Wednesday, 4 January 2012

New year activities

27th December 2011 - 2nd January 2012 – Borobudur to Ciapanas, and New Year in Ciapanas.
Total distance: 1170 – 1527km

Like rice? You'll LOVE Indonesia!
    The next four days are a blur of long flat roads, small towns, restaurants and hotels. It was uneventful, but enjoyable. We cycled over 80km each day, and found ourselves accommodation at around 3pm, allowing ourselves to enjoy an afternoon off to rest our legs in lieu of an actual day off, since we had decided to really push it and try to get to the volcano without taking a rest day. The land around the highway was beautiful; lots of rice paddies of course, with dark green forested hills rising up behind them under clear blue skies most mornings, and overcast greys most afternoons. For the first three days the road remained flat pretty much the whole way, and we just sat, pedalled, and watched the kilometres zip by. On days like these our ipods come into their own, keeping us entertained with music, audio books and podcasts. We stop regularly for refreshment, and just keep cruising along as the traffic passes us on our right, and the wet fields of rice sidle by on our left. They were a good run of days, and we got into a good rhythm, knocking down 270km in the three days after Borobudur.

Green hills and blue clouds, it was almost like being in the Peak District.
     The final approach into the hills to where the volcano lay became quite a bit tougher, and by this point, the fifth day on the trot we had cycled, we were both shattered, but I was getting to the point of exhaustion: shaky legs, cold sweat, out of breath. Thankfully the hills were gentle on us and the roads were paved, but it became a genuine struggle to pedal the final few kilometres. We had to stop regularly so my legs could keep up, but it allowed us to take in the views along the way. The scenery was, as Andi had predicted, really something – roads snaking around forested hills with river valleys cut through with small villages nestled in amongst them, all watched over by mighty peaks that towered up in the distance.

    The hills and our exhaustion meant that we didn't make it to our destination until after 5pm, but as we coasted down into the wide flat bowl where this city lay, the traffic got intense, and we found ourselves in the chaotic polluted mess that is Garut city. The traffic was really bad; pushy and lacking any regulation, so vehicles would keep pouring in one direction at a cross roads until someone rode out into the oncoming cars to switch the flow, although it often just resulted in a busy crossroads with two streams of traffic moving across in different directions at the same time. Mucus covered street urchins shuffled around on the streets begging, men shouted boisterously in the internet cafes, and the whole city was smeared in a black dirt kicked up by all the honking and whining vehicles. Although we were shattered and it was getting late, we decided to push on to find somewhere else to stay. There was no way we were spending our prized day off in this horrible, hectic place.

Huge mountains towered in the distance, snagging the clouds as they went by.
    Luckily, less than 10km up the road there was a hive of tourism around Ciapanas, a small town that boasted hot springs and a whole lot of hotels. It was perched a little way up a hill, along a small potholed road with huge green hills towering up beyond its western edge. We had a hotel recommendation from Andi, so as the sun went down we made our way up the road, and found ourselves surrounded by a combination of enormous luxury resorts and innumerable smaller hotels and losmen, all boasting hot water from the spring. After reaching the end of the road – a square of potholed road surrounded by hotels and warungs selling sate with lots of people milling around in it, we found the hotel Andi had recommended, but it only had one night available, not the two that we needed in order to have a day off. And I was shattered, absolutely nuked. We had pedalled without a day off for 5 days and covered just shy of 400km. We needed a hotel, and we needed it quickly. We tried elsewhere, but it was the same story. Of course - it was coming up to New Years Eve and it seemed that Ciapanas was a very popular destination for Indonesians even outside of major festival dates. The place was heaving with mopeds and families strolling around, and despite there being dozens of hotels along the road, they were all full the next night, New Years Eve. We could have just stayed one night, it is true, but it is fair to say that we genuinely needed a day off, as another day of cycling would have just been too much for us, too much for me at any rate – Liv seemed tired, but not as bad as me. After a long luckless search we gave up and booked in for one night at the hotel suggested by Andi, it was lovely, but the prospect of leaving the next day hung over us like a cloud.

However, after all the hassle of finding a place to stay it was easy to forget why this place was so popular in the first place. Hot springs! Hot springs you didn't even have to leave your hotel room to visit. That's right folks, they pipe it into all of the rooms in all of the hotels along the road. So when we poked our heads into the bathroom there it was, a tiled bath sunk into the floor, the width of the room, and a pipe drizzling volcanically heated water right into it. A perfect, relaxing, hot bath temperature. Just the ticket for two achy legged, sweaty cyclists. Mmmm!

