Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hiking above Cipanas- the ring route in sector D

Scared of hiking in Puncak in the rainy season? Don't be!

We took that chance on the slopes above Cipanas last February 7th and were rewarded with a lovely hike- cool, sweat-free and with beautifully clear air looking up to Gunung Gede and down across Cipanas and the Cianjur plateau. Yes, there was rain, but just enough to cool us down without soaking us, and just enough mist to build suspense as we wondered what would be unveiled as it cleared.

Alex, Chris Starkey, myself, Jody Randell and our photographer Clarence Garay (not seen in photo) made a dawn start in the chilly strawberry fields beside the Sarongge tea plantation. (GPS point 9251453 724690
, alt.1339masl; on the sector D map this is in square L16, where the word "strawberries is written above the end of the asphalt road).

Our first sector was to the historic kampung of Babakan Sarongge, where we were lucky enough to enjoy the hospitality of village founder Pak Rosidi. After reading the story of the kampung in the sector D guidebook (pp 40-43), it was a pleasure to visit in person and be warmed up by the sweet tea and interesting tales.

From Babakan Sarongge we followed the D3 route in reverse. This passes first through mixed forest and vegetable garden, where motorcyclists haul vegetables up and down the rutted tracks (see photo).

It then veers into the forest. A landslide at the entry point forced us to cling on to the roots in the hillside for a moment but the rest of the path proved quite simple to follow- having Alex with us no doubt boosted our confidence we were on the right route!

After emerging from the forest just above D3 point B at the National Park sign at 1528 masl ("We guard and protect the animals' bodies and ecosystem" it says), we left the D3 path, heading upward toward Gunung Gede along the boundary between the forest and the fields.

A couple of hundred meters up this path joins the D2 route, which we followed in reverse, reentering the forest at GPS 9251475 0722618. Map users should note that there is a three-way fork at a clearing not marked on the map some 400m after the forest entry: take the center path to keep climbing up to D2 point C, where a friendly WIPA sign is posted on a tree. At 1706masl, this was our highpoint for the day.

Here the path leaves the forest again to enter what is called mixed garden. As Alex points out in the guide, this is supposed to be a reforestation project with a mix of eucalyptus trees and crops. However, the farmers make sure that their vegetables get the lion's share of the light, resulting in the rather scrawny-looking trees seen in the photo.

Continuing along the D2 route in reverse, we rounded the top of the deep gash known as Legok Bangke (Valley of Corpses, allegedly so-named after the 1965 massacres of communists) and shortlyarrived in Gunungputri village, enjoying the clear skies and views across Cipanas below.

Alex left us at this point, 10.9km and 5 h 30 minutes from our start point, while the rest of us enjoyed a pleasant coffee break at the Gunungputri angkot terminus (9252846 722210). The trip between Sarongge and Gunugputri would certainly be a satisfying walk in itself, combining as it does some of the best sections of the D3 and D2 circle routes. But our further goal was to reach Cibodas and link up with the Cibodas-Taman Safari route we covered in December. We left the D2 route to head up toward the Botanical Garden, at first on the asphalt road, and then on the footpaths marked on the map with the red ring route arrows (of course we were following the arrows in reverse). Note that where the footpath turns off the asphalt road, the agrotourism resort has cemented the ridgetop path down toward Gunung Batu, and even built a pleasant lookout shelter. This shelter was particularly fortuitous as this was the one sector of our walk blighted by rain.

But the rain soon let up, bringing fresh, clear skies and a fierce breeze, enabling us to enjoy both great views of Cipanas and the spectacle of those bamboo windmills that usually seem to be lying dormant beside the fields. On this occasion, the owners were out in force to lend support as a wind strong enough almost to blow us off the path set the blades whirring like helicopter propellers. To see these in action, follow the ring route footpath across the Walen valley rather than the asphalt road that passes trhough the Botanical garden.

Our 14km route finished just below the Cibodas tourist area entry gate, which was the starting point for our previous hike over Puncak to Taman Safari. The large car park here has a variety of warungs, providing generous portions of nasi goreng and a selection of Indonesia's most popular beers. The price is half that of Jakarta bars and the air is ten times cleaner!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

more on puncak traverses

Writing a book on the ring route, as you suggest Alex, certainly sounds an exciting proposition. All these mental maps, data and photos need to find a good use. I hope we can soon post some info about the ring route in the sector D area around Cipanas.

Backtracking to Taman Safari, I certainly agree with Alex that the most "normal" route between Joglo and Taman Safari gate would be along the edge of the tea plantation i.e. after descending Gunung Joglo arrive at Point B on the C3 route and then turn right to follow the C3 route in reverse back to point A, then veering left to contour along the top of the tea plantation.

We instead turned left at point B, descending steeply toward the Taman Safari boundary fence. That path was indeed steeper and rougher than the C3 path, so not ideal near the start or finish of a long day, but we had an "ideological" desire to pass as close to Taman Safari as possible.

I didn't get a chance to explore further over Christmas as I was diving in Lombok.

ButI did have a chance to reread Alfred Russel Wallace's classic travelogue "The Malay Archipelago". I actually read that book shortly after I first arrived in Indonesia, and rereading it now that I have actually visited many of the places described I was even more impressed than the first time with Wallace's enterprise as a naturalist and with his many-faceted insights into Indonesia.

The most relevant section for this blog is in the chapter on Java, which Wallace visited in 1861. After a few weeks around Surabaya and Gunung Arjuna, Wallace caught the steamer to Batavia, before setting off to explore the Puncak and climb Gede and Pangrango. He felt disappointed by the Buitenzorg Botanical Gardens (he had by this time spent several years in Eastern Indonesia), he describes heading up toward the "Megamendung Mountain" with a hired horse and porters. But he soon decided to get off his horse and walk, so inspired was he by the "villages imbedded in fruit trees and pretty villas" as well as by the system of terrace-cultivation, which was "I should think, hardly equalled in the world."

After passing a fortnight staying in a roadkeeper's hut near the pass to collect wildlife specimens, he moved on to begin his ascent of the mountains, describing the landmarks familiar to those who climb Gede or Pangrango today: the "governor-general's country house at Tchipanas", the branch of the Botanic Gardens, the picturesque waterfall and the hot spring where the torrent "foams over its rugged bed, sending up clouds of steam". At that time, there was a "hut of open bamboos at a place called Kampung Badak" and Wallace stayed there to keep out of the "thick mist and drizzling rain" in between his ascents to the top of the two mountains.

For Wallace, who had spent most of his time in Indonesia's lowland forests, the thrill of the trip was in observing the change from tropical to temperate flora as he ascended the peak and in considering how European style plants, such as strawberries, raspberries and the "rare and beautiful Royal Cowslip" could be found on an isolated mountain peak south of the equator. He speculates that during a previous ice age temperate flora had spread right across the tropics, but then retreated up the mountain slopes and into the higher latitudes as temperatures rose.

Wallace refers us to "Mr. Darwin's Origin of Species, chapter 2" for a fuller explanation of this phenomenon.

And I refer readers to chapter VII of Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago", which is widely available in Jakarta book shops, probably somewhere near the WIPA Puncak Trek Guidebooks. It's even available in full text online, for those with glare-proof eyes. It really does offer a fascinating view into Indonesia as it used to be.