Sunday, 30 May 2010

Gunung Halimun National Park















This weekend was really cool. It was my birthday so I decided to go and spend it in the mountains... an even further bonus was the bank holiday weekend! I visited a place called Gunung Halimun National Park. The park isn't one of the better known parks in Indonesia and it isn't even that well known on Java. Most of my colleagues had never heard of it! The lonely planet guide describes it as a park with mixed-usage... this was half of the appeal to me! There were some other tourists there but only a couple on the first evening and a group in the homestay village on the last evening.

Getting to the national park was quite an experience. We drove through the mountains to Citalahab – where we were staying – and it took us about 3 hours. It was a beautiful trip as the lower half of the valleys mainly constitute the Nirmala Tea Estate and dominate the sides of the lower slopes while the mountain tops are thick jungle. It is really peaceful and it's surreal when you have just left the urban sprawl that is Jakarta!

The first evening we made a short trek – 4km round trip – from Citalahab to Cikaniki to visit the research station there. We also saw a small waterfall and a river but it was too difficult to get photos because of the lack of light in the evening! Curug Macan, the waterfall, was quite nice but a little underwhelming. After the first night I was feeling a little dissapointed because we hadn't done much and the research station is just a big hut really... I didn't see any research being conducted when I was there! Although we went back to Cikaniki and had dinner on the porch. Indonesians are very communal and we were being visited by a few of the locals in the village, unfortunately I couldn't understand much of what they were saying. I have a very poor grasp of the Indonesian language but once you head out into the sticks people tend to revert back to their tribal languages, so in this case I was stumped because I don't know any Sundanese!




The first real trek of my weekend started quite nicely. We woke early and left for Mount Botol, by Indonesian standards it is not very tall, but it is still about 500m taller than the biggest mountain in the UK! We headed there to see some jungle that is reserved primarily as a leopard sanctuary. Although I didn't see a clouded leopard... I did see some leopard poo! Which the park ranger that was guiding us decided to chop up with his machete and explain what the leopard had been eating. The park is also home to panthers but I didn't see any of those either! :( I managed to spot a Javan Eagle on the way down and they are endangered so that was cool but the only animals I got to see very closely were a pair of horned frogs. They were cool and I spotted one from the corner of my eye, the park ranger grabbed it and started joking around with it trying to put it in my bag! I managed to ascend to the top of the mountain without slipping or falling over and I was quite proud of myself. Once we reached the top my guide enlightened me as to how the mountain got it's name. Dutch colonials who used to live on the mountain – according to local folklore – have hidden a treasure map inside a bottle, and the bottle holds the key to some untold wealth of gold and jewels... My guide seemed to believe that this was the case so I didn't allude to my scepticism... Once we left the summit and started to descend the mountain... I started to slip and stumble! I fell over four times on the way down! We finished the trek in the mid-afternoon and one of the guides offered to take me to see some illuminous mushrooms, which was cool. It was also really cool to ride on the back of a motorbike through a valley during a thunderstorm. We stopped at Cikaniki research station again just to shelter from the worst of the rain before we followed a track to see the mushrooms. It was really cool to see them but incredibly difficult to get a photo! I also struck up a conversation with one of the park guides that I hadn't met before and he was really friendly. The conversation was quite difficult as we were piecing things together by using what we could understand from each others' languages! It was nice and it passed time while I was waiting for the rain to pass!






I went to bed quite satisfied on the second night. I was feeling good and was looking forward to trekking to Curug Piit the next day. Unfortunately I came down with some sickness and diarrohea around 1am. I'm not sure if it was something to do with the fruit we had been eating in the jungle or if it was just my sensitive western belly and the shift in diet from the commercial Indonesian cuisine of Jakarta to the rural Sundanese cuisine. Whatever it was it was playing havoc with my bowels and I was in a bad way. I couldn't stop vomiting and going to make whoopsies! :( My guide at the homestay provided me with a local herbal remedy to settle my stomach... unfortunately it didn't work and I was still vomiting...  I politely refused his offer of using his special physical healing capabilities and went back to bed for a few hours.



