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West java: crowded cities and nature

The population of West Java in Indonesia is still growing fast. Its cities have become big, crowded, and poluted. But West Java also has it's jungle, valcanoes, and other nice places, when you search hard enough.

Bamboo raft at Candi Cangkuang near Bandung, West Java

Early rise

At 4 AM we have to get up to take a minivan from Bukittinggi to Padang. During our ride, we amaze ourselves about the amount of people who are already up at this hour. The mosque must have waked them, after which they pray and start working. After picking up several others, the minivan drops us in Padang at 7 AM.

Pelni ship

The "Umsini", an enormous Pelni ship that will bring us to Jakarta, is already waiting for us. We get onboard and ask for the keys to our cabin at the "Informasi" desk. We have to stay in different cabins, since girls are not allowed in the boys cabins, and vice versa. Luckily, the cabins are next to each other. We meet our roommates (3 Indonesian women with Sabine, and 4 Indonesian men and an Italian with Patrick) and go out to explore the ship.

Pelni ship UmsiniIt appears that the lower decks are full with 3rd and 4th class cabins, and the "ekonomi" class. Those are sleeping in a large room, with a thin mattress and little space for the luggage. We are glad we did not choose ekonomi, especially since we have a locker. The upper decks are for first and second class, but apparently, there are not many passengers there.

In our cabins we get some sleep until the boat leaves at 10 AM. We wave with the rest on deck until we are out of sight and navigate onto the Indian Ocean. During the rest of the day we walk around, and search for a place to sit. The only official place to sit is at a cafeteria on the back of the ship. But it is very hot there, so we search for alternatives. We end up on the ground on deck, where we read a book and write our diaries until our behinds are sore and we go back to our cabins to relax.

Compared with the bus, travelling by boat is fine. Yet, the large ship is moving on the high ocean waves, but we are not seasick, unlike one of the women in Sabine's cabin. We keep the basic meals, rice with chicken, spicy egg and wet vegetables, in our stomachs.

After a day we navigate through the Sunda Strait. Among the many small islands the famous volcano Krakatau must be located. We search for it and ask around, but cannot find it.

Hectic Jakarta

A few hours later we approach the Priok harbour of Jakarta. Everybody gets ready in front of the doors. But when they finally open, we are surprised that a whole bunch of men in orange overalls invade the ship. They search for luggage to carry outside. We have our backpacks on and squeeze ourselves outside, looking at the strange scene. Outside are a few other tourists and with them we arrange a minivan to bring us to Jalan Jaksa, the backpacker street in Jakarta.

The minivan races the crowded streets to the center of the city. We get an impression of Jakarta: broad, crowded streets with large buildings and monuments here and there. Jalan Jaksa is relatively quiet. Enough cheap hotels here, some of dubious quality. We decide to spend a little more for a decent room, with a private toilet.


Old city hall of Batavia in present day JakartaAfter a good nights rest we head out for our one day exploration of the part of Jakarta that was once called Batavia: Kota. Through some narrow streets we find the nearest train station. As the train arrives we think it is completely full. But the people hanging from the open doors are just enjoying that, and we can easily get inside.

As we arrive at Kota station we have to find our way through the masses on the crowded streets around the station. But after 10 minutes, we arrive at the central square of the former day Batavia. This is a nice, quiet square, when you forget about the crowded streets around it.

Museum in the old City Hall

On the south side of the square is the old City Hall (Stadhuis). It is a nice building flanked by a few canons. Currently, the history museum is located here and we decide to take a look. It mainly consists of old furniture, and a lot of old pictures of Batavia. Somewhere we find a remark how the Chinese people are happily living with the Indonesian people. But a little further is a picture of how the Chinese population was slaughtered in 1740, and banned to a separate quarter outside the city. And only a few years ago, in 1998 a large part of that quarter (Glondon) was pillaged and burned down. So much for cultural integration.

Drawbridge in Batavia, JakartaIn the museum is also an old library with Dutch books. From the looks of it, the library is still in use, and there are also some newer books. Amazing that this cultural heritage is not better preserved.

After the museum, we walk along the canals, as they were created by the Dutch long ago. Nowadays, it's a mess. Compared to the water in the canals here, the water in the canals in Amsterdam looks like mineral water. The drawbridge isn't very impressive either, there are many nicer ones in Holland. And the buildings along the canals are not similar to any Dutch architecture. Present day Kota is just another filthy city district.

We move on to the old harbour. On our way there, a stone passes us. When we turn around, we see someone run away. Was the stone thrown to us? Is it a sign of hate towards westerners, or just a coincidence? We will never know, but do not feel very comfortable.

VOC history

View from the watchtower Uitkijk over Batavia harborWe arrive at the harbour, near the old watchtower, the "Uitkijk". We climb it, and have a nice view over the harbor and the sea in the distance. Unfortunately, there are no beautifully colored schooners, as we were promised. We do see the old VOC warehouses though.

In one of the warehouses, a maritime museum is now located. Apart from the many fishing boats and techniques, there is an exhibition about the VOC. Here we learn a few less glorious aspects of the Dutch golden age. We also see some pictures of a trip in the early 1900's from Holland to Batavia by steamboat. Funny to see how people lived during such an enormous trip.

