Friday, November 27, 2009

Highway to Arca

Good news for Puncak tourists! The German cemetery at Arca, one of the great curiosities of the Puncak region, is now accessible in only twenty minutes from the Puncak toll exit thanks to a couple of kilometers of fresh asphalt that have been laid on the road above Situ. When we explored that area last year the road above Situ was so potholed that only a very reckless car owner would risk their vehicle on it. But with the new surface the cemetery can be reached even in the most low-riding sedan. Just turn right toward Gadog at the Indomaret, 100 meters past the traffic light at the end of the toll road (Puncak exit). At Pasirmuncang village, 5km up from the turnoff , continue straight onto the minor road, instead of following the main road as it curves around to the left. Drive on through Situ and onward and upward for three more kilometers to find the cemetery on your left just before the end of the asphalt.

Whether these graves of German U-boat sailors, described by Alex in the Sector B guidebook, can become a real tourist attraction is open to question. But all foreign visitors, Germans especially, are sure to be impressed to find this neat and beautifully-maintained memorial in such an anomalous location. (Geoffrey Bennett evocatively describes the site and gives the full background in his book "The pepper trader", published by Equinox.)

With the cemetery as a starting point, we were able to explore the forest higher up the Pasir Arca and also to check out an alternative crossing of the Ci Sukabirus, higher up than the one described on the B4 route.

Starting from the cemetery, you can continue up the broad track for 1.1km until you reach a large water storage facility on the left. If you want to cross the Ci Sukabirus you can turn left here.

We decided to continue up the Pasir Arca into the forest first, returning to the same water storage building later. If you do continue up to the forest, be aware that the forest entry is now much higher up than shown on the WIPA map B. On the map the track above the German cemetery enters the forest at an altitude of about 1084m. But in fact there are now vegetable fields, tilled by migrants from central Java, all the way up to about 1276m. Once in the forest it's easy to follow the path. Simply keep left, mostly following a white irrigation pipe, without of course going over the steep drop on your left. Eventually you approach the head of the valley and can cross the stream to the Pasir Baruleunca at an altitude of 1428m. I would recommend turning back at the stream. We actually crossed over, climbed up to the ridge on the east side, and then looped back around the head of the valley to return to the Pasir Arca; but this was a heavily overgrown trail in some sections.

Returning to the water storage building, you can do a very beautiful walk across the Ci Sukabirus. At the path just above the water building, head east for 200m, then turn left at the large grassy area through the steel gate. This path heads down the ridge through some scrubby undergrowth and comes out at the recently-built villa of an Australian romo (Catholic priest). Navigate through the garden, with its interesting religious statuary, and the mixed vegetable plots below the villa. About 200m after the villa descend a stepped dirt path to the right. As you exit the vegetable fields you will encounter a black and yellow sign saying "Kawasan Hutan Taman Nasional Gunung Gede-Pangrango".

From here, veer right again and contour down toward the valley. Take the left fork at the first junction. 100m after the fork the path turns 90 degrees left and descends directly toward the Ci Sukabirus, but not as steeply as the descent on the B4 route. Another advantage of crossing here is that the valley floor is still quite narrow, so you avoid the hassle of picking your way round the edge of all the fields, as you must do lower down the valley.

Cross the bamboo farmer's bridge (we stopped for a cooling dip in the river as well!) and then head up the hill immediately on the other side of the bridge. Contour left, heading north along the edge of the valley. Above you on your right is the pine forest, while on your left is messy secondary vegetation. As the valley floor drops away to your left the view becomes increasingly spectacular across the broad expanse of banana fields, giving way to paddy fields further down. You can follow this path along the valley edge for some 1500m, overlooking the swathes of plantations, the rushing river and the steep forested slopes on the far side, seeming to frame the cloudscape like no other valley in this area. This is a lovely path, though a head for heights is desirable as it's also rather narrow in some sections and has a steep drop off. After contouring along the valley side, ignoring the paths leading straight up out of the valley, for 1300m, you will cross the WIPA D4 route, which follows the farmer's path climbing up from the valley floor. Cross straight over the up-down path and continue along the valley side for a further 200m into an area of vegetable fields before forking left and heading down into the valley, with the houses above Situ village visible on the far side. About 200m down, you have the option of turning left or right at the edge of a vegetable field. The left path leads down to cross the river on an improvised "bridge", just below the musholla, consisting of an overhanging tree and some bamboo poles. The right path heads toward a sturdier bamboo bridge. Either way, once on the valley floor, you face a tricky task to navigate across to the river; the embankments on the paddy fields seem designed more for fairy feet than for hikers' boots.

If you make it successfully to either bridge without collapsing an entire rice terrace, you have only 30m along a concrete wall to reach the irrigation ditch on the west side of the valley. Turn right and you can follow the ditch all the way along to Situ. If you want to return to the German cemetery, you can find a farmer's track leading up the valley side to the village of Sampalan Linja. This path is downriver if you crossed on the tree near the musholla, or upriver if you crossed at the bamboo footbridge. From Sampalan Linja it's about 1km up the main road to the cemetery.

Our total walk covered 14.5km. But you could leave out the long hike up to the forest and just do the section from the German cemetery, up to the water storage building, past the romo's villa, across the Ci Sukabirus, along the east side of the valley, back over the valley to Sampalan Linja and back to the cemetery. That would be a very pleasant circuit of about 6 km exploring one of the most beautiful valleys in this region.