I’m in Indonesia. West Java, specifically. And, for the precision junkies among you, a small hillside village just outside the town of Lembang, twenty minutes from Bandung, which is in turn about three hours’ drive inland from Jakarta.
This is my first trip to Indonesia. As with all the best arrivals into a new place, I arrived late at night. I like this, because you travel to your destination in the darkness, with no real clues to what everything looks like, and when you get up the next morning and see it in the daylight, it’s like arriving for a second time. It’s my own little ceremony and I’m very fond of it.
Of course, my arrival wasn’t a particularly gracious one. I travel with a backpack- even for work. In fact, I have a thing about backpacks. I hesitate to call it a fetish. But I do confess that my propensity to shop for backpacks does mirror a particular gender’s preference for buying shoes. I won’t tell you how many backpacks I currently own, but I will say that I have more than I could reasonably carry on one trip. My main workhorse at the moment is a 60+10-litre Lowe Alpine which has served me well over the last eighteen months (and which I admit plays second fiddle to my Lowe Alpine 75+20L Liberty behemoth which accompanies me on really big trips)… and… see? I’m already away talking about them. A dangerous topic. Get back on track.
Backpacks. Given that you can’t lock them, I have invested in a pair of wire mesh backpack protectors, to make sure that nobody takes anything out of my packs, and also, in this world of drug-mules and death penalties, nobody puts anything in. For those not familiar, these are lightweight steel meshes that can unfold and wrap around the backpack, and which you can then padlock in place so that unruly baggage handlers can’t sneak their paws into your luggage. I’ve been very happy with them to date, and over the last eighteen months, the only time I’ve travelled without one (a local flight between Chiang Mai and Bangkok), I had something stolen from my bag, which only reinforced their usage. I would strongly advise regular travellers who use backpacks to invest in one of these things.
That said, I had a rude shock disembarking in Jakarta to discover that some cretin had savaged the wire mesh in transit. I say in transit, but I am fairly confident that I know exactly where said savaging took place, and it wasn’t in Changi Airport, Singapore. Rather, my point of embarkation, where security was through the roof and clearly the security officers none too bright, had viewed my innocuous backpack protector (which has been through two dozen airports at least since I bought it) as a challenge to be overcome, and rather than snap off the $10 padlock and open it up, the morons carved into the $100 mesh itself with a set of wire clippers, ratched up the top of the pack, and destroyed the mesh completely.
My rude arrival into Jakarta.
Ten days on and I’m still steamed about this. Can you tell?
Luckily, nothing was taken. So I filed a complaint with Singapore Airlines and will hopefully get the thing replaced when I’m back home in a couple of weeks.
If you’re still reading, this post has gotten well off topic. Nothing really new there. Except to say, arriving at night, we then travelled straight to Lembang. We left the airport at ten, and got in to the hotel here around two am. Which also didn’t improve my mood arriving. The trip was a long and uninspiring one. Java is the most populous island on earth, with a population of some 130 million people (more than a third of that of the United States, and greater than that of Japan) on a relatively small and very mountainous spine of tropical soil sticking out of the Indian Ocean. It doesn’t let you forget it in a hurry. Between Jakarta and Bandung, the dual-carriageway highway was choked with traffic at midnight on a Monday night, and we were frequently crawling at thirty or forty kilometers an hour. The sheer volume of people is quite overwhelming.
But Lembang itself is a charming little place. At a little over a thousand metres’ altitude, this is the highlands to Jakarta’s steamy, smoggy portside location. Green terraced hills rich with tea-plantations give backdrop to clusters of terracotta-roofed homes laid out alongside steep narrow alleyways. In the distance, the hazy outline of looming volcanoes gives presence to the horizon. The air is cool and fresh in the morning, warm beneath a tropical sun during the day, and gentle again as the evening takes hold. Thunderheads build over the mountains through the afternoon, painting the sky in dramatic contrast, while butterflies and azure bumble-bees dance among manicured flowerbeds. It’s all rather picturesque.
Even here the population is inescapable, however. The main road that connects the towns in this part of the country is choked with traffic day in and day out, and settlement follows it like a ribbon, rarely broken from one village to the next. On weekends, Jakarta’s population flocks to the hills to get away from the sticky, polluted air of the city and find some elusive calm amongst the greenery. A morning trip to hike the rim of a nearby volcanic crater proved to be more like a stroll down Fifth Avenue during the January sales, so frenetic were the throngs of people crowding the site.
Nonetheless, the change of pace and scenery is very welcome. I’m sleeping well, catching up with colleagues I haven’t seen for a while, and even getting a bit of exercise walking up the hill to the conference room- the grounds of this place are huge. I’m due to be in Jakarta in a couple of days and I’m looking forward to getting a bit of a blast from that city as well, because I’m sure it will be interesting. However I’ll certainly miss the scenery of central Java, and hope to get a chance to come back here to do some travelling when time allows.
NB- Apologies for the silence of late- a combination of unreliable internet and limited headspace for thinking out here (coupled with a minor chest infection) have stymied my plans to keep the posts rolling… thanks for being a forgiving audience!