Mt Ijen Blue Fire Banyuwanggi sidetrip from Bali

After some trip to Bali and Lombok with high school friends, I am back to my solo exploration of my second home country.

One of the sights I have been wanting to go to is the Mt Ijen Blue Fire in Banyuwanggi, and this time, I just can’t let it go since I am quite close to it already – an island hop from Bali, and I shall be there.

It was a little after lunch when I left Bali en route to the Gilimanuk port. It took the bus about 6 hours (fare was 50K rupiah) to cross to Ketapangg. I got off the bus just before it rolls its wheels off the ferry and moved along with my foot. that night.

From the port exit, I saw some guys laying sticker ads of tours of what seemed to be a travel and tours office opening soon. I asked them anyway, and one of the guys happened to be the owner.

He said the tour starts 12mn, costs 200K for locals, 350K for expats, and luckily, he has guests. It seems if they don’t have that ample amount guests, the rate will change. In fact, some of the other travel operators (mostly selling bus tickets) are offering 300K for a 2 person trip on a motorbike. (This other guy has one guest currently staying in a guesthouse and wanting to get a tour.

The package includes transpo on a van, gas mask, a guide, and entrance fee.

That days was a weekend and it seems like we were in a parade on the trail. You don’t exactly need a guide as the trail is quite clear and wide. It was drizzling at the time, and so the trail was quite slippery. A jacket, shoes with traction, and a flashlight shall be readied by the guests. No flashlight was provided (luckily I had mine).

Funny thing, there were a lot of locals, seniors, disabled, and just lazy guys who came up with porters to carry them up. They had a trolley where their guests sat while being pulled up.

Apparently, as much as possible, guest should hurry up ahead. From the crater mouth down to where the sulfur and blue flame come up, the trail becomes narrow, and if you happen to be behind a senior, well… you bet you will be at the balcony view.

As per the guide and guides of other groups, the sulfur has to be ignited as it won’t fire up on its own. So, somebody has got to come up early to start the show. Then, just before sunrise, they pumped up water to put off the fire. The water was also used to cool off the sulfure and solidify.

Overall, honestly speaking, it was not as I expected. perhaps, there was way too much people that I could not focus on what I actually came there fore. I rather enjoyed more the view that came up after brightness.

contact number for the tour company is:
+62 813 31861276.

There are also almost close to basic guesthouses right in the port, or in front of the train station (100m to the right from the port) at rates 40K, 50K, and above.

TIEZA Travel Tax Exemption for Scholarship Grantees

Travel tax is one big Sh*t for Filipino travellers especially when you bought your ticket on Sale only to pay it later for travel tax.
Today I am flying back to Indonesia, and again, as expected, I had to be on a bout defending my rights for exemption.
Among those that are exempted from paying travel tax are scholarship grantees. Unfortunately, nowhere, not even in the TIEZA website, show what documents are necessary to apply for exemption.
On my first flight to Indonesia last August 2015, I was looking for information online for what are the requirements for exemption but are nowhere to be found. I brought with me letters I received from the Indonesian Embassy certifying the grant, the scholarship contract, and even my visa applicaton receipt showing free.
My first flight out was in Terminal 3 and there I was asked to prove that all expenses are shouldered by the scholarship. They were especially particular with the flights, accomdation, etc. Luckily, my scholarship contract detailed all of it. For the flight, I had to print out an email showing they sent me the tickets. I had to walk in to the Cebu Pacific counter and request assistance in printing these screenshots because i did not have them handy (as I said, because none is said on the website and so I did not know what sort of documents to provide).
For this flight returning to Indonesia after 2 weeks off in the Philippines, I brought my receipt (of exemption of the first flight), another copy of the scholarship contract, and the offer letter. I thought having the receipt was more than enough in the sense the receipt shall certify that I have submitted all the necessary documents on my initial flight. 
This time I am flying out of NAIA terminal 1, handed over the documents, and told them I brought these documents (receipt being primary as proof that all necessary documents were already submitted before). The supervisor said that the receipt is nothing. It does not necessarily say that I have submitted all the necessary documents. It just mean, from my understanding of her argument, that the Supervisor where I applied for the exemption, accepted all my documents and trust that it warrants exemption (and she may deem differently).
From the story, it seems everything is really based on the supervisor. This time, she was asking me to prove that this flight is still within the duration of the flight. I showed her my school ID showing that the program is until August 2016. She kept asking me for a registration form and I told her (and as the case is) we don’t have the same documents as the universities here. We were never given any registration form. The ID stands for the registration. I pointed her back to the contract stating that the program is August 2016 and she referred back to the offer letter dating June 2015. She was insisting that if we take that as the effective date, that the program shall expire June 2015. Then, I told her, today is May 17, and while it is a few days before, it is still within the duration (even under that assumption). After that, she finally said yes. 
For those scholarship grantees applying for exemption, make sure to be early on the airport as, based on these 2 instances, it seems they will just always turn you away at first. You need to be consistent and give them all your proof (And it is such a shame to think, and i reiterated in the counter, that other people/government would give you money, allowance and it is a shame to give it away to your hand it to your government…) So, for this, allocate a lot of time apart from your regular check in timing needs. 

