Women from the Baduy ethnic group on Java Island
We enter the belly of the huge ferry along with trucks, cars, motor-bikes and various people. We position ourselves inside the luxurious lobby. The ferry “sets sails” and we head to unknown adventures.
In the lobby of the ferry together with the Koreans who we hitchhiked
We go around the ship and say goodbye to Sumatra. After two hours of sailing we approach Java’s coast. The view is not very promising – factories along the coast like we have not seen up to now in Malaysia, nor in Thailand and something that looks like a smog seemingly covering the whole island. The territory of Java is as big as this of Greece but on it lives 60% of Indonesia’s population or about 170 million people. This is the most populous island on Earth. How will we find places to pitch our tent? No idea.
Islands on the way
We approach the quay and dozens of men jump in the sea between it and the arriving ship. All stare at the passengers with crazy looks. If someone throws money a fight erupts immediately who to take the bills or the coins. One of the man climbs on the ship and starts encouraging the passengers to throw money. Strange. As we approach the quay the situation starts looking dangerous to the men as they risk to be smashed by the ship.
Men begging in the water
The industrial port of Java
The road to Jakarta is in perfect condition. We are driving on a highway for the first time since we are in Indonesia. For now, despite of our expectations, it doesn’t look overpopulated. It is already dark when we arrive at the satellite neighborhood Tangerang that is around 20 km away from the central part of the city. Travelling in Indonesia is unbelievably slow. A distance that looks so small on the map takes a day to cross. If we weren’t lucky to be taken by a Korean and his wife we would have had no chances to reach Jakarta in a day. After going around the neighborhood we are able to find a bus to the central part and we say goodbye to our nice fellow travelers.
Garbage cleaners in the river
It starts raining. In the shabby and dirty bus enter vendors and beggars. A woman singer with a karaoke amplifier, a boy with a guitar and a small girl sing out of tune. Then some youngsters with guitars enter, on every stop shabby guys come in and beg for money. This is shocking to us.
The modern part of the city
Jakarta with its satellite towns has a population of 28 million and its central part alone is 10 million. Despite the obvious fact that the biggest part of the country’s richness is concentrated here and there are many skyscrapers and luxury malls all this co-exists with shabby, overpopulated neighborhoods with narrow streets, small markets and thousands of street eateries.
Traffic jams are permanent and crossing even short distances takes a long time. So in about an hour and a half we cross the 20 km and arrive at the meeting point with our couchsurfing.org host. She waits us at the old market called Pasar Baru. Ironically its name means the “new market”. 🙂
A Chinese sells cobra snakes for eating
We buy our favorite avocado juices and in ten minutes we meet with Elizabeth, who will turn out to be one of the most amazing hosts we have ever met. She is short, extrovert, joyous Indonesian-Chinese. We start talking and in short we reach her house located on a narrow street always full of people who sit outside, watch TV, that is also outside, and eat. Children shout and play. It seems like everyone lives on the street outside their houses.
Street in the old city
13.06 – 17.06
We relax and get deserved rest in Elizabeth’s house. We chat all the time and soon become good friends. In the morning we go out the narrow street full of flowerpots on both sides and we visit the picturesque market.
We cook delicious meals and then work on the laptop Elizabeth gave us. In the early afternoon we go out around the city. We usually use tuk-tuk to travel. Very typical thing is that we usually spend an hour inside the taxi in the traffic jam to cross a distance of just 3-4 kilometers.
We visit the city’s landmarks. The biggest mosque in South-East Asia Isiqlal does not impress us much with its architecture but inside it there are many people and one can feel the typical atmosphere of a temple.
Inside Istiqlal mosque
Magy wearing traditional clothes for the mosque
Opposite of the mosque is the giant Catholic church Ascension of Our Lady. Contrary to the European churches inside there are many people praying.
Catholic cathedral “Ascension of Our Lady”
We also visit the national monument Monas, a giant tower in the center of a huge park with something yellow on the top that symbolizes flame.
The monument Monas
Another landmark in Jakarta is the old city, which is a big square surrounded by old Dutch buildings left after the colonial times, called Old Batavia. Here local youngsters do their meetings and there are a few western tourists. There are many street vendors selling things and street mimes.
While we rest under a shadow with Adriana and Diogo, Portuguese couchsurfers, who came one day after us at Elizabeth’s house, we notice a known figure of a white man selling something that looks like post cards at the square. We have the rare luck to meet the incredible Russian named Pasha.
He lost his work at the ministry in Siberia because of the melting oil prices. Then he sold his things and headed to an adventure in an unknown direction. Soon he left out of money so for the rest of the journey he kept travelling without any.
He had the funniest way of talking and perceiving the world. His whole life was a string of absurd happenings and situations that I simply cannot describe here. He always made us laugh hysterically. In the old town we also met another Russian and an Ukrainian who were trying to collect money by playing the guitar on the street. This hardened our opinion about the Russian travelers being the most crazy and extreme type.
