Issue #129; 3 November 2014
Story & Photographs by Gail G. Collins
Forced urban dwellers like me long to escape the confines, concrete and cars. I’m always on the lookout for a quick trip that offers a breath of fresh air, and, if I’m lucky, a view, too. Sixty kilometers south of Jakarta’s city limits are a couple of easy getaways. Take the toll road to Bogor, and you can make a great escape into the country, where sensational scenery and cool climes await. It’s an oasis of unpredictable weather with 322 storms a year, so plan accordingly. Good accommodation is available for a weekend getaway, but weekdays are ideal for avoiding traffic.
Puncak means “peak,” and at 265 meters, Puncak Pass has stood as the most popular mountain destination outside of Jakarta since Dutch colonial days. We began our crisp morning with coffee and proffertjes or donuts at Puncak Pass Resort. Built around 1928, the historic hotel has a commanding view and makes an ideal base or, at least, a place to gird one’s strength with sweets and caffeine.
The hike starts nearby, approaching Gunung Mas Tea Estate from the rear. This is a downward trek, skirting tea fields, where workers wear enormous pastel cane hats to guard against the sun and rain. Some workers clipped with knives held in heavily gloved hands, collecting tea leaves in an attached plastic bin. When filled, this was dumped into larger sacks. Other workers handled a hedge trimmer-like machine that cut leaves from the bushes and sucked them into a hefty sack. The ladies giggled and waved at us, as they hauled these burgeoning bags to central collection points.
Scarlet-leafed cinnamon trees border many fields, growing tall and trim. Gingers also sprout along the trail like fiery, spiked sculpture. Plodding through the terraced estate, a view of eternity emerged, beckoning for a breather and water break. Even estate workers stopped and stood on this precipice, enchanted by the sloping foothills, fading into the misty distance.
Parasails often lift off from a peak side perch nearby, lending a bird’s eye view of this emerald expanse and seeming, to hikers, like enormous birds themselves. The parasails whirled and twirled, floated, and then, glided to the landing base, where the tandem teams touched down.
At the trail’s end, stop into an outdoor café for a cuppa. Perkebunan Teh Gunung Mas or Golden Mountain Tea Plantation produces B grade product, chiefly for export. The cafés offer two dozen types of tea—from blackcurrant to green to lemon—but only a couple of food choices. As we finished our hike, the plit plat of rain came, and it felt good to wrap chilly fingers around a warm cup. This hillside-hugging hike logged in at eight, easy-going kilometers. Not a hiker? Guests are invited to walk among the tea terraces or a guided tour is available for a small fee.
Another good escape is Sentul Hills, at the toll road’s marked exit. This trek averts the dizzying weekend slow-gos of the narrow town road beyond. There are many walks through the undulating landscape, and local guides, like our escort Encep or Id Guides, allow trekkers to simply take in the terrain. Paths network the land, crossing creeks, which sparkle and splash over slippery stones. Bamboo bridges provide a bouncy way over rushing water. Up and down you go, so watch for slick spots on rock-paved grades in wet weather.
The trails wander from kampung to kampung, nipping around farm plots of banana, clove, lemongrass, coffee and vegetables, and then, pop up next to houses. Our arrival in these spare, timeless villages felt intimate, as people quietly chatted on door stoops. As we passed, some children cheerfully called out, while younger ones hid behind their mothers’ skirts. Goats chewed their cuds in raised corrals, rice dried on mats, men wielded knives to peel cassava, and chickens scooted where they would, crossing the road for no reason whatsoever.
Jungle tracks burst out onto open spaces with verdant views across rice paddies. Bending over, people plugged nursery plants into the mud or beat stalks to knock the grain free. Streams gurgled or bamboo irrigation pipes trickled to saturate the stepped fields. The scenes are timeless.
Make a weekend of hiking the hills. A host of possible accommodation, from hotels to bungalows with a hot springs in Sentul, is available. Sir Stamford Raffles described Bogor as “a romantic little village,” and though the city has grown, its charms remain. When the need to breathe deep takes hold, the simple effort of walking releases tension, like a fiddlehead fern, leisurely uncoiling its frond. You are at ease and one with the landscape.
Martine Casagrande, 360° Life Prosperity Coach, who has hiked there for years, said it best, “I feel the lack of rushing and absence of individual responsibility and stress. I feel the essence, emanating from the forest and people, still moving to the beat of a seemingly forgotten drum. I not only take in the stunning scenery, but also the relaxed and humble nature of humanity there. For that short while, I too am part of nature and the people that belong there.”
For guides: Encep 0811 850 4319 and Idguides.net
Gail G. Collins writers internationally for magazines and has co-written two books on expatriate life. She feels writing is the perfect excuse to talk to strangers and know the world around her better.