Note: Like my Philippines trip report, it took me months to finish going through my notes and write the report. Just a warning that this report is 13,400 words of my experience in Indonesia.
Toward the end of 2015, I made rough plans to go to Indonesia in the middle of January. With plans pending upon whether my girlfriend, Kemji, could get time off and whether anyone else could join, I waited until the first week of January to solidify the plans. My Thai visa expired on January 15th, the date I was planning on leaving, but my girlfriend couldn’t get a week off work until the 23rd, and my friend Andrew couldn’t arrive until the 30th. As a result, I flew to Kuala Lumpur to get an additional 30 days on my visa, and it would give me the extra week needed in Thailand.
On the 23rd Kemji and I flew into Bali. We had about 1 week to explore, and then I’d meetup with my friend Andrew while she would fly back to Bangkok.
While at Don Mueng Airport in Bangkok, Kemji decided to exchange some Thai baht into Indonesian Rupia. While she was exchanging, I was waiting in line to checkin and I pulled out my phone to roughly calculate the rate she’d get. When she came back there was a good 30% difference and she got much less than expected. I told her to go back and check – they buy at one rate and sell at a different, and there are no refunds. The rate she got was absolutely terrible, and I didn’t realize the big banks would give such a terrible rate. 2 lessons learned here
1) Always check the actual rate online before exchanging money – never trust banks and..
2) It’s almost always better to exchange money in the country once you arrive at your destination rather than in your home country.
We arrived on the 23rd in the morning to Bali, and grabbed a cab to get to Kuta. Our plan was to spend our first day/night there so we could make plans for the rest of week. After getting a cab, he drove maybe 3km before dropping us off at a restaurant on the side of the road, probably 1km from central Kuta, and charging 120k rupia. It was a total joke when we could have walked it almost as fast (120k IDR is about $10, which is quite expensive for a cab considering a decent meal will run 30-40k). After grabbing an excellent lunch with mostly western food, we found a nearby hotel, checked in, and took a nap. After waking we went out and walked around Kuta beach, had a beer along the beach, and watched the sun go down. It was probably the busiest beach I had ever seen when we arrived, and by the time we finished our second beer the entire beach was empty except us and the vendor serving us the beer, waiting to collect our empty bottles.
After it got dark, we grabbed some food at a large Chinese restaurant that seemed to have every dish under the sun. We both settled for some noodle dish, along with a large bottle of Guninness Extra Stout. Oddly enough, a large 630mL bottle of Guinness Extra Stout costs 43,000 IDR, or about $3.25. That is significantly cheaper than anywhere I had ever seen, even cheaper than a liquor store in America. It was not expected considering we were in Indonesia (a place where most people don’t drink), but we thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it was even brewed and distributed in Indonesia itself. After dinner wrapped up, we walked around a bit more, and then back to our hotel for a somewhat early night.
The following morning we grabbed a shuttle to head to Ubud. We had to wait around 30 minutes, and after getting in a haggard, small van, without AC, we inquired about it. They said we’d switch to a new one. After 10 minutes of driving down some small alleys, we switched to one with AC, but it didn’t work well. One of the common themes amongst traveling in SEA (and developing countries in general) is that services that are offered often vary widely from what is really being used. You may pay for a “VIP Air conditioned shuttle” and end up riding in a crammed van without AC and a half inflated tire. There isn’t much you can do about it, and there is little accountability for them to fix it – the locals don’t know any different.
We ended up arriving into Ubud around noon, getting dropped off on the very southern part of the city, near the Monkey Forest. We rented a moped at the nearest place we could find, and then drove to our resort (Anulekha Resort and Villa) where we had booked a place in advance. The place ended up being excellent, and we spent the better part of the afternoon eating and sipping beers by the pool. In the late afternoon, we drove into central Ubud near walking street and had some excellent Indonesian food at a local joint there, which was fantastic. Afterward we got massages, which were questionable. Mine didn’t start until 15 minutes after I laid down, and the woman didn’t wash my feet like you should (and normally do). After the hour massage we headed back to the resort, and had wine and dinner at the restaurant there.
The following morning we woke to a grey sky and some rain. The resort had a hot tub so we took advantage of that, and by the time we got out the sky was clear. We drove to the monkey forest and walked around there for an hour. It was a really cool place, though not too natural considering how many people walk through there each day and how the monkeys respond to that. I had a friend get bit by a monkey a year back so I was a bit skeptical walking around with these guys jumping all around you, and sometimes on you. It was fascinating nonetheless to see monkeys up close and roaming around, and was able to get some great pictures.
In the afternoon we drove and an hour north of Ubud to some rice terraces. It is worth seeing, but wasn’t as exciting as expected because I had seen very similar terraces in the Phillipines. We had a beer and relaxed there for an hour, and then drove back to Ubud.
The following day we took a shuttle to Amed on the north east side of Bali. Toward the end of the trip there was a lot of traffic due to a truck that was tipped over off the road, and when we arrived the driver dropped us off saying “this is Amed”, with no sense of direction. No one on the shuttle knew where we were, so we all got out and started walking. I had booked a hotel at the Arya Amed Beach Resort, and the driver said it was nearby. The others walked into the first place they could find. We came to find out the hotel was a couple miles away. We found a group of guys playing the guitar and singing and they seemed to own one of the many tour operators here. They rented us a bike and told us where to go, and were super helpful.
After checking in and eating, we relaxed and in the evening decided to spend just 1 night in Amed, and the following morning head to the Gili Islands. During our first and last night in Amed, we had dinner and drinks at a reggae bar. Before eating, we drove around looking to buy boat tickets to the Gili Islands. We were quoted everything from 400k IDP to 200k IDP. Tour operators, like in most developing places, offer significantly different prices depending on how you ask and how they perceive you. All the tour operators were just affiliates for the same company, so the pricing didn’t change the service at all.
Dinner and music at the raegae bar was nice, and it was literally the only bar open in town. Amed is basically a stretch of like 4 miles along the coast with a main road runnining along it. Most places are small hotels, each with their own restaurant. But the raegae bar seemed to be the only place in town to go for a drink, and by the time we left in the evening it seemed to have everyone in town there.
In the morning, around 6am, we were picked up from our hotel and shuttled to an area where the speedboat was picking people up. There were probably 40 other tourists also going to the Gili Islands from Amed.
The speedboat took about 2 hours and along the way we saw some dolphins. We decided to get off at the big Gili Island, Gili Trawangan. There are 3 islands there, and the biggest one is known more for the nightlife and party, along with more accommodation, while the other 2 are more quiet, or so we’re told.
Upon arriving the roads were a bit muddy. Overall the island is walkable, and it is quite dirty. Lots of dust, horses running along the main roads, people trying to sell you something everywhere. Off the main road is mostly dirty roads, and when it rains they become mud. There are places to stay everywhere, but the accommodation is mostly below average from what we experiences in Bali. Even the highest rated place on Agoda was average at best.
