Wednesday, October 31, 2012

East Java Trip Part 3: Sempu Island

After going up Mt. Bromo and and rafting down the river, it's not yet an extreme holiday without camping and trekking. Located on the southern shore of Malang, Sempu island is a nature conservation area. It takes only 10 minutes to reach Sempu island from Sendang Biru beach.

Map is taken from Wiki

Aneen and I picked up Windy at Malang Kota Baru station. Then we rented two tents and six tarpaulin mats. Aneen was considering to rent sleeping bags, but I told her that if we were to sleep on the beach, sleeping bags were not necessary. If you're sleeping in the mountain or higher ground or during cold weather, now that's another story.

We decided to not rent portable stove, which means that we should bring cooked foods. There are eateries in Sendang Biru and we all packed up our foods. Some bought rice with chicken or tempe (soybean cake). I bought two slices of tempe. Other alternatives are bread and chocolate bars. Each was carrying a big bottle of water for there is no freshwater source in Sempu island.

There was a funny scene before we reached Sendang Biru beach. We were waiting for the angkot (public minivan) to depart. Then Desy asked the heavily tattoo-ed driver,"Hey, where's the driver? When are we leaving?" in her shrill voice. The driver nudged his friend to accompany him to come closer to us. We just had to laugh. Bearing tattoos along your arms clearly doesn't mean you're a brave guy.

Tips #1: If you feel uncomfortable to carry out your excretory urges outdoors, it's best to eat as little as possible. However, proper hydration is important.

The journey to Sempu island began. Photo by Windy

 The boat refused to come closer so we had to get wet on the first place

The first sight that welcome us in Sempu

Tips #2: Write down the boat owner's phone number so you can call him to pick you up on the designated spot.

We called these: Gerbang Jodoh (Gate of Love) #eaa #WhatHappensWhenSingleGirlsTravelTogether

A tree branch bends down, forming this swing-shaped construction

The trekking was difficult enough and we all carried big heavy backpack. My backpack is the biggest of all and looking back at the photos made me amazed that I could go through the 2.4-kilometer trek between the spot where we landed and Segara Anakan. Once again it's a matter of strong will, I guess. And keeping up my balance.

No matter how hard the trekking goes, there is always time for photo sessions. I wish the backpack's rain cover were red, though. Photo by Aneen.

Before the last sun ray disappeared in the forest. Photo by Windy

When we reached Segara Anakan, it was already dark and then it started to drizzle. We pulled the tent from the bag and tried to set it up. I've learned how to set up dome-shaped tent several time, such as in Mt. Beuticanar and Mt. Krakatau, but it was still difficult to do it in the dark.

Just when I thought it would take forever, a group of men came to our rescue. They had set up their tent nearby and offered hands in building our tent. They scolded and teased us, though.

"Why did you come too late? You girls are so reckless and you don't even know how to set up tent."
"Why didn't you approach us in Sendang Biru? We could come together and you wouldn't need a guide."
"You know what? I think your tent should be moved closer to our tent. It's for your own safety."
"Did you bring any salt? There are many snakes around. This is why your tent should be close to ours, so if something happens we can help you."

Windy, Aneen and I just laughed to hear their words.

Within five minutes, one tent (the tent for Windy, Aneen and I) had stood. Meanwhile another tent for Sisca, Desy and Daeng was still not finished.
"Guys, if you have finished over there, would you mind helping us here?" Desy asked.
"Yes, we do mind. You already have a man over there. We only want to help the ladies," said one of our kind gentlemen.
Ahem, there is a perk of being a woman, afterall :).

We spent the night chatting by the beach, watching the stars (#eaa) and eating mangoes. With five women and one man in the group, it is easy to guess who has bought the mangoes. It's Daeng! Hahaha.

Sempu island full team, from left: Daeng, Sisca, me, Desy, Aneen and Windy

At night, I slept in the middle, Aneen on my left while Windy on my right. Then the following conversation took place.
Aneen: This side is too close to the men's tent. What if one of them come after me in the middle of the night?
Me: Relax. I'm sleeping right on the tent's entryway. I'll be the first victim if something happens.
Aneen: Or perhaps they will take Windy first to eliminate suspicion that they're the perpetrators.
Windy: Just go to sleep, you guys!

The next morning, we walked around the low-tide Segara Anakan. The guys-next-tent had folded down their tents and were ready to go home when three women wearing tank tops and mini shorts came.

