Indonesia 2016

Bandung pt. 2: Hot Springs, Tea Plants and Sulphur

Our second day in Bandung was a set tour organised by our hotelier (probably for too much money, but I couldn’t find any other tourist information centre), of sights south of the city: the reason most tourists come here. Java is full of volcanoes, hot springs, and other exciting geological features; this was our main opportunity to explore this Nature Stuff.

We started at 8am and our driver, Orta, timed it perfectly so that despite horrendous traffic, we were back at precisely 6pm. By “sights” I mean a white lake, tea plantations, hot springs, and a visit to a Kopi Luwak producer, which I’ll write about separately.

It was incredibly nice to be away from all that pollution.
In doing so we were able to see a side of Java that many tourists don’t see: small towns and villages, where ordinary people live and work.

Our first stop was a dry, dense rice paddy being harvested by local subsistence farmers. The mostly elderly people working there (although there was one young man smoking) seemed not to mind our presence or our cameras. We were also introduced to a group of people weaving bamboo mats — which used to be used for walls, but are now floor coverings (they’re too weak to handle earthquakes). The handful of people there seemed not to mind either. Both groups seemed to know Orta.

I said “Thank you” to both, pressed my hands together — and felt completely out-of-place. Were they paid to tolerate us? Were they just being kind in doing so? Was I meant to make a donation? Nonetheless, this was fascinating stuff — I was just sorry I couldn’t ask them more questions.

Anyway. The following place we visited was the white lake: a sulphurous, milky body complete with rising steam and clouds of stinky gas, reached via a tremendously seismic drive up a steep, bumpy hill on a rickety 4×4 (Matt: “If my parents knew I were doing this they’d be horrified“). The lake itself was wonderfully picturesque and entirely surreal, especially the gnarled and mostly dead trees immediately around it.

The strongest thing I felt upon wandering around was sympathy for the men who worked there — those carrying cheap cameras to take couples’ photos; those selling pieces of sulphur for its “health benefits“; even the chap near the drop-off point who was slowly playing an Indonesian musical instrument, trying to get tips from appreciative tourists. We were there for perhaps twenty minutes and were coughing like we had emphysema — it was definitely ready to trundle back down the treacherous path, grab some lunch from a little cafe, and head on.

This man made a living playing eerie traditional music for tourists. He was far from the lake but the smell was already overbearing.

Third was a tea plantation; I’ve posted about these plenty of times before: lovely smell, bizarre field structure, gorgeously photogenic. Unlike in Munnar, south India, this one didn’t have wild elephants roaming throughout it. (Strawberries were also grown throughout this area in individual sacks, and every building we passed had bizarre strawberry decorations. I bet any wild nellies would have had a field day — literally).

The trunk of the tea plant makes it look like I have really long legs.

More interesting than the tea to me was the hot springs, undoubtedly the highlight of the day, if not of Bandung. Reached via a 1km walk through gorgeous, lush greenery, they were a thunderously stunning cascade of deliciously warm water from boiling bubbling origins through lagoon after man-made lagoon; fringed, bizarrely, by miscellaneous carved animals.

I was the only tourist woman not offered a full-bodied sarong, but apart from a little innocuous staring, none of the handful of men really cared — two little girls took more notice of me than they did, waving and grinning.

The pool wasn’t cemented so there was mud underfoot and under-bum, and the water was opaque with sediment and smelt faintly of eggy sulphur, which hung on us for the rest of the day (which is better than white-person sweat, I suppose).

The weather in Java so far has been hot, humid, rainy, and thundery, and all of our showers have been cold and horrible. It’s hard to overstate how joyous this experience was.

As Matt said, if there had been more amenities and more concrete paths, people would have called it Paradise.

Our final stop before hitting the solid traffic home was a civet… place. I’ll write about that separately.

Overall, I rarely go on organised tours like this unless there is no other choice, which there wasn’t here. I usually dislike the lack of autonomy and freedom, and feel that they go on too long. But this was a really good day: well organised, consistently interesting, and something I regularly undervalue: a pleasing lack of effort.