In the evening everyone comes out and lots of bars have live music and beer pong. We spent a couple days on the big Gili Island, and the second day we did a snorkeling trip which was awesome. Even though the weather was cloudy and rainy, the water was clear and the snorkeling was fantastic. I imagine during the sunny days it being even better.
On our last night we ate at a local market which had meats, fish, vegtables, and various random dishes that were grilled. It was excellent food, but questionable santitary conditions that had my doubting the delicious flavor, which I would later pay for.
After eating, we went to a bar called Evolution. There I began chatting with a guy from California while we watched some live music. Like me, he studied Electrical Engineering, but ended up working in the oil industry until he got laid off after the market crashed. So as a result, he packed up his stuff and was on a 9 month trip around southeast Asia, a common trip for travelers around the world. Similarly, a friend from back home in Colorado who was in the petroleum industry also got laid off and was traveling around South America during this time. After a beer there, Kemji and I headed home to call it a night.
The following day we decided to take a boat to Salagan Island, back to the southern part of Bali, and then take a bus over to Seminyak on the south eastern side of Bali. We had 2 more nights before Kemji had to go home, and we figured the beaches there were worthwhile. I had booked a nice resort in Seminyak, and upon arriving I came down with some food poisoning (actually felt it along the way). Most of the morning and early afternoon was resting and taking medication. In the evening we ate at an excellent greek place and somehow I felt a lot better. The first time I had food poisoning was perhaps the least enjoyable experience of my life, but the 4th time wasn’t so bad.
I remember eating at the market the previous night on the big Gili Island, and while the food tasted absolutely amazing, it was questionable, and boy did I pay for it.
We called it an early night that night. We were staying at theAnanda Resort, and it was a nice place and central. The following day we woke, rented a motorcycle, and drove to the nicest Thai restaurant we could find. Kemji (being Thai of course) was craving Thai food after a few days of not having it. We drove about 5km to a nearby place rated quite highly online and had some different dishes. The people cooking and taking the orders weren’t Thai, and the food wasn’t bad, though I don’t think Kemji was too impressed.
After eating we headed to the Potato Head Beach Club, which was recommended by a few friends who had been to Seminyak. We showed up around noon and it found it packed. We hardly could find a table to sit at. We ended up getting into the pool bar and chilling there for a beer, then moving to an open table. It was hot and sunny and the pool felt great, though way too crowded to be super enjoyable. After a couple beers there, we explored a few beaches around Seminyak, before heading back to our hotel pool and relaxing there.
In the evening we looked for a place along the beach that had dinner, and randomly came across a really nice and chilled out beach south of where we looked before. They had excellent live music (Pink Floyd acoustic), excellent food, and the sunset was stunning. It was a bit crowded but other than that a perfect way to spend our last night on Bali together.
I left Bali at 6am the next day to fly out to Banjarmasin, in Indonesian Borneo, and Kemji left a couple hours later back to Bangkok. My plan after Bali originally was to go to the Flores area and meetup with my good friend Andrew, but last minute he convinced me that heading north was better, especially for the weather. Banjarmasin was the meeting point. I arrived into the airport there and Andrew had already been there for a couple hours waiting to meet me. We grabbed a cab into town to the first hotel we could find in our guidebook, caught up on life, and rested a bit. I hadn’t seen him since traveling through Central America about a year before.
At the hotel many locals who act as guides came up to us trying to sell us guided tours. One of them went so far as to take us out to a place to eat lunch nearby and show us around. The first day in Barjarmasin was spent roaming the city around the hotel. It had a unique vibe to it – it’s a thriving city, but also mixed with a bit of oldness. It is a Muslim country so there is virtually no alcohol, aside from what can be found in the Chinese restaurants.
On the walk to a nearby mall to look for some hiking gear, one of the guides convinced us to do a tour with him the next day – and we decided that it was worth doing with him.
The following day we met the guide around 5am in the lobby, walked 10 minutes to the canal and waited there for a boat, apparently owned by the friend of our guide, Johnny. After 10 minutes no boat had arrived, so he got on his bicycle and drove somewhere, then came back shortly after as the boat was pulling up. It was indeed his friend’s boat.
The two of them took us first about 30 minutes away to an apparent “floating market”. Along the way we got a decent look at the city along the canal as the sun was rising – which gave us a unique view into the lives of a lot of these people. We could see many of them showering, washing their clothes, and throwing their trash all into the canal, at the same time. After following along the canal for a half an hour, the boat took us into a big opening into a massive lake. Along the sides of the lake were big lumber cranes and industrialized businesses. Near there was a lot of small boats with people selling fruits and vegetables, which was the “floating market”. It seemed it was more about trading rather than buying, as we were the only people not selling something. After checking that out, we stopped at a bigger boat that sold some sort of breakfast and coffee, where we grabbed some food and coffee.
After that, we rode around 30 minutes or so to a small island in the middle of a 1km wide river to look for long-nosed monkeys. The driver shut the motor off and he paddled along the shore while the guide pointed out various monkeys. At one point the guide jumped out of the boat with water up to his chest and pulled the boat to the shore. He then had us get out and walk in thick mud to get closer. It was quite the experience and one I won’t forget. The monkeys were fascinating – quite large with huge long noses. You can read about them and see pictures here.
After seeing the monkeys we circled around the island and walked into the jungle a bit. After about 20 minutes there we took the hour or so boat ride back to Banjarmasin. We setup another tour with Johnny for 4pm in the afternoon. After getting back near the hotel, we grabbed a drink and a bite to eat, and relaxed for a couple hours.
At 4pm we met at the same spot where we got dropped off, and did a “canal tour”. It basically took us along a different, more narrow canal where there were many different villages. Children would jump into the water and high-five us as the boat went past them. Sometimes they’d throw water on us, other times they’d grab ahold of the boat and jump on board.
The most fascinating thing about seeing how people live along the canal is that they throw their trash and toilet waste into the water directly under their house (all the houses are on stilts). However, they also bathe in the canal and swim/play. You know how they say don’t shit where you eat? That doesn’t apply here. I literaly saw a woman dumping a large bag of trash directly into the canal while 15 feet away a guy was washing his body in soap while sitting the in canal. It didn’t phase him at all.
After riding on the boat through the canals and villages of Banjarmasin, we docked and walked around some of the villages. It was a weird feeling because you could tell by the way people acted that tourists came here from time to time, yet there still were quite a few people who were staring, asking for selfies and photos, etc.
The whole canal “tour” took about 2 hours, and in the evening we took it easy, planning to wake early the next day to go to hike around Loksado.
We were excited to get out of the the city and into the wilderness. After sleeping in until 9am or so, we woke, had breakfast, found some working wifi to research a bit more about our upcoming plan, and prepare food/drinks for the upcoming trek. Around noon we grabbed a cab from our hotel to the bus station. Once there, many empty vans were waiting and no buses. 1 guy offered to take us to Kandangan, which is the connecting city to get to Loksado. He said his van would leave in 15 minutes, so we went and grabbed some snacks, a small bite to eat, and took a few selfies with the locals (it was very common when they saw a white person to ask for a photo and do a selfie with either me or Andrew, or sometimes both of us).