"Stay put and set up the tent! We're not going home now!" one of the guys said.

Seeing how dirty the place was, we decided to throw a beach clean-up party. We piled up plastic, paper and other thrashes we could find. Could you believe that we found a diaper?

We should have brought some marshmallows too

During the low tide, the corals in Segara Anakan are coming to surface

Segara Anakan panorama

Our tents are the green ones. 

Then we went trekking to Kembar 1 beach, Kembar 2 beach and Pasir Panjang beach. Although the trekking was quite difficult, this time it was much easier for I left my backpack in the tent.

 This is nothing. Photo by Windy.

 Now this is something. Kind of like 127 Hours. Photo by Windy.

 It's a wild cat! A female Javan gibbon! No, it's just me making my way along the ridge. No biggie:P. Photo by Aneen
But the rewards are the empty white sandy beach. This is Kembar 1 beach

Kembar 2 beach

Pasir Panjang beach

Pasir Panjang beach. Taken by Windy's camera with self-timer.

This silly one is taken on Aneen's camera

From Sempu island, we drove back to Malang and then went separate ways. Aneen took a travel (a kind of rent car) to Solo, Daeng continued traveling to Surabaya, Desy and Sisca took executive class train Gajayana to Jakarta, while I went back to Jakarta with Windy using Majapahit, an air conditioned-economic class train, priced at Rp 275,000. While Gajayana only takes around 15 hours trip, Majapahit needs 17 hours to reach Jakarta from Malang. My butt will never be the same.

All in all, it's been a great trip and wonderful experience. Thank you my friends for taking me with you in this trip. Looking forward for more trips ahead:).

P.S. Windy also writes her experience in Sempu in her blogs (in Bahasa Indonesia). 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

East Java Trip Part 2: Mt. Bromo And Songa Pekalen

Around a week before my holiday, the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency (PVMBG) raised Mt. Bromo's status to Waspada (Alert). The news is here. To add more drama, Penanjakan 1 route was closed due to repair works. There is Penanjakan 2 route for an alternative, but Penanjakan 1 has the best view over Mt. Bromo.

I texted Aneen a day before my arrival, suggesting other spots to visit such as the inactive Mt. Argopuro (3,088 meters above the sea level). But then I read more about Mt. Argopuro and found out that it took at least two days to hike it. Ok, wrong choice.
The good thing was although Mt. Bromo's status was raised, it was still considered safe for the visitors. So to Mt. Bromo we go! At 2,329 meters above the sea level, Mt. Bromo is not the highest peak in the massif, but it's the most well-known. Bromo is derived from Brahma, the creator god in Hindu.

Desy and Sisca had arranged for a Toyota Hardtop Jeep to pick us up at 4 a.m. on Oct. 17. Besides the four of us, there would be two Malaysian tourists (Chia and Cody) whom Desy and Sisca met when they were going to Cemoro Lawang. The Jeep rental fee is Rp 500,000 for the six of us. You can also walk to Penanjakan 1 and 2, but in this cold weather, I'd pay what it takes to keep myself warm.

We reached the foot of Penanjakan 2 at 4:15 a.m. There were many locals offering a horseback riding up to the stairs. The opening price for a horseback riding in Penanjakan 2 was Rp 50,000, if I'm not mistaken. But as we continued walking, the price would gradually fall down to Rp 10,000. Although I could not hike the track quickly, I still preferred walking to horseback riding.

At first, Aneen climbed the track really fast, while Desy and Sisca followed her closely. I was the last one. But then Desy started coughing and Sisca waited on her, so I was the second person. It didn't help that those locals kept badgering me to rent their horses. At some point, I wanted to shout "Leave me alone!" at them. But then, what good would it make? They are just simple people trying to make a living. So I just shut my mouth and focused on my breathing and walking.

All those efforts to catch the sunrise were paid off once I reached the viewing deck. The view was majestic. And as I tried to catch my breath, the first sentence that left my lips was,"Subhanallah, I just have to take the pictures and be photographed here!"
Once a narcissist, always a narcissist :P. Anyway, here are the photos.

