Gede Pangrango National Park

Our epic journey to Cibodas, the town at the base of Gede Pangrango National Park in west Java, Indonesia, began when we left Auckland airport and after 3 flights and a couple of stopovers, a taxi, a 3 hour bus ride (this time we shared the bus with a bird, a cat, and a band playing music for a portion of the trip!) and then a half hour angkot ride, we finally got dropped off near the botanical gardens in the dark, with no idea where any hotels might be, but glad to finally be there.  We managed to stumble upon a hotel that we had to phone to get them to unlock their gates and let us in, and the next day we walked through the town to look at other potential places to stay and were pleased to learn that our travelling luck struck once again and we were already staying in the nicest place in town.

We quickly realised that we would have to rely heavily on our very limited Bahasa Indonesia language skills – for the first 4-5 days we were in town we were the only foreigners there, (after that there were also 3 others) so this meant that very few people in town spoke any English at all.  This was mostly quite fun (and sometimes a bit frustrating that we couldn’t understand what people were trying to tell us) and it helped hugely with our now-expanded Indonesian vocabulary.

We easily slipped back into the slow rhythm of Asia, and on the first day back Karen got a stone in her lunch, and Dre managed a stick in his dinner, so we really felt back at home :-) .  We both loved having Indonesian food again, chilli eggplant, tempeh, cassava leaves, curry tofu, fish, and more tempeh for luck quickly became our staple diet again.

We spent the first day wandering around the many pathways behind the town, watching kids fly kites (it seems this is the town sport, with perfect light breezes for kites, and almost every tree you see has at least one kite stuck in it), seeing the many mosques (the most mosque-laden town we have ever been in, with 5 just in view from our guesthouse and many more around town!) and just generally getting to know the lay of the land.  This has to be one of the friendliest places we’ve been to, although anywhere in Indonesia and Laos always is, it seems though that this area really only receives local tourists, which made for a really nice feel of the place.  It meant we would wander around with everyone talking to us, we were seemingly the novel attraction and it was lovely and a very happy place to be.  Of course this is why we love Laos so much, but to unexpectedly get this kind of love from Cibodas was a nice surprise.

The main reason for choosing this park to come to was the alure of climbing the volcanoes Mount Gede (active) or Mount Pangrango (extinct), or both, as well as hanging out in the national park and the Cibodas botanical gardens at the base of the park.  The first time we entered the national park it was late afternoon so we didn’t try to find the path to the summit, we were more just looking around and saw loads  of different kinds of birds and spiders and some water snakes and cool huge caterpillars too.   We saw a couple of waterfalls and one ‘helpful’ Indonesian guy told us he would take us to another waterfall if we wanted.  “Chantik?”  we asked (beautiful?)  “No”  he said  “very small.”  OK…. way to sell it to us.  There were butterflies everywhere around the park, gardens and town which was cool also.  We spent a full day in the botanical gardens – which are huge – after 5 hours of solid walking we still hadn’t seen all of the gardens.  We had been warned that the weekends could be horrible, because many Jakartan’s visit the park; we naively didn’t realise that this meant typical Asian noise pollution – massive speakers set up all around the gardens belting out music (some of which was karaoke!!!  argghh!!) that was so loud, that even after 2 hour walk into the thick jungle in the opposite direction of the music we could still hear it!  But we had to laugh – we have been in Asia long enough now to expect this kind of thing yet we still didn’t pre-empt it when we decided to stay for the whole week.  Not to worry!

We then spent a couple of days going back into the national park, and getting increasingly frustrated – we had walked every path we could find, including a couple that fizzled out at someones house or huge fields of crops, and we still hadn’t found a path leading to the summit.  We visited the park office and they didn’t have any maps left.  Hmmm.

One day we decided to go and play golf – a beautiful pristine golf course at the base of the mountains and national park could not be missed, and although Dre was disappointed when they didn’t have any left handed clubs, it led us to another discovery: the national park was in 2 parts, the second entrance was beside the golf course, and this was the way to the summit!  For a short while we were quite excited about this – we still had one day left so we would be able to use it to walk up the mountain.  Then the craziness of our situation kicked in;  we knew we needed a permit to get to the top, but we found out that the park would not issue us (or any other foreigners) a permit without a guide.  The irony was this:  a Belgian couple we met, and us, were trying to do the right thing by obtaining a permit we needed to climb the mountain, and we had been told by many people in town that a guide was not needed to climb as the trail is clearly defined, but the park office had just decided to enforce a rule that foreigners need a guide, despite there apparently not being any guides available.  So all this meant was, the entire park was filled with people with no permits.  Foreigners and Indonesians alike, couldn’t be bothered with the red tape to get a permit, and since there were no checks in the park to see if you held one, it seemed no-one did.  So the park was filled with wandering people, none of whom had a permit and it struck us as a bit stupid… we had already happily paid each time we had entered the bottom section of the park because it was easy to do so, but when we wanted to enter the elusive top section, they wouldn’t let us pay for a permit without forms and an elusive guide so no one bothered.   Bureaucracy gone wrong?

Anyway, it turned out that our final day was raining and slippery so we never did make it to the summit.  Dre went up as far as the blue lake in the park and saw 2 species of monkey and some otters as well as some beautiful birds.  We still had a good week exploring the town, gardens and the parts of the national park that we did see though, and on our last day we were rewarded for being here – we got to see Mount Gede erupting a bit, letting out smoke and steam which it apparently hasn’t done for years.  A very cool sight to see.  We had heard the volcano rumble a little in the previous days so hopefully let out some smoke is all it does!  Our photos of our week in Cibodas are here.