After 15 minutes we were in the van and on the way. The van was probably 20 or 30 years old, run down, and no air conditioning. However, it did get the job done and was comfortable as long as the vehicle was moving and the windows were down. During the 5+ hour ride, Andrew and I chatted politics and philosophy. Along the way we stopped in a village for coffee, toilet, and snacks, and tried to practice some Indonesian with the fellow passengers who were curious as well and interested in practicing English.
We arrived into Kandangan in the later afternoon after being dropped off at a random hotel. After checking out the rooms there, Andrew noticed another hotel across the street and checked it out. He came back 5 minutes later saying it was much nicer, the staff was friendlier, and the rates were the same. So we grabbed our stuff and walked out of the first hotel. As we left the first hotel the woman there stopped us and asked us to pay. There was a language barrier but I think she was asking us to pay for the 10 minutes of time she spent showing us. We just walked out awkwardly.
After checking in, we got online a bit, relaxed, and then explored around. There weren’t anymore buses to Loksado so we planned to spend the night in Kandangan, buying snacks and water to bring to Loksado, unsure what to expect there.
The following morning we tried to get a van to Loksado at the bus station but instead they told us go with some motorcycle taxi drivers who would take us to the “station” where a van would take us to Loksado. It was only a 10 min walk away or 2 minutes on the motorcycle. Once there, they said wait 30 minutes and it will come, and to grab coffee across the street. Across the street were some younger guys playing the guitar who told us to join them. After taking pictures and selfies with us, they played music, kicked a soccer ball around, and then we played chess. They both tried the old 4 or 5 move checkmate which didn’t work, and ended up being good games nonetheless. Before we could finish, however, the van came and we got in to head to Loksado.
It actually wasn’t a van, but a truck full of water, snacks, and other gear that families purchase in Kandangan and take to Loksado each day. We shared the truck bed with a family and another couple people, one guy hanging off the back. It was a fun experience, though bumpy and eventually wet as it rained.
Upon arriving into Loksado, they suggested we stay at the first homestay that they dropped us at. We checked it out, ran into a Swiss couple who were there already, and then walked around to checkout other homestays. We ended up staying at the first homestay which seemed to be the best after a quick look around. Loksado is a tiny little place with maybe a hundred people in the village itself.
Our reason for heading to Loksado was to explore the mountains and jungle by doing a several day trek through the area, which we had read about online and in our guidebook. The first day we arrived we walked a bit toward one of the waterfalls, and it started pouring rain so we relaxed by the river and swam a bit while it rained. One of the downsides to Loksado was the lack of resources – no one had maps anywhere and few could tell us where to go. I recommended to several people to make maps of the area, but I assume they don’t do it to force tourists to pay for guides – though I don’t imagine a great number of (foreign) tourists visit Loksado anyways.
The following day we woke early and took a bamboo raft down the river to the next village. I think lots of bamboo is grown and cut near Loksado, and they need to transport it downstream, likely all the way to Kandangan. Someone came up with the idea to then charge tourists to ride down on the bamboo raft as they transport, which gives an awesome experience to tourists and earns the people transporting extra money. It took a couple hours and was pretty cool – bamboo is so versatile. I’ve seen rafts made out of bamboo and entire houses, not counting that you can eat it. Imagine the world without it, especially this part of the world.
After getting dropped off at a village downstream, we asked where the hotspring was, which we wanted to checkout. Everyone told us to follow the road to the left, so we did. After 20 minutes we came to a crossroad, and couldn’t tell which direction to go. We flagged down a few people on motorcycles but no one understood us (English is almost non-existent). We knew the word for hot water, but we don’t think people understood.
We ended up taking 1 persons advice and walking about 30 minutes and ended up coming to Tanuhi, a village we saw on the way into town the previous day. There we walked around looking for the hot spring and people told us to keep walking. Finally about an hour later we arrive at the hot spring. We had both thought it would be a natural hot spring nestled into the jungle, but it ended up being a small hotel sized facility with a pool and several hot tubs. Only one was in use, and a few locals were there relaxing. It was quite dirty, but felt great.
After a couple hours there, we took motorcycle taxis over the mountain to visit a guide who we heard could trek with us. The taxis dropped us off at his house, but he wasn’t around. His wife served us coffee and bananas, and we waited. When he arrived just as we were about to leave, we sorted out the details and planned to meet him the following morning to begin our 3 day, 2 night trek.
So the following morning we met the guide, Amit, at 7am in front of our homestay, and from there we walked along the trail out of town across the river. He said it would take us approximately 8-9 hours the first day to reach the village where we would be staying. He also said it was the first time he hiked this year, so a lot of the trail was overgrown (bamboo grows very fast). He had a machete and was often hacking his way through the jungle to make a trail. Within about 30 minutes of hiking we were quite deep into the jungle and the misquotes were everywhere. We had put quite a lot of spray on, and when Amit stopped to break, I noticed the back of Andrew’s shoulders had been bitten badly, probably 20 times on each shoulder and he was quite swollen.
We put on more spray, and took pictures of the view overlooking the mountains nearby (the first 30 min to 1 hour of the hike was quite steep). I noticed Amit had misquotes all over his legs biting him, but didn’t seem to bother him. He put on no bug spray, but also didn’t swell up or itch after being bit. He did say “no good” when I asked him about it as he swept them off his leg, I’m guessing because he knows they can carry disease. I find it interesting how most southeast Asians don’t swell when getting bit, while virtually all foreigners do – maybe it’s because of our diet and blood?
Along the way we stopped, crossed some creeks and rivers, walked past some bamboo homes, ate snacks, and took some pictures. We arrived in one village along the way and took a break there for probably 30 minutes. Amit knows everyone so he chatted with a few people, and then we went on. We arrived at our destination around 4pm or so, a village named Salang Aye, which was a village that consisted of probably 8 wooden houses, all connected by a church-like building in the middle (the houses circled it).
The family we were originally going to stay with was away, so Amit asked another family and they let us stay with them. It wasn’t actually a family from what we saw, it was an older woman, maybe 65, and a younger woman, presumably her daughter, who was probably 30. For the 7 hours or so that evening we were awake, they were cracking peanuts which they grow, crack, and sell to other villages. Literally continuously cracking peanuts until everyone was asleep, and then they were up at like 5am cracking more. They’ve probably been doing this their entire lives, and it’s fascinating to think about what they are aware of outside of this remote village. I ended up buying a litre of peanuts from them for 10k rupia, which is less than $1.
In the evening we showered in the creek nearby, using a bamboo aqueduct, which worked great. We slept on the wooden floor with a blanket, which was hard, but I slept fine considering how tired I was.
We woke the following morning with a similar schedule for the day – hike 8-9 hours and sleep with another family in another village. We got lucky the day before in that it didn’t rain. This day, however, we weren’t as lucky. The first few hours were fine, but at perhaps the worst timing, it poured rain. As we were going down a steep, dirt trail that led to some fields where people were farming, it rained quite hard. We all had rain coats, but it made it quite slippery going down, and took us a lot longer than otherwise would have been.
