Saturday, March 13, 2010

2,4,6,8, Motorway

Last Sunday, I lurched awake nauseously at around 9.30, had a good cough and then reached for the mobile phone to see what drunkenly incoherent texts had been left for me in the middle of the night by friends, colleagues and lawyers wishing to serve me with writs. I sat up, narrowly avoided being sick on one of my handsome Rp.25,000 sarongs, and opened a message from my friend Dan (who likes to be known by his initials DPQ).

DPQ has only been in the country for just over a year and yet, a keen climber, he's already conquered many of Indonesia's highest peaks (when he's not out on the drink trying to conquer some of Indonesia's most flighty women). In conjunction with a friend, DPQ has set up a website which you'll find at: 'Bagging' is British slang for collecting and the site features a wealth of information and scenic photographs of what he calls 'Ribus', namely mountains with at least a 1000m elevation drop all around.

Anyway, DPQ invited me to accompany him on a jaunt down to the Cicurug area of West Java, a town not far from Bogor. From there we would hike up to Kawah Ratu, a sulphurous crater around halfway up the 2211m Gunung Salak.  I'd be doing the driving of course.

And so, around an hour later, DPQ rocked up my house in his hiking boots, carrying a plastic bag full of bottled mineral water and cans of beer, I don't know why he bothered with the water to be frank as you can't beat shot-gunning a few tins of ale as you enjoy the natural splendor of a good mountain hike and I believe all of the best hiking safety manuals recommend such an approach.

My antique motor vehicle started on only the second attempt and we soon hit the southern ring road. I almost missed the Bogor turnoff for about the seventh time in a row owing to a combination of me fiddling with the EQ settings on the car stereo as we both enjoyed the sensational sounds of our favorite 70s German rock group, Can, and the fact that signs on the toll road are slightly erratic. There are in fact signs for Bogor all the way up to the penultimate set of signs.  On the final set of signs the word Bogor is mysteriously absent.

After swerving into the correct lane at the last second, we relaxed and enjoyed the half-hour run down to the end of the toll road at Ciawi.  The going then becomes a bit trickier and the road takes on more of an impoverished, banana republic character.  As if to underline this fact, a public minivan in front of us had one of its tires explode on it about 30 seconds after we left the end of the toll road.  The sexy racing wheels and 2mm thick tyres that the driver had had fitted to his Formula One wannabe probably didn't help in this regard.

Thankfully though, the insidious tentacles of the all-purpose mini-mart have spread out of Jakarta and seemingly all over West Java and thus we could stock up on water, chocolate, beer and prophylactics at 500m intervals. Eventually we reached Cicurug, a small town famous primarily for its 24 hour gridlock of public minivans whose sole aim, given the fact that 90% of them are empty, is seemingly to serve as a blood pressure increasing reality check for Jakarta motorists attempting to get out into the countryside for a break. “Think you've escaped Jakarta?” they seem to say, “Well think again matey, you're going nowhere... very slowly.”

Eventually we turned right and drove up the extraordinarily steep 12km road to the start of the hike, trying hard not to overheat the engine, plunge off the road down a ravine or otherwise flatten half blind octogenarian women carrying bundles of firewood on their heads.  Alas, when we reached the cool climate and pine forests of the national park entrance, the classic ill fitting uniforms of the Indonesian man in charge shambled towards us and informed us that the mountain was closed.
DPQ was not happy I can tell you. “You've closed nature?” he exclaimed, apoplectic with thwarted-when-trying-to-do-something-in-Indonesia fury. “Yes sir, I'm sorry, the park is closed until the end of the month, there may be a landslide and there's poisonous gas up there and...erm... it's slippery.”“Slippery!? Of course it's slippery! I'll take the risk thanks and I believe it is my risk to take if I want.” “But Misterrrr, people have died up there.”

This is true of course, I must have read any number of stories in the paper over the years about Indonesian students who've hiked up mountains in their flip-flops with bottles of Red Bull only to come a cropper when they realize that it gets a bit chilly and treacherous up there.

And so alas we were restricted to having a little walk around the forest area near the entrance.  It was a far cry from my knee straining assault on the 3000m Gunung Gede last year but there was nothing we could do about that. I was after a nice, relaxing hike and didn't fancy trying to out run a pursuing phalanx of national park security guards all the way to the summit. And thus with heavy hearts we were forced to turn round and enter the toll road traffic jam Purgatory of the great Sunday evening return to town. Take a look at DPQ's website though, once the wet season’s over it’ll be every man for himself up there.