After waking up and still feeling bad I made a conscious decision to trek the valley to see Curug Piit regardless! I had been looking forward to seeing the waterfall all weekend. I wasn't in the best way or in the best of moods however. The trek was around 10km return and by the end I was nearly dying. Sufficed to say I would never have made it without my guides and I owe them a lot of thanks for their patience. Having diarrohea in the jungle is a far from pleasant experience! I'm glad to say though that I got to see the waterfall and with the help and patience of my guides I got back in one piece! If I get sick the next time I visit the jungle then I'll probably listen to my guides' advice and not persevere anyway. I want to do a lot more trekking, at the moment however I think I'm just going to stick to some easier treks and progress to the more difficult ones. Luckily for me I have plenty of time before I go to Sumatra where the trekking is solid!...





Overall I had a great long weekend in the mountains and would reccommend a visit to anybody wanting to head a little off the beaten track in Java. I saw the frogs, a black leaf monkey and an eagle. There was also a snake on the way to Curug Piit but I was too ill to notice and my guide quickly disposed of it by flinging it with his machete. The next national park I visit on the island will probably be Gede-Panggrango followed by Ujung Kulon. Gunung Gede is a huge mountain – around 12,000 feet – and isn't designed to be easy. There are a lot of things to see in the area however such as some botanical gardens, a waterfall and some hot springs.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Teaching and randomness

This week has started pretty interestingly. In the first lesson of the week, which was preceded by a very sedate weekend, a naughty 7 year old decided to scream "Fuck You" at the top of his lungs. I have had to reprimand him in the past for similar behaviour but he seemed particularly distraught this time around. I made him cry but felt kind of guilty so I didn't mention it to any of the office staff who would've called his parents!... I don't really want to feel responsible for him catching a beating. The day generally went pretty well and overall was a nice start to the week. One of my classes bewilders me as there is only ever two that turn up and one of them doesn't speak... so that really is the only class that flusters or bores me at the moment. The rest of my classes are pretty responsive and quite fun to teach.

The class next door to my high-level teenage class are a class that I have previously taught. They are quite nice but very lazy. I'm starting to get scared as one of the girls is trying to set me up with her sister. I wouldn't mind but I've never even seen a photo of her let alone met her... It also doesn't help that she can't speak English in the slightest... when apprehending me about my apparent lack of interest in dating her sister she used the comical expression "Why you not want get high on my sister?"... I'm not exactly sure what she meant but I think she was asking why I'm not trying to date her yet. Indonesians are obsessed with marriage... They also seem shocked when I say that I'm too young! I think they think that I'm a bit strange which is probably true but not for that reason. That, however, is not the most amusing situation that the girls in a class that I don't even teach have presented me with! When returning from a break in the middle of a two-hour class they decided to ask me the following question... "Why you not want go on diet?" followed by "You very fat... overweight..."... The thing that annoys me most is that I've lost about two stone since I arrived! Don't get me wrong – I'm still a fatty – but I'm not quite ready to sport a nappy and get my tits out to try and get work wrestling either!

Although I'm generally enjoying all of my classes at the moment I'm still making the odd stumble here and there. There tends to be a trend where I have a very successful day, even succeeding with the most difficult of classes... and then 'boom!'... I'm hit with a shitter (bad lesson for those not up on my colloquialisms!). I still need to work on my instructions. If I've had a late night I tend to try and fall back on the students' ability and capability to do the work semi-autonomously. I don't do it often and sometimes it works out okay – from the perspective of a lazy fat bastard ;) - but sometimes it goes wrong. I had a couple of days like that last week and have felt really guilty about it... so this week, so far at least, I've spent a lot of time planning the content of my lesson and trying to give the best teaching according to my ability. Unfortunately, today as a prime example, I came up short when providing instruction. This is quite an infuriating phenomenon, as some days work out that I put little effort in when planning and yet succeed and on other days, quite the opposite...

