Tag Archives: immigration

Teaching English in Indonesia

My time in Malaysia had finally come to an end and it was time to get out of the country to explore a new one.  I had been wrestling with what to do and where to go for a while and all I really knew was that I wanted to continue to volunteer somewhere, but just didn’t know where.

Tirelessly I researched place after place and continuously ran into programs that allowed volunteers to work with this or that animal, but the cost of doing so was atrocious!  Finally I came across a site called helpstay.com.  After reading reviews about the site as to its validity and exploring the various opportunities they had available in surrounding countries, I decided to take the plunge and join as a member of the site so I could contact one very specific volunteer opportunity.  In all honesty, the second I found the posting to volunteer teaching English at a home site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia that also had an organic farm, I signed up to the site and kept my fingers and toes crossed that they had availability for volunteers.

Within a few hours my inquiry was replied to and a Skype date was set so we could put faces to one another and see if we really were a match for each other, volunteer-wise.  Though part of me was a bit nervous to give away information about myself and Skype a literal stranger in a foreign country, the minute we chatted I knew I’d made the right decision.

The volunteer program organizer is an 18-year-old marvel named Faisal.  He invites people from around the world to stay with him and his family in exchange for volunteers to develop lessons and teach english to local students aged 6 to 18 years.  I was so very impressed with him during our Skype session, that I immediately committed to volunteering for a month with him and couldn’t wait to get there!

Now, all of my volunteering to this point involved animals, because that’s really where my love and strength lies.  I’d never taught English before (and I’d made sure to relate that to Faisal during our chat) but being a native english speaker I thought, how hard could it be? Less than a month after connecting with Faisal I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I stayed the first night in Makassar (as my flight landed in the late evening) and first thing the next morning made my way to the Terminal Daya bus station for the 8 hour bus ride to Belopa.

Upon arriving at Terminal Daya I noted several men standing in front of the very, VERY basic bus terminal.  I spoke zero Bahasa and no one so far spoke any English (or very limited at best!) but luckily all that was required of me to say was: Belopa?.  That did the trick as they simultaeously all practically cheered “Belopa!” together.  They whisked my bag out of the taxi and walked me over… away from the vehicles that actually looked like busses… to basically a 4 door Ford truck.  Hmmmm…. is this right???  They all had stickers on the front saying “Pelopo” so I pointed to the truck and said again “Belopa?”.  “Ya, ya” was their response as they hauled my bag into the bed of the truck, took out their cell phones and typed in 150,000… the cost of the trip!

Lord knew at that point whether I was getting majorly ripped off or not, but what choice did I have exactly?  As it turned out, that was the correct and normal price 🙂  Happy day!  Moving on, I paid the fee and squished in the back seat with two other females and after a few minutes we were on our way.  There was actually a third line of seats behind my own, so in total we were a team of 7 people trundling along on the journey to Belopa (an hour South of Pelopo as it turns out).

The journey there was visually beautiful.  The mountains and the sea, vast and open rice fields, the endless green and tropical lush surrounding us.  Absolutely stunning!  The one downfall was that the driver smoked the entire way up, which was a bummer, but at least the windows were fully open to allow quick exchanges of air.  We took one break along the way for some food and a bathroom and made it into Belopa just about 8 hours to the dot later.  After a bit of miming and a game of charades with my fellow passengers in the truck, I was able to communicate that I wanted to be dropped off at the nearest ATM as I seriously had zero rupiah on me.  Luckily enough, the ATM I was dropped off at was next to a coffee shop that offered free WiFi.  So while sipping on a cappuccino (made from an instant coffee sachet) I used the WiFi to let Faisal know I’d arrived, and my exact location.

About 5 minutes later, Faisal showed up in his brother’s vehicle and we finally met in person.  Faisal, again only being 18 years of age and having only studied English for about 2 years spoke english brilliantly!  We loaded my stuff into his vehicle and made the 15 minute drive to his town called Bajo.  The town was absolutely adorable!!  When we arrived there was a football (soccer) match at the village field so there were tons of locals gathered for the game.

