left was a Mercedes.

I’m from Manila and I love my city (to me, she has a unique charm) but will you ‘judge’ me if I get envious of Singapore?

I wonder if visitors from Tokyo, Hong Kong or New York ever feel the same way I do.

In this context, I think the Dan Brown character is ‘correct’ in identifying Manila as ‘gates of hell’. Not because of the poverty, prostitution and traffic jams she mentioned. But because of the ‘sin’ my city makes me ‘commit’ every time I visit Singapore.    :)

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I saw this bird on my way up the hill going to Henderson Bridge.

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The Singapore Pub Crawl


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Smoke permeates the air. I initially felt out-of-place because I don’t consider myself a party boy; You see that girl from Sweden – what’s her name again? Ah, the music is too loud. Conversations are merely punctuated by smiles that mean “I didn’t hear what you just said”. Was it Ona or Onak?

She’s rather reserved…but extremely beautiful. Whistle. Whistle. Whistle. Move on to the next pub. People dance like crazy… sweat and all. Was it a pub crawl bomb I just drank – the one where you go down on your knees and drink from a funnel? There goes Moves like Jagger.

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Don’t you think Singapore is a revelation (unexpected and expected at the same time)?

Blurry vision, unsteady walk, two more bars to go. Body against body, the heart rate is accelerating. “Hey, where have you been the past 28 years?” Not that it matters because I will not see you again tomorrow anyway.

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Overheard: “your friend will kiss you” “What?” “You buy her a drink” “You smell nice!”

For some, money speaks.

And those Australian guys – they really know what they’re doing. If only I have half of their confidence. Haha. But maybe it’s a cultural thing. I’m a Filipino, and to me, that move is bordering to aggression.

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Sweat run down my nape. Here I am recording a vision of temporary reality- one laced by alcohol and frenetic music. Is this what it means to be young? Unfiltered. Flirty. Unsure?

Until the morning comes (when I’m already thinking sharply), I won’t really know.

I feel like passing out. Not really. Not yet. One last bar. And I have a flight to catch tomorrow.

(Note: Not my usual entry. I wrote this on my phone while taking a brief ‘rest’ from the crazy scene inside the pub – thus the broken sentences; Photos were taken using a camera phone)

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