Batu paragliding: My life as a Darmasiswa scholar in Malang, Indonesia

September, 2014. The bottomless pit of heartbreak and the high, limitless skies. Dizzying jet lag and altitude change. Intense pain and adrenaline. A Batu paragliding day trip is definitely not what my ailing body and mind were expecting.

paragliding in Batu, Malang, Indonesia

flying over Batu, Malang, Indonesia

My long-time boyfriend had broken up with me and told me to never speak to him again 2 days earlier. I was still jetlagged from flying all the way from Tampa, Florida to Malang, Indonesia that same week. Back-to-back fibromyalgia flareups were drilling me with unrelenting chronic pain. Going up the mountain on the rickety van further intensified the lightheadedness and nausea I was experiencing from both the altitude swings and the dramatic 12-hour time zone change.

“Batu Paragliding: one of the best things to do in Malang! Want to do it?!”


We Darmasiswa scholars were told one of our first local East Java day trips was going to be a relaxing getaway to the rural Kota Batu. This mountainside resort in the Malang regency is a popular destination for agri-tourism and promised to be a refreshing break from the scalding hot Malang City center, where our study abroad university was located.

Mountainside villages! Lots of greenery! Fresh air! It’s going to be great!

The rickety van, outfitted with ill-padded benches (instead of seats) and sans-safety belts, should have been the first sign.

I’m tiny, okay?! I have always been under 120 pounds. 5’4″ at most. Throw me into a tiny bench, no seatbelt, up winding roads with no barricades is nerve-racking on a good day. Let alone while trying to get over a heartbreak, jet lag, fibromyalgia chronic pain, altitude sickness, motion illness, and now culture shock…

I kept banging my head against the roof and being thrown from side to side to the amusement of my classmates. They created a human shield for me and everything (at least they had a heart).

Then you tell me you want to take me paragliding in Batu?

I thought we were going to have a picnic on top of the roof of a villager’s house while looking at the stunning rolling hills, rice paddies, and fog. We did that under the stars in an oasis in the middle of the desert when I was studying abroad in Egypt and that’s cool. What’s totally not cool is all the aforementioned circumstances, including the scary little van, with the fog, mixed with extreme sports now.

Let’s do it. Let’s f***ing go Batu paragliding, biatches.

Think of the van as a torturing machine that slowly broke me down until I had no choice but to succumb to my death. “This is a pretty badass way to go,” I rationed. “Jumping off a mountain as if I were an X-gamer somewhere exotic and gorgeous.”

Morale of my day paragliding in Batu:

it isn’t about the fall, but whether you get UP

That Batu paragliding day trip was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’m so happy I just got tired of having such a tough first week in Indonesia that I simply went for it. I finally made the decision to stop beating myself up for everything that had gone wrong lately. In the process, I learned that fear and adrenaline are what we need sometimes to move forward.

We can be pretty damn dramatic after we just had our heart broken. And after an episode of fibromyalgia. And after jet lag. And motion sickness. And and and. We always seem to come up with excuses: some more valid than others. Regardless, instead of focusing so much on the fall, we should look up instead of down. Scheming getting up instead of pitying being down.

The fall is all about how you get up. Learn from your mistake, but don’t beat yourself up so much for it. Don’t waste time crying over spilled milk.Focus your attention on how to move forward.

PS. People have asked me what paragliding feels like…

Feels like a pretty damn good punch in the stomach at first. But afterwards? It’s like you died and came back to life. A huge pump of fresh air pushed into your lungs. Like CPR for your mind, for your heart. Just what I needed to start my year studying in Indonesia with the right mindset.

One more tip: you can also go zip lining down  “flying fox” for about US $2.00!

zip lining and paragliding in Batu

Batu paragliding details:

Cost: 300,000 Indonesian rupiah as of 2015

Transportation: either private taxi or hire a van and divide the cost between a couple of students.

Darmasiswa students note: ask your program contact whether this Malang day trip is included as one of your activities from UMM or other colleges from Kota Malang!

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Paragliding in Malang, Indonesia

Nusa Penida Diving: Mola-Molas and My Near-Death Experience

I could have died there. Not because I was diving in Nusa Penida next to a giant mola-mola, though. Oh, no: but because I was so elated (and high on nitrogen) by the sight that I’d unknowingly drifted down to 40 meters (131 feet) deep.

That’s 10 meters (~33 feet) over my PADI certification limits.

Nusa Penida diving mola-molas

My body felt tightly squeezed; chest compressed to the point where my breaths were nearly silent.

Worse yet? I was over 20 meters deeper than my dive buddy. Alone.

