Explorations in West Java

Explorations in West Java

I was going to call this page Sunda as Sundanese is a very common adjective for all things around Bandung: Sundanese people, Sundanese food, Sundanese language but the place is never referred to as Sunda. Odd. Anyway, here are a few motorbike and bicycle trips I did while living in Bandung. They were mainly to the East and South of Bandung towards the south coast of Java, the heartland of “Sunda”.

I’d arrived in Indonesia in March 1997 looking for a job at a language school. It was the wrong time as it was at Idul Fitri, and the schools told me to come back in a month. So I headed off to Sulawesi. Returning to Bandung I managed to get some teaching hours first at TBI (The British Institute) and then secured a part-time contract with EEP (Executive English Programs). I also moved out of the Hotel Sahara and on 27 April moved into a house in Dago (99 Jalan Cisitu Indah VI) with my American friend Jim.

After settling in I went on my first adventure into the Sundanese heartlands:

14 June 1997 Bike ride to the Papandyan Volcano

My diary is fairly light on details but I guess the first few hours would have been cycling through the congested city of Bandung southwards. Looking on Google maps it looks built up all the way to the small town of Majalaya, presumably over twenty years ago it wasn’t quite so bad as these photos taken along the road indicate.

I think the photo below is of Mount Cikuray, the biggest in the area at 2821m.


My diary says after Majalaya the road got very steep very quickly and quite soon I actually got off and put the bike on top of a minibus and got a ride to Kamojang. It’s a geothermal area with steam literally shooting into the air at various places. There is also a plant there which uses the hot steam to generate electricity.

There are no photos of the geysers but I describe beautiful pine forests and views down into the Garut valley. I descended off the Kamojang mountain into the town of Samarang where I stopped for lunch. My diary says I had to take a photo of everyone near the warung.

From here I found myself in Cipanas which I describe as a tourist village with many small hotels offering rooms with large baths/plunge pools fed by the hot springs. Cipanas is a common name for villages in the area as it simply means “hot springs”. The photo below is from there with Gunung Guntur in the background.

The following entry in my diary is simply marked “10:15am on top of Papandayan volcano”. No mention of how I got there or what it was like. It certainly looks amazing from the photos and I remember seeing bubbling pools of mud and sulphur.

It does mention that for some reason I decided to walk the bike over some very large boulders over the volcano to the other side and the journey down the other side was quite traumatic as the path was rough and very steep. My shoulders were sore for days after.

I do mention the scenery as stunning – pine forests giving way to tea plantations as I eventually reached the tarmac again. I mentioned meeting a bunch of people fishing in a small pond (below) and one of the men rubbing balsam into my shoulders to ease the pain. Not long after this I was back into the suburbs of Bandung and home.


The next trip was much shorter – to Ciwidey with my friend Itha. 1 July 1997

The countryside south of Bandung was gorgeous and included lots of tea plantations but the main point of the journey was to see Kawah Putih (white crater)


Not long after this trip I bought an old Honda CB125S motorbike (I think it is the 1981 model) so was able to venture a bit further afield.

My first big trip on the bike was to the south coast of Java from 1st to 5th February 1998

Sun 1 Feb ’98 Diary entry

Drove to Cianjur (1.5hrs) then 1.5 hrs through tea plantations to Sukanegara. Stayed at Pondok Doneng Sanura (10,000Rs = $1!). And it’s still going! I managed to track it down and take this screenshot from google streetview:

Penginapan Doneng Sanua

It was a typical Indonesian town: rundown, dirty but in a pleasant location by a river. Walked up a hill to more traditional Javanese houses and got back before the rain. No electricity that night.

Sukanegara mosque

2 Feb. Off by 7.15 drove through picturesque tea plantations. Met Swedish engineer on motorbike going the opposite way. He said there was no road from Cidaun to Pamenpeuk – bummer, that was the way I wanted to go. Shortly after got a puncture. Flagged down a truck and got a lift to the next town. A crowd gathered. Two hours later on my way. To Sindangbarang (it was apparently in an old guidebook I no longer have). Some interesting jungle clad gorges on the way to the coast. Beach was OK but loads of young “hoons” on M’bikes. Found a hotel near the alun-alun (basically a large open square in the middle of town). No name. 15000Rs. Walked from town to the black sand beach. On way back via river saw chinese fishing nets.

3 Feb Brekko of rice and fried chicken and headed off down the coast. Made it to the next town and then the road disappeared. Back at the town went down a muddy path to a warung. Afternoon walked along the beach, sea was frothing and grey. Bravely went for a short swim. The coast here can be treacherous but I didn’t become a victim of Nyai Ryo Kidul . Later dark clouds and thunder.

