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Destination Bali 1973 (part 1)

By car from Salatiga, Central Java

In the second half of 1972 I had my furlough in the Netherlands. That’s why I did not make a holiday trip in Indonesia that year. And perhaps I should explain why the holiday between academic years fell in December. In the aftermath of the 30 September/1 October 1965 coup by general Soeharto schools and universities had been unable to function for half a year. It was only in the late 70ies that the government brought Indonesia back in step with the Northern hemisphere by allowing one school year of 18 months.

So it was in December 1973 that once more I drove my car to Bali. This time I was accompanied by three students who boarded at my house: Jacob, Matias and Sumardi. They came from less affluent families living living in Central Java. So this vacation – all expenses paid – was a great opportunity for them. As a matter of fact, Jacob never finished his studies because his parents could not support him any more. So much for the prejudice that all ethnic Chinese in Indonesia are rich.

As I had been to Bali twice already, I chose to spend more time on the road for exploring East Java. From Yogyakarta we took the southern route east through the Gunung Kidul limestone hills. We had made weekend outings to the beaches of Parangtritis, Baron and Kukup. Indeed, Parangtritis had recently been discovered by backpacker tourists (hippies), who slept on the beach or in a primitive home-stay run by the village head. Nowadays during weekends and holidays Parangtritis is overrun by domestic visitors. But the farther east one goes from Yogyakarta, the less spoiled the beaches are.

Ngungap cliffs

I had some copies of WW II topographical maps, and on these had identified a couple of interesting destinations in Girisubo district, the most easterly district of Central Java. Navigating the unpaved roads with the aid of these maps we found the Ngungap coast first. Nowadays it is smooth going on the Jalan Pantai Selatan Jawa (South Java Coastal Road).

We were welcomed by a monkey high in a tree. Today there are few places left on Java where monkeys roam free and are shy of people. I still encountered them in Merapi National Park and in Ijen Natural Park.


Here my students and some villagers are at the top of the Ngungap cliff. Swallows make their nests in a cave at the foot of the cliff. Thrice a year the nests are harvested by the locals, who have been at it for many generations. Chinese consider birds nest soup as a delicacy. Indeed, one of my former students made his fortune by exporting swallow nests to China.


We came out of harvest season. But if you look carefully at next two pictures you can see the scaffolding of bamboo and lianas that the villagers construct for entering the cave.



In 2012 I saw these men preparing for harvest. They build new scaffolding for each season.



Wediombo Beach

Heading west again by a long detour we found Wediombo Beach, a beach with sand and rocks in a wide bay. Here is a picture of the road leading up to it.


The Gunung Kidul hills used to be a poor and arid region. But a lot of effort has gone into making it greener. Compare these two photos of the same spot in the road, the one on the right is of 2012.



Here is our first view of the bay when we approached it. Again with a picture from 2012 for comparison.



Wediombo was and is a favourite beach for anglers who can throw out their line standing on a rock.



But we just had a swim and basked in the sun. The second picture shows the selfsame spot in 2012 where my students lay in 1973, but the pointed rock on the right had tumbled down.



Tabuhan Cave

The next day we crossed the boarder between Central and East Java, heading for Pacitan town. At the time Pacitan was an isolated place, a long travel time from Yogyakarta in the west and Tulungagung in the east. 24 kilometres before Pacitan we made a stop at the Tabuhan Cave. Here is the entrance to the cave as we saw it in 1973..



Nowadays the cave is a prime attraction, complete with parking for tourist buses. When we visited for the first time, visitors were rare. But at least other students of our university had been there before us. This was evident from the graffiti ‘UKSW’ on a stalactite. The letters stand for ‘Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana’.

Several villagers accompanied us into the cave, including the man with the guest book.





They showed us the nook where mystics used to sit meditating for hours, in sensual deprivation. Jacob and Sumardi only posed for the photo-op, with a torch.


But the main attraction is the musical feature of the cave, as the name Tabuhan indicates. The group of villagers did a gamelan performance complete with female singers, by knocking with pieces of rock on selected stalactites.




These pics 0f 2009 show that they had modernized their equipment, using wooden hammers to knock on the stalactites. But we also learned that wear and occasional breaking of the stalactites forced them to find new ones, that they had to sculpt in order to obtain the right pitch (according to the Javanese pentatonic scale).






We passed the night in very quiet Pacitan town, the only guests in the losmen. Here is a view of Pacitan bay, seen from the road approaching it from the west.


You may have wondered how the four of us with luggage for a month fitted in that Volkswagen. Well, my companions travelled lightly, with not much more than one change of clothes in a bag. So they did some washing while in the losmen. Later on our way we took a rest to let the clothes dry in the sun.


And Matias also needed to do a small repair. >>


If you have read my previous historic blogs, you will have seen that on this trip I had a new car. The VW had been shipped from Germany earlier that year. Not much later the Indonesian government prohibited the import of built-up cars. The Japanese brands started to assemble their cars in Indonesia, but the European brands disappeared from the market.