That’s creepy as heck after going through my rescue diver course.

If Ucal, dive master at Dive Concepts, would have stopped tapping its tank to catch my attention… Or if the giant mola-mola wouldn’t have stopped looking straight into my eyes and dashed into the deep blue, who knows what would’ve happened

I have no idea what I was thinking. Under nitrogen narcosis though, anything can happen. This is why I’m getting a dive computer ASAP!

Nusa Penida Diving: Other Great Sights

Thankfully, my Nusa Penida diving experiences go beyond a near-death immersion.

Besides giant Oceanic Sunfish sightings, I enjoyed exhilarating drift dives both in Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Some of my favorites include:

  • Sampalan: stunning variety of healthy coral, coupled with teaming reef fish schools thanks to fast-and-furious drifts.
  • Pura Mas Gading: cold currents, but worth the shivers. Drift by spotted box fish, coral groupers, red-toothed triggerfish, huge red scorpion fish, and schools of bluefin trevally–some of the site’s cool residents.
diving in Nusa Penida, scorpion fish

scorpion fish by Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten, Flickr

  • Buyuk: mild current, 20-meter visibility and where my mola-mola sighting occurred (and I almost kicked the bucket…). Quite special to me, of course.
  • Crystal Bay: between August and October, your best chances of spotting the elusive mola-mola are at this site.

If it weren’t for the choppy seas, I could have dive with huge manta rays in Nusa Penida as well. The sweetest spot for these giants is Manta Point, a site where they are seen year-round thanks to its cleaning station.

I cannot lie: I was pretty upset when Dive Concepts canceled a boat trip there for safety reasons. Yet, they surely made up for it. No disappointments there!

Nusa Penida diving, Manta Point

While Dive Concepts is actually located on Nusa Lembongan, most dive sites are around Nusa Penida–a beautiful boat ride away. Around this hidden gem is where I did most of my immersions.

Trust me: if it weren’t for my short three-night stay, I would have explored more dive sites in Nusa Lembongan. Experienced divers particularly recommend:

  • Mangrove Point: spectacular drift for snorkelers and divers alike. Astounding variety of both flora and fauna; even whale sharks have been spotted here. Regularly named one of Nusa Lembongan’s finest sites.
  • Blue Corner: advanced divers only. Intense currents typically equal big pelagics territory. White tip sharks, marble rays, bamboo sharks, and even schools of dolphins have been spotted here. Surreal coral and rocky terraces serve as background.

Three immersions and two dive days in Nusa Penida were certainly not enough for me. Yet, given the fact I spent the other four in Amed Bali, I still said farewell to Indonesia with a huge grin on my face.

Huge thanks to Manu from Dive Concepts for allowing me to have a glimpse of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida diving free of charge. I was not paid for a positive review, though. All views and recommendations written here are honest and 100% based on my true experiences. Can’t wait to see you again, Bali!

My Amed Bali: Scenic Drives, Volcanic Beaches, Colorful Corals

“Have we hopped to a different island?!” I marveled, as we drove from the southern coast to Amed Bali. Towering volcano peaks hanging over expansive ocean vistas, dozens of green rice paddies, and no hotels in sight. For miles.

These unspoiled Bali images were a far cry from Central Kuta’s debauchery.

A ride through East Bali will whisk you away to a completely different world. Aside from Candidasa, only small, picturesque fishing villages dot the coast. Besides my Blooming Lotus yoga experience, my stay in this region was my favorite part of my last 12-day holiday in the island.

Amed Bali, Jemeluk beach

Amed’s Jemeluk Beach viewpoint

My Amed Bali

Amed was love at first sight for me. Its unique volcanic sand beaches serve as stark background to colorful coral gardens beneath. Above, endless mountainous panoramas sprinkle its narrow, twisting roads. Intimate hotels and B&B’s are scattered throughout the area, but without overwhelming it.

This region of Bali might be known as a diver’s paradise, but it’s also one of the most romantic places I’ve ever visited. Below, a breakdown of my lovely stay.

Puri Wirata Dive Resort in Amed, Bali

1. Rent a scooter and try Balinese cuisine

Another traveler and I split the cost of a scooter, which cost 60,000 rupiah (about USD $4.50) a day without much negotiation. The fun vehicle allowed us to explore nearby villages and catch some stunning panoramas and sunsets. Better yet? We penetrated some hidden, narrow alleys in order to practice our Bahasa Indonesia while sampling authentic Balinese delicacies.