Just a bit further along the road we came to his lovely and humble home where I met his mom (mama as we called her who spoke zero english) and dad (who spoke a bit of english) and his cousin Irpan (a student in one of the english classes).  His family was lovely and so immediately welcoming that it just made my heart melt.  I was shown to my room and given a tour of the house and the school-house built by Faisal and some of his schoolmates Ucok and Iswan.  We had some dinner together (Faisal whipped up a deliciously spicy nasi goreng if memory serves) and I made my way to bed.

Thus began one of my most memorable months of traveling…

Visit Faisal’s website to find out more about his amazing volunteer program!!

Review of the Our Chance school

On to Favorite Memories from Bajo

Back to Indonesia

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Don’t Mess with Thailand

I will say for the record that yes, the following scenario was pretty much 100% my fault, and no, I don’t recommend anyone else to follow in my footsteps (as the ending results may vary greatly!!).

When I first arrived in Thailand in December of 2014 I didn’t bother to look at my passport stamp before leaving the immigration desk.  Instead it was probably the next day, after I’d slept for several hours catching up on lost sleep, that I bothered to look (out of curiosity) at the stamp in my passport.

It was then that I’d noticed something interesting about my stamp… The entrance date was correct, but the “valid until” stamp said December, 2015…

A year later???  That can’t be right!?  As I started to research information on tourist visas for Thailand, I quickly realized that a mistake had been made.  Tourist visas if entering by plane are ONLY valid for 30 days.  If entering by land I believe it is only 15 days.  To get more than 30 days, extensions must be made and paid for.

Well, at first I was a bit panicked about this incorrect stamp but nothing online seemed to address my issue.  All the visa problems were related to stamps giving LESS than the proper time allotted, never once did I run into anyone saying they were given MORE.

Perhaps that was due to people not wanting the outside world to know they had been “granted” longer than legally allowed… In any event, I was still worried about what to do in the several weeks that followed and almost did a border run within the 30 days, but the more I spoke with fellow tourists (some who had been there for months on end with proper extensions) it seemed that it really wasn’t a big deal.  There was no special stamp for 30 days vs. extended stays, so I thought no biggie!

Everyone (seasoned Thailand travelers) seemed in agreement that there wasn’t even a special visa stamp for year applications.  So needless to say, I simply blew off making border runs and figured I would deal with it whenever I was ready to leave Thailand.

So the day came, about 9 months later, that I was ready to leave.  Up to the border patrol in Tammalang Pier I strolled with my ticket in hand for Langkawi, Malaysia.  I passed over my passport to the seasoned employee… All seemed well for a few seconds… Then his eyebrows furrowed.

I was asked to step out of line and into the back where I was basically scolded for my mistake.  I tried to reason with them saying it was one of their own people’s fault for giving me the wrong stamp, but really when it came down to it (and I knew this already) it was my own fault.  So I was given two choices.  A) Pay the maximum fine for over-staying my visa (20,000 baht) or B) Go to the Police station.

Needless to say I picked A!!  I wasn’t even going to test choosing option B, lol!!  But the only problem then was that I needed cash!  I only had about 70 baht on me, so I basically begged for and borrowed a motorbike, drove myself into town, got the max allowed out of an ATM (20,000 baht), drove back, paid my fine, got a lovely full-page stamp in my passport outlining the infraction (stating boldly my mistake in full detail), finally got my exit stamp, and boarded the ferry to Langkawi Malaysia.

It was kinda humorous at the end there as when I had to return to the main immigration desk hours later (after paying the fine) I ended up with the same officer who caught my mistake.  When I approached, he just gave me a jovial smile and shake of the head.  I had to chuckle at that and smiled.  No hard feelings 🙂  At least I wasn’t asked never to return to Thailand!  I paid my fees and got straight with the law.

So I’ve learned my lesson, which I’d actually seen written several times in visa blog discussions: ALWAYS CHECK YOUR STAMP BEFORE LEAVING THE IMMIGRATION DESK!!!  Avoid future hassles!!

As for the money, if you really think about it, it’s probably the same amount I would have had to spend in border runs and legal extensions of my tourist visa anyway.  C’est la vie!

That’s my story and my warnings!!

On to Malaysia

Back to Thailand

Capurgana, Colombia

So we made it!  “Smuggled” into Columbia through the San Blas Islands on a sailboat captained and crewed by what Nicki (my German companion on the sailboat) so eloquently named “modern day pirates”.  That they were indeed, modern day pirates!!  We actually arrived and docked in the water on the Panama side in a little inlet that had the teeniest towns nearby.  From there a local took all of our things and put them in a little motor boat, squished us all in (we finally got to get our shoes back, mind you!) and motored us around the inlet bend and into the Colombian side of land and dropped us off at the dock of Capurgana, Colombia.