Ciapanas was a busy hot spring town
 that stretched up a small road into the hills.
    Our rumbling bellies didn't let us stay soaking in there for too long though, and we were driven out and back into town where we found a nice restaurant and gobbled down some steaks from the restaurant attached to one of the cruise ship size resorts down the road. The prospect of getting up and having to leave the next day was so unappealing though, such was the state we were in, that we went off searching out a room for the next day right after dinner. Miraculously we found one tucked away off the road and down a maze of side streets. We could have our day off after all! We only had to wheel our bikes a few hundred metres the next day, and then we would be able to get back to regaining our energy levels with food, and easing off our aches and pains in our luxury heated baths before the New Year came around. Well, we didn't even think that far ahead actually. We got back to our room, our heads touched the pillows, and we were out for the count.

    Although the hotels were full, and the road up into town streamed with holiday goers all day, we had to remind ourselves that the new year was upon us when we woke the next day. Spending your life on a bike for a while detaches you from the goings on of the world. What day of the week is it? Absolutely no idea. We read about the death of Kim Yong, and it's almost meaningless, dwelling in the realm of the rest of the world, not our little bubble that slowly wheels its way along the side of the roads through Java. Here comes the new year, what will we do? What will we do? It was a pretty valid question since we did not have much time to decide. But, we didn't put much thought into it that morning, because we both just needed to rest our stiff wooden legs. We rested, we read books, we wrote blogs, we finally got up and packed our bags and wheeled our bikes up the road, through a tangle of walled laneways, and into our new room. It looked identical to the one we had just vacated. We checked the bathroom. Hello hot bath!

    After some lazing around and a trip to the shops, we decided that probably the best way we could see in the new year would be by visiting the volcano that Andi had suggested. It was a jeep ride away, but it wasn't hard to find people willing to drive us down there - the guy working at the reception of our losmen even offered to do it. After a little scouting around we settled on the offer from the travel agent in town, which included a guide in the price – a necessity according to the guy at our hotel since if you step in the wrong spot up there the ground can cave in and... well, you don't want that to happen.

Our guide around the volcano was a very cheerful, funny guy.

    The start time was even more deadly than volcanic trap doors though – 3am. Jesus. That meant we'd have to be up at half two in the morning. “That's the middle of the night.” said Liv, appalled. It did mean, however, that we'd get to the top of the crater in time for sunrise, about 6am, and from there could go exploring about the crater during what would be midnight of new year's eve back home. It would mean that we'd miss out on the celebrations at midnight this end, but there you go.

Fumes from the vents of Mount Papandayan.
    As it turned out we didn't exactly miss out on them, because at around 11pm, as we were sleeping soundly in bed, the carnage began. The whole town was out and fireworks were set whizzing and banging up into the air in an endless stream for the next two hours. Whooping and cheering sounded out amid the bangs and crackles, and we felt a little bit like we were missing out, but we clung onto thoughts of active volcanoes at dawn, and shuddered to think that we had to be awake for it in just a couple of hours. A little while after midnight the noise subsided, sleep hit me like a stone, but Liv remained awake for the next hour, then, an hour later, our alarm went off, and we stumbled out of bed, crumpled and confused, and set about getting ready for our new year's celebration.

Once our eyes adjusted to the dark, smoke was visible nearby
    The ride there was dark, mostly uphill and bumpy. We stopped en route to pick up our guide, a very jovial man despite the time of day, and we arrived at the car park still in the deep dark of night and bought a coffee to sip before we headed up. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness two enormous pillars of smoke appeared from the mass of rock ahead of us, and we realised that we were very close to the crater of Mount Papandayan, and that it was smoking! We sunk the coffees and were led up a small trail towards the pillars of cloud pouring out of the earth, and the light of morning slowly spilt across the landscape. Behind us we could see the lights of the city of Garut, it looked beautiful, twinkling away down in the valley below us. The whole ground around us suddenly became a mish-mash of stone and mud and clay, like we'd just strayed onto the outskirts of a quarry, and our guide explained that this was the devastation wrought by the last eruption of Papandayan in 2002. The crater had spend two weeks exploding, and had thrown thousands of tonnes of earth off it's eastern slope. Seeing how powerful this fairly minor eruption had been really hit home just what volcanoes were capable of. It was an entire hill side that had been just thrown away off the crater like an unwanted blanket; an amount of earth comparable to the entirety of Monkhouse in Cheadle, or Box Hill in Dorking.