Make sure you catch a sunset from Jemeluk Beach viewpoint and try lawar (crunchy-and-tender veggie mix, soaked in local spices) with babi guling (suckling pig–a rarity in a Muslim-majority country).

local cuisine in Amed, Bali

Lawar babi, a Balinese delicacy

2. Appreciate black sand beaches

Amed really made me appreciate the beauty of black sand beaches. Made out of a mix of volcanic ashes and marine shells, they serve as a stunning background to the colorful tropical fish and variety of coral.

I caught myself saying “most white sand beaches are overrated” more than once. And this comes from a girl who grew up swimming on the white powdery beaches of Puerto Rico!

The exotic contrasts found on East Bali’s coasts are on a category of their own. Whether you dive, snorkel or simply swim, the crystalline waters will allow you to catch a glimpse of this gorgeous underwater world.

Thanks to Bali Reef Divers, I got to marvel not only at the underwater gems of Amed, but also Bunutan, Seraya, and even Tulamben for no additional charge. My all-you-can-dive package included pretty much all dive sites in the stellar region — scenic drives as added bonuses!

My 11 Amed Bali / Tulamben dives were incredible. My favorites?

  • The fast-and-furious drift at Bunutan, where we saw day octopus, were we spotted a day octopus, small cuttlefish, several blue-spotted stingrays, and at least 3 different types of eels.
  • USAT Liberty Wreck night dive, where we saw a huge, fat moray eel twitching like crazy while EATING two whole fish! We also swam with massive hammerheads, tiny skeleton shrimp, decorator crabs, and even a baby lion fish.
  • Diving with sharks at Lipah Beach — the most stunning black-sand-colorful-creatures contrast dive of all. Pregnant and nursing white-tip sharks abound; box fish; unicorn fish; lots of vibrant, colorful coral; and even more blue-spotted rays.
  • Underwater Museum at Jemeluk Beach — breathtaking on the surface and beneath! Saw some fascinating sculptures, my favorite being a huge globe made with carved statues of famous figures. Buddha, Greek Gods, Jesus Christ, and even Virgin Mary were among them. Moreover, I had the cutest yellow baby box fish play with me!

3. Surface intervals at an intimate beachfront resort

After living on a USD $23 a month, 2.5 m x 3 m shoebox room for a year in Malang, I was ready for more comfortable digs. My Amed Bali vacay was adventure-packed–with 3-4 dives a day, I needed an intimate place to relax.

The Puri Wirata Dive Resort served as the perfect base. Located in Bunutan village, right on the outskirts of Amed, meant we were far enough from most lodging–in our own isolated slice of paradise. Yet, still close enough to all the spectacular dive sites, beaches, and viewpoints.

Amed dive resort, Bali

The suites were huge, making them a great value, plus spread out throughout the grounds. Moreover, with two separate oceanview pool areas, fellow guests were even more scattered. Even though there were a few locals offering cheap massages from the public beach, the coast was deserted most of our stay.

It was a very intimate, relaxing experience.

Given that there weren’t many great choices when it came to seaside restaurants in Amed, I was relieved to prove that delicious, generous portions were served at the Puri Wirata restaurant as well. Add to that those fantastic views from the dining areas and now it makes sense why our scooter trips were far in between after a day or two!

restaurant in Amed, Bali

4. Not PADI certified? Give diving a try. Really.

My friend Moe wasn’t a diver, so he was quite at ease upon arrival at the Puri Wirata Dive Resort. He could scooter around, taking in all the stunning vistas, in addition to relaxing by two oceanview pools. Still, after just one day of exploring Amed Bali, he couldn’t help but think: why not give diving a try!?

There’s something called Discover SCUBA. It takes about half a day or so. During the short introductory course, they stick you in a safe, confined environment (a shallow pool!) with full equipment so you get a sense of what it feels to breathe underwater.

Feeling comfy? You’ll get to explore some black sand beaches underneath, sprinkled with colorful corals and bizarre creatures in the open ocean!

attractions in Amed, Bali diving

You can’t get over it after a few attempts? No worries: at least you tried it out.

But what if you love it?!

Let me tell you a little secret: I had a minor panic attack during my own Discover SCUBA experience in Hurghada, Egypt. I had to keep telling my brain that there was air in my freaking mouth, that I could breathe.

Why the heck was I freaking out, then!?

I kept repeating those phrases to myself for several minutes. Finally, as I emerged, I was alright. It seems like all I needed was a strong shake. Years later, I’m a certified rescue diver!

Fortunately, Moe moved on to complete his PADI Open Water course as well. Needless to say, his trip to Amed Bali was that much more memorable because of it.

