"Pangandaran! Pangandaran! Pangandaran!" Our ears were ringing with it.
The bus from Garut had a conductor on board. He stood up front on the bottom step and hung out the open door repeating this singsong mantra at the passing bushes as we slowed down for villages and crossroads and each unlikely cluster of rough dwellings. Patient Javanese would appear, hand over coins and ride a few miles, replacing others disembarking in the same piecemeal fashion. We might have been the only passengers who made the full journey down to the coast.
Lovely little Pangandaran (pan-gand-a-ran with a hard 'g') is a seaside village on a flat triangular spike jutting directly at the Indian Ocean. The peninsula's southern tip becomes a rising promontory of jungle - an oval of elevated land containing both a national park and a restricted-access nature reserve. It's a town that lives mostly off the sea, with a modest tourist industry catering to the intrepid. One can find good pictures, particularly of the town's colorful wooden tri-maran vessels, and other area details, at this website.
Traveling in this fashion, we weren't booking rooms ahead, preferring to visually reconnoiter and evaluate the ambience of potential lodgings in person. Accordingly, we sat at the town's outdoor market across from the depot, perusing maps and narrowing our choices, before seeking shelter nearby.
Our plans were altered by a woman who approached and offered enlightenment by means of a crude flyer.
It advertised a resort a few miles east, off the peninsula, situated on a lagoon and not listed in our books. Even from the homemade inkjet circular, the place looked attractive: a friendly air, a natural setting. So we called and waited for the promised pickup. Obviously, they didn't anticipate our overstuffed backpacks and sundry bags of Asian loot, because they sent two kids on tiny motorscooters to get us. After a lively discussion, they went back and returned with a van.
The worthwhile wait included a half-hour drive up the coast highway, then down a grassy cart-track across rice fields through a tidy workers' hamlet permanently shaded by giant palms. One more turn of the trail brought us to an archway made from branches. Beyond the gate, cute cabins were arranged in a horseshoe around a lily-padded lagoon, the interior courtyard a profusion of broadleaf plants and tropical flowers, linked by wooden bridges with rope railings. At its far end stood the main building with its large thatch-roofed deck offering passage to the exterior grounds
In this perimeter area, arranged for privacy under the palm leaves, two-story cottages stood on beams, a concrete bathhouse below a wood-planked living area. We chose one of these and hauled our cargo upstairs to a wrap-around balcony pointing across a canal at the ocean. We were close enough to hear the roar of crashing surf.
It was a small revelation, having found this place by chance. Apparently owned by a long-absent Dutch woman, operations were left to an unassuming posse of bright, young Indonesian locals working a just-in-time budget model. This jocular bunch would always ask your plans - if you were returning for supper, if you wanted beer - before making a grocery run, even getting us to settle our bill after two nights so to have available funds to supply our next few days. An understandable situation and not a problem for us, although the Bintang was never quite cold enough. This was a common challenge throughout our trip in these hot-weather outposts. With intermittent electricity and many businesses relying on old equipment, learning who has reliably frosty beer becomes precious knowledge for the beverage-inclined.
The aura of impoverishment was neither bleak nor seedy - this was another self-contained paradise. Our ardent hosts kept it fun, serving sweet banana pancakes and rich coffee as guests lingered peacefully on the big patio each morning. A fine Goreng, Nasi or Mi, was a dinner specialty. According to their menu, we only had to ask, and a designated climber would scamper up and knock down the main ingredients for a coconut cocktail served in the shell.
Accessible from the resort by self-operated rope ferry, the wide beach was almost deserted, the water devoid of swimmers due to relentless asymmetrical waves and deadly riptides. Even going out just over the knees, the undertow was felt and our swimmer's keenness was limited to shallow bodysurfing close to shore. More swimmable beaches were found north of town; the best one needing a drive. (See below)
Left: Sarah, instant friend.
Cleverly disguised, our hosts were running a conveniently located motorbike rental agency as well. That is, they were renting their own bikes for extra coin; dirt bikes, not scooters, for a change. One morning, we set out on a sightseeing mission, choosing to act as our own tour guides.
Above: two images from the settlement next door to our resort. Below: rice-growing on the marshy lands between the highway and the ocean.
Following potted, busy roads about 25kms. north and west of Pangandaran to the village of Cijulang, we first went looking for Cukang Taneuh, promoted to western tourists as the Green Canyon. That morning, being the only customers at the roadside landing area, we were offered a private tour at a reduced rate. Rupiahs were exchanged and we climbed aboard a long blue wooden boat, half-sheltered by canopy and powered by outboard motor.
At first, the flat, green water flows down in a lazy meander as dense vegetation crowds in from the shore. We rode the river upstream until it narrowed into a twisting gorge. Here, the pilot and his mate used barge poles to guide their craft next to small rapids. This is where visitors are allowed, for an allotted time, to disembark and walk upstream over damp rocks as light-dappled waterfalls spill over both sides of the canyon. There are naturally formed pools for swimming, although the footing can be tricky along the water's edge. We didn't linger long in the close, humid air, deciding to go downriver, get on the bike and look for some swimmable ocean.
We found Batu Karas beach, a minor surf mecca, a little farther southeast from Cijulang. (There's a medley of roads here, but the signage was reliable.) At the east end, a curving point forms a surf break; to the west, away from this action, meter-high waves roll up gently over soft sand. That afternoon, we had this little crescent to ourselves - the sun up behind an overhang of bush, putting the shoreline in shade, even as the water remained exposed to its rays.
Properly aquified, the day lengthening, we made our way back along the same roads to the resort. Along a straight stretch of crowded highway running north out of Pangandaran, my friend spotted the workshop of a wooden puppet maker.
Puppet theater is part of an important west Javanese tradition. A very thorough explanation of puppet history and craftsmanship can be found here. The shop owner gave us a brief tour of the hand-making process before putting on an impromptu performance in the dim light.
The instruments pictured below were set up in a shrine-like corner of the workshop. They represent another Indonesian tradition. It was on the patio of our resort here that we first heard the haunting, melodic Sundanese Degung music. Our hosts played it each morning with breakfast on the portable stereo and we had an immediate response. This genre of Gamelan gets under the skin and will improve your mood. After that, the music seemed to follow us the rest of the way on to Bali. The CD we found in Yogyakarta remains one of our most precious souvenirs.
Our last day included a few fretful hours at a Pangandaran travel agency securing tickets for the passage east through the "Inland Sea" and overland to Yogyakarta in central Java.