ASIAN Moviefest in Universitas Andalas, Padang, West Sumatra

Part of what I have learned out of my travelling these past 2 years is extracting the value of things to their utmost usage.
Not working for 2 years, and going through emptiness in remote places made me quite conservative in my use of resources. This, I can’t elaborate further to the understanding of people of the cities living by the concept of capitalism and consumption: the more you consume, the better for the economy and surely… the worst for our environment and for other people if not for ourselves too.

Anyhow, apart from the USED school supplies that we are running for the #SULOngSULU drive, this time around, I thought about the books that are left hanging at our homes after being used in school, or basically, just after reading. Just imagine how much more that book could be on use if only they are shared. How many more people it could motivate.

For a while, I had been looking for small libraries around Sumatra Barat whom I can probably come up with a book donation drive, but it was not until lately, when we were on holidays in school, that I found one. Nonetheless, it is not in Sumatera Barat, but in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka Island.

I was thinking of a more motivating way to get them pick up their books and throw to us, rather than just asking, which, not all people would dare care about.

Likewise, I was hoping for an activity that will contribute to Asian solidarity, culture exchange and acquiantance, and this is when I thought about making use of Film. By any means, film is the best way to show an entity’s psyche and a culture. So, for this, we had some films made and/or about countries in asia: Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, South Korea, and Indonesia.

The films will run for a week, with each movie taking 2 screenings. Ticket for entry will be in the form of USED published books.The films will be screened in Gedung I on April 11-15, 2016.

I’m looking forward to re-doing this event elsewhere.

#SULOngSULU: Supplies for schools in Patikul, Sulu Year 2

More than that war between the rebels and the government in Patikul, Sulu, an even more frustrating battle of not defense but deferral; Over the stinking air and garbage, dirt roads and poor pavements, well water that runs only a certain hours of certain days, traffic of no rules after a random parade of army tanks, over beggars who are on every street and corner, over the telecommunication service that is anyway OFF most of the time because of an ongoing military operation, over lighting that is nowhere in the roads, over the curfews; A war that cripples its citizen who may lean into rebellion and onto the cycle for generations; And looking at the kids and the situation, without any intervention, it is clear and regretful to see that they will end up to be the same.

The SULOngSULU is citizen-action drive to provide support for the school supply needs of children through new and/or used (but worthy) school supplies.

Last year, with the support from a few schools (because it was almost the last month of classes when this was conceptualized, where some schools are already done with their classes), the drive collected used school supplies (e.g. notebooks, crayons, pencils, pad papers, water colors, poster paints) from 4 private schools and later distributed it to some schools in SULU.

With what has been collected and some donations from a few people, the drive was able to supply bags and school supplies for 2 schools (The Tandu Dagmay primary school and the Tandu Bagua Elementary School).
This year, the drive is trying to approach even more schools, individuals, and organizations as possible so as to extend  to as many schools as possible in Sulu.