Seeing that video brought back so many wonderful memories, especially of the wreck and muck diving. You have no idea how those creatures of the underwater world, whether big or small, can change your life…

…or how one small village can leave you whispering “I just want to leave it all behind and stay with you…”

I will never forget you, my dear Amed Bali <3

Special thanks to Birger and the stellar team at Puri Wirata Dive Resort and Bali Reef Divers for gifting me one of my most memorable experiences in Indonesia, free of charge. Every word on this article, however, is nothing but my honest opinion. Both your grounds and Amed Bali are magical.

Like my first muck diving experience at Lembeh Strait, the microorganisms and other marine life in East Bali captured my heart and soul. Moreover, the wonderful staff at both your hotel and dive shop made me feel like family. I can’t wait to go back to practice my Bahasa Indonesia and see my new brothers and sisters again!

My Blooming Lotus Yoga Experience: Rehab, Pain Relief & Euphoria

blooming lotus yoga experience, Ubud Villa

I was scared. I would go from living fully on less than USD $150 a month to 6 times that in a week’s time. From an ephemeral Ubud yoga retreat at Blooming Lotus Yoga, I would move back to the Expensive States of America. Reverse culture shock was already affecting me psychologically.

“This trip has taken almost 2 hours. Are we there yet?!”

My impatience, while riding in a comfortable air-conditioned van, was a perfect reflection of that. Travel fatigue, in addition to fibromyalgia, were the physical ingredients that completed the recipe for disaster.

I could see, smell, taste, hear, feel pain like never before.

Before I could reanalyze why the heck I was even moving back to the USA, we arrived to our destination. My door opened as the staff of Ubud Corner 88 welcomed me in warm Balinese fashion.

blooming lotus yoga retreat, Ubud corner 88

The pleasing sound of Bahasa Indonesia slipped out of my lips to greet them in return. Quickly after, the lively scent of lemongrass penetrated my nose and the sweet taste of shredded coconut and honey filled my mouth. The soothing sound of the river and birds chirping serenaded my ears.

It’s amazing how simple sensations are augmented in distress.

Just a few minutes after my arrival, I knew the land that hosted Blooming Lotus Yoga had been blessed.

It was special.

The aura, energy that increasingly enveloped me with every step into the property made me want to jump of joy. I don’t know how I switched from worry to euphoria in such a short period of time.

Such is the ambiance of a proper yoga retreat, I’ve come to learn.

Ubud yoga experience, Bali Villa

For the next 4 days, I was nourished with vegetarian meals, grew with meditation lessons, and strengthened with yoga sessions. While the asanas and flows I followed there seemed elementary, the mindfulness I learned to apply while doing each move is what completely transformed my practice.

Slowly, my body’s energy flow shifted. I felt so light, like a leaf in the wind.

Some practices were challenging: my mind shaken as a collapsing Jenga tower, piece by piece. I was diminished to tears as little knives rapidly stabbed my weak wrists and fingers. The pain was almost unbearable.

Yet, other hours I would reach such depth meditating that I would burst out into tears. JOY — joy so powerful I had to make the supernatural effort to not jump off the roof. Literally.

blooming lotus yoga review, Bali retreat

Shockingly, I almost forgot I suffered from chronic disease by the end of the yoga retreat. The pain was so sporadic, so fleeting.

I felt so strong! Healthy, for once…

I didn’t want to leave. I was so scared of my previous mental and physical state. I was clinging to my experience in Bali. Then, I was reminded of one profound lesson from Buddha that we were constantly reminded of throughout our Blooming Lotus Yoga experience:

You only lose what you cling to.

So I simply let go. Like the wind, I let it gentle caress me–and enjoy it while it lasts. Yet, just as its lovely touch came, I let it go as it brushes away.

Everyday’s a struggle, but being grateful and rejoicing in what I have instead of what I don’t is slowly, but surely, relieving my pain. It’s not only a physical, but also a mental metamorphosis.

And of course: yoga every damn day.

blooming lotus yoga in Bali, pool

Letting go gives us freedom – and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety or possessions – we cannot be free.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Have you been to a yoga retreat? Would you try Blooming Lotus Yoga?

Namaste to Ramananda, Lily, Ashley, and the entire staff at Villa Ubud Corner 88 for offering me a Blooming Lotus Yoga experience on a complimentary basis. I did not receive any payment for this article or the views presented therein, however.

Thus, the following has been an authentic account of my metamorphosis during my short stay in their blessed land. By taking part of this yoga retreat, I truly experienced physical and mental pain relief and euphoria. It’s the most effective rehab ‘program’ I’ve been part of. I’ll be forever indebted to you for your kindness, my dear Blooming Lotus yogis.

