They warned that it was a cold place so I brought along my hoodie, shawl and cap to keep warm for the day-trip to Bandung. On hindsight, I should have qualified cold and not assume that it meant air-conditioned temperature. With the SUV window partially down, the breezes were cool on the skin, as we meandered through the road up to Bandung’s famed volcano crater site. But getting down from the SUV was a different matter altogether especially when the sun disappeared behind the thick grey clouds.
Term break had started, and dovetailed with the Idul Fitr holiday, getting out of the city was foremost on everyone’s minds. We decided to copy the locals and explore Bandung, the capital city of West Java. With Pak Joko* at the wheel, his excellent driving shortened the usual three-hour drive from Bekasi to Bandung by more than an hour sans whiplash or motion sickness.
Bandung is accessible not only by car but also by train, which we were told, passes by mountains and rice terraces akin to Baguio making for a very scenic journey. Taking a seven-to-10-seater minivan is also an alternative way to get straight to central Bandung or to a specific area in Bandung, depending on your arrangement with the company. Regular buses are also available and travelers are advised to book the air-conditioned buses with the express or non-stop label. Flying from Jakarta to Bandung, unfortunately, is not possible. There are, however, flights to Bandung from different parts of Indonesia such as Batam, Surabaya and Bali that Merpati services. Similarly, Sriwijaya Air offers daily flights to Bandung from Surabaya. On the upside, if you’re coming from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Singapore, Air Asia operates daily flights from Malaysia and Singapore, landing at Bandung’s airport, Husein Sastranegara International Airport.
Bandung, like anywhere else in Indonesia, is not spared of massive traffic snarls especially at the center of town, and like most cities keeping pace with the rhythm of modernity, is fast losing its old buildings and residence areas to business enterprises. Interesting to note was the proliferation of pharmacies (apotek in Bahasa Indonesia), which lined roads from both sides as Pak Joko drove through the leveled roads (not a pothole in sight!).
“I guess people caught the sniffles or something more than people from the low lands,” I quietly mused to myself.
The capital city is known by many names. The Dutch colonials nicknamed Bandung Parijs van Java (or Paris of Java) given its close resemblance to the mood prevalent in Paris and Europeans during the heydays of colonialism. Kota Kembang or Flower City was its other moniker, as the city was once inundated by flowers. These days Bandung is the locals’ hideaway during weekends and especially during holidays such as Idul Fitr. Bandung, in fact, in my mind, is strongly reminiscent of Baguio, the Philippines’ hailed vacation capital, with its zigzagging roads, strawberries and cool mountain air.
At one point in the trip, Alvin was hounded by strawberry vendors who coerced him gently with “It’s big”, “It’s sweet” and “It’s organic” over and over again. No dice – strawberry vendor was a little late in matching Alvin’s asking price of Rupiah20, 000. Pak Joko had pulled out of the parking lot by then.
Wrapped in my hoodie and shawl, and my cap on my curly head, it was still the Arctic region for me at one of Bandung’s famed tourist spots, Tangkuban Perahu, which is roughly 1,800 meters above sea level. The drive from the entrance to the volcano crater site is a good 15-20 minutes of winding road, each twist and turn met with blasts of cold air. Entrance fee is Rupiah50, 000 per vehicle and walking up the road isn’t advisable unless you’re vying for a position in the elite team of Gurkha soldiers or training for the Iron Man competition.
Road works were underway with a ragtag team of workers busy layering the parking lot with asphalt. They gawked at us, as we alighted from the SUV. We were the first tourists of the day and were earlier than the vendors who were just about to set up their wares at the side of the road. The trio sold hats; one brushed and fluffed his faux coonskin caps, laying them alongside the furry bags and scarves; the other two were setting up their wares of Stetson hats, fedora- and- trilby-like hats, subdued derby hats and gaudy visors mixed with an assortment of mittens. Prices were every bit for tourists – coonskin caps were going for Rupiah60, 000 while the starting price for the other hats was Rupiah25, 000.
Gazing at the crater from the concrete railings, heavy white smoke billowed from the greenish water streaming through pockets of sludge. Looking up, compact grey clouds enveloped the blackened ridges. One wondered if it were daytime, twilight or the clouds were heavy with rain. We followed the railings, awestruck by the depth of the crater and the proximity to one of nature’s elements. Meanwhile, thoughts of eruption came to my mind and how fast Pak Joko could outdrive the lava flow. Passing through the parking lot, we came to a lookout point. To my left was the volcano crater from another angle and to my right vast tracts of land. Below the lookout point was a twisting footpath leading to a cluster of wooden stalls selling bric-a-brac, hand-carved ornaments, ethnic necklaces and bracelets, shawls and ponchos, native bags (the coconut bag looked lethal), slippers accented with sequins, blowpipe and bow and arrow. Alvin’s interest was piqued at one stall selling sulphur powder packed in recycled water bottles and sachets.