From left to right: Mt. Bromo (the low caldera that emits smoke), Mt. Batok (on the foreground) and Mt. Semeru (the tallest on the background)

Mt. Bromo panorama, subhanallah, it looks like a country up in the clouds

Sunrise hunters

The Bromo team, from left to right: Chia, Cody, Sisca, Desy, me and Aneen
After taking photos from Penanjakan 2, we walked down and went closer to see the caldera. The same thing happened here, many locals offering horseback riding. The tariff was between Rp 100,000 and Rp 125,000, but as you walked the price would fall.
In my opinion, it's better to walk. You can take in the view as you stop to breathe. Besides, I saw two Italian grandmas with walking sticks passed me by. Ok, so I overheard them talking to each other, couldn't help recognizing the language. The point is if two Italian grandmas can walk to Mt. Bromo then this not-so-young bambina can do it too.

As Aneen puts it,"You have strong will, you know." Yes, I know :).

Tips: you'd better bring face mask or head scarf to cover your nose, mouth and hair because the smell of horse manure is just awful and the way people walk makes the volcanic dust flying around.

A Hindu shrine near Mt. Bromo. That's Mt. Batok on the background.

The stairs to Mt. Bromo caldera

Mt. Bromo caldera panorama

Mt. Batok panorama from  the caldera of Mt. Bromo

What's cooking, Chef?

What a cute horse. Reminds me to Yakari's pony Little Thunder :)

Then we went to Segara Wedi (the Sea of Sand). One Indonesian movie Pasir Berbisik (Whispering Sand) was shot in this area.

Sea of Sand


Gray ferns

From Mt. Bromo, we rushed back to Probolinggo to pick up Daeng and went to Songa Pekalen. We rent a car to reach it because there are no public transportation going to Songa Pekalen. Songa is how the locals call sungai (river). There are two places to do whitewater rafting in Songa Pekalen: Songa Atas (Upper River) and Songa Bawah (Lower River).

Songa Atas spans at 12 kilometer long and it usually takes between 1.5 and 2.5 hours to complete the rafting session. Songa Bawah is shorter, but I forgot its exact size. So which Songa did we pick? Songa Atas of course!

Before rafting: dry and excited. Songa Pekalen full team, from left: Sisca, Daeng, me, Aneen and Desy.

During the rafting: stunning scenery comes before our eyes.

After rafting: wet, soaked, drenched and happy

When we had dinner, we were happier!

Doing the whitewater rafting was a great choice to remove all the dirt and dust we picked up in Mt. Bromo. It was raining in the middle of the rafting session, which made it even more exciting. The river filled up under the rain, making the current strong enough to push us through the big rocks and boulders in the river. As a newbie to whitewater rafting, I find it very tiring, but I like it and would love to do it again if I have the chance.

Next post: Camping in Sempu island.

Monday, October 29, 2012

East Java Trip Part 1: The Trip Plan, Probolinggo And Gili Ketapang

Hi sweeties, here's the first installment of my recent travel notes to East Java. There are only three of them so I don't bore you out with the details. Hope you like it. 

Confession: I was born and grew up in Java island, but I had not been to the East Java province prior to this holiday.

Sounds pathetic, doesn't it?

So when my friend Aneen asked if I had any place on my mind for the next holiday destination, I obviously mentioned East Java. Anyone who had been to that province would agree that Mount Bromo is the highlight of East Java's tourism attractions, so yeah Bromo went in the to-do list. Other friends Desy and Daeng wanted to do whitewater rafting, so Aneen put in Songa Pekalen into the schedule. And to finalize our holiday, Windy suggested a night at Sempu island, just offshore of Malang's Sendang Biru beach.

Since each person has different interest, Aneen tried to accommodate everyone's needs and drafted the trip's itinerary to fit our schedule. So here's the final deal: I'd go to Solo to pick Aneen up on the eve of Oct. 15, then we'd go to Probolinggo on Oct. 16 and spend the night there. Desy and Sisca would arrive in Probolinggo on Oct. 17 (morning), then the four of us would go to Mount Bromo on the afternoon.

On Oct. 18, the fantastic four would catch the sunrise from atop Mt. Bromo and explore the savannah and the sea of sand, before going back to Probolinggo to pick up Daeng and do the whitewater rafting. Then the five would go to Malang on the evening. The last trip member, Windy, would arrive in Malang on Oct. 19 and all of us would spend the night in Sempu island.

Phew. What a hectic trip schedule.

I decided to take a train to Solo because Java has a great railway network and I have a train brain. There are several trains going to Solo, but I picked business class train Senja Utama Solo, which departs from Pasar Senen station at 8:20 p.m., for two reasons: (1) I usually finish my work at 6 p.m., so I can catch the train, sleep during the trip and doesn't have to waste one day of leave on the road. (2) The fare is relatively affordable, only Rp 155,000, compared to executive class train Argo Dwipangga, which is priced at Rp 260,000.

