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.

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