Now, I know a few teachers read this and can understand how difficult being a teacher is. The job I'm doing – probably because of the nature and duration of the contracts – has a reputation as being a bit of an easy-life backpacker style job. Which I'm not denying can be had – but if you want to teach properly it can be very strenuous and demanding. I actually really enjoy it and will probably do this for a very long time. There are so many places that I want to see and things that I want to do. I had a place on a PGCE course during this academic year to study at the University of Leicester as a history teacher... I'm so glad that I've put it off and am doing this. Two of my friends booked the upcoming bank holiday weekend at the end of May to go to Jogja and the Gili Islands respectively. Which has inspired me to do something with myself in order to get out of Jakarta and do something fun for my birthday. I have arranged to visit Gunung Halimun National Park and stay with some of the locals in a kampung (traditional village)... I hope this is a cool experience as I will be hiking through some rainforest to see another waterfall and swim. This is one of two national parks that are relatively close to Jakarta. I don't think they are particularly remote by Indonesian standards... but it's still about 60km from civilisation and is home to all manner of wildlife.With that I'll sign off and probably won't post until after I've visited Gunung Halimun. Peace...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Kota walk


Okay, I'd like to start this post positively, I haven't posted for a while and I'm really quite enjoying myself at the moment. Jakarta is still the ugly, smelly, overgrown mess that it has always been but I am starting to accept life here in its own terms. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good thing, but I've got so much to look forward to that I'm not even bothered by it that much at the moment.

I have just returned from a walk in the city around the tourist centre but with a twist. The tour was in a place called Kota which is the old Dutch centre of the city, but a lot of what was originally there has been pulled down and replaced by ugly typical Jakartan fare which is pretty grotesque... However the DOS from one of the other schools has spent a lot of time researching the history of Jakarta and knows quite a bit about what is still standing from the Dutch colonial era...

The walk was nice and a good way to spend a morning and it was nice to see some stuff that I probably wouldn't have seen but I'd be lying if I said that it was awe-inspiring. I really enjoy leaving Jakarta and had planned to spend my birthday weekend, which is in a couple of weeks, hiking Mount Gede... but I'm going to leave that for another time. I may head to Bogor that weekend to do something, but I haven't decided on any concrete plans yet.

The last week or so at school has actually been quite uplifting!... I have a completely new schedule and all my classes seem relatively eager to participate in lessons. I've had a couple of random conversations with Indonesians this week and they always seem to come up with something outrageous... One of the girls in the office told me that I have beautiful eyes which is all well and good but she also told me that I look like a member of Westlife! That immediately turned the perceived compliment into abuse! The best conversation I've had in the last conversation, however, consisted of me trying to convince a student that I didn't believe in “spiritual friends”... After asking me whether I believed in them and receiving the answer “no...” this particular student decided to tell me that his imaginary friend, sorry “spiritual friend”, was in the room... apparently his name is Peter... I was a bit freaked out and decided continue the rest of the lesson without consulting said student...

I'm also in really good spirits as I've booked flights to Yogyakarta for Christmas and Sumatra in October! I'm going to visit an orangutan sanctuary and climb a volcano as well as hopefully elephant trekking and seeing Lake Toba. I'm quite excited. My parents paid for those flights as a birthday presents and have really made my life easier in that regard. So on that note I'll sign off until next time!

P.S. I've found Superman... he's hiding here in Jakarta... I've even got evidence to prove it!...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Monkeys and popcorn farts...

This week at work was a little stressful... which was contrary to the nature of the week because it was full of final tests and final lessons which mean that I don't have to teach too much! As this was the case I became a little demotivated. The only further mention of work is that Friday was pay day and resulted in me finally being able to make my trip to Bandung!


Now, Bandung is known as a shopping city and a retreat from life in Jakarta... an escape route from Jakarta for the weekend. Now, I'm not entirely sure why, as the city itself has the same hustle and bustle, traffic jams and bellends trying to sell you crap you don't want that Jakarta has... the only thing I enjoyed was leaving Bandung and exploring the surrounding areas on a motorbike!