Another phenomenon we observe is the incredible communicative nature of Indonesian people. One day Elizabeth spoke in a close manner with a taxi driver so we thought they were old friends. After he drove us home he entered the house, walked around and kept touching things.
To our utter amazement we understood later they had never met. On the next day Elizabeth invited him with his wife and kids to a walk in the sea park. During our stay Elizabeth was really, really nice to her. We tried to pay for things but she never let us no matter how much we insisted. At the end of our stay she took us to one of the most incredible places we had ever been – the land of the Baduy.
Elizabeth, the Portuguese Diogo and Ana and we at night
We catch the train to the town Rangkasbitung located in Banten Province, 100 km away from Jakarta. The train costs just 5000 Rp. (0.33 eurocents). We arrive in two hours and then catch a bus to Cibolager village. Then we find out Elizabeth asked the driver to take us for free. Two hours later we arrive at the village.
Welcome to Cibolager
Stone stairs lead to the border of the land of the Baduy. Crossing the arc we find ourselves in a different world. All houses are made of bamboo, streets are made of stone and you cannot enter the village even by a motor-bike. Baduy people sit on the porches dressed in their indigo and black clothes. Men wear blue pieces of cloth on their heads. Silence, cleanliness and calmness prevail.
We continue walking for half an hour more to the next village where we will stay at Elizabeth’s friends. Women with big hats and indigo sarongs (piece of cloth worn as a skirt) wear bags with things up and down the stone alleys through banana and bamboo forests.
This is the most heavenly place we have ever visited in Indonesia up to now. We feel like we are in a fairy-tale. Baduy have kept their traditions. We sit on the bamboo floor on the common porch of the house. There is a fire burning in the kitchen and rice is being cooked. Baduy’s culture turns out to be really impressive.
Keepers of the world
Baduy people live in the mountain region of West Java and are two kinds – inner and outer Baduy, The outer Baduy are around 10 000. Their villages are around or in the foothills of the mountain and they are interacting with the civilization. They are a kind of barrier against outside people who could enter their sacred inner territories.
The inner Baduy live 3-5 hours of walking distance from Cibolager. They live in three villages and are around 400 people. Each of these villages has a priest “pu’un” who follows closely the religious rules of the ancient religion “Sunda Wiwatan”. Inner Baduy are with a higher rank. They live isolated from the outer world and keep their ancient codex. They wear typical white shirts and white turbans so they are also known as “white Baduy”, and the outer ones are “black Baduy” as they wear black or indigo clothes.
A grandfather with his grandchild
What makes Baduy unique is their religious taboos. These taboos deny the modern civilization. Their basic rule is that if something hasn’t existed in ancient times it cannot be accepted by their community and cannot be placed on their sacred territory.
This automatically excludes all the products of the technological progress such as electronics, electricity, vehicles etc. Inner Baduy walk on foot and are always barefooted even when they go to Jakarta. They don’t use any phones, computers or any other electronic devices. They can wear only clothes that they have weaved by themselves, and they have to wear only certain colors. They do not use blankets or mats as they cannot produce them by themselves. Their beds are made of bamboo matting . The community is also not using any chemicals, soaps, shampoos, creams or other cosmetics.
Mother with a child
Their houses are made entirely of bamboo and straw as using metal is not accepted too – so no nails in the houses. There are no metallic utensils in their kitchens, just bamboo, rattan and wooden ones. Traditionally in the inner territories there are no iron mines but having a knife is allowed.
Regarding food – stock-breeding is forbidden, so no meat, except fish. No new kinds of crops could be planted, only the ones that they planted originally since ancient times. Changing the form of the land in any way is also forbidden, so no terraces or artificial pool could be made. The rice is grown on the slopes, naturally. The usage of money is also not common, but things have started to change. Sometimes the Baduy people go to the market to sell their amazingly weaved cloths and with the money they buy meat and other products for some bigger celebrations.
Outer Baduy wearing traditional clothes
The access to the inner Baduy is not allowed for foreigners. Indonesian people could visit them after they receive a special permit by the inner leader called “Jaro”, if they do not bring any forbidden items, do not make photos or break taboos. The most sacred place for the Baduy is a forest where only priests can enter. There they perform special rituals that keep Earth form being destroyed.
We couldn’t get much information about their religion but it seems it is monotheistic and Baduy don’t have temples or other praying spots. Today because of the outside influence they prefer to call themselves Muslims, though they don’t know about Muhammad, there are no mosques, nobody prays and in general don’t know much about Islam. We think this is their way of keeping their believes incognito and keep themselves out of any problems coming in this regard from outside.
