Sunday, July 22, 2007

The hills are alive

If you are looking to escape the oppressive, urban squalor of Jakarta and wander through lush forests and mountains then I've always maintained that it's not necessary to jet hundreds of miles to Borneo or Lombok or whereever.

Almost everything you could want is right here on your doorstep in West Java.

Yes, on this, the most densely populated island on the planet, it is surprisingly easy to remove oneself from civilization and get lost in the last national parks that surround the province's 3000 meter-plus mountains.

It's possible to scale some of these peaks themselves although there is always the possibility that you will lose yourself in a more serious sense if you do.

Indeed several city slicker Indonesians die each year on these mountains as their flip-flops and T-shirts prove to be not up to the job in hand.

Any road up, with all this in mind, a friend and I decided to go camping in the beautiful countryside surrounding Sukabumi last week.

Not having been camping for a long time we first had to get our kit together, although we later found out that tents, rucksacks, sleeping bags and ponchos were available for rent at our destination, Situ Gunung National Park.

Ace Hardware proved useful for a couple of cheap (and pretty flimsy) dome-style tents and sleeping gear. Mini gas stoves powered by aerosol sized cans of butane can also be purchased at many branches of Hero quite cheaply.

Apart from that, plenty of warm clothes are useful. Our campsite was situated at over 1,000 meters above sea level -- not exactly K2, granted, but it does get quite chilly at night.

On the other hand, it also gets very hot during the day and you might need a bottle of sunscreen as well.

All set to go, we drove out to the Bogor/Ciawi toll road early one fine morning and steamed toward Sukabumi, sub-bass woofer rattling the camping gear on the back seat all the way.

When we hit the center of Sukabumi, we hung a sharp left up the signposted Jl. Situ Gunung.

This road heads continually upwards for 10 kilometers, civilization petering out all the way, until it comes to an abrupt halt at the park's entrance.

There would be no more road and no more driving; it was time to pretend to be real men.


The scenery is indeed spectacular around the highlands of Sukabumi: towering forests, deep valleys and high waterfalls. We hiked a couple of kilometers to our first destination, a huge lake surrounded by forest.

A fantastically beautiful and peaceful place it certainly was but one that seemed more evocative of some far-flung Indonesian island than busy West Java.

Now it was camping time proper: the challenge of survival without even two Boy Scouts to rub together. Thankfully, these modern tents almost seem to put themselves up and we were soon cooking up a meal and blithely farting the night away.

To the great jealousy of my companion, I had also brought an inflatable swimming pool air bed with me and reclined contentedly as the sun set.

Things got a bit chilly during the night, however, and condensation formed on the inside of the tents: Not the most comfortable of nights I've ever spent but waking up at dawn was magnificent.

I shambled around the campsite admiring the scenery and warming myself. Suddenly though, the temperature soared by about 20 degrees Celsius in what seem like 10 minutes as the sun burst over the far trees.


After a breakfast of more flatulence-inducing camp food we packed up and headed to another, warmer campsite about 500 meters further down the hill.

This site was located next to a huge, 60-meter-high waterfall. At the site there was one main field area full of Indonesian students on camping holidays playing Pink Floyd on acoustic guitars.

This patch was pretty rough though and full of litter that had been ground into the dirt by several generations of undergraduates.

If you ever decide to try the semi-masochistic world of camping then remember to be very un-Indonesian and bring some dustbin liners for your trash.

Mind you, I can talk. Later on that evening I was retrieving a bottle of beer from our temporary fridge (a plastic bag in the river) and accidentally smashed one: the eco-terrorist attacks.

The river water here up at the source, before it passes through towns where people wash their clothes and drop their guts in it, is absolutely crystal clear incidentally, the perfect antidote to my boat way trip of a couple of weeks ago.

Then there was the primal, Stone Age thrill of building a campfire to sit around after dark and either sing Kum-Ba-Ya-Me-Lord or conduct naked satanic rituals in the flames.

After assuring my comrade that you need an intermediate stage of twiggy kindling to get from the burning paper to the burning log stages, we finally got the thing started and sat mesmerized, drinking noxious spirits until it went out.

Then all that remained to be done was to stagger into my tent and listen contentedly to the river and the waterfall while my manly air bed slowly deflated around me.

Luxury holiday in Bali? Pah.