The first thing I remember thinking about this place was how colorful it was!  It was so Caribbean and the vibrant colors of each building just added to that cool Caribbean vibe of “come as you are and chill, man”!!  Just adorable and quaint and just the place that was needed to go and relax after the onboard adventures of the previous week on the sailboat.

We all disembarked from the little motor boat on the dock and went our random ways to find hostels/hotels for the night.  I chose a place not too far from the dock and stayed the first night in a room fit for several people (though I was the only one) then moved to a smaller, better suited room on the second floor for the next week.  Now, one must remember that after being on the sailboat for 6 days certain things hold true… First and most important, I had to get my land legs back!  Even though we had been on land for little bouts throughout the week on the sailboat, my sea legs were still well intact.  Hence why I chose to stay for several days in Capurgana… Not only because it was so vibrant yet chill, but also so I could fully recover from the crazy sailboat tour we had just come from.

After getting settled in the first afternoon of our arrival (oh and of course getting our entrance stamp from immigration, which was closed for the first several hours we were on land so had to wait a while to actually be legal in the country) Nicki and I headed around town to find a cup of coffee.  Now, honestly I’ve never really been a big coffee drinker in the States.  Maybe because all the famous blends and roasts come from places like Costa Rica and Colombia.  Or rather especially Colombia… So we thought it would be quite easy to find a place that sold coffee since we were afterall in one of the countries that was best known for their production of coffee… No.  Not at all. It literally took us the better part of an hour, plus going into dozens of stores before we actually found a place that begrudgingly made us a cup of coffee!!  And to boot, it wasn’t even anything that special.  Apparently, as we came to learn quickly, coffee in Colombia is served only at breakfast and is really not available at any other time!  Ok, now perhaps I really shouldn’t generalize for ALL of Colombia, so I will just say for sure in Capurgana:)

Anyway, all in all the time spent in Capurgana was quite nice.  One day was full of hiking through the surrounding jungle, others just wandering the small town watching and experiencing life.  The evenings were spent passing time with card games with friends from the sailboat.  Oh and one afternoon was spent watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in England (just to give a time stamp of when I was there:)).

To be honest, though I knew I had to move on, I really wasn’t looking forward to it.  The only way out of the town was either on a teeny tiny plane literally fit for two people and luggage (that could not weigh more than a certain amount) or to take a motor boat from Capurgana, across the bay to Turbo, then catch a bus to the next destination.  After having spent so much time in the simplicity of life, between Puerto Viejo, the San Blas Islands and now the tiny town of Capurgana I wasn’t looking forward to getting back into the “hustle” of the faster life.  Honestly, I don’t even recall vehicles in town, only horse drawn carts.  That’s how isolated and simple Capurgana was.  No roads actually lead into it, only a small airstrip and dock for boats connected this small Caribbean town to the rest of the world.

Alas, I did have to get back on the road again however and booked my trip out of Capurgana via the boat.  Nicki, the Aussies and the British fellow had already or were soon also getting on with their travels too.  We each went separate ways.  Though I had wanted to go to Cartagena, Colombia, oddly enough I had gotten an email from my brother saying he was in Bogota for work.  So I altered my plans to try and catch some time with him in Bogota and opted to head first to Medellin.

 

On to Travel from Capurgana to Medellin

Back to Columbia Quicklinks

Border Crossing……………….

Ah…  One of the banes of (well probably only bane) living in Costa Rica is the inevitable border crossing…

Now…. According to Costa Rica law, tourists are only granted a visa for 90 days to stay in the country.  And when you enter the country you must have proof of leaving the country within that 90 day period whether by boat, train or plane…. If you plan on staying longer as I ended up doing, you must hop the border to a neighboring country every 3 months and stay out of the country for one day for each 30 day period you want your passport to be renewed for.  For example, if I wanted a 90 day stamp again, I would have to stay out of the country for 72 hours, or 3 days…

Oh and by the way the 90 day stamp literally means 90 days, NOT 3 months… depending on the agent and how close you are to the end of the 90 days, they may bust out a calendar and count the days and if you are over 90, you could be looking at a hefty bribe, um, eh, I mean fine…

Yes… As you may have guessed by all the “……” in this particular post… lets just say things were not always done completely by the letter of the law… Every 90 days or so I would hop the border, but only for about a night and in one case only for a couple of hours….. I still managed to get 90 day stamps but again I wouldn’t say this will be the case for everyone… One of my friends in fact almost got deported because, even though he left Costa Rica and stayed out appropriately, he didn’t get his stamp back in and almost got the boot for it!