Throw stones at the vents and the gas will fire them back up into the air!

Our guide also alluded to a much more powerful and devastating eruption in the 1700's, which a little bit of wiki research sheds some light on.
"An eruption in 1772 caused the northeast flank to collapse producing a catastrophic debris avalanche that destroyed 40 villages and killed nearly 3,000 people. The eruption truncated the volcano into a broad shape with two peaks and a flat area 1.1 km wide with Alun-Alun crater in the middle, making the mountain look like a twin volcano."

    Our guide crouched down and motioned us to join him, the rock we were now walking on was warm to the touch, and penny-sized holes were punctured through it by a stream of hot air that perpetually whistled out of it. Yellow sulphur crystals formed around these holes, as the sulphur dioxide released cooled. All around this half-light landscape now were these small fissures in the rock, marked by tell-tale yellow of sulphur and a constant rush of warm air. Something was going on right under our feet here, it felt very peculiar, but we could hear it clearly, sometimes sounding like the hum of a boiling kettle, other times like the distant sound of a motorway. It was as though the whole ground was only a few inches thick, and beneath us was a vast hollow cavern bubbling away. In fact, that might very well be what was going on.

The view down to Garut, that pile of grey at the bottom is the debris from the 2002 eruption.
    As the light grew the vast pillars of steam became clearer, and we got a better sense of the lay of the land. The crater was not in any way a crater shape, but was instead more like a landslide of scree with numerous vents of gas blasting out along it. On the opposite side to us, maybe 500m away, tall walls of rock still stood, acting like a wall around the whole western edge of this debris that had been a crater. It was on this far edge that the largest of the steam vents lay, pumping out a vast cloud of white gas that looked like a giant's campfire had just had a bucket of water thrown on it. The cloud billowed out of the ground and crawled up the side of the rock in a constant stream, swaying gently as the light morning breeze stroked it.

The trees took a stern beating during the 2002 eruption.

   We scaled up the smaller eastern edge of the crater wall, and watched as a bank of cloud rolled off a distant mountain and obscured our view of the sun rise, and then climbed back down into the crater and followed our man across a landscape of rock and steam, with pools of water boiling violently, and vents blasting air out powerful enough to launch pebbles that we threw at it. We were shown huge deposits of sulphur that had grown even taller than us, and pools of molten clay roiling in the heat, as we made our way towards the enormous pillar of steam on the western edge. As we approached it, more evidence of the destruction caused in 2002 appeared, as a forest of tree trunks lay blasted ahead of us, all burnt, snapped, and stripped of branches by the bomb blast explosion that had hit them.

    We came to the base of the huge column of steam. It rose out across the other side of a greenish lake, pumping out of a series of vents set in a wall of rock and debris on the other side. It was quite a sight, and we sat and took it in with a breakfast of peanuts and raisins before heading back down towards the car park. Mount Papandayan was the most thoroughly active volcano we had seen yet, and made us feel very precarious as a species, eking out our existence on this thin crust of rock beneath a boiling cauldron of lava and hot gas. But what a way to see in the new year. Farewell 2011, you have been a fantastic year, and hello 2012 – happy new year everybody!

    By the time we got back to our hotel the lack of sleep the night before caught up with the two of us, although once again it was I who felt it the strongest, and after some sleepy deliberation we decided to stay another night here and so avoid going out on the roads whilst nodding off. The day was brief though, since we slept straight away and into the afternoon, and then again enjoyed an early night after we'd woken and eaten some dinner. The next morning we set out down the hill, back on the road heading north towards the city of Bandung, and getting close to our port of exit, Jakarta.

Happy New Year!


  1. Happy New Year guys. We're missing you - but are full of admiration - tinged with envy - (oh but those uphill stretches!)

  2. Belated Happiness in the New Year to you too. I love that final photo - oddly Turneresque!

  3. And happy new year from us too! Shame we didn't share the skype at Christmas, Olivia, but we love the blog and the photos are wonderful.

    Lots and lots of love and luck to you both,

    Fay, Tom, Ewan, Keir, and Bonnie (the "new" dog, who really is not so new any more!)


  4. Thanks everyone for the new year wishes -only just read the comments so this is slightly delayed. Big love!