Volcanic Indonesia

Jam? What jam?

Jakarta

How many times have I travelled to Indonesia on work? – too many times to count! And how many times have I sat in mind-numbing traffic crawls? – too many times to count! So you can imagine my astonishment when the expected jam did not materialise! You must understand that I was somewhat let down as I had been preparing my old friend and frequent travel companion, S, for the infamous Jakarta jam! It was her first trip to Indonesia (Bali doesn’t count). At every turn I kept telling her “the jam is going to start” and that was the general drift of my end of the conversation throughout the mere 50 minutes it took for us to get to our hotel on Thamrin Road! (For those who are not aware, it would normally take at least 2 hours!)

Food was a common theme that threads all the days we spent here and we started our day with a fabulous lunch with some of my ex-staff. It was great seeing them all again and I was touched by the warmth of their welcome. That was another constant – their warmth and hospitality throughout our stay.

After a bit of swimming and the gym, we had a well deserved 2 hours at the spa! It was feasting time again soon after that and my friend Chisca picked us up for a rather interestingly named “dirty duck” dinner. There was nothing dirty about it I assure you and the food was delicious!

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“Dirty Duck Diner”

Next morning we set off to Bandung, 147kms away and although the highway was excellent, the journey took almost 3 hours. I was vindicated. The Jakarta jam kept us crawling …

An aside: As we approached the outskirts of Bandung there was much excitement as we drove through an area called ‘Pasteur’ – as in Louis Pasteur. History has always interested me and so you can just imagine my excitement at being told that Pasteur had lived here!! I had never come across this fact anywhere and was really surprised! (… to great hilarity and my disappointment, this turned out to be misinformation! It is named as such because there is a Pasteur Institute in the locale.)

This is truly a diverse and beautiful country. The mountains, the fields, the people … the food! We stopped at a breathtaking spot for lunch, Warung Lela or ‘Wale’ as it is often called (the Indonesians love portmanteaus). After the sumptuous lunch we decided we would head straight to Tangkuban Perahu (which means ‘overturned boat) – a ‘dormant’ volcano – named as such because of its distintive shape of an upside down boat.  This was a further one hour drive and by the time we got there the access to the craters were closed.

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View from Warung Lela

We drove up to the viewing site of the largest of its four carters – the Kawah Ratu  (the ‘Queen’s Crater’). This is the only volcano in Indonesia where you can drive up almost to the rim! It was magnificent, even magical. We decided we simply had to come back to get a closer look.

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Kawah Ratu (Queen’s Crater)

Bandung has a cool climate and is surrounded by mountains and tea plantations. During the time of the Dutch, it was referred to as the “Paris of Java” … it has lost some of it’s lustre but not its charm. It is still a popular weekend getaway from the heat and bustle of Jakarta. Part of its attraction are the numerous factory outlets that have opened in recent times that have tourists and locals alike flocking to it in throngs.

On our way back to Bandung, we stopped on the roadside for a durian feast! The rest devoured the durians and rapidly ate a few in quick succession. Alas, I developed a mid-life allergy to durians (and mangoes and rambutans and langsats and the list goes on …) so I was left photographing the fiesta instead).

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We checked into the Padma Hotel late in the evening – beautifully situated on a mountainside. The ambience was incredible and the service excellent. Even so we decided to go into town for dinner and we ended up in ‘Dago Panyawangan’. We left the ordering to the locals of course and their choices were excellent.

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Padma Hotel

Two more of my ex-colleagues arrived late all the way from Jakarta, braving the Friday evening traffic exodus just to join us.

Tomorrow – the volcano!


 

The Volcano That Wasn’t Dormant!

We had an early start at 6.30am, fortified ourselves with the fantastic breakfast spread before piling into Salju’s 4-wheel drive back to the volcano.

We hired a guide (an exceedingly fit 62 year old) who regaled us with interesting facts about the flora. He was a humourous little fellow who kept us entertained on our hike to another of the craters called ‘Kawah Domas’ (Domas Crater). It was a pleasant and easy hike through the forest (unlike the ardous trek up Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan.)

The crater was quite amazing. It looked and felt like we were on another planet – there were thick sulphur fumes, volcanic mud was literally boiling and hot water was shooting up white sprays. The ground was rocky and I am sure there is a scientific name for it but there were areas which looked like it was cemented. (I later learnt that the ‘cement’ was lava! Well, now I know.)

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Water gushing up

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Volcanic pools

As we got closer to photograph the bubbling mud, the guide cautioned us as apparently some poor chap fell in – he survived but with third degree burns. We immediately, and I’m quite sure comically, took a step back! The very thought sent shudders through our collective spines. The rest decided to stay at the lower level, while Salju and I followed the guide to the crater’s furthest point to take in the magnificent vista. It was simply incredible.

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Boiling mud

We spent a while soaking our feet in the crater pools (some were unbearably hot and others pleasantly so). At one point, our guide jumped up suddenly and started to rub mud on my leg – which gave me quite a start (good thing I didn’t fall in!). He said it would make the skin ‘licin’ (smooth!) … clearly he thought I needed it.

Here’s the incredible thing – Tangkuban Perahu according to some websites (Wiki) is dormant but other websites say it’s ‘inactive’. It last erupted in 1983. The day after our visit – there was a minor eruption – enough to raise the status to ‘Red’ and to evacuate a radius of 1.5km!!

There were two further eruptions after that and the latest as I write this is that it “continues to have small explosive eruptions” …”and increase is seismic activity over the last year suggests that new magma continues to rise up into the system”.

On hindsight I wonder if all that fuming, bubbling and spraying wasn’t indicative of the beginnings of volcanic activity? Our guide was quite blase, so we too thought nothing of it. Needless to say we were incredulous and speechless when we heard! What a lucky escape! It was an incredible experience though …

For lunch we stopped at this beautiful ‘art and design space’ cafe called Lawangwangi. This bistro is called the “new romantic place in Bandung”. The restaurant is in the upper level with a deck extending out of it so you can walk out and take in the beauty of the hills surrounding it.

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At Lawangwangi

After the relatively cleaner air of Bandung, the haze and the madness of the traffic greeted us on our return to Jakarta. After yet another delightful meal, farewells were bid and promises “to do this again” extracted.

 

A Trip of Firsts

We expected this last morning to be a lazy one, just lounging around till it was time for us to leave but no – there were a variety of charity runs happening along the main roads of Sudirman and Thamrin and off we went with our cameras.

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Running for a Cause

 

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Lying down on Thamrin Road

It was surreal to see these roads which are normally chockablock with traffic, completely devoid of cars and overrun by people – some were running, others walking, cycling and even doing acrobatics!
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With that last bit of new experience added to what has been a trip of many new experiences – we packed our bags, got our taxi and whizzed to the airport in 25 minutes!!

But truly the best experience of all was to shed my ‘boss’ persona and simply enjoy the company of these lovely people who were once my team members and whom I have the privilege of calling friends.

 

For more photos of this trip, go to: http://www.shobhagopinath.com/Travel/Indonesia-Oct-2013/

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