Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ujung Kulon National Park

When I finished work on Tuesday I had been contemplating all day whether or not to leave for Ujung Kulon during the night. It is around 10-12 hours from Jakarta on public transport depending how lucky you are. This isn't due to distance but the lack of good roads and amount of people using them. Finally I decided that it was a good idea to leave during the night so I jumped in a taxi at 9pm and headed to Kalideres bus station. After repeatedly asking the conductor if the bus was going to Labuan, which was where I needed to make the change, he reaffirmed that it was the correct bus... he was a liar! About an hour into the journey I realised I was heading to the northern seaport of Merak and I wanted to be heading west. Luckily I realised and changed on a bus for Labuan at the intermediary station of Serang. After all the bullshit with the buses I arrived in a place called Kampung Toronggong which is around 1km from Labuan at 1am. I was late for the last connecting bus to Sumur which was where I needed to go. I ended up waiting at a warung - small 'restaurant' - with a few of the locals who were preparing for the day ahead by eating before daylight hours. After a few ojek drivers had tried to make some money out of me by quoting ridiculous prices to go to Sumur they finally got the message that I was waiting for the bus. During the three and a half hours I had to wait for the bus I became acquainted with a few of the locals and started chatting and joking with them in Indonesian. I remember calling one guy a midget and ribbing another one for his teeth. They were really cool in the end and waited with me at the bus stop and even stopped the bus for me and made sure I was charged the correct price. It was nice to meet them but finally I was on my way to Ujung Kulon!

I arrived in Sumur at around 7am Wednesday morning and found the hotel rather easily with the help of a local ojek driver who charged me a very reasonable price to get there. I felt bad though because I misheard him and thought he was trying to charge me 10x the amount he actually said. So after a sincere apology I finally got some sleep and was ready to start my holiday!...

At 3pm I met my first guide Hendra - who couldn't speak much English - he took me on a trek around the Sumur area and had a habit of repeatedly saying "come on mister, come on"... it made me feel like a dog!... The first stop on the small trek was to a bat cave - not the one frequented by Batman and Robin in the '70s show - but a cool one none the less. As I reached into my bag to take a picture I realised I had spilt drinking water allover my camera... I was a bit pissed off! Otherwise the bat cave was cool, you could see thousands of bats flying around and Hendra shined a torch at the roof of the cave, swaying it to project a kind of flicker affect off the bats' wings - it was pretty cool. After we came to a small waterfall, which was nice, but ultimately required me to walk through a river/stream. After a while we came to another waterfall about 6 feet high. The problem was that we were at the top and the only way to get down was to clamber but it wasn't possible to jump because the water was shallow at the bottom. Inevitably I fell off and right on my arse in a small pool of water, cutting my hand. It was okay though and after a few minutes the cuts had stopped bleeding and we got back to the hotel pretty smoothly managing to spot a wild boar and a few monkeys swinging around in the trees but no photos! Luckily Hendra managed to get my camera fixed in the village and it works as well as it did before minus a flash. Not bad considering really.

On the way to Taman Jaya - a village closer to the main tract of jungle - I managed to break the motorbike I was being given a lift on. Luckily there was another one and we made it to the village in time to meet the guide that I would be spending the next three days with and the captain of the boat that was taking us to Handeleum island and the Cigenter river. Prior to the boat journey I had asked to see a small hotspring near the village, as I had yet to see a natural hotspring in Indonesia. It was cool and a pleasant spot to relax at for half an hour sheltered by forest with a calm atmosphere intermittently broken by the sound of a bird chirping or a monkey banging around. Handeleum island was cool there were lots of deer there and we picked up the canoe to take to the Cigenter river that starts on the mainland opposite the island. We were canoeing for a short while when the guides stopped the canoe next to a tree. I couldn't really see anything at first but then I noticed a snake that had wrapped itself around a branch. It was pretty cool and according to the guides - from what I understood in my limited Indonesian -  it was a juvenile python. I was pretty happy with that the local name is 'sanca bodo'. About ten minutes later we stopped again and for the first few seconds I had no idea why... after a few "Mr.. Mr.. Lihat" in a whispering tone I heard and saw a huge splash, as a 3 metre crocodile launched itself into the river in front of the canoe! I don't really know how to describe the feeling... it happened too quickly to shit myself but there was a long pause of tension and anticipation as to what might happen next! I didn't really fancy being dinner! Luckily the crocodile was as weary of us as we were of it and stayed still camouflaged in the water opposite the canoe... I managed to get a photo but only of the top of its' head breaking the surface of the water watching us. That was an incredible experience. Afterwards we left to head back to the village with a quick stop for snorkelling although I couldn't really see much as it was a little late in the day and the vision wasn't good - combined with a relatively rough sea - it didn't provide the ideal environment in which to snorkel. The funniest thing about snorkeling was climbing in the boat afterwards... it took me ages! First of all I wasn't able to climb over the high sides of the boat. Second of all the guides couldn't pull me back in! It appeared I was stuck! Finally - after about ten minutes of struggling and failing - the captain of the boat found his ladder!... I was just relieved to be able to climb back on the boat and set off for Taman Jaya. We got there in time for sunset and slowly but surely were rowed back to shore.

My second day in the national park marked the eve of Lebaran. This is a festival, which I lack much awareness of, and coincidentally can only really describe it as Christmas for muslims. Not as in they have Osama Bin Laden style Santa Clauses or anything but that it is the holiest time of year for them. With that in mind I agreed to spend the night in the village of Taman Jaya for my second night so that my guide could attend the mosque with his family. I slept on a matress on the floor in their living room. It was a really pleasant meal and I was treated really well. I was fed something along the lines of chicken's foot soup with rice, sambal, beef and fish. It was really good. They looked after me well and even went as far as sending the oldest daughter outside to shut up the neighbours banging their drums in celebration. I didn't really mind the noise but the daughter went as far as throwing stones to ensure that I had a good sleep.

