[simage=1793,200,n,left,]Taking advantage of the long weekend for Indonesian Independence Day (17th August), I went to climb West Java’s highest mountain – Gunung Ciremai – which is near to Cirebon on the north coast. Gill was away looking for Eucalyptus deglupta trees in Seram and Sulawesi (don’t ask), so I was hiking with Dan and Liz, our friends from Jakarta and Bogor. We all met up at Gambir station to catch the express train to Cirebon, and boarded with trepidation in case there was the loud music or, worse, a karaoke machine. The journey was smooth, and when we got to Cirebon station we found a car and driver to take us to our starting point at Cibuluh village; this took a few questions to find, and the last leg of the road was by ojek (motorbike taxi). Cibuluh and the landscape here are really beautiful, and we eventually set of for the hike at around 1 pm – needing to get close to the summit campsite before dark. We made it, just, but had to wait for almost 30 minutes for our porters to catch up – as the sun went down it was freezing cold and we were glad to cook dinner around a fire with a bunch of new Indonesian friends.
The next morning we went up to the summit for sunrise and explored the narrow crater rim. There is some sulphur activity in the crater, and above the clouds we could see Gunung Slamet, spewing out gases as it continues to erupt. We could also see the volcanoes in the Bandung area. We then decided to descend a different route to Lingarjati, which is closer to Cirebon and apparently easier, but in fact it turns out that it isn’t. The summit area was already busy as we descended, and we must have passed around 400 young Indonesians heading up to the summit. Volcano climbing is a very popular weekend activity for students (it’s cheap and gets you out with friends). Independence Day is the most popular hiking weekend in the calendar so we were quite pleased to be leaving the mountain as the hordes arrived. We must have received almost 1,000 “hello misters” and our photos are now probably proudly displayed in 100s of Indonesia Facebook pages – I am still not sure what the attraction is of having your photo taken with a complete stranger.
The other interesting (really weird) thing about Ciremai is that walking through the forest you see some plastic bottles and bags hanging from trees full of a yellowish liquid. What could that be? Well, it’s piss, or urine to be more polite. Apparently, Ciremai is quite a sacred mountain to the locals, and so people do not want to disrespect the mountain by peeing on the ground. It is considered much better to pee in a bottle and hang it from a tree! If that’s true, it’s quite bizarre.