Seeking Higher Elevation: Kawah Putih
Towards the end of October a restlessness usually hits, and it is time to take a break and be in nature. Last year at this time of year I enjoyed October break to the fullest taking in New England fall foliage on a lake in New Hampshire. I figured, why not stick with the “lake” theme? And after a week of stomach sickness (thanks Indonesia, you’re the best weight loss plan I’ve ever unvoluntarily been on) coupled with the office cold, it was time to escape the giant traffic jam that is Jakarta.
But, getting anywhere in Indonesia is always an adventure. So before I could take a deep breath of mountain air, there was pain, misery, rain, and thoughts of serious injury. Chloe and I left Jakarta early in the morning and caught a train to Bandung. In Bandung we had lunch at a great Western and French inspired cafe, Hummingbird. It is common for people to rent a car with driver in Bandung when heading for the hills, but Chloe and I are not your average tourists (read thrifty, young adventure-seekers). One of the cafe workers wrote down instructions for us to to take two angkots to the bus terminal. We got to the terminal and hopped on a bus to Ciwidey where, the night before, we had booked a bungalow at Kampoeng Strawberry Resort. We greatly amused the food vendors who came onto the bus while the driver waited for all the seats to fill. They joked with us — we took the road commonly traveled by the average Indonesian, not by foreigners. Two hours later we arrived in Ciwidey where we had been told we would be picked up by motorcycle. Well the thing is, it started raining, and not just raining, pouring. We waited tired, confused, hungry, needing a bathroom, and slightly damp, under the bus stop for an hour. We chatted with people, saw photos of monkeys from a man named Sigit who works at a monkey rehabilitation center, and then after many texts, calls to confused people at the front desk, one man showed up on a motorbike. It was pitch black and still raining. He said, “It started raining.” So in Indonesian logic that meant he would wait and therefore we would also wait. He called over two ojek to take us to the hotel. We asked for helmets and they laughed at us. And we said no helmet, no ride. Not only is not wearing a helmet means for being kicked off my fellowship, I grew up around ER doctors and their joke about motorcycle accidents was always drop a raw egg: good luck putting it back together. They thought we were worried about getting our hair wet so they said to cover our heads with their ponchos. When we still said no, they said “Oh, you are scared.” Fine, if that’s what it takes to get me a helmet, sure. So they took the helmets off of their heads and then Chloe and I were speeding up a wet road on motorcycles in the rain, in the dark. We both had thoughts about life, our futures, and if we would ever eat dinner on the over 8 kilometer ride up. But, thankfully, we both made it up the hill in one piece. We had a nice bungalow to ourselves and they lit the fireplace for us. The next morning we woke up and were really amazed by where we were and how beautiful it was (we had no idea where we were the night before):
They brought our breakfast to the bungalow and we enjoyed heart and flower shaped eggs and fried rice:
The resort had a nice pool area:
We decided it would be easiest to hire a driver to take us around the sites that day and back to the train station in Bandung. He dropped us at the entrance to Kawah Putih, because driving in is super expensive and foreigners have to pay a higher price (this is common at most sites I’ve visited so far in Indonesia). Our ticket, Rp 40,000 ($4.50), included a ride up to the crater lake and back down:
Kawah Putih (translates as white crater), to use a cliche phrase, took my breath away. The clouds and sunlight changed a lot during the 90 minutes we were there, so the color and brightness of the water changed. In this photo you can see the clouds starting to move over the lake:
The sulfur smell wasn’t that bad, maybe because of the rain the night before? I’d read complaints from people that staying too long wasn’t possible because of the smell. This model seemed to be doing just fine though:
Beautiful mists rose off the lake. The area had a whole other-worldly feel and at the entrance a man was playing eerie music that matched the mood of the area in a hauntingly beautiful way:
After taking lots of photos, we were in a lot of them — we were the only non-Indonesians there — we drove towards the Walini hot springs. Along the way we passed tea fields and Walini is surrounded by tea fields.
I envisioned a natural hot spring in the woods, surrounded by pine trees with harp music floating in the air and a path of soft moss. Well, turns out the hot spring water is pumped into pools and it is a hot weekend destination for Indonesian families. Chloe and I both went for a dip. There were women wearing full outfits with jilbabs into the pool, so we thought it would be best to wear t-shirts into the pool. We were again the only foreigners, so we didn’t want to offend anyone. I ended up having a long conversation with an Indonesian man who is heading to Galveston, Texas soon to work on a cruise ship for 8 months. I ended up taking a photo with his one-year-old daughter. She burst into tears as soon as she saw me. Everyone we met during the weekend was incredibly nice and friendly and interested in where we were from and what we were doing in Indonesia.
The whole area around Ciwidey is known for strawberry fields. When in Rome…so we stopped at a farm and picked ourselves a half kilo.
Most strawberries I have tried in Indonesia so far have been bitter. These strawberries were sweet and delicious. It was a treat.
Strawberry fields forever:
Indonesia is an amazingly beautiful country. You have so many options from a warm sandy beach to the cooler mountains. So, all in all, I highly recommend going on an adventure to the Ciwidey area and stopping to see Kawah Putih. I don’t recommend a motorcycle in the rain, in the dark.