I woke up to the sound of cockerill's crowing in the morning. That's something I'm not really used to. There aren't many chickens running around in Jakarta! I also really needed the toilet. After realising the night before that Pak Sully's house - a bamboo hut essentially - didn't have a bathroom, resulting in having to wash from a bucket near the village well, the lack of plumbing posed somewhat of a problem... where did I go to the toilet?!... Ultimately, after a while talking to Pak Sully about the possibility of making whoopsie, he got the gist of what I was saying and took me for a walk. This walk took me to the Kepala Desa's abode. The Kepala Desa is essentially the village mayor or chief depending how you look at it. After a brief chat with the head of the village I was able to take a poo! It was relieving until afterwards, on the way back to Pak Sully's house I unintentionally snapped a piece of wood that was acting as a bridge over a small stream and nearly fell in!

Eventually ten o'clock came and I was able to leave Taman Jaya to head to Karang Ranjang - a deserted beach where turtles lay their eggs. The 10km hike to Karang Ranjang started with an hours walk through rice paddies and the village of Ujung Jaya. After a few hello misters and a few more fields we were in the jungle. I saw a monkey high in the trees but it was too quick to get a photo of. After an hour or so of walking through the jungle we came to an estuary where the river had a very shady looking bamboo bridge. I was absolutely shitting myself - not really because I was scared to fall in - but because I'd broken a flyover a stream and nearly written off my camera within the last two days! I managed to hobble over the bridge without getting wet and my camera was fine!... Although I did nearly fall in so I'm not quite Tarzan yet! The path for the next hour was pretty good too and it skirted an absolutely pristine piece of coastline deserted and seemingly untouched by man. I was really happy and managed to spot a small lizard on a broken tree that was laying on the beach. My guide - Pak Sully - had managed to get us lost and had forgotten the way. Although it was only for ten minutes or so and he came back very happy to realise where he had made the mistake and found the route again. We bumped into some Dutch tourists on the path and they seemed very nice. We then came to the second river on the route - but this time there was no bridge! Happily I waded through the sea in the estuary and got waist deep. Although it was cold it was fine and I soon dried. A little further on, the trail started to get slippy and very muddy and soon I was wading ankle deep in mud. About half an hour from Karang Ranjang Pak Sully stopped me and told me that we had just found the footprints of a Javan Rhino! These are one of the most endangered species in the world and there are possibly only fifty left in the world! That was the closest I would get to seeing one but I was happy to know that one couldn't have been too far away!

I was both impressed and disappointed when we arrived at Karang Ranjang. The waves were huge and powerful and for that reason, alongside its remoteness it has the potential to be one of the most impressive beaches in Java. I was hoping for big things of the trip to Karang Ranjang when we were trekking there but unfortunately it suffers from pollution that washes in from Jakarta. This is the impact that pollution from a city the size of Jakarta can have, it manages to affect places as far as 200km away! I really wish the government would take the initiative and realise the potential of wonderful places such as Ujung Kulon! All they would have to do is commission someone to cleanup the 5km of coastline at Karang Ranjang to make it one of the most beautifu beaches in all of Java... but they don't, even though there is a rangers' station 30 seconds from the beach! The rangers' station was locked and abandoned for Lebaran when we got there but fortunately we managed to build a fire and cook nasi goreng on a pan my guide had brought along. Later we built a fire and left on a short walk along the beach to see if we could find some turtles with there nests and eggs. Unfortunately this wasn't to be. We had already erected the tent and the guide started to build the fire - in the dark - when we heard rustling. A small man appeared and shined a small torch beam our way. He was in his fifties and from Depok near Jakarta. He told us that he would open the rangers' station for us. I presumed he had a key... Instead he picked the nails that were sealing the windows and climbed in proceeding to open the door for us and showing us to our bamboo beds for the evening.

We woke up early had nasi goreng again and then headed along the road to Taman Jaya after a short walk on the beach. The way back was the same route as before so I knew what to expect and we made good time. Along the way we paused briefly to avoid upsetting a boar that we could hear scuttling around and grunting. We also stopped to try and catch a view of another monkey but he got away too quickly after a lot of squawking. Along the way back to Taman Jaya I was greeted by a barage of "Hello Misters" and a very well prepared meal of fish, rice, vegetables and sambal. While waiting for the prearranged ojek from Captain Samshou's son I was the chief attraction in Taman Jaya harbour. Obviously the locals were intrigued by me and a few children were sitting and staring at the warung opposite the house I was waiting. On of the girls very kindly gave me some water and lontong while I waited. After waiting for forty minutes or so I heard a shout of "bule" and then another, and then another and suddenly it became a chant! About 25 children appeared to stare at me. The chanting stopped and the children were just smiling waiting for me to do something. Some of the older children were pushing their younger brothers and sisters closer to me to scare them, one of the poor kids, who was probably about two burst into tears. I took a photo of them and blew a few raspberries and that seemed to appease them until an old lady shoed the children off and showed to the porch of her neighbour where my next ojek would arrive to pick me up for the trip back to Sumur. I was then provided with a coffee and some biscuits whilst waiting. A cockerill from the village decided to attack a hen and this resulted in it having to chase the hen in order to peck her. The hen decided to take a brief refuge on my neck but was soon knocked off her newly found perch!... Finally a replacement ojek turned up and I was taken back to a meal of freshly baked fish and a nice warm bed and mandi (bucket of water in this case).

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