I arrived in Solo Balapan station at 6:50 a.m. Then Aneen and I left for Probolinggo from Solo Jebres station at 8:47 a.m. We took economic class train Sri Tanjung that runs between Solo, Central Java and Banyuwangi, East Java. One ticket for Solo-Probolinggo is priced at Rp 30,000 and the train ride lasts for seven hours. I spent 18 hours on the train in total. Ouch, my butt.

The happy face of a person who just spent 18 hours on the train 

We arrived in Probolinggo at around 4 p.m. We hopped on a becak (tricycle pedicab) to Hotel Ratna (0335 427886) and took a Standard room (two beds with bathroom, TV and fan) for Rp 70,000. That price includes morning tea and breakfast, but excludes the 10 percent tax.

 I found a sewer top with Probolinggo on it

Probolinggo has hot weather and I soon found that my underwear dry perfectly even when it was only wrung inside the hotel's room. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant Sari Laut, where one dish of crab is priced for Rp 55,000. The crab dish was delicious, so we tried ikan bawal goreng (fried pomfret) and it was even more delicious.

Lost in Translation in Probolinggo
One thing that surprised me in Probolingo was the massive usage of Maduranese language. Madura island is only several hours ferry ride away from Surabaya, East Java. East Java people speak Javanese language with a local accent that is different with the accent used in Central Java, but I understand Javanese so I can follow up the conversation. But Maduranese was like a totally foreign language. I'd look at Aneen for help and she'd look back with blank stare. She also doesn't know Maduranese. It felt like going to another country :P.

Old buildings in Probolinggo
I love to see many old buildings dated back to the Dutch colonial era still stand in the city. Some are being re-purposed into cafe, hotel and commercial buildings, but others are just residential buildings. Below are some old buildings that I photographed.

Desy and Sisca were scheduled to arrive in Probolinggo on Oct. 17 at 12 p.m., so we decided to explore the city center on foot and check out Gili Ketapang. The boat ride to Gili Ketapang takes between 30 and 45 minutes, but each boat will only depart when the boat has 25 people on board. Each person must pay Rp 4,000.

Tips: If you're in rush and have the money, you'd better rent one boat for yourself rather than waiting for other passengers.

Gili Ketapang is tadpole-shaped island that has white sandy beach. We went to the east side of the island and visited Goa Kucing (The Cave of Cat). I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Climbing down the cave, my friend Aneen  looks like Sadako, doesn't she? :P 

Then we rushed back to the port to catch the boat ride because Desy and Sisca already reached Probolinggo. Unfortunately, there were not many passengers during the noon, so we waited for two hours! We told Desy and Sisca about the situation and they decided to go first to Bromo.

Once the boat reached Tanjung Tembaga port, we quickly checked out of the hotel and went to Bayuangga bus terminal to catch the last Elf Bison to Cemoro Lawang, a village on the foot of Mt. Bromo at 4 p.m. There were only two Malaysian tourists waiting, so we bought our logistics.

When we're back from the shop, there were two more tourists coming. Then one of the Malaysian tourists approached me, asking if I could speak English. He wondered how many more hours they needed to wait because the Elf Bison driver said that he would wait until there were 12 passengers.

I asked the driver how much we should pay in order to leave the place quickly, he said we should pay Rp50,000 each. The Malaysian tourists didn't mind paying that much, but I could hear the other tourist grumbled,”Paying Rp50,000 is just stupid.” Well, if you're that smart, try negotiate with the driver yourself and you'd better speak Javanese when doing so, Mister. Hmph.

We reached Cemoro Lawang and National Park of Bromo Tengger Semeru at around 6 p.m. The Malaysian tourists stayed in a homestay inn, while the other two (one is from Seattle, the U.S, the grumbling one is probably from Germany, he had that guttural accent. Ok, so I accidentally overheard their conversation, couldn't help it, they talked very loud.) wanted to stay in Cafe Lava. Desy and Sisca had rented a small house with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and a pantry, priced at Rp 350,000 per night. Aneen and I used one bedroom and they used the other one.

There were not many eateries in Cemoro Lawang and most had the standard taste. With the pantry, we could cook instant noodle and hot water for bathing, but the weather is cold and it takes time to boil the water. I just skipped bath and wore jacket to sleep.

Next post: Climbing Mt. Bromo!