31 March 2000

Where's b?

Where's b?


Indonesia's Flag

25 May - Bogor

I began to take a walk in Jakarta and instead of watching my footing I was looking up towards the intersection ahead. Yesterday I had seen young demonstrators gathering there. Today I saw nothing but traffic belching fumes. While my eyes were trained on the scene ahead they missed the hole in the sidewalk below. My left leg fell in and my left elbow and right hand helped hold and hoist the rest of me out. I only suffered a scratched elbow and a limp that latested a couple of hours. I thanked Jah for the gentle reminder to watch where I was going or to go where i was watchin'. I also took it as a cue to get the h'll outta Jakarta. (I remembered the incredulous look on the English chef's face in my apartment in Athens as he described some of the streets there. He liked to drink and it worried him that there were so many holes in the sidewalk that were not surrounded by caution signs and flashing lights. "That would never happen in Britain!" Like America that's a country where you've got the right to sue everybody. Well, I finally fell in one of those holes but it was in Jakarta.) I took a tuk-tuk (motorized (t)rikshaw) to the train station and bought an economy class seat on the next train to Bogor.

I pushed onto the train with everyone else and found my seat. Someone was sitting in it, but he quickly and politely made way for me. I sat down and listened to my MD player. War was spinning out some of it's sublime rotations "Don't you know, that it's true, that for me, and for you, the world is a ghetto...". The slums of Jakarta rolled by, I looked at the man sitting on the floor holding a baby, another child sat next to him. Several others shared the floor space in front of the seats. The ticket collector had to dodge hands and legs as he passed from cabin to cabin. "The world is a ghetto..." The world is becoming a ghetto. More people. More people in bigger cities. Rich makin' money the poor makin' babies. That's our bright new millenium.

It was dark when I arrived in Bogor. I was taken to the Firman Pension which was adequate, just as a powerful electrical storm raged around us. Singapore gets good electrical storms, but this one was right on top of us. I recalled reading somewhere that Bogor got alot of rainfall that helped to water its famous botanical garden.

I met a tour guide who led 5 day tours from Bogor to a National Park, to a Hot Springs resort and then on to a popular beach. It was billed as an eco-tour. The bulk of the tour revolved around a National Park. Like all such guided tours it was no bargain, but I negotiated for $100US and decided to give it a try. I met a couple from Washington State. They decided to join the tour. He was a retired 6th grade school teacher; she was an artist. The Armstrongs were avid birders on an around the world birding tour. They were concentrating on the tropics because of the rapid habitat loss. They were on their 5th year. They didn't do many of these package things either, but they decided to give it a go. As for me, I hadn't made any plans to get into any of the rainforets here and this seemed like a good opportunity.

The morning before we left on the tour I took a quick stroll through part of the huge botanical garden. Two large statues of Ganesh gaurded the entrance. The gardens were indeed impressive. stone paved paths meandered around large and small ponds and endless varieties of plants, shrubs, trees and vines.

26-28 May - Gunung Halimun National Park

Gunung Halimun National Park is the largest remaining patch of rainforest left in Java. It is all of 40 hectares. It's home to leopards, black panthers, javan gibbons, barking deer, wild dogs and all kinds of birds. I didn't see much of this wild life; I was always a step removed. It all began when Mrs. Armstrong said, "There's a scorpion near your foot." I thought she was warning me and I took a leap ahead and missed the ugly critter. I heard but did not see the gibbon. I spotted a panther's resting place and was told that i just missed a leopard when we were walking back at night from a village. Hari said he didn't want to frighten us but he and some other Indonesian men saw two glowing eyes descened from the jungle cross our path and continue down into the tea plantation. Hari was one of our guides. The other was Alwi. Alwi was hardly the guide you might expect on a so-called eco-tour. On our first hike Alwi told a story from one of his recent trips to the park. "We were back at the guest house and we saw two deer being chased by wild dogs." I was thinking, "How lucky you all were. Wildlife in action." The story, however, wasn't over. Alwi continued, " We scared away the dogs and I took by knife and got the deer here (he showed a slicing motion across the abdomen.) We had a good deer bar-b-q." I was supposed to like the way that story ended. But I didn't give a very enthusiastic response: "Hmm." That's an alternative way of enjoying the park wildlife.

We stayed in a guesthouse between the jungle and the tea plantation that sits in the middle of the park. The park was reached by a one and a half hour ride over a roughly paved road of stone. From the back of the van it was the most jarring ride I can remember having. We signed in at research headquarters and joined an elite few who'd visited the park since it's offical oppening a few years ago. There was a Japanese guy having a can of beer. He was there doing research. Apparently much of the facilities in the park are funded by a Japanese institute. The Japanese are doing their best to replace as many of the signboards in Asia reading "The Japanese destroyed x or killed x here in 194x" with signs that read "This educational/reasearch x is sponsored by the Japanese."

