Friday, September 7, 2012

This Place is No Picnic

“For 2f [f = florens = guilders] we drive [******] in half an hour, to the small waterfall Tjoeroeg
 (13 metres high), a very nice spot for a picnic”
(Guide to Netherlands India, 1903)

Anya darts around the supermarket like an excited puppy, scouring the shelves and bringing back all manner of random items for the trolley.  Never mind that her boyfriend is going to be the one that will have to lug the entire picnic bag (already filled with magazines, towels, a month’s supply of tissues, a specialist book on “how to make coffee” and other “necessities”) up to the waterfall, her puppy dog eyes win over.   Then Jeff, in true British style, makes a bee line for the beer section, throws in 8 cans and suddenly it’s a moot point.
I turn to Luki who is, as usual, observing quietly and contentedly, yet this time with a slightly puzzled expression.
“Do you think we are mad”?
“Noo”,  he says, the word dancing softly in a typical Sundanese way
“Just a little bit”?
“Only a little bit”, he laughs,  “I never do this kind of thing before”.

We are hoping for some peace and quiet in a preserved natural setting, away from the masses, so the unmarked path at the top of the hill is a good sign, despite it being well paved.  On either side of the path, the leaves of banana trees (my favourite) fan out like long, scruffy arms against a clear blue sky and bulbous purple banana flowers hang, heavy and ripe, begging to be cut down and fried with a little garlic and mushroom.    
As we walk down to the upper part of the stream before it drops over the edge of the rocks, the bright green banana trees give way to bamboo clusters in duller hues, varied by degrees of light and shade.  When the small waterfall comes into sight, it’s clear that there will be no problem gaining access to the pool into which the water is cascading.
Dago Waterfall 1933

Dago Waterfall 2012

There’s just one thing.
Turns out, it’s no longer a very nice spot for a picnic.   Nor for a refreshing swim.   We find out abruptly why this waterfall has not turned into a tourist spot.   
Three local kids are sitting on the larger boulders, fully clothed.  I am not sure what game, if any, they are playing.   One lonely fisherman sits on a rock downstream, staring blankly into the murky water.
The low water level of the river, due to the dry season, has betrayed a shameful secret.  Plastic bags from who knows how far upstream stretch across the exposed rocks which have caught them, as if they have been melted and moulded to them.   Water bottles, rags, empty cigarette packets, a single shoe have staked their positions for the duration.  Even I, who once skinny-dipped in one of the Great British canals (not known for being the cleanest!), can’t bring myself to dip my toe into the water.

Like a glass of cold water out of reach on a hot day, the tragic inaccessibility of this waterfall torments me.  Anya is losing her sense of humour fast and we decide to get out of there as quickly as possible and head to another, larger and more touristic waterfall, Maribaya falls, on the way to Lembang.  Tourist sites weren’t on the original plan, but we have a picnic to eat and a momentum to salvage.
The sign says:  “50,500 Rupiah for foreigners”  or “ 8,000 Rupiah for locals”.   I’m hating this place already. 
The route from the entrance car park to the waterfall and “recreation area” (oh dear), starts off pleasant but morphs quickly into the bizarre.  A large stall sells nothing but miniature cacti in little pots with coloured stones.   The “hot spring”, for which we had to pay 3000 rupiah just to pass, looks like an abandoned grey-concrete waste water treatment pool.     A small pond houses half a dozen animal figures including a purple monkey fishing for baby crocodiles – the word MARIBAYA hangs above them as if somehow this might make sense of it all.  The acrid smoke from burning rubbish on the side of the stream hits us with a sharp intensity. 
It’s not possible to sit anywhere near to the waterfall which kind of defeats the purpose for us.  Nevertheless, slightly arid picnic location (some distance from the smoke and weirdness) found, and tucking into our odd mixture of snacks, we enjoy being in a more peaceful environment, away from the constant motion of the city, while we wash away the taste of disappointment with warm beer and Smirnoff ice.

“What did you think of that place?”    I ask later as we take the edge off the evening chill in a proper hot spring resort nearby.
“It’s a little bit ok”.  
“You mean its shit”.
 “You knew it was going to be shit, right?  Have you been there before?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”  
“Because you have to see for yourself”. 
“But didn’t you mind going there again if you knew it was going to be shit?”
“It’s never mind.”
The lilting tune of his words say:      “I am content within myself and navigate life with lightness and resilience”.

In stark contrast with my own, rather unenlightened, words:   “Bloody Bandung!”


  1. Reminds me of so many days trying to escape beijing to a nice park only to find megaphones fangbian mian containers and "activities"