On Sunday we had a day off. I haven’t really had one of those in quite a while. My last few weekends in the field were non-stop chocked full of work, except for a Sunday afternoon jaunt up to the lagoon to do some wakeboarding before heading back to the laptop to wrap up my handover and being at the airport by 11 the next morning. Straight into a week of workshops and training in Indonesia, so Sunday morning was a welcome respite.
Half an hour away from Lembang there’s a volcano called Tangkuban Parahu. A few of us were craving some fresh air and a little open space, so we hired a taxi and headed on up. As per expectations, the roads were choked with traffic even in what passed for countryside- courtesy of the weekend rush of Jakartans escaping their city for a day or two. The odour of sulphur assailed our nostrils as soon as we reached the winding expanse of parking-lot perched along the crater rim at 1,800m. Throngs of Javanese sightseers mingled with hawkers selling everything from toy snakes that wound their way up and down sticks and strawberry-themed bedroom slippers, to little wooden instruments and bows-and-arrows. Basically, a whole load of cheap crap. There were pony rides and market stalls and t-shirts and men offering their services as guides (to walk around the single and hard-to-lose track atop the crater’s edge). “Rotovegas”, my Kiwi colleage Mike offered drily as we found a parking spot, a gentle nod to Aotearoa’s own geothermal theme-park.
But once away from the crowds (which didn’t take more than five minutes’ walking around the crater’s edge), the trip was serene and pleasant. Apparently, people just go to the parking lot, look over the edge, and buy stuff, and it seems only a minority choose to walk the short trek around the crater’s edge.
In fact, there are two craters, seperated by a low, narrow saddle of rock along which the path takes you. First, through cool green forest growth, reminiscent again of New Zealand bush replete with unfurling fern bushes, and then down the gravelly ridge between the craters. The craters themselves are unmistakably volcanic, and certainly active, but not in the bubbling-lava sense. Instead, steam issues from vents in the crater floors, which are mostly rock and dirt. Towards the second crater, a green sign on a barred gate makes it quite clear that poisonous gas will really spoil your day if you continue going that way.
Along the saddle and up the other side back to the crater rim, we discovered why not so many people choose to walk the full circuit, and found ourselves scrambling up a steep and often unstable hillside, often needing hands to balance and grip holds. One thing I appreciate about travelling in non-western countries is the degree of freedom authorities give you to hurt yourselves. There are no fences, no signposts and no warning signs. Eschewing the tendency to patronize, the Indonesian park management make it perfectly clear that if you want to wander off and hurt yourself, that’s entirely up to you.
It was an enjoyable little jaunt, and what looked like an easy hour’s stroll around the crater lip turned into a three-hour hike with some fun scrambling in the middle, and what felt like a little acheivement. The landscape was dramatic in its own way (though not terribly photogenic in the patchy light), and the mountain bush was lush and steeped in earthy aromas that overwhelmed even the scent of sulphur. As we got back to the parking lot, mountain mist rolled in and swallowed the crater beneath us, and we headed back to Lembang for a late lunch feeling like we’d made the most of our day. I can’t say that the volcano was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done (and I certainly don’t feel like I’ve had my fill of active volcanoes just yet) but it certainly beat another day cooped up in some hotel flipping between HBO channels.
Seriously, if I have to spend one more weekend cooped up with cable TV I’m going to explode.
1. Tangkuban Parahu crater as seen from the departure point.
2. Shop stalls lining the walkway.
3. A shaft dug into the side of the hill. Reminiscent of New Zealand fluke-mines sometimes found in the bush.
4. Looking across the saddle. The pathway goes all the way to the top of the peak on the left-hand-side- a fair little scramble.
5. Take the hint.
6. The crater from the far side.
7. Parked cars line the contours of the crater rim.
8. Features inside the crater.
9. The shaft. Again. In black and white.
10. I have no idea what a Pocari is, but Mike is a braver man than I.