The birders were horrified to discover that the guides were only interested in the birds as commodities. Whenever they would enthusiastically show the guides a bird in their bird book the guides would inevitably say, "Oh that one's worth 300,000 rupiah." or "My brother really wants one of those." They went on a birding outing, but ended up being investigators in the world of exotic bird trade. The birds are primarily wanted for their songs, which can win bird singing contests and bring in nice chunks of income and a certain prestige. "It's going to be a quiet forest." I coldly projected to my travelling companions.

My best time in the National Park was actually hiking with Hari and two local guides through villages in and around the tea plantation. We were on our way to a waterfall. It was a steep climb down so we used ropes to get to the bottom of the falls. We waded out to the pool below the falls just as it began to rain. We climbed back up in the rain and mud. We rushed back to the village in the rain. My poncho didn't keep my clothes from getting soaked and I was thinking to myself, "Leech heaven." We got back to the first village and took off our shoes and socks and leeches. I only had three. We were invited into the semi-public house and served hot water. We dried off by the fire. The lady of the house was boiled water to steam some partially cooked brown rice. First it is boiled then it is steamed. She cleaned off some banana leaves and served me some brown rice with salt. It was the best rice I'd eaten. How do I know, because I wasn't particularly hungry and it was plain rice with salt and it was very tastey and satisfying. I'd watched the local ladies picking this rice by hand, one stalk at a time. I was floored. Hand picked, organic, brown rice. Too poor to buy chemicals and machines. The terraced field, as you might imagine, were beautiful. And like elsewhere in Indonesia, banana trees, coconut palms, tapioca and coffee were all accounted for. Life in the tropics. Not bad at all. And I haven't yet disclosed these Sundanese village people are amongst the most attractive people to be found. A man, just today told me they eat some vegetable that makes their skin healthy. I think they just kill the ugly people.

Speaking of the village people, our guide had an ulterior motive for wanting to take us to the National Park. He had a girlfriend near the tea factory. Of course Alwi is married and has several kids, but married men are free to date because they always have the option of picking up a second or third wife. And if Alwi is earing dolleros he could afford one. His village girl was a divorcee. Nevetheless she was still a tender age of 16. Her marriage didn't pass the one year mark. The village girls apparently usually marry by 18. Things didn't work out for Alwi on this trip, however; she'd found another boyfriend. Frist, our group elected not to slaughter a sheep for bar-b-q then Alwi's girl dissed him; he had a bad trip.

29 May - Garut, Hot Springs

Spent a night at a niceish hotel where hot spring water was pumped into the room. It was the first hot bath I'd had since Brastagi. Garut was a resort town in a very nice setting.

30-31 May - Pangandaran, Beach/National Park

En route to Pangandaran we climbed up to the volcanic crater of Papandayan. Lots of different colored rocks and sand and several sulphuric jets and boiling pulls of mud. Definitely a cool volcanic landscape. Down below we finally found a guitar and Hari wanted to hear me play "Honkey Tonk Women" Oddly enough I'd had the same request at Lake Maninjau. Hari was a Stone's freak. He wore a Stones t-shirt throughout the tour and gave me some biographical info about Mick Jagger.

We visited a traditional Sundanese village, the only purely traditional village of its kind. It sounded contrived, but in reality the village was an amazing thing. The people had decided to preserve their traditional life style in West Java. They farmed rice and fish and had the other tropical staples mentioned elsewhere. They lived deep in a valley with no automobiles and no electricity. Their village was limited to 100 households. If someone wanted to build their own house they were forced to climb out of the valley and build up near the road. The people are offically Muslim, but adhere to ancestor worship, if not other animistic beliefs as well. I was often reminded of certain aesthetic elements in common with Japan. The use of bamboo and stone, the diet of fish and rice, the rotan mats (instead of bamboo tatami). The thatched roofs.

The National Park near Pangandaran was quite nice. The jungle was alive with animals. The birds were singing, monkeys swinging, snakes cascading in the foliage, lizards fleeing, butterflies flitting, crabs creepin' and insects makin' all kinds of sounds. Most everyone was outta the jungle, however, and on the long stretch of beach. I took a swim in the surging surf near my bamboo hut. The tour ended in Pangandaran and I spent a couple of nights there before heading on to Yogya

1-5 June - Yogyakarta

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