Malang Beaches: Goa Cina and Clungup PHOTOS

I was terribly homesick. I had just gotten back from a two-week trip visiting loved ones in America—and was going insane. School had not started yet, my Indonesian friends were too busy, and all I could think of in my loneliness was the beautiful beaches of my beloved Puerto Rico. I was crying. I was desperate. Then, I received a timely text message: “Ale, have you been to Clungup beach, Goa Cina or any other Malang beaches yet?”

I responded with my sad little rant.

Novriska brushed it off though, saying: “oke Ale, you’re staying over at my place tonight and we’re rising early to visit them tomorrow!”

Pantai Clungup view

Pantai Clungup, Malang

You don’t hear about the beaches of Southern Java outside of Indonesia too often—if ever, really. Romantic Westerners glorify Bali; divers rave about Sulawesi and Raja Ampat; backpackers flock to Gili Trawangan. This is exactly what makes Malang beaches, particularly Clungup, so special.

Clungup beach Malang

Clungup beach, Malang cove

To get there, you must drive to Sitiarjo village, part of the Malang (Kebupaten) Regency, first. Once at Sitiarjo, follow the signs to Sendang Biru beach, then onto Goa Cina (photos of the latter down this post!). From here, the real adventure begins: follow the path along the coast by foot, eventually turning left into beautiful fields and even private property.

Clungup beach trail

We politely asked the farmers we saw whether it would be okay for us to continue. They were kind enough to not only allow us, but lead us to the hidden paradise that is Clungup beach.

Clungup beach lookout

After going down the scary slope, a sense of calm over took me. We were the only souls on Clungup beach. The stark rock formations, bright turquoise waters, shady cove, and crisp salty air took me back home:

Malang Beach Cove

Malang beaches, Cove

My friends immediately retreated to the cove, as I dipped my toes into the wet sand. I took a deep breath, staring into the Java Sea for several minutes.

Malang beach rock formations

I was mesmerized.

Finally, I picked up my camera and took photos—and even found a cute little crab:

Malang Beach crab

Goa Cina Beach, Malang

After spending a few quiet hours in Pantai Clungup, we hiked back to Goa Cina beach. Literally meaning “Chinese cave,” due to the stunning cave by its entrance, it was quite a contrast from Clungup. Already midday, the beach was busy with Indonesian visitors—Sam and I being the only foreigners, though.

Waves can be quite strong here, so we just kicked back and looked at the ocean come and go:

Goa Cina beach, Malang

Goa Cina beach, Java sea

Really, we didn’t do much that day. Some of my friends were fishing, later releasing what they caught, but all I did was detox. I had too much on my mind—had kind of lost sense of why I came to Indonesia in the first place. A few relaxing hours by two of the most beautiful Malang beaches was exactly what I needed to reboot and refocus.

Goa Cina beach, Malang Indonesia

Goa Cina panorama, Malang beaches

I’m here to learn the language, take in the beautiful landscapes when not in school, and freaking CHILL! I mean seriously, when will I be able to say I’m a student on a full ride scholarship ever again? Especially when I’m almost 28 😛

The Bizarre World of Lembeh Strait Diving, Indonesia

“How am I going to describe this place?” I pondered, as yet another stunning Indonesia sunset glistened over the water. Cup of hot ginger tea in hand, I repeated this to Paco Santiago, marine biologist and Lembeh Strait diving manager.

After he went on to describe the “beauty of the small,” I begged him to please write those words down. Somehow, his own reflections perfectly described how I felt about the dramatic landscapes and tiny creatures that had left me speechless the past few days.

So here is what the Kungkungan Bay Resort and Lembeh Strait’s “muck” underwater world mean to us, translated from Paco’s original Spanish article. All underwater photos by Mr. Santiago as well.

blue ring octopus, Lembeh Strait diving

The Beauty of the Small: Lembeh Strait Diving

Everything is tranquil. Only a few small local boats, known as kantinting, transit the gentle waters of Lembeh Strait. To the sides, the island of Sulawesi is covered in intense greenery. The warm waters flow north to south, depositing nutrients at the bottom of the narrow strait.

From the surface, one can point out a few areas with coral, others with ocher. Then, there’s this strange sand: what looks like black mud, of volcanic origin, which doesn’t look very attractive. On the contrary: just looking at it makes us think of dark, lifeless wilderness.

Lembeh Strait diving, Kungkungan Bay Resort

These ocean bottoms are known as “muck.”

We are determined to take a closer look, so donning diving equipment, we gently descend five meters deep. We follow a local guide, who slowly moves across the black sand, looking for something.

It’s hard to believe that there could be something to see there.