The outside Baduy don’t keep many of the taboos though their way of life is still very traditional. Most of them have smartphones, use motor-bikes and money, but at the same time don’t want to have electricity in their villages and mostly their way of life is quite traditional.
They use metallic utensils but still use open fire to cook. Inside their villages any vehicles are still forbidden and they go everywhere on foot. Their houses are mostly made of natural materials with a few nails here and there. Chemicals are allowed to be used here as well as modern foods, metal and plastics. Some of their kids even go to school.
Into the forest
We secretly hope that the inner Baduy keep their lands private in order to keep their archaic way of life and continue to “keep” the world with their magic rituals. 🙂
19.06 – 20.06
On the next day we have go back to the first village because our host will help for the preparations of a wedding of their relatives.
Having breakfast at the house where we stayed
We are in constant adoration of the calmness here. Women silently weave cloths on the porches, men smoke immersed in their thoughts. No car noise anywhere. At the contrary in the village down the road everyone is excited. The house of the bride is full of people. Food and other things are being prepared for the wedding.
The bride with her mother
Women prepare food for the feast
We have all the day at our disposition so Elizabeth sends us to go for a walk to the next village together with her friends. We climb the stone stairs leading to the village together with three girls wearing huge sacks full of God knows what.
People in this village prepare for the ceremony of circumcision which Baduy do, same as Muslims. Men weave baskets for bringing hens as gift for the ceremony. Women are seated on special wooden logs with a metal ending and grate coco-nuts for preparing sweets. There is a fire in the middle of the village where jam is being cooked and several people stir it vigorously. Behind one of the houses is being made traditional red sugar that is prepared in only two of the villages. While we watch all this in rapture a man comes and treats us to coco-nut milk and bananas. In an hour they come to tell us to go in the village with the wedding.
Baskets for gifts
This evening there is a special ritual in the house of the bride. The elders and the leader of the community have gathered to bless the couple. Outside people are not allowed to come in nor we are permitted to take photos.
Hen for the newly weds
It is time for the final ceremony. Around 9 a.m. many people gather around the house. The bride and the groom come out dressed in sarongs and wearing crowns made of money and coins (we notice that the coins are hundred years old Dutch guldens, family heritage).
The bride and the groom
Both are just 16-17 years old and look like children. They sit on the matting in front of the house. Opposite of them a basket with different things is put. One of them holds white hen, the other black. The leader starts doing a ceremony, spits on a child at the circle of people around and all start waiting which hen will peck first.
Then there is a rain of cakes and coins for the crowd and children rush and start gathering them. The wedding is over in an instant. To every house and every elder is given a meal of rice and meat. It is strictly forbidden to take pictures of the ritual so we couldn’t tape it.
People wait for the ritual to begin
Soon one of the inner Baduy comes. Elizabeth had asked him to take us to a living bridge made of tree roots. So we go with Jakri who walks bare footed and steps so skillfully on the rocks that we are amazed. His image is still engraved in my memory.
He is dressed with hand woven shirt, short skirt and has big muscled calves. He wears a small parcel with his personal belongings over his shoulder. Jakri is waking so fast we barely manage to keep up with him. He is also breathing normally like doing nothing – a true man of Nature! He spots some small traces in the bushes and shows us a snake. If we were alone we would have never been able to spot it by ourselves.
Jakri, the inner Baduy
We reach the bridge in 2-3 hours. Jakri takes out bamboo cups filled with food he had cooked previously and we sit to eat. All that we are doing is interesting to him, respectively all he is doing is interesting to us.
We cook rice and curry and add some edible fern that we picked on the road. Jakri likes everything but he refuses to use white crystal sugar for the coffee, good that we have natural brown too. Before we head back he makes a cup and a spoon out of a bamboo stick, like a gift. He is so nice, kind and not burdened by the ailments of the civilization, always with a wide smile on his face.
Lunch in the forest
Regarding the bridge it turns out to be really impressive, much bigger and longer than the ones we saw in Meghalaya, made of huge, interwoven liana, and roots, high above the river.
We go back on another road. It is already dark. on the path we see a man who has climbed on 15-20 meter high durians tree with the help of a bamboo stair with small carved steps where you only put your big toe. It looks quite risky.
On the pathway
After we arrive back to the village we go to sleep tired of the trip. Jakri also stays for the night. In the morning we part ways and he heads to his village Cibeo, three hours walking distance inside the forest.
Bridge made of liana and roots
While we drink our morning coffee a group of Muslims from Jakarta come at the porch. They have been to the inner Baduy to preach. They are with Arab clothes and have a small sized Koran. We don’t get it why such people are allowed to enter inside while foreigners, who will just document Baduy’s culture and present it to the world, are not.
