Driving west from the town of Bogor toward the Mount Halimun-Salak National Park, you cannot miss the changing landscape and the narrowing streets.
The traffic signals have now finished their job, the tailgating no longer bothers your hands and legs as you wind your way up to Ciapus. You see fewer vehicles as you drive above the city, climbing the hills. Once you reach the inner recesses of Ciapus, one of the first villages to greet you in outer Bogor, you have a free road to yourself, though narrow. There is no worry of congestion nor the infamous macet as you cruise along, having an aerial view of the Bogor town on your sides.
The mobile vendor who sells Mie Ayam Bakso has a different set up and display compared to what you see in downtown Bogor. The variety offered in Masakan Padang restaurants is also seemingly different. The kuah (gravy) has a spicier reddish hue to it than its cousins in the towns have. Two-wheelers carry complete shops on their back without fear what would be a no go in town limits. Here is a man who has made a hoarding out of colourful balloons on his motor cycle’s back that you would not see him and the vehicle from behind. It is a moving hoarding! Another one does better by carrying nearly a hundred red-coloured boxes of various stationery items. My eyes are full of curiosity, but for villagers, including my guide, Pak Agus, it is an everyday sight.
We stop by a sharp bend somewhere between the villages of Ciapus and Dramaga. Pak Agus leads the way into a small factory that is located on the roadside. A young man is busy working on a huge grater, peeling off the nutmeg skin. He spreads the freshly collected nuts on the grater, and using both hands to grate them in rough yet careful movements. The fruits are first opened by hand and the scarlet aril (mace) surrounding the nut is removed using this grater. These skins fall underneath the grater and accumulate. He removes the grated nuts and keeps them away separately. As he grates them in batches, the aroma of this treasured spice, native to the Moluccas islands, spreads all over. It gets into my nostrils, instantly tantalising me to taste it.
Pak Agus points to the nearby trees where nutmegs grow. Although nutmegs grow in all seasons, the processing can take months. First, they need to be peeled, then dried in the sun for 2-3 weeks to a month; once the shells inside make a cracking sound, they are ready to be packed and labelled. Some batches of nuts are being dried as we walk out of the factory. I can see the differences in their ages observing the colour combinations.
We continue and ride past rice fields and vegetable plantations all along the way. The contrast between the greyishness of the city and the greenery of the countryside becomes even more pronounced. I spot a farmer tilling a rice field in the distance with his pair of buffalo and I instantly ask Pak Agus to stop for a few minutes. Tractors and the other machines have not taken over all the rice fields. This traditional way of tilling the soil still holds good in many villages including in this one near Dramaga. As I take pictures of the farmer and his buffalo, a woman walks past some houses leisurely in the background. Most houses have traditionally fixed antennae on their rooftop to receive transmissions from local television channels.
Next to where the farmer tills the soil is a granary with a concrete courtyard in front of processing rice grains. A woman works on the grains spread on the courtyard. At every corner that we stop, we come across rice grains being dried. And with the small birds who are the first tasters of a nationally produced crop feeding millions. Raising my head over a bush of plants, I get a cheeky view of an elderly couple resting in front of their house. It gives me a message of relaxation, ideas of filtering out the grains of thoughts and worries and tasting the crop that forms the beauty of life.
We are now totally out of Bogor and have entered the district of Pamijahan, closing in on the outskirts of Mount Salak-Halimun National Park. Mt. Salak’s misty top shows itself continuously as we make our way along an area vibrant with rice production. We meet a small group of women engaged in separating the grains from the husks in the traditional way. These are the grains ending up in the courtyards for drying. Though there have been modern inventions of machines that do perform this job left-handedly, the ancient hard work still thrives here.
Pak Agus stops by a ‘Pertamina’ refuelling station that sells cheap oil to motorcycle riders in the village areas. These authentic-looking petrol stations can be seen all along villages in different parts of Indonesia. They are quite handy for people living in remote areas with no access to regular petrol stations, and who cannot afford the regular prices. The oil is stored in bottles and vehicles are refuelled using a funnel.
We have Teh Pucuk from a nearby warung and walk out among some nearby fields after parking the motorcycle at the station. Rice fields are now rice terraces. The flat fields we have been watching the past two hours have given way to layers of fields that are called rice terraces. It is an indication we are climbing higher above sea level and approaching the mountainous areas. Pak Agus informs me that the cultivation of crops is very flexible here as rice fields can be converted to plant other crops such as sweet potatoes, cucumbers, long beans and others in different seasons. We stop by a sweet potato planting session where a lady is busy planting the seeds.
Trekking along the fields proves to be more challenging as we get into the heart of the hectares-long arable land. We are surrounded by rice terraces and fields of other vegetables. The path gets narrower and I need to be careful in balancing myself so I don’t put myself into the shoes of a farmer inadvertently. We cross a makeshift bamboo bridge connecting the fields to the nearby village and get back to the motorcycle at the station.
Pak Agus assures me it is another 45 minutes to an hour before we get to the Bamboo House inside the Mt. Salak-Halimun National Park. We will stay over there tonight in Ciasihan village. The lodge overlooks Mt. Salak with great views at all times of the day. I am not really in a hurry at the moment to reach there as the rice terraces captivate me with their enormous sizes and mesmerising formations. They are a great rival to the popular Tegallalang rice terraces in Bali. Just a stone’s throw away from our destination, we come across one formation of terraces that cascades down to the valley. This is a formidable botanical imitation of a waterfall. The layers at the top are the longest and the widest, then the length and the width get smaller and smaller as the terrace reaches its foot.
This is the point where the village part ends slowly. The weather here is totally different from the one in Bogor. The air feels cool and it is always misty over Mt. Salak. As we walk away from the Bamboo House, we see the last of the warungs, the houses, the rice terraces, and the vegetable plants. Toward further west is the Curug Ciparay – the first in our list to visit. But the sky suddenly gets overcast after we start our trek toward the waterfall so we find shelter in a secluded warung that gives ideas on the boundaries between villages and jungles. This is an excellent time to have some hot tea and fried bananas. Enjoying my afternoon treat, I watch a few boys heading home after being forced to stop their football match on a field. It is ominously dark at just 4 pm, the rain clouds are thick above us. A farmer also returns home as he needs to find a roof over his head. As he walks down to the valley and is about to disappear, I gaze at his silhouette against the bright part of the sky. The nimbus clouds have not reached the lower plains yet. Here, it is the weather system of Mt. Salak that rules the roost. It pours down. Heavily. I ask for another cup of tea.
Pak Agus Pribadi works for the Tourist Information Center in Bogor. He can be contacted at +6281585452018 or at [email protected]. He can arrange different varieties of trips in different parts of Java and beyond.