We arrived into the next village, Kadye Yang, around 3pm, rested for a bit with our shoes off, and then walked 5 minutes to the nearby river to shower. It felt great. This village was bigger than the previous one, and more developed. The houses had glass windows, beautiful wooden designed ceilings, and overall quite luxurious, especially considering how remote it seemed. Apparently the villages became relatively rich with their lumber business, rubber business, and cinnamon business, hence all the nice wooden houses. There was a small school, and a few motorcycles, which meant there was surely a road to Loksado or Kandangan.
The jungle we hiked through had many rubber trees, and many cinnamon trees, both big business in the area. It was awesome seeing them cut it, dry it, and smell it. It’s likely the same cinnamon we see on the counters are super markets in the west, but this was where it originated.
In the evening we had a great dinner cooked by the wife of our host, while our guide and her husband sat out front talking and smoking. Note that pretty much everyone we saw in Indonesia smoked, and pretty much continuously smoked. I doubt they’re aware of the negative side effects, but it isn’t uncommon to smoke a pack or two of cigarettes a day, even kids were doing it. This particular night I’d guess each man smoked a pack while chatting out front.
We went to bed quite early, as we were both tired and Andrew wasn’t feeling 100%. I did a fair bit of reading on my Kindle. Considering I was sleeping on a wooden floor again, 10 hours of sleep is actually more like 5 hours, if that. We also had to share a blanket, which made it a bit tough, but it all worked out. Amit told us to pay each family 150k rupia to stay, which was fine by us but clearly a massive markup because we were tourists. 150k in these villages amounted to days worth of work, so it was obviously inflated, but well worth it to us.
The final hiking day took us around the same time as the previous two days, around 8-9 hours. On the way back, however, we stopped at one of the waterfalls that we had been told about before. It was a Sunday so many of the locals from Kandangan were up there swimming, along with travel groups from Jakarta. We had constant people wanting to take pictures with us so we eventually had to say no. When we were leaving a group invited us into their area and offered us food and drinks, which was very kind.
The guide tried to charge us more money to get into the waterfall, which was a bit sad considering how well he’d done, but was a bit disappointing. He was overall friendly and helpful, though it was obvious his best interest was money.
It also rained a fair bit during our hike to and away from the waterfall. We got back to Loksado in the late afternoon, paid the guide, and relaxed at a new homestay. It was great to rest and dry out our feet, and to have a proper shower (well, not proper, but a shower). In the evening we went to a nearby “resort”, found a chessboard, and played for a few hours, before calling it a night.
We woke at 6am the next day to catch a 6:30am truck back to Kandangan, with the plan to eventually get to the Banjarmasin airport to fly over to Pangkalangbuun. In the back of the truck with us, we met Milos, a Czech guy living in Italy who had been camping in the jungle during the previous few days, not wanting to be with a guide. There is a lot to be said about doing a trek on your own, and it is often much better without a guide. It sounded like Milos had a unique experience and was able to climb one of the mountains that we wanted to climb, but the guide wouldn’t “allow” us to.
Once in Kandangan we stayed at the same hotel as we stayed several days before, did laundry, explored a bit more of the city, and relaxed. It was good to relax with AC and a bed, and was a needed break to wash all of my clothes, many of which were muddy. Our plan was to mostly relax this day, and the following day, February 9th, we’d head directly to the Banjarmasin Airport from Kandangan.
We woke early the next day, got picked up by a van and headed to the airport. Along the way many others got in and it filled up. We assumed the driver would drop us on the side of the road by the airport, but he actually took us all the way to the passenger dropoff. To our surprise, many others were heading to the airport as well, so that worked out.
Once at the airport, we had some coffee and relaxed. We ended up running into Milos who was catching a flight to Java to do some hiking there.
We finally boarded about 40 minutes late. The interesting thing about our flight was that it stopped along the way. Our final destination was Pangkalangbuun. The first leg was 30 minutes, and the second leg was 20 minutes. Seriously, a 20 minute flight. A bus from Banjarmasin to Pangkalangbuun would have taken 18 hours – just goes to show how bad the roads are in this area of the world (or in most undeveloped countries for that matter).
We arrived at the airport in the mid afternoon. Two other foreigners were on our flight. Once we got to baggage claim, a women immediately went up to those two and was trying to sell them something. Afterward, she came over to us.
Pangkalangbuun is the hub for people wanting to visit Tanjung Puting National Park, renowned for it’s wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and crocodiles, among other unique animals. It has the largest wild orangutan population in the world. You’re required to pay for a tour to enter into the park, and most do a multi-day trip on a klotok, which is a boat you and a crew sleep on. Andrew and I had researched quite thoroughly and had asked about about pricing, so we were familiar with what to expect. The woman tried to massively overcharge us, and when we met with the other two people, they were gladly willing to pay the first price she quoted. She said we could think about it while we taxi to her hotel, but she got us a separate cab (presumably so she could sell them). When we arrived at the hotel, she asked us if we were in and we said we had to think about it more. The other two gladly paid. The total they paid was like 5 million IDR.
After the others paid and went to their room, she came up and asked us what we want to pay. We said a maximum was 2.5 million total. We ended up negotiating for 3.25 million, roughly half of the initially quoted price. She also said we would be sharing the boat with the others, and not to tell them. Shady, but in southeast Asia it’s common to negotiate pricing of almost anything, it goes a long way.
The plan was to share a boat (klotok) that would sleep 4 people, for 2 nights, 3 days while we explore the national park, namely the endangered orangutans which the park is known for. The boat would leave from Kumai the following morning, about 40 minutes away.
After sorting out the boat, we walked the city looking for a place that had a hamburger. We couldn’t find the first place in our guide book, but we found another nearby, which was closed due to a lack of power in the city. We ended up eating at a Chinese place across from the hotel which was excellent, though Andrew’s stomach was still not 100%. Afterward we bought some fruit, including some kiwis and a watermelon, which we devoured at the hotel. One of the common things thus far in the trip was that most dishes lack vegetables. As a result, we would eat fresh fruit and veggies every chance we could get. Andrew suggested it was the reason he wasn’t feeling well, which very well could be the case as we both felt much better after eating the fruits.
The city of Pangkalangbuun itself is quite small, has lots of mosques, and late at night and in the early evening the prayer comes on the speakers so the whole city can hear. It was a common theme throughout Indonesia. We also saw many people along the street playing chess, which was another common theme, which I found very cool.
Since the power was off, the AC didn’t work, so we got a fan and practically sweated our way to sleep. In the middle of the night the power came back on which was relieving. Around 7am we had breakfast brought to our room, which was basically coffee and a piece of bread, and then we caught a taxi to Kumai to meetup with our crew and get on the boat.
Once in Kumai, we waited for about 20 minutes, met up with the other couple we’d be sharing the boat with, and met our guide. We then walked to the boat about 5 minutes away. Along the water line were tons of block buildings with no windows. Apparently they are for swallow birds which medicine can be made from their saliva. The medicine is apparently quite a big business, and these building hold the nests and collect the saliva – interesting stuff.