Amidst the calm and introvert Baduy this group of corpulent people doesn’t seem very pleasant to us. They tell Mr. Shushtari that it is not appropriate to wear short pants (inner Baduy wear short skirt but they have obviously missed that fact). Then they express their hopes that one day we will convert to Islam and we will fight the enemy. Mr. Shushtari looked at them in amazement and said: “What enemy? There are no enemies.”
Clove is being dried on the roofs
We prepare our luggage and leave this beautiful place. There are no cars passing on the road and in an hour a truck stops going to the southern coast. I barely manage to endure the jokes of the second driver saying that are noses are as big as toucan’s beaks and the likes.
The road is in really bad condition and we are exhausted after 2-3 hours of jolting. We sit to eat and drink at a pavilion far from any people. Suddenly a crazy guy crashes with his motor-bike in front of us and then shows us pictures of him being in the hospital after a previous crash with a cross motor-bike. He says on should not eat outside during Ramadan. Then makes a selfie with us and leaves us with our jaws dropped.
We continue travelling east with another truck and then change it with a pick-up full of boys going to work. They leave us a little before the town Palembuhan Ratu at a supposedly very nice beach. The beach is full of strange piles resembling graves which looks eerie to us. We walk for a long time but we can’t find a place to pitch out tent. Finally we set our bivouac next to a resort by the sea, the only place with trees.
Fishermen houses in the sea
We are worried that the people from the resort will tell us to leave but instead they invite us to use their toilets 🙂 Hitchhiking is desperately slow. We wait every time for more than an hour for someone to stop and it is usually a truck. Roads are in bad condition and narrow. Near all towns there is a traffic jam. We hitchhike maybe the slowest truck in the universe and take the sixty kilometers to Sukhabumi for… five hours!!!
In addition we wait an hour the truck to be loaded with gravel. I remember the depressing feeling in Bengal, India where I didn’t even want to travel anymore. Every 100 km are really painful and take 10-12 hours of slow traveling. In addition some days we have to wait for an eternity for someone to stop.
The driver leaves us at the circumvent before the town. Soon another truck takes us supposedly going directly to the next town Bandung. I don’t know why but the not so pleasant driver decides to leave us at the end of the town where we are, Sukambumi.
At least we are out of the town. We are exhausted and decide to drink avocado juice. Then we start hitchhiking but it gets dark and we make our minds to find a place to sleep. We see an abandoned building in the outskirts with a lot of high grass around it. Having in mind the overpopulation here this place is a heavenly island in the endless rows of houses and rice fields.
We continue hitchhiking trucks. A nice driver takes us to the huge city Bandung: 50 km for three hours. Our hopes that roads will get better slowly fades away. The driver leaves us at the entrance of the highway and a dirty truck loaded with iron takes us. We drive 30 km on a really good highway to the end of Cileunyi town. If one drives on this highway the distance from Jakarta to Nandung takes two hours, but it took us three full days of travelling on the secondary roads traveled on.
After the city the road becomes again bad and with traffic jams. We are dizzy so we sit to rest at some hidden tables near a supermarket where other people who eat and drink secretly. The milk we drink and the ice-cream we eat give us energy.
In an hour a nice old man with a kid take us. We squeeze on one seat and head to Tasik Malaya. By the time we reach it it’s already dark. Just out of the town we see a grassed area among some buildings and we go to sleep exhausted without even having a dinner. The irregular eating and drinking during Ramadan affects us. At least today we traveled the unbelievable 200 km. though we haven’t even crossed half of the giant Java Island yet.
Today hitchhiking goes better. For the first time a private car with a family takes us. They go to shop in the shopping mall of Tasik but decide to drive us to the next town Banjar, 20 km away. There we sit for two hours in an Internet cafe then start hitchhiking again. During the long wait we continue to tell ourselves that our car hasn’t come yet and this wait is for a reason. Then the best possible vehicle stops by.
It is a man with a fast car traveling to the far town Banjarnegara, 4-5 hours away. The driver is a very religious Muslim, very kind. He keeps the optional fasting: no water and food every Monday, Thursday and Sunday, every week of the year.
He wears traditional Islam clothes and we stop many times for him to pray. I can’t shake his hand because he doesn’t touches women. The most shocking things are the black circles on his forehead received by hitting his head on the ground during prayers. The guy is really nice and says that he knows we are not Muslims and it is OK to eat and drink in the car. He gives us a box of dates too.
At six o’clock he ends the fasting and first eats three dates following the example of Mohammed. Then we stop at a nice restaurant where he invites us to dinner. We are surprised by his solidarity as he doesn’t order meat because we are vegetarians, although we tell him he can eat whatever he wants.
He says that he eats only dates at breakfast. So we don’t have the right to complain – to us Ramadan is nothing compared to his experience.
With our religious friend
The man leaves us at a nice park at the end of the town. He gives us mineral water and sweets and takes off in the night.
Bivouac in the park