But shortly after, the guide points out a camouflaged crab, a shrimp, an octopus, a nudibranch, a worm. They move slowly, lonely. Two seconds later, the guide shows us more, and more… And then we realize what hides in there.

Everything that is slowly revealing in front of our eyes is the product of a long evolutionary process—thousands of years long. In that time, these strange, interesting creatures have become experts in the art of camouflage.

Doesn’t matter how many times you have experienced Lembeh Strait diving, how many photos of strange creatures you have captured or even how much you know about marine biology. This narrow strait always surprises, always amazes.

Due to its degree of biodiversity, to the presence of species with unusual behavior, to the transformation it evokes on divers swimming right in front of it.

Lembeh Strait diving

It is as change of focus: of concentrating in the small, even the minuscule. The majority of the creatures living here are small, but sometimes too small:

From octopus surrounded by blue rings to pygmy seahorses: everything in the Lembeh Strait is full of bizarre, magical nuances. In turn, visitors are transformed—makes them concentrate on the details, leaving the surrounding “noise” far away.

Time dilates; seconds pass by quite slowly, staring at these unique creatures.

nudibranch, Lembeh Strait diving

Lastly, we realize we are due to surface. Suddenly, time passed quickly—too quickly.

Now we’re changed: we understand the beauty of tiny creatures. The beauty of the small.

I was offered a complimentary, all-inclusive five-night Lembeh Strait diving package at the Kungkungan Bay Resort. However, all opinions are my own. The unique, tiny creatures I met there completely changed my perspective not only as a diver, but as a traveler. Such an eye-opener, revealing the unknown worlds around us!

How & Why I Moved to Indonesia: My Story (VIDEO)

Can you believe it’s already been 6 months since I moved to Indonesia? Life has been so crazy I have not even been able to blog about it. But FINALLY! I can tell you a bit about the How and why I moved to Indonesia, getting you up to speed with my fans following my life here on Facebook.

There are many nuances about my life in Malang, Indonesia. However, the following video, recorded prior my departure, will tell you a bit more about myself and how I ended on this magical country. If you have any tips or enchanting places I should visit Indonesia, please leave a comment below!

How and Why I Moved to Indonesia VIDEO and transcript

Hola! My name is Maria Alexandra Laborde, and I’m a 27-year-old translator and travel blogger from Caguas, Puerto Rico.

You can kind of say I’ve become a serial expat, as this is not my first move abroad. I actually moved from Puerto Rico to Tampa, Florida to go to college back in 2005. during college, I also studied abroad in Egypt and Morocco for about a year and a half. I traveled all over the Middle East, Europe and I loved it, so I vowed to myself that once I got back graduated I would become a nomadic translator and hit the road indefinitely.

But then life happened…

Before I even graduated, on my last semester, I got a translation job. Once I got my 2 degrees, I earned a quick promotion to manager of 2 departments. So there was this war between my adventurous spirit and all this newfound success and money at an early age so I was confused. Unfortunately, at the time, the latter suffocated the former.

Things changed very quickly in early 2013 though, as I suffered of an on-the-job injury and had to move back to my parents in Puerto Rico because I lost my job. Things were tough.

It was during one of those “I have no idea where my life is going” moments that I realized “hey! I’ve always wanted to go to Indonesia!” Ever since I was little kid, I was fascinated by its biodiversity and the mix of Buddhist/Muslim/Portuguese/Arab…all these cultures. So then, I went through that my files and I remembered there’s a full-ride scholarship that would allow me to study in-country, all-expenses-paid, the Bahasa Indonesia language and also their culture.

So I was like WOW, let’s apply…so I applied, crossed my fingers very tightly and…BOOM! Just in June (2014) I found out that I WAS SELECTED!

This move came with some great SACRIFICES though, of course.

I was in a 3-year relationship and had to take an indefinite break due to the great distance. Also, I have a 2-year-old nephew back in Puerto Rico and he’s growing up so fast. I’m afraid he’s not going remember me when I come back…

As for the city I’m moving into, I can honestly say that I did not choose Malang: Malang chose me. It was nowhere in my application for the scholarship. However, the committee felt that since one of my goals was to delve deeper into the culture that Malang fit the bill. And, after reading more about it and finding out that it is known as “the Paris of East Java,” I was pretty convinced.

how and why I moved to Indonesia, Malang city

Malang, Indonesia city view by Deshi Yin, Flickr

Now on to the house hunting experience which was, very surprisingly, the easiest part of this entire process! Right after I got the scholarship, I went online and searched in the Indonesian language for boarding houses in Malang. Given my budget, there was no way I was going to find something the boarding house while searching in English.