4 Feb Still in Sindangbarang. Brekko of Fish and rice. Managed to get directions to Cidaun but the road turned to mud and rock. Near to Cidaun the bike died. Fortunately right net to a bengkel (basic repair shop/garage). The blokes fiddled around with it for a while. Was it the magneto? contacts? I have no idea but it started again. Went past Cidaun to Pelabuhan (Sundanese for beach) 15mins away. A grotty little place with half a dozen warungs, a few small boats, dirty beach, a few mobile Mie Baso hawkers, khaki limas (street vendors) etc. Found a penginapan – a cottage with rooms off a small living room. Quite cosy. I was the only guest. Walls made of some woven material. My room looked over a maize field, a few red roofs and beyond them coconut palms and a small sliver of ocean.

Had rice and fish on the usual grey, dirty beach. A few blokes playing football and then the rain came. Rather than my planned return via Ciwidey which appeared now not on, I could get a boat to Pamenpeuk or there was a town near here which apparently had a good road to Garut. That night I could hear noises in the room. I only had a kerosene lamp but once I got it on I was staring at a huge rat. I think I was in his room. I didn’t sleep much after that.

5 Feb. In the morning the rain had gone but it was still cloudy. There was no one around so I left the cash in the room with a large tip. I reckoned they needed the money more than me. As I wrote my diary later on it reads: “What a day – lost valleys, huge waterfalls, lost towns in swirling mists, landslides, bathed in hot springs, caught in a thunderstorm but made it home in one piece”

It all started fairly mundanely along a tarmacked road but soon as I headed inland I started climbing through an amazingly beautiful jungle clad valley. In the lower reaches were paddy fields and picturesque bamboo shacked villages, then as the valley rose, the sides narrowed and I was surrounded by limestone cliffs lined with huge cascades of water. At one stage my way was blocked by a landslide but I could see a path to one side so just managed to push the bike through. Not long after this the road became a really steep gravel path and as I neared the ridge I could see tea plantations. As the gravel road became steeper and steeper the bike struggled and then, of course the rain came which made the way both steep and incredibly slippery and I stalled the bike a few times. Eventually I reached a better road but I was just hanging on, I couldn’t see through the driving rain. Eventually I reached a tarmac road just as the rain became intermittent. From here it was a fairly short ride to Situ Patengan with its swan pedalos! Despite the weather they seemed to be doing some good business. Of course it was only then that I realised that I had, in fact, taken the road that didn’t exist and HAD made it to Ciwidey which was not far away. Of course back in those days there were no decent maps, no decent roads and I could only find out where to go by asking local people.

Situ Patengan

I managed to find somewhere for lunch and I was off again. This time I stopped at Air Panas (Hot springs). My bike was caked in mud as was I but I managed a soak in the swimming pool which eased my aching limbs. It was quite surreal – a warm swimming pool in the mountains surrounded by tea plantations with mist swirling and rain never far away. From here I passed Kawah Putih where I saw a huge black cloud. It turned out to be an almighty storm with thunder, lightning and torrential rain. I just gritted my teeth and drove on home.

My last trip on the motorbike was also to the south coast this was to Cipatujah in April 1998

10 April 1998 Diary entry:

Drive past Garut to Cipatujah. Had an early mishap near Cicalengka – bike died. Got to a bengkel and was a bit worried when the bloke took the fuel tank off and started playing with the wires but 45 mins later I was back on the road. Rest of the day uneventful. Scenery jungly but not spectacular. Road good. 6hrs after starting, 3.30pm arrived at beach. Similar to Sindangbaran with a rickety bridge but “town” was nearer to the beach, which was a bit cleaner,  and a number of cheap losmen to choose from. Chose Hotel Sederhana (10,000Rs). Bizarrely it still seems to be in business as I found it on google map.

Losmen Sederhana (google streetview 2023)

11 April. Headed west in search of bamboo raft crossing but they appeared to have built a new bridge instead. I stopped at a beach for a swim. A few fishermen about. Drove on to Panghegar Beach Hotel (15000Rs). Quite nice huts on top of a dune with views of the sea. Went off to find Penyu Kantor (turtle office). Found a few depressing mandis in concrete building with a few turtles.

Sun 12 April. Back at the turtle place but no joy. Then saw two turtles in the surf! Journey home uneventful some rain, stayed in Cipanas, same room as before.

I didn’t mention anything in my diary but the photos below are, I think, of Kampung Naga or similar village, an interesting village of traditional Sundanese houses.


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