Indonesia is a stunning country with a size that is exceeded only by its endless varieties of cultures, locales and adventure opportunities. Home to a vast array of paths not taken, including stunning jungle mountainsides, hidden gold beaches, secluded crisp coral reefs, enigmatic volcanoes and primitive civilisations, the country offers up many mysteries for both the curious traveller and local alike to experience. These gems are everywhere and visitors only have to forget their reservations, turn the dial to 'explore' and think outside of the box in order to find and enjoy them. The small village of Baduy, a few hours by bus from the country's crowded and chaotic capital, is such a place.
Even before getting to Baduy, you can tell you are on your way to a different kind of place. A step off the local mountain transportation in the village of Ciboleger - the doorstep to Baduy - is like a step back in time. The village's location high among the rainforest slopes lends it to fresh air that is cooled in the mountain mist. A monument in the central square holds aloft three coloured stone statues of local people bidding a warm welcome to the area. Ciboleger, like many west Javanese built up areas, is run down; cracks and dirt envelop the seemingly weary statues, as do decay and moss.
Dotted around there are some conveniences, including a small restaurant serving spicy local food and fruit. The durian fruit here is delicious, and the food good. The restaurant is a little shabby to say the least: little plastic chairs and simple wood plank stools for customer use are shoddy and unstable, and flies buzz irritatingly over the food that is displayed in the window ‘padang’ style. For hunger's sake after a year in Indonesia it’s easy to forget such sights; a quick wash with hand sanitizer is all you need before enjoying local delicacies. An old room with a creaking old wooden door marks the local public facility. Inside there’s a hole in wall next to the sloping floor that serves as the toilet, while a concrete basin nearby - full of collected rainwater - serves as a rudimentary shower. The old woman sitting at the door charges a small fee for use, and tempts passers-by to sample her small collection of local fruit.
There’s a convenience store in the village square, Alfa Mart, which is the last evidence of civilisation before the trek into the jungle. A good place to stock up on batteries, snacks and waterproofs, Alfa Mart has all the hallmarks of modern life. The nearest cash machine is over one hour’s drive away from this point, so those heading on into the jungle would be wise to stock up. Last minute items bought, it's time to make your way past some local shacks and littered streets on the steep hillside; it’s off into the night darkness of the jungle for the three-hour trek to Baduy, the lost village.
Mountain tracks along the way lie thick with mud. All too often feet and footwear are enveloped in oozy red clay, which makes its way over the tops of shoes, into socks and all the way down to the toes. The jungle tracks, made almost fluid by tropical storms and incessant mountain mist, throw even the most cautious trekkers’ feet into the air, inviting their bottoms down with a splat in the slippery muck. A faint glow of torches in the dark is barely enough to light the way along the unfamiliar and unstable terrain. Once you get to Baduy, seemingly in the dead of night, the first task at hand is finding a place to clean up, eat and crash after the long and dirty trek. In a village with no public water supply or sewer, a night bath in the jungle river is the order of the day. Fumbling with the lid of shampoo bottles and clumsy attempts at retaining modesty are the hallmarks of bathing in jungle waters. Searching for river rocks to place dirty shorts is an ungainly business, as faded torchlights catch the sparkling eyes of mysterious beasts peering through the foliage on the far bank. In this place humankind truly is equal with nature, with little more than sticks for defence; this understanding, rather than unsettling, actually calms the mind and soothes the soul, allowing the stresses of city life wash down the river with the last of the trekking dirt.
There is no electricity in Baduy village. Oil lamps and wood for cooking and light are all that’s used. Without mechanised transport, mobile communication or computers, villagers receive no formal education. They also speak a rural form of Sudanese that is passed on from parents to children, rather than Bahasa Indonesian, the lingua franca a few hours' drive below. Subsistence is traditional. Houses are generally the same in size and design, made from local wood; women weave cloth on traditional wood looms on house porches; and men gather fruits while both genders - grown and children alike - come together to harvest rice. Everyone seems physically strong and robust, carved naturally by the daily tasks set by their environment. Immaculately clean streets, consisting of small smooth rocks held together with natural clay are monuments to local construction endeavour. Well-built drainage is more than enough to deal with the frequent tropical downpours: water flows effortlessly away from the village and down into surrounding hills. This is more than can be said for Jakarta's shambolic public drainage, to be sure.
It seems that money doesn't change hands in Baduy. There is no advertising presence or commercial competition among Baduns. Baduns are polite but not demure like those in the rest of Java. Goods are exchanged for their use and necessity, not bought and sold with commissions, profit or tax additions. Personal business is rather public: a daily toilet stop involves others naked in full view squatting on a rock over the mountain stream. There’s little room for shame or personal pretentiousness.
Returning to civilisation, small children and local adults trek bare foot with supplies, keeping a watchful and helpful eye over foreigners struggling among the rugged clay paths. Demands of city life return on exiting the final jungle foliage. The necessity to earn a wage, find shelter, food and medicine come racing back to the present, as do pollution, litter, commercial advertising, run down services, poverty and corruption in Ciboleger, as if returning there from another planet.
Baduy is an oasis of human calm amid a global desert of frantic clamour and calamity for property, money, alliances, goods, status and concerns.
About the Author With a background in sociology, education and social justice, Stephen Lee Mowat has strength in visual arts and is currently teaching English. He enjoys sports, the outdoors, experiencing life in other cultures and traveling in Asia & Europe.
About the Author
With a background in sociology, education and social justice, Stephen Lee Mowat has strength in visual arts and is currently teaching English. He enjoys sports, the outdoors, experiencing life in other cultures and traveling in Asia & Europe.