BUT! Just 2 days in I found a boarding house I liked, I haggled the price down in Indonesian via email, finalized everything through Skype, put my deposit in, and that was that!

It’s pretty crazy that because of an injury is that I’m actually moving to Malang, Indonesia. Even crazier is the fact that I’m moving there without ever stepping foot on that country. Or town. EVER. But that seems to be my life and my motto. There’s a famous quote that sums it all up very nicely: “It is only in adventure that some people finally find themselves, get to know themselves.”

More details about how and why I moved to Indonesia coming soon!

It’s official: I’m moving to INDONESIA, studying in Malang for a year!

It’s been the craziest of months, or heck, YEARS for me. FULL of lows, but the highs are FINALLY here: I AM moving to INDONESIA, on a FULL-RIDE scholarship. It is OFFICIAL!!! Here’s when I made the announcement to my Facebook fans 2 weeks ago:

I was so busy signing contracts, looking for cheap flights, having serious conversations with my boyfriend and family members, etc. that I couldn’t blog about it until now! And just wait until I tell you, the situation it’s a weee bit crazier than we all expected…

Moving to Indonesia — and a city I had never heard about (until now)

SO! The first thing you’ll notice is that I wasn’t sent to Yogyakarta, my first choice. Heck, I wasn’t even sent to my second choice, which was close to Jakarta. In fact, I was sent to the Muslim University of Malang (Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang), also known as UMM. While I am a Christian, you know I lived over 16 months in North Africa (Egypt and Morocco), so I am quite used to living in a Muslim society. So the fact that they sent me to a Muslim school is not an issue — it will be quite exciting to see the nuances between Muslim Indonesians and Muslim North Africans, actually. But

moving to Indonesia, Malang caldera

Where are you guys sending me…!? [Malang’s caldera by Flickr user]

I had never heard of Malang. Ever.

It was nowhere in my application: all I talked about was how I interesting UGM’s Bahasa Indonesia program was, due to the mix of field trips and classroom instruction. Furthermore, Yogyakarta is known as the cultural center of Indonesia, which would allow me to delve deep into their customs, traditions, arts, music, DANCE. But like my boyfriend said, be careful what you wish for…! Imagine my shock and mixed emotions when I saw that I was selected, but sent to a campus and city I had never heard of…

I hyperventilated. Freaked out. Cried. I didn’t know how to feel.

Malang city panorama, moving to Indonesia

OH! For a moment I thought I had been sent to the middle of the jungle…              [Deshi Yin, Flickr]

“What an experience that will be!” yapped my boyfriend, as I stood there, frozen. It wasn’t until he sat me down, gave me a big hug, started looking for pictures, video, ANY INFORMATION he could find about “Malang” that I calmed down — and increasingly restored my excitement for this HUMONGOUS move.

Kota Malang traffic, moving to Indonesia

PHEW! Kota Malang traffic by Ikhlasul Amal, Flickr

Malang and Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang

My heart was comforted: the more I read about Malang Indonesia, the more I realized how locals and tourists alike LOVED it. Indonesians have nicknamed it “the Paris of East Java” due to its cool air (elevation) and economic prosperity even. It is quite a small city considering what I’m used to, with about 800,000 residents. Still! I did live in Ifrane, Morocco after all, right? Here’s a video of Kota Malang (in the Indonesian language!) to get us acquainted:

What about my new alma mater? Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang (UMM) only has students from Indonesia and 10 other countries (mostly Asian). This means that either Bahasa Indonesia or other languages will be spoken around me. WHOA! 😀 As for the Darmasiswa scholarship program at this university, it is quite unique and even more intensive than my first choice UGM. I will be taking between 16-19 credits, and if I place at the intermediate level as I hope to, I’ll even have to perform at a freakin’ Indonesian Musical as part of my curriculum. How crazy awesome is that?!

It’s the first time I won’t be attending an American University in any shape or form. I’ll truly be in uncharted territory and honestly, I CAN’T WAIT NOW!

Have you visited Indonesia or Malang? Share your travel tips with me!

2014 New Year resolutions: study in Indonesia and finally discover ASIA!

Hiiiiiii! *Waves energetically* Indeed, I’m so excited by the development of my 2014 New Year resolutions this past week! As some of you know, I’ve been struggling with some issues + in-between jobs for most of 2013, so I’m certainly looking forward to the new year. And so, it was during one of those “I have no idea where my life is going” moments that I remembered 2 items that have been buried deep within my travel bucket list for way too long:

To study in Indonesia and finally discover ASIA

2014 New Year resolutions, Yogyakarta volcano

Volcano in Yogyakarta

But, HOW? I’m living off savings as we speak. I’m back home with my parents. And then it occurred to me…

There’s a SCHOLARSHIP to study Bahasa Indonesia in-country! YES!

