Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cianjur, rural villages and Britney

Few get or, indeed, want to see places like Cianjur, a city lying to the east of Jakarta. Fewer still then get to visit the remote villages which dot the hills surrounding the city. There is a well-trodden tourist trail in Java which generally takes the visitor from Jakarta-Bandung-Yogya-Solo-Bromo and then onward to Bali. I had little idea of what to expect then when I signed up for a couple of day's homestay with Yudi - a well-travelled and well-spoken Indonesian who developed the programme ostensibly to bring visitors (and revenue) to the area but also to assist with the teaching of English.
Cianjur itself has little to see in terms of breathtaking sights but if it's your first experience proper - as it is mine - of urban Asia outside of the capital cities then it's hard to beat. Everyone rides a moped along dusty roads, tiny 'stores' everywhere along the roadside selling papaya, banana and coconut (and that's just the food I recognised), and people, people, people everywhere. So for me, Cianjur right now suits just fine. On my second day here I was to climb the hills to make my way to one of the traditional villages surrounding Cianjur. My guide for the day would be Jamal - a 20 year old Javanese with ambitions to become a lecturer one day and whose unabashed happiness lit up the day. On the downside, Jamal is a fan of Britney Spears, which is in itself no crime (certainly not in Indonesia) but he appears to know just one line from 'Oops I did it again' which he proceeded to sing for the entire fucking day. It began to grate.
We took his motorbike to the base of the hills and walked the hour or so it took to get there through the incredibly manicured paddy fields. There is rice everywhere here. The walk itself was more of a gradual climb and as Cianjur doesn't share the same stifling humidity as Jakarta we made rapid progress to our destination. It's funny that when you're completely oblivious of potential danger how you venture calmly into the unknown. However as we trekked and Jamal casually sidestepped a dead scorpion, my mindset changed somewhat. "So Jamal, are there many scorpions here?" I naively enquired. "Oh yes," he casually responded "when the vallagers see a scorpion they kill it because they are dangerous." At that moment I felt the invisible stare of the scorpion population of Cianjur trained on my bare legs. I stepped up the pace and put it to the back of my mind as best I could.
The 'village' itself was a collection of 10 or 11 bamboo houses on the hill. We visited one and were treated to a meal of rice - all you can eat - tofu, corn and cheese fritters and a beautiful fruit shell and spice mixture. Jamal also brought me to see a neighbour making brown sugar. A vast wok containing the treacle-like mixture was stirred to thickness then ladled into the bamboo casts where it changed into its final cylindrical form after 5 minutes of cooling. The final product is then lovingly wrapped in the leaves of a coconut tree and is ready for sale. Two of the cylindrical casts weigh 1kg and a kilo of brown sugar will set you back 7,000 IR at the market (70c to us) where they are brought to be sold on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Jamal - bless him - also did his best to teach me Indonesian. Well, I harangued him into doing so if the truth be told as in the course of the next 30 days I feel obliged to at least make an effort with the native tongue. Right now I can stumble from one to ten, I can say that I’m tired/hot/cold(like that’s going to be useful) and, most importantly, I can say with great fluency ‘Please don’t rip me off.’ Homestay programmes are a terrific way of meeting local people and truly sampling local specialities - respect is due then to Dudung and Tati who provided my accommodation for two nights and enough food to feed three of me.

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