Once on the boat, we dropped our bags off and settled in. The boat consisted of two decks, the upper and lower. The lower deck was for the crew, which included the guide, a cook, a boat driver, and a mechanic. The top deck had a dining table and where the four of us would relax and sleep, which also had great views. The toilet was on one side of the lower/mid deck.
The boat leaves from Kumai into a big open body of water. On the opposite side of the water from Kumai is the national park, and the klotok goes into one of the many canals into the park. Within the first hour we were served breakfast, and around that time we were already getting into the jungle. We stopped at the first feeding ground in the afternoon, where we could see orangutans. The misquotes were thick, but seeing orangutans for the first was fascinating. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. They are 97% of the DNA as humans, so they are very human like. The alpha males are much much larger than the females, and their arms are absolutely massive. We were able to get incredibly close to them.
As the sun was going down the guide came to the top deck and was shining a light looking for crocodiles. Crocodiles are wild all over the canals we were boating through, and the trees along the canals are lined with proboscis monkeys, which the crocodiles eat when they get the chance. Suddenly our boat stopped and the guide pointed showing us a tiny baby crocodile.
It was crazy he was able to see it, as it blended in with the log it was sitting on. After looking at it for 30 seconds, the crew then pulled out a 15 foot long piece of bamboo and tied a slip-knot onto it with fishing line. They then try to put the loop around the crocodiles neck, failing the first time. The second time, however, they rigged it and the baby crocodile came flying out of the water onto the boat. It was crazy!
We then passed it around among the 4 of us, holding the mouth shut during the pass and capturing photos. I had held an alligator before at an alligator farm, but never a wild crocodile. They shortly after returned it to the water. The guide shined the light on the opposite side of the river and you could see glowing eyes at water level, which the guide told us was likely the pissed off mother.
One of the things about traveling in developing and undeveloped countries is the safety standards. The rails of the top deck were low, and it wouldn’t be difficult to fall off. The bathroom on the lower deck was maybe 16″ above the water line, with no rail. It wouldn’t be difficult to fall into the crocodile-infested water, especially if you’d been drinking. Throughout the trip we kept discussing how many seconds we’d have to get out of the water if we fell in before we’d get eaten. The guide said probably 15 seconds or less.
That night we had dinner at that spot, where the boat docked for the night. We could hear the monkeys making noise all night, and occasionally some water moving. When I woke up to use the toilet I shined my light to see if I could see anything interesting, which I couldn’t (things hide well in the jungle).
The following day we went to Camp Leakey, the infamous main viewing spot where they have a museum and research center setup. It was the most crowded of any spot we’d seen, as virtually all tourists show up there around feeding time each day. After checking out the visitor center and reading about the national park, we went to the viewing area, waited 20 minutes, and then watched the orangutans interact and eat, along with a gibbon. It was fascinating seeing the alpha male dominate and scare off other males and most females, and see the gibbon come in and steal food from them (he was quick!). The people feeding them also gave them a big bowl of what appeared to be milk, which I found interesting.
Afterward the boat drove for another couple hours to a dock which the park rangers lived near. After the boat parked, the crew jumped into the water on the shore side of the boat. They said the boat would have scared off any crocodiles, and the boat blocked them from coming. Crazy to think of taking that risk – I guess it takes that one time where the crocodile doesn’t get scared. Actually in 2002 a British tourist was eaten by a crocodile swimming in this national park, so I’m unsure why the guides still swim, especially considering they see crocodiles each day.
In the night time we did a night trek to see some night wildlife. We didn’t see too much, other than some massive spiders. After the tour we had dinner and relaxed. The common format of the trip was eat, a few hours of downtime to observe the nature, read a book, and relax, then a feeding ground where we walk into the jungle, followed by more relaxation. It was excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
The second night we docked and stayed in the same place where the night trek was and where the guides went swimming. There was another boat that showed up and relaxed there for a bit around dusk, so we met some of the others on the boat, including an American woman living in Bali with her Balinese boyfriend. He showed us some cool magic tricks, and the guides showed us some cool card tricks.
The following day we headed back to Kumai, which took several hours. Our initial plan was to stay in the hotel in Pangkalangbuun again, but upon arriving in Kumai they offered us a place there at a different hotel so we decided to do that. After showering and relaxing a bit, we headed out for dinner in Kumai. We met a Dutch guy traveling alone scoping out guides for a klotok the next day, but considering he was alone they were probably trying to inflate the prices quite a lot.
We ate at a nearby restaurant which had excellent food, and after we had some desert at a street vendor. They basically took a loaf of bread, cut it in half and filled it with butter and jam, grilled it with butter, then covered it in condensed milk. It was delicious indeed. It reminded me of what they eat in Thailand – white bread covered in condensed milk.
The following morning we caught a flight from Pangkalangbuun to Semarang in Central Java, with the plan to explore Central Java for our remaining 10 days.
Overall, Tanjung Puting National Park is well worth the trip. Do your research first, and depending on the season the prices may be higher or lower. We were there during a lower season so our bargaining had a greater chance of succeeding. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Orangutans in Indonesia
Indonesia is world renowned for seeing orangutans in the wild. I hadn’t thought about them much until being in Indonesia and learning more about them. They share 97% of DNA that we humans have, which explains which they are so human like. They really look and act like humans. In Malay orang means “person” and utan is derived from hutan, which means “forest.” Thus, orangutan literally means “person of the forest.”
Last year, in November 2015, there were forest files all over Indonesia (130,000+ fires in Indonesia alone), wiping away a lot of the rainforests there. These are caused by both the dry weather from El Nino, and people burning their plantations to clear the land. As a result of the burning, a huge amount of the rainforests in Indonesia were destroyed, killing lots of the worlds life including many orangutans. Indonesia contains at least 50% of all known animal species in the world, so it isn’t something to take lightly. And the western media didn’t talk about it at all, which was disappointing, though not surprising.
I heard the forest fires were putting in more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the cars in America combined. According to this page, these fires put more CO2 into the atmosphere than the emissions of all of Japan, or Canada, or the UK, or Germany, or Brazil – entire developed countries. The cost was something like $35B, but that doesn’t include the irreplaceable costs such as deforestation of rainforests, killing of natural wildlife, health crisis from breathing it, etc.
In addition to the forest fires, palm oil plantations are worth big money in Indonesia (and Malaysia as well). These palm plantations line national parks, and in some cases, even wipe out pieces of national parks to plant palm trees. When the orangutans environment is vastly smaller, they go to the palm trees looking for food, and the palm plantation owners then kill the orangutans, or hire someone to do so. This happens on a massive scale in Indonesia, where wilderness preservations certainly comes second to money and business. Everyone is chasing that, with really no awareness about destroying the planet, resources, or endangered animals. The government is in on it too, not regulating national parks, and receiving massive benefits from the palm oil business.
From a sign in Camp Leakey, in Tanjung Puting National Park:
“In 2002, 30,000 tonnes of palm oil effluent leaked into the river on the north side of the national park. In May 2003, the same palm oil company planted palm oil trees on 380 hectacres of once forested land inside of the national park. In 2005, the Ministry of Forest in Jakarta announced plans to allocate 5 new palm oil concessions, intruding into Tanjung Puting National Park.”
