Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 8 December 2017 • Destination
“We’re heading straight back to Jakarta. You guys will have plenty of time to sleep,” Bayu told us as we were packing our bags in the spacious luggage compartment of our ride in the parking lot of our hotel in Yogyakarta. As the one in charge of navigation, he sits mostly in the passenger’s seat next to Pak Yudi the designated driver. Gandes, the girl who’s always busy with her phone and laptop, and I occupy the middle seats. It’s 11 a.m. and off we go to top off the road trip that ends 15 hours later.
Chocolate wafers, sumpia (fried ebi-filled dumpling) and a bottled water are stocked up at the door pocket beside me. I have my small blanket next to me just in case I want to snuggle in the cold air-conditioned car during any rain. It became handy in Dieng, Central Java, and it will too during my ride home in this beginning of wet season.
A few days earlier, we arrived in our homestay in Dieng at dusk and the rain kept getting heavier until late. The next morning, in 12 degrees Celcius foggy weather, we started roaming around the village. A flock of goose was cruising in the lake and we ran into a dreadlocks kid (anak gimbal)—local children born with dreadlocks growing from their heads, a sign they were blessed by the local ancestor—who was playing with his friends just outside of school. Potato farmers passed by, women were washing clothes in a public washing cube, and fog was slowly disappearing.
Later at noon we visited Telaga Menjer, a lake where locals like to picnic in the weekend. We came on a Thursday, so there was only us and a boatman. “This lake used to be ugly, covered by water hyacinth,” he said as he was cleaning the boat from trash that got in the lake from the stream. “And then the district had it cleared from the invasive species and turned the lake like it is now,” he added. I think it’s great, now that the lake can be enjoyed for leisure activities, aside to becoming a source of income for the boatmen and food vendors at the entrance.
After boating around the lake, we moved on to Kawah Sikidang, an active crater that was covered in fog and sulfuric steam. On dry days, you would see the crater holes a little clearer. Not being able to see much, we decided to jet off earlier than planned. But of course, we made time to take pictures because this much fog is rarely found in Indonesia.
Not long after we left Yogyakarta, the rain poured. It had been pouring nonstop the previous day, causing flood in several areas, including the route to Mount Nglanggeran that we were supposed to explore. It’s an effect caused by the tropical cyclone named Cempaka that hit the south coast of Java. Heading to the north coast, we have to u-turn at some point and find another route to avoid flooded streets. Our Honda BR-V is perfectly capable of driving through shallow floods because it has high enough ground clearance, but the u-turn is necessary as the situation this time is way worse.
There’s always time for lunch; some late than others. When on a road trip, especially the one that doesn’t focus on culinary experience, expect to eat whatever is available, moreover when you’re between destinations. Chicken rice with forgettable after taste is what we often have. But there was one surprisingly impressive dining experience in the beginning of the trip.
Purwakarta, a regency in West Java, was our first destination. We arrived in a late afternoon and stayed at Pajajaran Anyar homestay, where we had to walk across paddy fields and hike down a challenging rock formation to get to. There was not much to do when it rained and the night was crawling in.
At dinner time, the rain stopped. Laron or flying ants swarmed around the lights inside the house and in the yard. It was a nuisance when we were about to have dinner because we didn’t want to accidentally chew on the insects. So we had all the lights off, had the food prepared on the wooden tables outside, and lighted a few candles. With all the nicely arranged plants, decorative umbrellas and small villas surrounding the tables, I was immediately reminded of the Kinfolk dinner, in a less pretty ambiance though. The menu was all local and delicious, having most of the seasonings plucked from their own yard. Fried tofu, tempe, fish and veggies, and most importantly the hot chili condiment were all gone in blink of an eye. It was a combination of a good cooking and starvation. But really, it was I think the best meal I had on the trip.
The homestay is located right across Gunung Parang, an andesite mountain that’s become increasingly popular for its via ferrata type of rock climbing. Mumun had climbed it last year, so there’s no reason for me to climb it now (did I make a good cover for my fear of falling this way?). Instead, I chose to explore another side of the area the next day, the Leuweung Batu forest on Mount Bongkok.
We entered the rocky forest guided by Mbah Soun. He is chosen by an ancestor to be the caretaker of the forest, that has been going for about a decade, and started from a revelation in a dream. He quit his business, separated from his family, and has been living in the forest ever since. “People called me crazy, including the government people. But they now changed their minds and acknowledge what I do since more and more tourists come here and appreciate the forest,” the guy dressed in all black told us.
If you like mystical stories, you’d like talking to Mbah Soun. He was ‘whispered’ to clean up a few certain spots, where he then found the graves of the great ancestors. People have been visiting to pray for good luck. It’s also become unusual for him to see sightings of a white tiger. “It’s the embodiment of an ancestor,” he said.
There are some dented big rocks where the ancestors used to sit for meditation. “Now believers come here to meditate and pray for wealth and health. Don’t you want to?” Mbah Soun offered. I’m not into all that, but I sit on the biggest rock anyway.
I see something.
I see an amazing sight of greens as far as my eyes can see! Wind was blowing softly, leaves were rubbing against each other and made the soft noises that could make me sleep if it weren’t for the piercing hot sun.
Entering the north coast, there are less and less floods or even puddles, but it still rains on and off. Along the road the view is dominated by trees and houses occasionally. It feels very familiar as this isn’t my first road trip on the north coast of Java. The island is known to be a fertile land, thanks to the history of many volcano eruptions since way back when. The familiarity is also the reason why I honestly got a little bored, so I take out my phone to choose photos for our Instagram. A series of photos on the bridge of Batu Dahu popped into my attention.
After hiking down, Mbah Soun took us to the bamboo bridge of Batu Dahu on the other side of Mount Bongkok. It’s relatively close from the forest if you go through the paddy fields but we took the car because my flat feet started to feel a little pain from the hiking.
The bridge is built solely for scenery viewing and there is a small entrance fee. The man who had it built actually meant to set up another via ferrata but then changed his mind. Smart move, knowing that in the weekend the bridge is packed with visitors, according to Mbah Soun. In an era where selfies in nature is high in priority, the reason for this success is a no brainer. I’m just amazed at how sturdy the frail-looking bamboo is. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the lush green view and the fact that there was also almost nobody else there. What made me sad though, the vandalism on some of the rocks. Why, people? Why?!
As we’ve been on the road for a couple of days and a lot of the time is spent in the car, we’ve covered many topics in conversations, many music playlists played on repeat – mainly the 90’s rock, and many hours spent bobbing asleep. I just met these guys when we started the road trip which is really a work trip. That’s the thing about road trips. Your travel mates can make or break your trips more easily than non-road trip trips because you’re stuck with them in the wheeled 4-walls with rarely open windows for days. I’m glad these guys were effortlessly easy to travel with. I now also know what kind of snacks they like, how they first got in the business they’re in, and what kind of jokes that work with them.
Entering Jakarta after midnight, I feel that this trip went faster than I thought it would. On the 15 hours road home I don’t think much about crashing in my own bed because I feel comfortable enough, plus we have a few stops where I can stretch. Not much happens, but the talking and joking are entertaining enough. If there’s anything that I feel different at this last leg of the road trip is that I feel a bit strange to know that life will be back to ‘normal’ again. And that starts immediately when we are welcomed by something familiar: traffic jam.
Well, hello again, Jakarta.
More pictures from the road:
Photos by Indohoy and Bayu, Gandes, Anton and Iwan from Kompas Klasika team.
The trip is sponsored by Honda and Kompas but all opinions are my own.