After the museum we leave Batavia. As a whole, it disappointed us a bit. It is now just a part of the large filthy city of Jakarta.

The train to Bogor

The following morning we take the train to Bogor. It is the same city train that brought us to Kota in the other direction. In the train vendors, beggars, blind singers, and collections pass by. The train ticket is cheap, and the poor people of Jakarta trying to make some money in it are part of the experience. For most of them, it is the only way to make a living.

In Bogor we are immediately approached by a Dutch speaking man who leads us to the tourist office. We are not too keen at first, but the man is very friendly and helpful, and since we have some specific wishes we decide to book a trip with him to Bandung. This way, we can take the same trip Sabine's father took 55 years ago.

But first, we spend the night in a nice hotel in Bogor, and have some time to visit the botanical gardens here. But unfortunately, it starts raining so we spend the afternoon reading and talking to some other Dutch guests.

The next day we make an early start. Alex, our driver and guide, picks us up and we head off to the Puncak pass. After a short while, the road is flanked by cheap hotels, restaurants, karaoke bars, and the like. In the weekends, half of Jakarta seems to be heading for the Puncak pass for some entertainment. It makes it difficult for us to enjoy the surroundings, for which the pass was well-known.

Tea plantation

Tea plantation near the Puncak pass, West JavaTo avoid the sleazy environment, we make a detour and stop at a tea plantation. First, we get a tour through the factory. We see how the leaves are dried, shaken, cut, dried, heated, dried again, and sorted. And there is also a machine that packs the tea in the famous bags (only the low end products are packed that way). We taste a cup of the end product before we visit the actual plantation. It is beautifully located on the slopes of the mountains. The women picking the leaves are asking to take their pictures, obviously for money.

Crowded cities and villa parks

We move along over the Puncak pass, and at the other side we visit the places Sabine's father visited as well. But unfortunately, Patjer, Chipanas, and Chandur are cities now. Crowded, and without a sign of the old charming villages they once were. We also visit a villa park for the rich people of Jakarta. Enormous villa's in a super clean quarter with nice parks and luxurious play paradises for the kids. There is even a Dutch quarter with nice Amsterdam canal buildings and a windmill. All beautifully situated with a view to the cone shaped mountain Gunung Gede, and separated from the ordinary people by guarded barriers.

After visiting a Buddhist temple in Patjer, we decide to move on to Bandung. The area we pass is nice, with many rice fields and mountains in the back. But soon, we enter a large highway, so the view is limited.

Musical Bandung

Bandung is just another big city. It takes a lot of time to get through the crowded one way traffic to our guesthouse New le Yossie. At every crossroad there are young people with a guitar singing to the waiting cars. Bandung is a city of music, and it is also used for begging. Once arrived, we relax at the accompanying café, and we discuss our plans. The rest of the route we wanted to follow leads through mote big cities: Cirebon, Tegal, Pekalongan, and Semarang. We have the impression that these cities are crowded and filthy as well. So we decide to skip those and head directly to Yogyakarta instead. But not after booking a tour to the Papandayan volcano. And in the evening, Sabine participates in some jamming at the café.

Sulphur mountain

Sulphur crater at the Papandayan volcanoThe ride to Papandayan is quite long. We pass villages where local transport is still by horse and carriage, and we see how the rice is harvested. Then, finally the road goes up. The car is having trouble with it, but eventually we arrive at the parking lot. From there, we have to walk up for half an hour more.

The volcano is not very impressive from a distance. It does not have the classical shape of a volcano. The crater is not on top, but on a plateau lower. In fact, there are over 15 craters, and we can walk from one to the other. The craters vary in size, but they all sizzle and blow out sulphur steam, and have a bright yellow color. The largest one also has a boiling green mud pool. We walk through the strange landscape, squeezing our nose as we walk through the smelly clouds. From the strange green streams we take some mud to put on our faces, which seems to be very healthy.

In the end, we arrive at a hot water pool. Nearly boiling water comes from the mountain to flow downhill in a large stream. We descend along the stream until it is cooled off enough for us to bath in. We enjoy the hot bath until it is time to move back.

Hindu temple

Hindu temple Candi Cangkuang near Bandung, West JavaOn the way back to Bandung we stop at Candi Cangkuang, an old Hindu temple. When the Majapahit Hindu kingdom fled to Bali centuries ago, this temple was buried under rocks. Only in 1960 it was discovered, and therefore almost undamaged. It is nicely situated in a park on an island. Most of the surrounding lake is used as a rice field, so it is possible to walk to the island. But on our way back we take a bamboo raft, which is obviously much nicer.

Bandung was our last stop in West Java. This part of Java is, like the rest of the island, very crowded. Moreover, a lot of the recreational grounds is reserved for the rich people of Jakarta. The difference between rich and poor is very large, which is clearly visible and a source for unrest. But West Java also has a lot of beautiful nature: jungle (which we didn't visit) and volcanoes. And a lot of rice fields, but these are more and more giving way to more urban areas.

Follow our World Journey!! Next Stop: Yogyakarta

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