“Palm oil companies commonly use fire to clear plantation land. One huge fire in 1997/98 was responsible for the loss of one third of Borneos orangutan population.
Checkout orangutan.org for more info on the orangutans and how you can help or even volunteer to work on a related project.
After leaving Tanjung Puting, we flew from Pangkalangbuun to Semerang on the north side of Central Java. From Semarang Airport we tried to get a bus to the main bus terminal, but kept getting conflicting directions. We ended up taking motorcycles for 5 minutes to a small shop which conveniently had a van departing to Yogyakarta, which is where we were heading. It was around 1pm at this point.
We arrived into Yogyakarta around 5:30pm, getting dropped off near the train station. We then walked about 15 minutes to accommodation we found in our guidebook. The hotel had beautiful artwork on the walls of all the rooms. It was in a great location, surrounded by good food and music. After checking in, we were offered to climb Mt. Merapi, which we passed in the van on the way in.
They had a guided tour which left at like 1am, and arrived back around 1pm. After considering it, we decided to not rush, and to instead hike it in the coming days without a guide. In the evening we had some excellent food, and then explored the city. We did the walking tour in our guidebook, which took us down walking street and into the darkness of some neighborhoods. Maybe the book was a bit out of data, haha. When we got to the end, we hopped on a rickshaw which took us back to our hotel.
The following morning we rented motorcycles and explored the surrounding area, first checking out Prambanan. Note, bring your student ID to Indonesia if you have it as many places give half off. I ended up paying the full tourist price of $25 to enter, while others with IDs paid half. Prambanan was quite impressive and cool, though these days I’m skeptical of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While they typically are quite historical, they have double pricing, they are overpriced, and a lot of it seems to be made not necessarily to preserve history, but to profit. It somewhat ruins the experience and makes it feel quite unnatural.
After Prambanan, we decided to drive all the way to the south side of Mount Merapi, to a city called Kaliurang. Merapi is Indonesia’s most active volcano, and the views from the south side were impressive. Andrew and I had plans to climb it in the coming days, and seeing it from the south side was something special. We ended finding a decent spot to watch the sunset from above, with Merapi high in the background to the north.
We ended up driving back to Yogyakarta in the dark, and arriving back to the hotel around 6 or 7pm. We were exploring with a German guy staying at the same hotel, but we got separated on the way home and met back at the hotel. In the evening we grabbed dinner and a massage.
The next morning our plan was to head to Selo, a small town situated north of Mt. Merapi and south of Mt. Merbabu, both of which we wanted to climb. To get to Selo, however, took some work. We got a taxi from Yogyakarta to the bus station, and from there to got on a bus to Mungkid. We then walked east a bit until a guy in a van told us to hop in when we asked about Selo. With all our bags, we crowded into a tiny van with 5 or 6 others, and with little ventilation. It was sweaty to say the least.
We then got dropped off at some spot about halfway up and were told to wait for an orange van, which would arrive within the hour. Immediately when we get dropped off 2 guys came up trying to get money out of us to take them up, but we politely said we’d wait for the bus. For the next hour they harassed us, constantly trying to get us to go, even though they were charging 10x what anyone else would pay. It was raining a bit by this point. We ended up going down the street to get a bite to eat, and a few people came up asking us if we needed help. They ended up arranging a shuttle for us up to Selo for a lower rate, which we decided to do considering the orange van wasn’t coming.
The roads to Selo were severely damaged. Huge holes everywhere, with large rocks filling them in. Countless dirt trucks were lining the roads, damaging them further. You’d regularly see people standing in the road collecting payments from all the dirt truck drivers, which we were told went to repairing the road. The poor roads caused major traffic jams, and it seemed there was almost no organization whatsoever.
Nonetheless, when we finally got to Selo, it was a bit foggy. The van dropped us at a homestay run by a longer-haired hippy who was quite friendly. He and his wife checked us into our room. We chatted with him a fair bit about hiking and whatnot, and he gave us some advice. He had built the entire hotel by himself over the last 20 years, and runs all the tours up Merapi (he hires guides, but uses his hotel as a base). Since it was low season when we were there, we were the only people at the hotel. But he said during high season it would be booked full every night.
We hiked up to the base camp to checkout the beginning of the trail and prepare for the hike which we would start at 1am the next morning. After coming back down, it was about time to eat and get a few hours of sleep for the hike.
We started hiking Merapi at 1:40am. Our initial plan was to leave at 1am, but decided to wait a half hour as other tour groups from Yogayakarta were leaving then and we wanted to let them go first.
They also try to charge foreigners $20 to climb it, and I’m against charging people with white skin more. So we wanted to separate ourselves from the group. We’ve noticed through hiking over the years that we tend to hike significantly quicker than most others, as the estimated climbing times they give are normally way higher than it normally takes us. We are always told that a hike will take 8 hours, when it takes us 4. It isn’t that we hike fast, I think they just set standards for people who are out of shape or haven’t hiked before, which is understandable.
The entire hike is quite steep, especially the beginning, which is literally a straight road going up to base camp. After base camp it becomes a rock path, and then a dirt path. We passed a fair number of people along the way who were resting at the base camps, presumably with their guides.
We got close to the plateau quite early, so we decided to rest and snack for 20 minutes such that we’d get to the summit just before sunset. As we noticed others coming, we decided to keep hiking to stay ahead of the big group, so we wouldn’t have to pass them all again.
When we got to the plateau, there was a big sign, but no real path or direction pointing anywhere. Up until this point the path was quite clear, but from here on, it wasn’t. When the big group showed up, the guide came up to us and Andrew went to shake his hand. The guy this refused to shake his hand started shouting at us asking where our guide was. We told him we didn’t have one, and then he insisted we keep hiking and to go to the summit first. I told him to go ahead first as we were resting, which was indeed the case. About 5 minutes later we started searching for the trail and began hiking. Along the way we could see lights of other hikers so it wasn’t incredible difficult to find the way up. However, if you have GPS of the standard tracks, it would be helpful.
We got to the top about 90 minutes later, and there was already a big group up there. We went around the crater a bit, listened to music and relaxed. We sat up there for probably an hour or so, and around 7am we headed back down.
The way the other guide treated us was disappointing. He could have easily helped us or directed us the correct way, but preferred to see us get lost instead – overall bad form. I wouldn’t recommend using a guide on this hike, especially for that reason. When you get to the plateau, head behind the rock and follow the path toward a hut not far behind the rock. Follow the path up and to the left. You will be going up a ridge and walking on loose gravel and sand. Even if you’re not on the exact trail, follow up and you’ll eventually hit the crater. Download GPS tracks if you can beforehand just to be sure. Look for cairns (stacks of rocks) that help mark the trail, we made quite a few on our way down. If you’re hiking after the sun comes up, the trail will b easy to find, but at night use your GPS tracks and/or the route mentioned above and you’ll be fine.
