I have been to Indonesia so many times that I have lost count. It started with the disastrous “Lost Christmas”, many years ago. Indonesia has provided me with a variety of travel stories, being the country where I learned to scuba dive; checked out a bunch of volcanoes; tried a hand at surfing and saw the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. This time I was in Jakarta on business and I had a weekend to kill. I had my destination planned: Gunung Padang (Mt. Padang).
I had gotten a driver’s name card when I arrived at the airport. I messaged the guy later and made arrangements for a three-day car and driver hire for the weekend. We agreed on the terms. He let me know that a guy named Usber, who could speak English well, would be my driver. Usber picked me up directly from work on Friday and we set off. He turned out to be a marketer who was helping his brother out with the weekend driving job. He said that he had travelled in two-thirds of the provinces of Indonesia and was saving to visit London in 2025; this was his dream as he was a fan of English football. He had suggestions for a lot of places to go in Indonesia, which was to be expected; he also introduced me to a lot of good food that I had not come across in many trips to Indonesia.
We made it to our night stop at Sukabumi without too much difficulty. The trouble began at check-in at the hotel. I realised that I had accidentally booked my room for a week ahead rather than that night. I pulled out my laptop and talked to a person at Agoda.com to transfer the booking to that night – no can’t do. I had to make a new booking and pay for it and then they would refund the original one, the hotel being OK with this. After half an hour of discussion (and accidentally dropping the chat with customer support twice meaning I had to talk to three different customer support officers), I finally got it sorted.
The next morning, upon Usber’s recommendation, we set out to the nearby Situgunung suspension bridge and waterfall. Usber had a bar of chocolate on the dashboard which he offered me. I pulled off a few squares and then offered to do the same for him. “I only have them if I’m feeling sleepy”, he said. Great, my driver is likely to medicate himself awake, instead of getting rest.
The sites at Situgunung were nice, but the interesting thing happened when we were about to leave. The car had a flat tire. Usber admitted that he had never changed a tire before and did not know how. He quickly got a kindly local in military camouflage to help.
We then headed to the main destination, Gunung Padang. After a few hours of driving, we arrived at the base. We parked the car and were advised that there was still 3 Km to go; we would need to ride on motorcycles to get to the site. We paid Rp. 50,000 (US $3.57) each to get someone to drive us. Within seconds, I was reminded of another road trip in Indonesia (read The ride to Tinggi Raja), where I had travelled on the worst road I’d experienced in my life.
We were on a dirt path, with very rough stones dumped on it in order for the soil to not get fully washed away. A minute later I had re-assessed this current path to be the very worst road that I had travelled on, if it could be called a ‘road’. Not only was it terrible, it was merely a metre wide for a large extent. On our right was a cliff-side drop. I started having flashbacks to the the ride to Tinggi Raja. The exact thoughts that I had had on that trip came back to me. The ride was so terrifying that I closed my eyes for a second. Then I told myself that I had put myself in that situation and had to be aware of the dangers, and so forced myself to look at the road.
The terror lasted about ten or fifteen minutes until we reached the site. I got off and declared to my driver that I was not getting back on the bike; I would rather walk the 3 Km back to the base. The driver then explained that there was a set of stairs at the other side of the site and he would wait for me at the road at the bottom of the stairs. I stood firm that I was done with motorbikes.
The site was interesting, as any 4500 year old site should be. There were large rocks that did look like they had been carved by humans and placed into a structure. The structure is believed to have been used for religious purposes. It was clear even to a layman such as myself that the site was pointed in a direction, where another mountain stood.
Large rocks jutted out from the earth forming a distinct perimeter to the site.
Men, perhaps archaeologists, hung around, digging, measuring and making notes.
There were very few people at this awesome historical site; I seemed to be the only foreigner. A bunch was relaxing and playing music. A man was playing with a football with his toddler on this ancient ruin. Similar to my experience at the fascinating Tinggi Raja hot spring, there was no tourist infrastructure whatsoever. This was a surprise to me, given how controversial the site had become. According to my internet research, the Indonesian government under the previous president, Yudhoyono, had provided a disproportionate amount of archaeological budget to Gunung Padang as contrasted with all of the remaining archaeological sites in Indonesia. There are those who say that lower layers exist beneath the visible structure of Padang that could have been built by humans upto 25,000 years ago. I did a bit of digging and eventually realised that the strong proponents of these theories were mostly conspiracy theorists who pushed a lot of other theories best described as “wacky”.
Usber and I found the stairs and got to the bottom in about five minutes. We found the nice, well-paved and decently-sized road. We had barely walked ten minutes on the road when we arrived at the car. Usber was as suprised as I was that it was so easy. The scum who had given us directions were willing to risk our lives on incredibly dangerous hillside paths for a measly $3.57!
We made our way to the city of Bandung that night and checked out the Dutch colonial architecture as well as the Alam Alam (town square with mosque). I had found a pretty interesting aesthetically-pleasing homestay called The Brick House in a residential area. Usber got us lost on the way there the first time, and then again after dinner. It was not entirely his fault – the roads were confusing; but this was a guy who was getting paid to drive who could not change a tire and did not even have a holder for his mobile phone on his car. He kept taking his eyes off the road to look at the Google Maps on his phone on his lap; eventually I took up navigational duties because I did not want him to look away from the road.
The next day, Usber found us some roadside breakfast, ketoprak. It was a dish with vegetables, vermicelli and rice cakes with a sweet and spicy peanut paste sause.
We then set off to Ciwidey for Kawah Putih (white crater). This was beautiful and full of tourists – a volcanic crater lake filled with colourful, acidic water.
A wooden walkway took us to the middle of the lake.
There were also walkways on the crater rim that gave us views of the lake from above.
Once we were done, we did a short stop back in Bandung for lunch and then headed back to Jakarta. Usber got a last chance at being a local guide; just before he dropped me off at the hotel, we stopped for dinner and introduced me to a fishball dish that I had not come across in ten years of travelling in Indonesia!
All in all a very productive weekend of travel!