I scoured my computer and all online backup storage websites I’ve signed up for in order to find it. And I did. In fact, I found TWO scholarships: one that would whisk me away, all-expenses-paid, for 3 months, not only to learn the Indonesian language but also to delve deep into the culture, learning more about their traditional dances; while the other would allow me to study Bahasa Indonesia for an entire YEAR, my only expenses being my medical insurance and RT airfare.

learn Bahasa Indonesia, 2014 New Year resolutions

Bahasa Indonesia sign (Indonesian language) at Prambanan Temple by Remon Rijper

I couldn’t wait until January 1st to get started on these 2014 New Year resolutions, though! In less than 10 days, I got 2 of the 3 recommendation letters I need and most of the application packet contents. I’m just waiting to hear back from one professor of mine, to get my passport photos taken, and to update my resume.

…and another opportunity to break my heart into tiny little pieces…

mend broken heart, 2014 New Year resolutions

Another 2014 New Year resolution? Mend a broken heart—& dreams [Photo: Romana Klee]

It’s so weird: I’ve been through so many disappointments, broken dreams lately that there’s this seething, new-found fear within me whenever I plan BIG. Once again, there’s an “application process.” Once again, here I am all thrilled only to possibly be in tears in a couple of months’ time. I can fight it, I’m strong—but it also gets tiring.

I would like to think that it gets a bit easier though. At least applying for scholarships is something that I’ve done before (quite successfully! That’s how I studied for an entire year in Egypt—all expenses paid). It’s not some stupid contest based on whether they like me in front of the camera or not. It’s based on solid facts: my experiences, my GPA (suddenly, those honor program diplomas are worth something!). So let’s hope I have a better chance at these 2014 New Year resolutions…

SO! Let’s DREAM! Where would I be going if I’m a selected scholar?!

Sewu Temple, 2014 new year resolutions

Sewu Temple, Yogyakarta by Ferian-pz, Flickr

Yogyakarta, a student town + epicenter of Javanese arts and culture

My biggest dream would be to be awarded the one-year scholarship. My top choice is the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM), as it is one of the most prestigious Bahasa Indonesia programs in the country, in addition to being located in Yogyakarta, a student town with over 100 other colleges PLUS the epicenter of Javanese arts and culture. I hear from locals and experts alike that it’s such a great environment: lots and lots to do, full of artists, not as crowded, etc.

Dian Al-Mahri mosque, 2014 new year resolutions

Dian Al-Mahri mosque in Depok, West Java by GedhangGoreng, Flickr

Depok, close to the capital and home of University of Indonesia

I’m not that thrilled about my 2nd choice, but I hear it’s an excellent Bahasa Indonesia program as well. I keep hearing horror stories about Jakarta (and Depok on weekends) though: much pollution, chaos. It eerily reminds me of Cairo though and how I lived an entire year there. It was a love-hate relationship, but some love there regardless. So let’s see where the universe takes me…!

discover Asia Golden Triangle, 2014 new year resolutions

not going to talk about the Golden Triangle now: these are just countries I want to visit, discover Asia in 2014! 😉 [Photo: mikkelz, Flickr]

Discover Asia: Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, Singapore

If I get the one-year scholarship, that means I would have to take care of my own airfare. We frequent flyers know that it’s cheaper to buy a multi-stop ticket than a round-trip ticket sooo…! Time to DISCOVER ASIA! Yay! I would probably leave a month in advance, going to Hong Kong (2-3 days), Thailand (2 weeks), Burma (1 week), Laos (2 days), and Singapore (2-3 days) before landing on Indonesia. That’s assuming I already know which boarding house I’ll be staying at…

South Sulawesi Beach, study in Indonesia

Another reason to study in Indonesia: the beautiful beaches of South Sulawesi [Photo: Thomas Blower, Flickr]

Sulawesi or Javanese dancing? That is the question…

As far as the 3-month arts and culture scholarship goes, I’m between learning about the South Sulawesi or Javanese. The more I look into Sulawesi though, the more I’m intrigued! In comparison to Java, it is so remote, so gorgeous, amazing diving… And, since I might be living in Yogyakarta, I might as well check out Southern Sulawesi for 3 months! Here I am, already assuming I got both the 3-month and the regular one year scholarships back-to-back… Why do I have to be such a dreamer?!

study in Indonesia, South Sulawesi architecture

South Sulawesi architecture exhibit inside a ‘theme park’ in Jakarta by Joseph Younis, Flickr

What are your top 2014 New Year resolutions? Why?