I never bribed anyone either… ok well there was the 3 coca-colas and bag of chips I bought for the Panama immigration in exchange for them stamping me back out of Panama after only a couple hours… But really, does that count?  Funny thing about that is I was upfront with them from the start, said, look I only need a stamp in and out and I can be on my way.  They said ok.  I asked if they wanted anything to which they replied coca-colas.  So off I trotted to do a little shopping and stopped in the grocery store and when they saw me come back, they invited me into the air conditioned office (it was sweltering hot outside with a huge line of tourists piling up to get in and out).  We had our sodas and chips, I showed off my shopping and about 20 minutes later they stamped my passport, we said goodbye and on my way I went!

Another quick border crossing story… the crossing itself…!!  There exists a bridge between Sixaola, Costa Rica and Guabito, Panama  since a river divides the border of Costa Rica and Panama…. This bridge is about the oldest, most rusted out, shady, wood planks falling out beneath you kinda bridge you’ve ever seen!  Walking across it was about the most nerve wracking experience ever and seeing the water rushing below as you made your way across the death trap was enough to almost topple me over!!  Oh yes…. and my favorite part was as dozens of tourists crossed the bridge praying not to fall through the planks, huge semi-trucks would pass you by…. joy of all joys!!  Enjoy the picts…  There are only a couple as it was all I could stomach to do… LOL

 

On to Time to Leave

Back to Puerto Viejo

Arriving in Puerto Viejo

Perhaps one of my favorite moments of living in P.V. actually happened when I arrived.  I took a “tour” from Bocas del Toro, Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica for about $25, which covered all costs of transportation to get there except the $1 needed at the Panama border for the exit visa stamp.  Again, I was asked by the driver on the Costa Rica side “where in P.V. do you want to be dropped off?” and my reply again was “I don’t know, somewhere in town will do!  So he dropped me off near the soccer field in town, just a block or two inland from the main road that runs through P.V.

Now, I mentioned earlier that I happened to arrive on a Holiday weekend… What this meant was that all the locals from inland of Costa Rica had an extended weekend and were on the coast themselves… which meant that all the accommodations had been taken!  yes…

In any event, I was making my way along the soccer field when suddenly an old rasta man came riding up on his bike behind me.  And what follows was our conversation:

Rasta man: Hey Baby, how you doing today?

Me: Great, how are you?

Rasta man: Good baby, good!  You just arrive baby?

Me: Yup.  Every place seems to be full.  Do you know anywhere that may have a place to stay for the night?

Rasta man: Yea baby, there’s that Rockin’ J’s baby.

Me: Oh ok, where do I go for that place?

Rasta man: Just down that street baby, like 10 minutes baby

Me: Great, thanks for the info!

Rasta man: No problem baby, can I get you anything? Meth, smoke, coke, weed…

(and the list literally continued for  several seconds with him naming every known drug on the planet in both formal and street name version…)

Me with a slightly shocked face: No… Nope, thanks I’m good!

Rasta man: Ok baby, you have a great day now!

And away he rode… Definitely made me chuckle!!  Now I should also mention that I had heard of Rocking J’s from a fellow traveler in Bocas del Toro, so when the Rasta man mentioned it, I knew he wasn’t giving me misinformation.  So I wandered down the road until I came across Rocking J’s and rented THE LAST HAMMOCK for the night… Joy!  Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, however Rocking J’s sports over 350 hammocks!!!!  As well as dorms with beds and even private rooms with private beds!  Yes, the place is enormous and right on the water.  Rocking J himself is quite the character!  He’s working on building an arc and selling spaces on it for himself and whoever else wants for the coming storm…

 

On to Starry, Starry Night…

Back to Puerto Viejo