From Pacitan we headed for Ngebel in the Wilis mountain range, along 100 kilometres of mostly winding road. Ngebel was not on the tourist map, and though it now has a few hotels the name will not ring a bell even with most Indonesians. Yet Ngebel is of interest because it has an artificial crater reservoir like Telaga Sarangan on Mount Lawu. The reservoirs were created in colonial times by damming the outflows of much smaller crater lakes. While Sarangan has long been a popular resort, Ngebel remained in pristine isolation. When we drove to Ngebel, work was in progress to make the village more accessible.


When we arrived at the reservoir shown below, we thought ‘Is this it? Not at all like Sarangan.’ We discovered that Ngebel has two reservoirs, this smaller one is located just one kilometre downhill from the bigger one.


Next three pics show what we came for.





We drove all around Telaga Ngebel and found the outflow on the south side, where people did their washing in the river.



The village head received us well and offered us staying at his house. He showed us the local industry: distilling resin from the pine trees on the mountain.


And he told us that that very night there was to be a wayang kulit (shadow puppet show) performance at the village: lucky us! Such a show is a festivity for the whole village, and an occasion for hawkers to sell their wares.




There was also a woman selling food, and we had our evening meal before the performance started.




Here the scene is set. The puppets are arranged in the order the dalang (puppet master) will use them.


The puppet master at work. I am sorry that I can’t tell what the performance was about. Often it is a well-known classical story, to which the dalang adds allusions to actual events.



Notice that the spectators next to the dalang are children. The (male) adult audience sits on the other side of the screen.


And this is what the audience sees. It is a shadow play after all. The puppets speak, intoned with different voices by the dalang. As evidence which puppet is speaking, it moves its arm. See the puppet directly below the lamp.



The next day we took our leave and headed south to Prigi, a village with a sandy beach in a deep bay. The bridge shown here, still close to Ngebel, was a good one by comparison with what was to come.


Farther south, past the main west-east road, the road was badly maintained. We were lucky to be able to reach our destination at all. At one place the rain had washed a bridge away and we had to cross the little river on two wooden beams. So Prigi proved to be even more isolated than Ngebel. Maybe because of that we were received by the local military commander. At the time many places had a military government parallel to the civil one especially when the communist party had had a big following before the coup by Soeharto. It reminded me of colonial times, when a Dutch ‘resident’ looked over the shoulder of a Javanese ruler. Here we walk along the beach with the commander.


The people of Prigi made a living from the sea.



Someone once commented on the local economy of Java: John sells Mary a ham sandwich and Mary sells John a cheese sandwich:



Believe it or not, Prigi too had a celebration that night. But we did not see it. When we had seen the preparation in next picture, the commander hustled us off to our accommodation for the night. Said my travel companions: There is be joged dancing, and the captain is ashamed that you should see it.”


Joged is a sensual dance, for which a village brings in women from outside. The women elect men to dance with them and the men are to give them money. To pluck up courage the men drink beer. Orthodox Muslims of course disapprove of the custom, but it is still a common part of local culture as I later witnessed elsewhere.


New Year's Eve in South-West Lombok. >

Bersih Desa' festivities in Nglambangan near Madiun (East-Java). The yearly celebration is supposed to cleanse the village from bad influences. V



From Prigi we headed to Blitar, the birth and burial place of Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno. There we visited his grave. Soekarno, or Bung Karno as his nickname of endearment was, died on June 21, 1970, when we happened to spend weekend at Sarangan. We learned about it because our hotel hung the national flag half mast.



Initially Soekarno’s successor, general Soeharto, did not want Soekarno’s grave to become a place of pilgrimage. So this is what we found at a Blitar cemetery, the only indication that a grave was special being the triple umbrella:



Later, when Soeharto felt his position to be more secure, he had a grand mausoleum built near Blitar. The following pics are from 2009.






Heading east from Blitar we passed by the Karangkates Project, which was nearing its completion. The dam in the upper stream of Brantas river was built with development assistance from Japan and created the second largest reservoir of Indonesia.





Our last destination before Bali was Bromo. Nowadays hotels and home stays have proliferated at Cemoro Lawang on the rim of the caldera, but in 1973 those did not exist. We stayed in the only accommodation, the pesanggrahan in Ngadisari, at 10 kilometres from the the rim. (Pesanggrahan’s were established in colonial times primarily to serve travelling government officials.)

Neither were there jeeps and horses available. We left the car at what is now Cemoro Lawang, then descended into the caldera and crossed the sand sea to Bromo on foot. This picture shows where we descended, see the sloping road right of centre.


Half way in the sand see we came upon a block of concrete with small offerings. They were the only evidence of reverence for the spirits of the caldera by the Tenggarese who inhabit the highlands. Nowadays there is a large Hindu temple compound at the same location.


The stairs that all tourists doing Bromo have to negotiate on their own legs were in existence, but in dire need of some repairs.




Another view of the sand sea from Bromo volcano, and a peek into the crater.



During the whole day in the caldera we met just one man.


In part 2 I will write about our experiences in Bali.

Posted by theo1006 10:07 Archived in Indonesia

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