My return to Jakarta marked what will be the start of my last month on this incredible journey. Everything leading up to that moment has been a surreal experience in my short life. My eyes have feasted on the most jaw dropping of scenery, met some outrageously cool cats that I had the pleasure of traveling with, and ate some of the best foods in the region, minus that pineapple in Cambodia, never again. But what awaited me on Java Island was something I wholeheartedly wasn’t expecting.
The island became the gem of SE Asia I didn’t know I was searching for. The experiences of the next three weeks traveling on shuttles, overnight buses and their impeccable rail system left such a mark on me that hasn’t been recouped since. If ever someone asked me my favorite place I have been to hands down it would always be this island.
The journey started on the west side of the island with me taking a shuttle bus from Jakarta to nearby Bandung where things kicked off. My two hour long ride went off without much adieu, me in the backseat catching up on Netflix, occasionally staring out the window, the local girl in front occasionally staring back at me. The capital of Java’s west province boasts a university-esque feel though I didn’t pick up on it. With an elevation of 768 meters, making the weather a bit cooler for the tropics, something I needed. Surprisingly it’s also a fashion mecca with people from all over the island coming here to shop. But then again fashion was the least of my interests these days.
Although, with backdrops boasting of several active volcanoes it was a great place to start this adventure.
Immediately after checking into Pinisi Backpackers hostel I was greeted with a bright-eyed chap named Tom from England. The look in his eyes struck something familiar in me. I’ve seen this look before, hell I had the same look back in Bangkok when I started my travel. I asked him how long he has been on the road. but knew well enough the answer. This was his third day after just arriving from Jakarta and I am the first person he met he said with an eager smile.
Looking back to my first week in Asia I remembered exactly how it felt to be alone in a new land with nothing familiar around. On the one hand it was quite frightening, on the other the unknown made it quite it an intoxicating affair. Before I could go deeper into details of what he was in store for the door flung open and in came Sil, a Dutch lad, fresh from his tour of Tibet. After introductions we all spent the next hour trading anecdotes back and forth about where we’ve been, what can be expected, tips and tricks learned along the way, the usual spill. Tom’s ears perked up all the while trying to soaking up all the information Sil and I were spouting.
Over dinner, which should be eaten with your hands as customary on the island, we decided to partake in our hostel’s South Bandung Motorbike Tour the next day. Our itinerary would include stops at the following:
- Jembatan Kereta Cikudapateuh-Ciwidey (old colonial Dutch railway)
- Kawah Putih (White Crater)
- Perkebunan Teh Rancabali (rolling tea hills)
- Cibuni Rengganis Crater (natural hot springs)
After a night’s sleep in a capsule, more or less a box with lights and a fan, we were greeted with the presence of three others on the same tour. Later we come to realize that these girls were also staying at the same hostel. Now our wolf pack was twelve strong that morning (six backpackers and six tour guides on scoots) before we took off for the day. Normally I would be the one riding my own scooter, but seeing how communications broke down I took it as an opportunity to snap photos sitting passenger. Which proved to be way more dangerous when you ride with a local.
After whizzing through morning Bandung traffic, which is hectic even by SE Asian standards, we eventually made way towards Jembatan Kereta Cikudapateuh-Ciwidey our first stop. An old colonial railway that has been converted to a foot bridge connecting to a village sat atop a flowing river that you can cross on foot. This will be one of the more exhilarating walks you’re ever going to take because there are no guard rails on either side. Definitely be careful when you are traversing this and do not look down. Plenty of sights for the eyes to take in both above and below so bring out that camera and don’t forget the occasional selfie.
The small village that sits on the other side of the foot bridge is filled with entirely warm people.As I zigzagged through the narrow corridors I ran into a few local kids beaming with excitement to have travelers stop by. I shot some candid photos of them as they were more than happy to throw a peace sign and a smile my way. A recurring theme I learned that day was that they live a simple life, having all that they needed, fishing from the river, cooking meals in the yards, sharing laughter.
The mood set after this visit was one that still echoes to this day.
From here we got back on the steeds and headed towards the White Crater, the name alone can send shivers down one’s spine. Kawah Putih (White Crater) lake is one of the two craters which make up Mount Patuha, an andesitic stratovolcano. Located almost 8,000 feet above sea level the temps around can be quite chilly for tropical standards. The entrance fare is also quite expensive for what it is but you hadn’t come this far not to experience it.
With my fare paid in full we were all loaded up onto an extremely cramped tin can they called a car and made a bumpy journey to the top. As we inched closer to the actual entrance of the crater I couldn’t help but notice the smell of sulfur, or rotten eggs, intensifying. Couple this with very bad Indonesian driving on extremely small mountain roads and you have a recipe for feeling sick. Luckily for my gut by now is ironclad.