I visited a volcano called Tangkuban Prahu... it was quite nice to see up close and relatively painless in terms of walking as the only hiking you have to do is around the crater if you want to get different camera angles. Because of the ease of reaching the main crater and the fact that it is accessible by road, there are no end of turds selling things as a result of this and it is somewhat of a tourist trap. There were also quite a few locals with cameras that were shocked to see a 'bule' and I had my photo taken with no less than four different groups, it's kind of ironic that they have travelled all the way to such a place of natural beauty and they are more interested in a fat honkey!... The volcano was quite nice, once I had walked a kilometre or so and escaped the crowds. The crater is quite different from other volcanoes apparently, because it has collapsed under the weight of its own ash. One thing that I can be sure of is that is stinks! Sulphur doesn't smell very nice and in this case smelt like a strange mixture of popcorn and night after a curry farts!... After seeing a couple of angles of the main crater I thought I might try and see the secondary crater which is supposed to be nice and have less people... but to get there I would need to walk back the way I had come and I didn't want the hassle of hordes of people trying to sell me things... so I headed for a place called Maribaya.



Maribaya is a pretty cool place – the extortionate entry fee for 'foreign visitor' aside (5 times the price for an Indonesian but still only about £3...) – I saw an awesome waterfall that I wasn't expecting to see and I got to see some monkeys in the wild and get a few photos of them! The main attraction at Maribaya is the hot springs there – of which there are a few in the vicinity of Bandung – however, it was nothing short of disappointing! Prior to actually finding the springs though I had made a mistake and stumbled across a sign with directions pointing to things that I assumed were natural hot springs... they had 5km written next to them and I assumed that they were only a few miles so I'd walk. The walk was really nice but all I managed to find were some caves! I then realised I'd walked two thirds of the way to the next town! Regrettably now I could have seen two more waterfalls and another cave! But by that time though I'd already seen a volcano, waterfall and cave and wanted to see the springs which unbeknownst to me weren't worth the effort! They just look like a tacky swimming pool and posting a photo of them would just detract from the rest of the experience that I want to convey. The next day I also could have gone back from a different approach to see the sights that I'd missed but I was too tired and felt like something a little cheaper and easier than hiring an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to take me 30km out of the city and back again in a rush to catch an afternoon train back to Jakarta, so I spent the early part of the afternoon in Bandung and visited the geology museum there. It was okay, although I could hardly distinguish some rocks from others because I can't read in Indonesian. So satisfied with seeing the model of a T-Rex I decided to go and eat and get a taxi to the station...



Visiting Bandung was a pretty cool experience although I didn't do anything other than sleep overnight in the city really. I hadn't slept the night before leaving and caught the first train leaving Jakarta at 5.45am! So I was naturally tired after trekking around a volcano, waterfall and cave I decided to give myself an early night and conked out at the hotel about 5.30pm! I've also had complaints regarding the scope of my blog in as much that it is too tame... this has only come from one Mr. Thomas Fragiacomo... All I can do from really is be a little racist and insult his mother! Which I fully intend to take advantage of!... Thomas you're a fat pasta-swilling wop and I fancy you're mum she has nice jubblies!... Ha!... I hope Brenda doesn't get to read this ;)...

P.S. I said I wouldn't mention the school again during this post but I nearly miss the highlight of this week! One of my students, Darrell, who is a headcase but only 7 pulled a brilliant stunt in the staffroom this week! While doing a task he was set by another teacher – I used to teach him but wasn't at the time and I've just been assigned to teach him again – which involved him asking teachers questions to receive specific information, while doing this he decided to mock one of my colleagues in the staffroom... which was funny in itself. He was ranting repeatedly “Mr Michael have a girlfriend!” – which I'm quite proud to say that I taught him – but when my colleague reprimanded him by telling him to shut up he flicked the middle finger hyper extended his arm and held it in my colleagues face in front of half of the teachers at the school! Then, when the staffroom erupted with laughter he just held it for a good 20 seconds and pissed himself! My 28 year old colleague was outwitted in the banter stakes by a seven year old! Well done Darrell! I'm so proud of you!... Although the middle finger was his own design... I absolutely promise I had nothing to do with that! ;)...