We arrived back to the hotel around 10am, and ate the complimentary breakfast they provided us. We had plans to wake again around midnight to hike Mt. Merbabu, the other mountain nearby which was apparently easier than Merapi. Merpai took us just over 4 hours, though that counts probably 30 minutes lost from searching for the trail after reaching the plateau. The hike is steep, but relatively short and quite a fun one. I’d recommend it, but don’t use a guide.
The rest of the day we grabbed some food, checked out the road to get to Merbabu, and napped as we hadn’t slept much the night before.
We started hiking from our hotel around 2am, which was directly at the bottom of the road that went up Merapi. It was several miles from there to the base camp, where the actual trailhead started up Merbabu. To get there, we used the map and GPS on our phone to guide us along the roads along the farms. From the main road going through Selo, there is a big green sign saying “Merbabu” with an arrow pointing left up the mountain.
The road to the basecamp takes you around the back of the mountain, but once you get the base camp the trail becomes obvious – it took us about an hour to get to base camp from our hotel. It would be recommended to have the GPS on both Merapi and Merbabu, and guides are definitely not required with a decent sense of direction.
There are several camps along the hike, I think 4 in total. The hike itself was very pleasant. The sunrise was beautiful while hiking, and we ran into many people camping. There are quite a few steep parts but well worth it. We were lucky to have a blue sky the entire way up.
We were told it would take 8-9 hours up, but we did it in 5 and a half, summiting Merbabu at 7:30am and this includes our hour hike to base camp from our hotel, which most people skip and just ride their motorcycle to. We spent probably an hour up on the summit relaxing, taking in the view as the clouds rolled in. We went over to an area where others had put an Indonesian flag and met with a group of hikers there, who offered us coffee and we offered them snacks. We took some pictures, and headed down.
On the way down we did encounter some rain, but nothing major. We were able to see a lot more of the trail now that the sun was up. It was shocking near the base camp at the trail entrance how much trash was piled up. It is a shame the people running the base camp and trail don’t pick it up, and instead use the train entrance as a landfill. Just yet another reason not to get a guide and avoid contributing to the park, it isn’t taken care of at all.
Along the walk back on the roads through the farms, it was fascinating seeing how they would plant crops on literally 60 degree hills. Andrew and I were guessing how they are able to do that without all the dirt and crops being washed down the hill. It was quite the site.
We got back to the hotel around noon, and arranged a shuttle to Borobudur, our next destination.
The owner of the hotel in Selo drove us to Borobudur. It was a bumpy ride to say the least, but we were able to sleep a little bit. By the time we arrived in Borobudur 90 minutes or so later, it was pouring rain. We had him drop us off at the first place we liked in our guidebook, but after looking at it, we decided to go explore another hotel nearby.
With umbrellas and raincoats, we walked 5 minutes to the other hotel, which was much more developed and bigger. They had listed the room rates, and some dorm rates, which were like a fifth of the cost of the regular rooms – we asked to see both.
The dorms and the regular rooms were identical, except that the dorms had a public bathroom. Considering the hotel was practically empty, this made no difference to us.
After checking in, we got online for a bit after a few days without internet, and then walked 10 minutes down the road to look at the entrance of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world and the major attraction of the area. Like Prambanan, it was considered a UNESCO world heritage site, and as a result, it was highly commercialized (not a fan of this).
By this point it was probably 4:30pm and it was closing down. We walked back to our hotel, dropped off some laundry nearby, and relaxed to some excellent dinner. The hotel, Pondok Tingal Hotel (click here for location (see street view as well)), was well worth the value. It had excellent seating, great wifi, great food, and overall quite comfortable.
At 4am every morning you’d hear prayers shouting over a large intercom from the nearby mosque. Even with earplugs in, it was incredibly loud as the entire city surely could hear it. It woke us up each day at 4am. Our original plan was to wake for sunrise and see Borobudur from a nearby hillside, but at 4am we both woke and decided to sleep a couple more hours and potentially see the sunrise the following day.
Around 9am we woke, ate breakfast, and by 10am we were entering into Borobudur. The price to get in was around $30 for a tourist, and half of that for a student. I was able to borrow one of Andrews IDs and got it at half price. We spent several hours exploring the temple and the surroundings. It got quite hot, and it would be recommended to go in the later afternoon to avoid the heat.
In the evening we found a place that rented motorcycles, so explored more of Borobudur, including another temple on the other side of town. We also attended a 1 hour meditation at a monastery near the other temple.
The following day we woke early to catch the sunrise, but after driving around looking for the right spot, we failed and decided to go to the main area where everyone else went. However, by this point the sun had fully risen, and by the time we got there it was too foggy to see any sort of view.
In the afternoon we disembarked to drive our mopeds to the Dieng Plataeu to spend a few nights there exploring. Our initial plan was to spend the days exploring the area, but we ended up hiking much of it and sleeping little.
We arrived in Dieng around 4pm, checked into the first hotel we could find, and walked around the nearby area which had an old ruin. There isn’t much in terms of hotels here so be preferred for lower quality accommodation. We were quite burned out from the drive and waking early, so we decided to sleep somewhat early, and wake at 3am to climb Mount Prau to catch the sunrise.
The hike up Mt. Prau was great – not difficult and quite enjoyable. When you get near the top you can go left to the big antenna, or right (south) over to the actual summit. We went to the antenna first, and then realized going right was the correct way so headed back down and up that direction.
From Mount Prau, we could see Mount Sindoro sticking out right in front of us. It looked like an awesome volcano to climb, so we decided to we would climb it the following day. At the top of Mount Prau, we watched the sunrise, met a few others who were up there camping, and roamed around the vast open meadow-like area. After hiking down Mount Prau down a different trail and catching a bus back to Dieng, we drove around on our motorcycles exploring the Dieng Plateau area. We drove through the dense fog to a village which was the wealthier village in Dieng, able to send people to Mecca every year. We then went to the Dieng Theatre and watched a short 20 minute documentary on the area. After headed back to the hotel to pickup our bags, and buy some food and snacks for the upcoming hike, we began to drive to Sigedang, the town where we’d begin the hike up Sindoro from.
The drive to Sigedang was long and slow. It was expected to only take a couple hours, but with the rain and fog it probably took around 3 hours. Upon arrival we passed the first base camp, and then decided to drive up the road higher to see if there was another base camp higher and to look at the actual trailhead. The road up was badly damaged and it took probably 20 minutes to get up it. After gaining a fair bit of elevation the road turned to the left, and we stopped about 250 meters down in front of a place labeled base camp, where a guy came running out trying to give us directions and offer us a place, though the communication wasn’t clear due to the language barrier.
It seemed a bit suspicious how much he wanted us to stay there, so we told him that we’d stay down below and park our bikes here in the morning so we could start from the trailhead. So after finding the trailhead, we drove back down the badly damaged road and to the first base camp. We had to weave through a few narrow streets, and we arrived at a place called Base Camp, where a large group of people were sitting in front of a mosque playing around.
