With a population of 240 million, living on 17,000 or more islands, Indonesia is the fourth most populated places on the planet, so it is little wonder that the roads are choked with cars, and most people have opted for mopeds as their chosen form of transport. It is also little wonder that people are also choking, with exhaust fumes. It’s a chaotic scene; scooters and bikes everywhere, laden with packets. Although motorcyclists wear helmets it appears that their passengers, often children perched between their legs, don’t.
Crossing the road is a skill to master. When we visited Vietnam a couple of years ago we stood nervously for a full five minutes before an old lady grabbed us by the wrist and dragged us into the continuous stream of traffic. Thinking we were being party to her suicide mission we were a little surprised to make it to the other side. The trick is to walk slowly. There is never a gap in the continuous flow of cars, bikes, motorcycles and rickshaws, so there is little point in waiting for one. If you decide to make a dash for it, you’ll probably end up as road kill, and simultaneously bring the city to a standstill. So a leap of faith is needed. Simply step off the kerb and pretend you are a boulder in a stream that the water is forced around. The traffic adjusts to you. Move too quickly and you’ll panic everyone into a pile up. The same is true here. There may be a zebra crossing, but it is only road decoration, and serves no practical purpose. Just remember to write your will first.
To get around there is little option but to go by road. Most of the interesting sights are difficult to get to, and even if you manage to find a taxi for your outwards trip, it is unlikely to be easy to find one for the return journey. The best option is to hire a car with a driver. Driving yourself requires an entirely new skillset.
Our first port of call was Tangkuban Parahu Natural Park, famous for its active volcanoes, 1,300m above sea level. Ten days ago the poisonous gases emitted by these craters forced the park to close. Today we were lucky. The road goes right to the edge of Kawah Ratu. 500m below you can see the steam escaping from a crack in the lava rock next to a sulphurous cloudy pool. Once you’ve hired a guide, you can walk through the forest to Kawah Domas, where you can stand next to the boiling water, and even boil and egg in three minutes. A little further down the crater, the water pools are cool enough to wash in, and people use the grey clay and ground up sulphur crystals to ease skin complaints.
Ciater, a short drive away, has a number of hotels and spas where you can bath in the hot springs, but while it’s always a pleasant surprise to walk into a swimming pool the same temperature as a bath, it’s far from a healthy rejuvenating experience. The hotels are a little run down and the water is full of bugs and debris. It’s definitely an experience worth having as long as you don’t have a spotlessly clean five star spa, garlanded with frangipani, in mind.
Our final stop was Saung Angklung Udjo, set up in 1966 as a “laboratory for art education” based on the Angklung, a traditional Indonesian bamboo instrument. This tourist show keeps the music and dance alive, and is a great introduction to customs and rituals. The Angklung is a one-note instrument, and when put together, with more than 30 players, an impressive orchestra of skill is formed. If you’re only playing one Angklung, you have to know the music well enough to know when to play your note. If you’re playing a couple of octaves, you have to be quick fingered and nimble. Participation is part of the show, and our girls thoroughly enjoyed playing with the local children, dressed in their colourful finery.