“Good for skin. Mix with air panas (hot water),” he said, exhorting the salubrious effects of the powder while miming mixing and applying the sulfur on the skin.
“The man isn’t really hard selling his sulphur powder. The chemical is really used in treating skin diseases. It should work for Alvin’s psoriatic condition,” went the monologue in my head.
With a little bit of haggling, Alvin walked away with three sachets for only Rupiah10, 000. The man was selling it at Rupiah5, 000 per sachet.
Walking deeper into the “village”, food stalls selling instant noodles, drinks and the ubiquitous pisang goreng (banana fritter), tauhu goreng (fried tofu) and tempeh goreng (fried soya bean cake) came to view. By that time, photographers with their Polaroid took to following us, trying to convince us to pose against the majestic volcano crater.
Sufficiently numb from the cold – at least I was – we finally voted on trudging back to the SUV, which was quite a walk on the now-inclined footpath.
Next on the itinerary was the hot springs and I didn’t envision what I saw next. The hot springs were woven into the layout of a recreational park-convention center-hotel-resort Sari Ater Hot Spring Resort in Subang. Ticket per person to the Taman Wisata Air Panas Alam was at Rupiah15, 000. Renovation works were in progress with groups of workers landscaping the gardens while others completed what seemed to be quite a number of public toilets. A huge sign highlighted the goodness of immersing in the hot springs – it was great therapy for rheumatic diseases; injured limbs; gynecological problems; and skin diseases. It seemed an elderly couple knew that. They were soaking their feet at the waterfalls and dousing their arms and faces with the therapeutic water.
It would have been nice to sit by the waterfalls but bringing extra clothes escaped the minds of the two so they decided to dip their aching hands into one of the hot spring pools. I ran my fingers through the mini waterfalls before leaving.
Bandung is also known as a shopper’s haven for inexpensive clothes that run the gamut of casual to formal wear with batik clothes thrown in for good measure. Factory outlet stores face each other such as the ones lined up on Jalan Prof Eyckman. “Branded” shirts and jeans – Burberry, D&G, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and Lacoste – filled every nook and cranny of the stores that had tailors stationed at the side of the stores ready for alterations. Adding a local touch to the displays were the boxed sarongs going for Rupiah49, 500 or Rupiah75, 000.
Walking the length of the road, we spotted a store selling Rambo-styled apparels while another had a motley stock of “designer bags” (spotted a white Gucci) and long-sleeved shirts. We stumbled into a shop selling leather jackets with faux fur ringing the collar and jackets with big collars and tons of zippers that were a throwback to the Michael Jackson days of coolness. At the side of this store, at the entrance, was a “corner art gallery”. Done in water color, oil and pastel on art paper, the framed and unframed paintings featured the bucolic days of Bandung, which were evocative of the late painter Fernando Amorsolo who was known for his ideal depiction of the rural scenery of the Philippines. The paintings were going for at least Rupiah60, 000 per piece.
Clothes and paintings were furthest from my mind. I was on the hunt for brownies, which were a specialty of the city, and brownies a la Bandung were plenty. Some were sold in big shops while others were stocked in trolleys outside of other shops. The flavors were assorted – cheese, double chocolate, blueberry and chocolate and caramel. They’re not moist fudgy brownies as I prefer brownies to be but, nonetheless, the cheese brownies and chocolate and caramel are proving good accompaniments to my cup of piping hot green tea. I also discovered “new Bandung brownies”. Cut into rectangular strips, they resembled the chocolate and almond biscotti I used to have with my drinks at Starbucks.
Exhaustion slowly crept in with all the walking done coupled with waking up at the crack of dawn. Arnel hit upon the stupendous idea of going for pidjet (foot reflexology). Besides, we figured Pak Joko would probably want to be home for buka puasa (end of fasting). True to form, he careened down the highway with dexterity and, before we knew it, we were back in Bekasi.
*In Indonesia, as a sign of respect, men are addressed as Bapak or Pak followed by their names hence Pak Joko. Women, on the other hand, are addressed as Ibu and then their names.