The following are the target goods for provision:

Per Student:
Box of Crayons (either 8 colors or 16)
4 pencils
1 sharpener
1 eraser
1 Small Ruler
Pencil Case
2 Pad Papers
5 Notebooks
Photocopy of the workbook (for grades 1-2)
Per Classroom of 25-40 students:
Art papers of 25 pcs of each of the 8 Colors (Black Included)
10 Small Scissors
10 Watercolors with brushes
1 Wall Clock with Battery
Class Record
2 pcs Erasers
2 Boxes of Chalk; 1 colored and 1 white
Ledger for Teacher
Posters of:
Philippine Presidents
Map of the Philippines
National Symbols
National Heroes
With the prices of goods as per last year’s distribution, this provision for a student mean P160 in primary school, and P283 for elementary school, with difference based on the (size of) bag.

This Year, while our priority will be the primary schools, we are looking to extend the provisions to the elementary schools too, though we will be working on the primary schools first before heading onto the Elementary schools. 

The schools with their number of students this school year (2015-2016) are:


Primary School # Elementary School #
Ahajani PS 89 Sahipa Elementary School 41
Bunbun PS 106 Tugas ES 89
Sahipa Elementary School 41 Amman Elementary School 101
Tandu Bagua PS 37 Liang Elementary school 153
Tandu Dagmay PS 84 Igasan ES 265
Usaw Primary School 79
Wanni PS annex II 22 TOTAL 649

Thus far, after the benefit concert and some goods from friends, here is what we have and still looking for:


Material Qty per Sdt Total Qty On Hand Need Price per item TOTAL per item
Bag 1 500 0 500 35 17500
Crayons 1 500 166 334 8 2672
Pencils/Ballpen 4 2000 1609 391 4 1564
Sharpener 1 500 360 140 3 420
Eraser 1 500 147 353 2 706
Ruler 1 500 200 300 7 2100
Pencil Case 1 500 5 495 5 2475
Pad paper 2 1000 194 806 7 5642
Notebooks 5 2500 499 2001 14 28014

Some cash donations as follows:

Amount To Fund
TOTAL 10500 50593
Sinag Basir 3500
#SULOngSULU Benefit Concert 6500
Mara Balayan Workshop 5000+
Rackys Colleagues 500
April Tomas
Ruby (Mami Weng)
At the moment, yes, we are still very far from the Target for even 500 students, whilst I am looking into providing for 1000 students; a little bit hilarious for how much my network can provide, but that has been what I have always told myself. I can’t expect them to wish, they haven’t known what it is perhaps. They probably even think that’s all there is in life. But, If they can’t put up a dream, i’ll be the one to dream for them.
So, yes, something i haven’t done until I got into this outreach work is begging. But true enough, travelling has taught me to humility. And if the kind of humility I need to put up, is the upliftment of some, so be it. 
For Donations:

Via Bank of thePhilippine Islands

Bank Code: 010040018
Account Number: 3119 2301 35
Name on Account: Raquel Bernardo

Via Paypal 

 Email Address:
Suggested in PHP currency to minimize devaluations. In third world, every cent counts J. Otherwise, USD will be fine. 

#SULOngSULU: Tandu Bagua Primary School in Patikul, Sulu

Tonight, as I was updating the distribution plan for the #SULOngSULU project this May, I happen to browse pictures of one of the primary schools there in Patikul, Sulu. This school sits next to a road with a jungle around it, that looking at it from a distance, you would just think it is an abandoned structure. But yeah, most of them look like this anyway.

I have been to a few schools in Tawi-Tawi but based on all places I have visited in this place, nothing beats those ones in Patikul, Sulu.

Anyhow, there is not much story to post here tonight other than i’d just like to share pictures for public record of this primary school and also for my co-volunteers assigned to the distribution in this school to see where they will be heading to (so they can prepare for some reconstruction of the most we can as well perhaps). It pains me to even call it a school. 
Like I always say, it don’t need to be like this if only more and more people know about what is going on in here. And surprisingly, I found a jungle bolo in a primary school.

Bahay at Yaman Orphanage in Bustos Bulacan

Recently I have thought about offering my domain for online presence of those small groups, families, circle of friends, etc who do their share in nation/social building. As someone who is doing outreach through circle of friends too, it is difficult to solicit and pass a message when there is no reference. But with the internet cutting out distance, and materials, I thought offering to host information on my site for these groups would like me, help them get support for a wider audience.

The first person to send a message is Guia Roa Soriano, who, along with her cousins, do regular visits to orphanages. They will be having an outreach activity in Bahay at Yaman in Bulacan on 27 March 2016.