We asked them if we could stay at the camp and it seems like they hadn’t had a white person stay there before. English was non-existent and they were acting somewhat confused. It is a bit awkward for about 30 minutes while we try to decide where to lay, whether we could leave our bags, where to get dinner, etc. By this point we’re both quite exhausted from the full day hiking and driving, and by this point, it was dark out, probably 7pm or so.
After 30 minutes Andrew brings out his phone and starts showing some pictures of hiking in Colorado, and we use our guidebook to use a few of the Indonesian phrases that we know. Within a few minutes the vibe is a lot better and we seem to bond. A few other people living nearby come in, a couple who speak English, and everyone seems to be getting along. They make us food, tell us we can leave our bags, and offer us a mattress in the nearby room, where it seems a family lives.
Our plan was to leave the base camp on our bikes at 1:30am, drive our bikes to the higher base camp, park them there, then walk to the trailhead and hike. We got to sleep around 9:30pm or so, so with a proper sleep we’d get maybe 4 hours of sleep. However, when we laid down, all the people in the living room kept chatting loudly and playing music as if no one was sleeping. The room we were in wasn’t really a room, more an area between the main living area, the kitchen, and all the other rooms. People were walking by constantly and made no effort to be quiet. Someone even turned the TV on near our feet and left the volume quite high. We both had blindfolds and earplugs, but it was loud nonetheless.
Around 11pm I woke and felt someone sitting partly on my leg. I removed the blindfold and noticed it was a woman who had her hijab off, and when she noticed I saw her she immediately ran into the other room. The lights and TV were still on loud. It was bizarre. I put my blindfold back on and went to sleep.
Andrew and I woke at 1:30am and it was still raining, so we waited 20 minutes or so and around 2am we left. The house was dark as this point as everyone else was sleeping.
We threw on our clothes, double checked we had all our gear for the hike, and went out to our bikes. They were covered in water, so we dried them off as best as possible, and then left up to the trailhead, again up the terribly broken road. It had holes everywhere, and even on a bike it wasn’t possible to avoid them. When cars went down it they nearly have to stop every 5 feet due to the size of the gaps.
We parked our bikes at the front of the upper base camp, and then walked to the trailhead not far away (about 100 meters to the right if facing the front door of the base camp). The first part of the trail is walking on the dirt roads that split tea plantations. There aren’t clearly marked signs but if you have downloaded the map off the Google Maps all the roads tend to connect to the one at the end, so we followed our map as best as possible. At one point we weren’t sure if we were correct, but then noticed a small sign pointing to the summit. If you have the small, terrible map from the base camp it can be useful to give you an idea of how their recommended trail overlaps the roads on the Google map.
Once on the trail past the tea fields it is a pretty obvious path to the summit. We past several groups of people camping, and reached the summit at 5:15am, where a small group of people were waiting. There was a strong smell of sulfur, and when we walked toward the crater it got so strong we had to move back. The wind was blowing right toward us.
We walked to the right a fair bit and around this time the sun started to lighten the sky just before rising. We could begin to make out the lining of the crater and see into it. It was a bit scary knowing that one shift of wind and the sulfur cloud would cover us, forcing us to drop down in elevation very quickly. We walked to the south side of the crater where there was an Indonesian flag placed and 2 others waiting for the sun to come up. For the next hour or so we took pictures, relaxed, and watched the sunrise – it was one of the most beautiful sunrises that I had ever seen. And in the distance we could somewhat see Mt. Merapi and Mt. Merbabu, and directly in front was Mount Sumbing.
Andrew went down into the crater and I took a cool picture of him, and then he came up with the idea to circle the crater. Just to the east was where the yellow sulfur was shooting out, so that area would be hard to cross. We decided to wait for the right wind, and then try. It was a mistake for sure, as we got caught in a cloud of sulfur and had to run while holding our breath to escape. It was stupid for us to try it.
Afterward we both noticed our skin and our eyes itching. We used wet wipes to clean up as best as we could, but much of our clothes were covered in a fine dust of sulfur. I remember reading about the sulfur miners in Indonesia who go into craters and carry out up to 80kg of sulfur a day. These people get paid next to nothing, and many have terrible poisoning from the sulpur, ruining their skin, eyes, ears, and lungs. This experience gave me a firm appreciation for people who do that work, though it probably shouldn’t be done by a human in the first place.
After circling the crater and taking pictures with different groups of people who asked, we napped on a rock just below the summit for about 30 minutes – it was great. We then began heading down around 8:15am. Around 2 hours into the hike down, we realized somehow that we got off trail. The trail often times was rocks and grass, and we were not sure how we got off. We decided to traverse to the east and then west, but were unable to see or hear anyone remotely close. We kept moving downward, using our GPS and Google Maps to show us the direction. The issue was that there were gullies and if we went down the wrong gully it would be nearly impossible to get out of with the cliffs and dense forest on each side. Much of the traversing we did was through burnt trees from a forest fire likely from last year, which covered my lighter clothes in black streaks.
We spent a couple hours continually moving down the mountain, conscious of where the trailhead we came in was, but unable to reach it. At were mostly moving down a dry river bed and at one point we got cliffed out, where we couldn’t go any further down and our only option was to the east through the thick trees or back up. We shouted to see if anyone was near, and a farmer about 100 meters away shouted back. He came over on a tiny trail and helped us out, so we gave him a bit of money. From there we were back in the farm fields and made our way back to our bikes. We laughed at the whole experience – it made it a real adventure. We got lucky in that it didn’t rain much, and in that the farmer found us. Without that we likely would have spent another couple hours figuring out how we could get out.
Once on our bikes, we drove back down to the first base camp, packed up our stuff and paid them a bit of money for the food (something like $10 for everything), and then began our journey back to Borobudur, where we needed to return our bikes and rest for our 3am shuttle to the airport.
On the way back to Borobudur we encountered some heavy rain, and had to stop twice because of how hard it was coming down. When we finally got back to the hotel, the rain had mostly stopped. The trip took probably 4 or 5 hours, so it was quite tiring. After returning the bikes, we had dinner and relaxed at the hotel. We caught a cab in the morning from the hotel directly to the Yogyakarta airport, where we flew to Jakarta.
I had a flight in the evening back to Bangkok to finish the trip, and Andrew had a flight early the next morning back to the US. We spent a couple hours exploring the old town, and then I got a bus back to the airport.
While leaving, I got charged a 1 day overstay fee of roughly 400k IDR, or $30. It was annoying because I arrived on the 23rd of January and left on the 22nd of February, assuming that was 30 days since January has 31 days. But apparently my stay was 31 days in their system. I tried to talk them out of it describing my logic but they were quite rude overall and un-willing to let me through. I had to go back to the ATM to get more cash as I had spent my remaining money an hour before as I didn’t need it. Many countries give you an entry stamp and an exit by date so you know, but Indonesia does not. A frustrating way to end such an awesome trip.
Overall, this was one of the best trips of my life. A lot of it has to do with perspective, and the combination of spending a week in Bali with Kemji, and several more weeks exploring remote Indonesia with Andrew, which was really a great experience. Lots of outdoor exercise, lots of stunning views, lots of memories made, enlightening look into Indonesian culture, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.