Once parked our sextet made way towards the crowds to view the sulfur lake. At first sight the hues of turquoise and pale blue would have shown quite distinctly through the reflecting sun had it not been the fumes making it hard to keep your eyes open. The sulfur smell lingers strongly like rotting garbage and the said fumes burned your eyes worse than onions. Through perseverance, or rather because the price of admission was so high, I kept my peepers opened long enough to take in its worth.
Sulfur fog rolling in and out, the sun’s rays barely penetrating the low hanging clouds, and seemingly endless dead trees lining the perimeter all gave played into that eerie feel. Yet somehow this crater of death being engulfed by local vegetation was hauntingly beautifu.
There’s a foot bridge that leads you about a quarter of the way onto the lake for what I am sure were more spectacular views. But from where I was standing it was more than enough for my wearied eyes. Also, there was a price of admission for it. Go figure.
As part of the tour we all had a quick lunch back at base where our scooter guides were waiting. This meant hopping en masse back onto the death box of a car down the mountain, fun times. Over food we caught up with the three girls who joined our trio and realized we have been to some of the same places, even met some of the same people! No matter how big the world seemed it still astounds me when chance encounters like these happen. Oh lunch was good too, in case you were wondering.
On our way to the last spot for the day we made a pit stop at Perkebunan Teh Rancabali which in essence were just rolling tea hills. The break was much needed as we took in the fresh air after leaving traces of both the city and the sulfur lake behind. Also, because riding the twisting roads through the mountains took an eternity. The guides relaxed by the scooters as the group dispersed into the rolling hills laid before us.
Quite the place to feel lost from it all if mazes are your thing, which this felt liked.
From where I stood the sheer size of the place as very misleading. You can see from Sil moving away from me how much he disappears into the brush. Vast was an understatement, the hills spanned as far as the eye could see. Not to be outdone I hastily made way towards them, making lefts and rights, guessing as I went. Angelica and the girls soon rejoined our group for some photos and we were off again.
Getting to Cibuni Rengganis Crater proved to be one of the more difficult tasks of the day. The challenge was getting six somewhat fully grown western adults up a steep incline on 50cc scooters with six Indonesian local men. One would think that these scooters have enough oomph for it, but as Sil, Tom and I learned this was not to be the case.
Actually, in my defense my scooter kept breaking down, but Sil and Tom were too heavy on theirs for two-up. Our trio ended up having to walk and push our scooter guides up this gnarly hill. We died a bit inside, winded and exhausted after a fifteen minute fiasco. Hey you can’t always expect things to work out peachy.
The effort in the end would all be worth it as we made the last corner towards the hot springs. Nestled in the mountains with views that astounded the location couldn’t be anymore picturesque. What was better was the fact that getting there wasn’t an easy task it made for little to no crowds. Plus side was only the local guides knew about the place. I stayed behind just taking it in as my wolf pack became tiny dots before me as they descended down below.
Our head guide showed us around the crater of the springs and where the volcanic mud was naturally produced. Of course he mentioned it was great for the skin so a few dabs found itself onto arms, necks, face, everywhere really. We changed into bathing shorts in the facilities they had and went for a dip in one of two pools. There was a regular pool and a heart shaped one, but it was either medium hot or scorching hot. I couldn’t remember which was which but I favored the scorcher of course.
It was a great way to spend an hour to be honest. I soaked my body in that hot water long enough to turn into a pruned lobster. Occasions like this one, as discussed in our group bathing, where you had to put trust in your guides to show you their neck of the woods paid off in dividends. Of course you couldn’t get away without a few videos testing how hot the spring ran!
Rejuvenated from our dip in a volcanic spring we decided it was best to leave now before it got too dark. Thankfully the way back off the crater was downhill so we just yelled SEND IT! From here the guides got into formation on we were off!
To a strawberry field? Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. Apparently our real last stop for the day was the would-be strawberry field. The guides were super happy about bringing us here and the smiles on their faces cemented that. What could we do but take a walk through and start picking at the good stuff?
So, here I am standing in the middle of western Java picking strawberries from a makeshift field with a bunch of Europeans. Who is writing the script here?!
Eventually the wolf pack reconvened at Paskal Food Market, a stone’s throw away from our hostel, in Bandung’s center to go over the day’s activities. This place was bustling with an outside food court that played host to a ton of vendors. People were yelling orders, servers frantically cleaning tables, patrons hawking at you to try their food, it was all overwhelming to be honest. Which is why I took maybe three walks around before I decided on what to chow down on.
With food before us, the day behind us we discussed plans for the upcoming ones ahead. It just so happened we were all off to the same direction next and decided we would somewhat travel together for a duration. This put a smile on my face because just yesterday morning I was on a shuttle to Bandung without any inclination of what I’ll be doing. A day later I’m making travel plans with new friends.
This was the topping on a perfect ice cream sundae, and that sundae was today. Catch me next time as I train my way towards Yogyakarta!