Bahay at Yaman ni San Martin de Porres is an orphanage in Bustos, Bulacan that houses more than 150 abandoned children.
Their group will be serving lunch for them on the said date.
For those who are interested in sharing their blessings to the children you may donate the following:
·         Toiletries (bath soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, alcohol)
·         Laundry soap or detergent
·         Condiments (cooking oil, soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce etc)
·         Clothes
·         Slippers
·         Books

If you are far away and can’t send the above mentioned goods you may also wish to donate cash. All cash donations that will be collected will be used to buy the said goods.
You may deposit your donation at BPI Savings Account 0309 0693 58 of Guia Soriano.

For donations, inquiries and more information feel free to contact Guia Soriano at mobile numbers 0932-429-3232. Or talk to her in facebook. You may also contact Bahay at Yaman ‘s Tita Myrna – 0917-516-8965

Mara Balayan’s Hand Lettering class for #SULOngSULU

At one time as I was backpacking southeast asia, I decided to deactivate my facebook because posting has been so compulsive. While driving around Vietnam, there were times I pulled over my bike just to update my status about the road, the weather, my bike, the dust; All sort of things which later I wonder what it is for, after all.

That time, I put my facebook inactive for a week detox.

But considering how much facebook and other social media has been helping me get my stand on issues and hopefully make others make a stand as well, and more importantly, how social media has help me gather help for others (which otherwise I could not do on my own).

People are naturally good. This is a faith I hold. In fact, when people ask me about my religion, I say, the only thing I believe in is humanity. That humans are naturally good. And, looking back at the people who would randomly pop on my messenger, introducing themselves, saying they stumbled upon my post, and are interested in sharing some help, and also looking at their backgrounds, trully you should restore your faith to humanity. After all, as I say, there will be thiefs, killers, etc, but they are probably one in a 100. You don’t want to lose that relationship you may have made out of the 99 because of only 1, who, probably have done that (steal, kill, whatsoever) for surely some reason (hunger, emergency, etc).

Anyhow, one of the people who I randomly met in virtual space is Kay Feliciano who, i must say Thank You for helping me spread my advocacy. She said she has a friend who want to put up a Hand Lettering class and proceeds to go for the #SULOngSULU project.

Last Feb 28, Mara did a basic hand lettering class at Designer Blooms Cafe in Molito, Alabang. She said she was lucky enough to get sponsorship for the materials after writing a letter to her ex boss-Jade Tulio.

“We got Artline and Maped for free! I had to buy paper and other materials but the pens were free! We had 16 attendees ranging from a 9 year old who spent her whole night working on what she learned in class to a 30 something who said I taught her a life skill. Attendees were a mix of art enthusiasts, and friends and family who love me and wanted to support. The goal was of course to learn lettering for a good cause.”

 “In the workshop, I taught some “mathematics behind the art”, like the measurement of letters, and later how to tweak the rules and do lettering pieces.”

“My bestfriend, Febby, helped me fix the event and also shared some of her art skills in class.”

Growing up, Mara has been exposed to a lot of cause-oriented works. She spent 13 years in Elizabeth Seton School where she was taught to share what she has in excess.

“In UP, there were a lot of opportunities to help. I joined the last wave of Project Jomalig of Journeying James-what he terms as voluntourism- you get to travel and help. And lately, I’ve been raising funds through my artworks. We gave out art materials to an orphanage last December using what I’ve sold from my artworks, and now I’m teaching lettering for #SULOngSULU.

She said she wanted to do something special this February when she turns 27.

“ The challenge was to teach and share something I am passionate about-my love for arts and crafts.”

“When I turned 18, my dad wanted me to donate all of my gifts to charity, I said ‘No.’ Maybe in the future I will. I guess, after 9 years, this is me fulfilling my promise to my dad.”

“I fixed the class thinking it was my way of celebrating my birthday and donating what I’m getting and at the same time I did my challenge.”

Mara is planning to do another lettering session in the northern side of the metro, Quezon City, and will have 14 slots at the time. This second one for #SULOngSULU project as well.  For those interested or want to know more about her hand lettering class, please do message her.

*All pics courtesy of Mara, Chona Panis- Aganinta, mom of two participants.