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Volcanic Craters and Tea Fields

Exploring Kawah Putih in Bandung, Indonesia

Photo by Zulfahmi Khani on Unsplash

I stared at the hissing lake, a gray greenish color, spewing blasts of sulfur into the sky. It smelled distinctly like rotten eggs. The crater lake bubbled and roared. It was a scene straight out of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. However, instead of evil rings and dark wraiths, this Mordor was filled with tourists and small buses. People chatted happily as they began the trek around the lake. Nema and I opted to take the quieter path that led around the side of the volcano. As we moved away from the crater, the greenery enveloped us, a direct contrast to the bare mountain and seething lake. 

The city of Bandung is like the bottom of a bowl with a ring of active volcanoes surrounding it as the walls. Living in such close proximity to volcanoes means there are plenty to explore and several of them are close tourist attractions. On a free day from work, I headed with Nema, one of my staff from my job, to explore Kawah Putih, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. We took the ever popular angkot, a small bus that is ubiquitous in Bandung. Inching our way through the heavy traffic in Bandung, I looked forward to getting out of the city. Eventually, the crowded buildings and plethora of vendors' stalls gave way to green rolling hills. As we approached the volcano, we went through the crowded town of Ciwedy filled with more buildings and stalls. The smell of frying food filled the air. We finally reached the base of the volcano and the buildings gave way to densely wooded forest. Pine trees surrounded us as we got into the tourist bus that would take us to the crater. 

As we slowly wound our way up the mountain, I smelled fresh pine scented air, a welcome respite from the smog of the city. The thick forest filled with pine trees made me feel like I had suddenly been transported back to the Poconos in Pennsylvania instead of being in the tropical island country of Indonesia. When we neared the crater, we stopped to pay the gate fee. I noticed, with irony, how much more expensive the bule (white foreigner) price was over the cost for Indonesians. Nema paid a small fraction of what I did but that is the cost of being an expat!

We headed out of the bus towards the crater. The lake was a strange, fluorescent shade of green (the color frequently changes from gray-white to blue to green). We could see smoke coming from one side of the lake and the rotten eggs smell of the sulfur permeated the air. The crater hissed and bubbled and I was distinctly reminded of Mordor, the land of evil, in The Lord of the Rings movies and books. But instead of Orcs and evil wraiths, happily chattering people, both Indonesian and foreigners, walked to the crater to take pictures and headed onto the trail to walk around the crater.

Nema and I opted to take the longer trail down the side of the mountain. We walked away from the crater into a trail of lush greenery. After a few minutes, the trail wound back to the crater and we sat on a rock and gazed at the roiling crater lake. The smell of sulfur wasn't as strong as it had been but it was still present. I carefully stepped off the rock and back onto the trail, mindful of the stones and tree roots in my path. We headed down the trail and the scenery changed. Instead of sulfurous lake and bare rock outcroppings, we were now in the forest. The path widened and trees surrounded us. Nema entertained me with stories of hiking in the snow in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. I hadn't realized that there was snow there and it reminded me of how diverse Indonesia was (Papua is part of Indonesia). 

We continued down the path and found ourselves in a large tea plantation on the mountain. The path lazily curved in a slow "S" shape through the terrace. I looked around me. My view was filled with green mountains, filled with tea field terraces. The green mountains gleamed against a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Forget Mordor. My mind was filled with the theme song from The Way Back, a movie about a group of escaped prisoners from Siberia who make their way over the mountains into India. To further enhance my impression, I saw women working in the tea fields, exactly like what was shown in the movie. The women wore long, colorful skirts and bright head wraps and were piling huge bundles of tea leaves on their heads and heading down the path to a truck that was waiting for them. I marveled at their strength to work all day under the blazing sun.

As we continued down the mountain, we began to see more signs of civilization. There was a farm in the distance. I wondered what it would be like to live in this beautiful, green place. Shortly after the farm, we passed by a wooden shelter. An older woman was selling tea and rice. We stopped to rest and ordered food for our lunch. She was amazed to hear that we had walked all the way down from the crater of the volcano and said we were"'superwomen." I thought of the women working in the tea field and didn't think we had done much compared to them. The tea was the best I have ever tasted. It had a fresh quality that you could distinctly taste despite all the spoonfuls of sugar that had been heaped into the cup (tea in Indonesia is taken very sweet!).

After lunch, refreshed and reinvigorated, we continued our hike. Our hike had taken several hours and it was now late afternoon. We finally made it down to the bottom of the mountain, sweaty and tired, but full of happiness from our adventure. We hopped on another angkot and got acquainted with the noise and smog from the city. I immediately missed the fresh clean air and the quiet of the mountainside. The traffic was just as bad returning back to Bandung as it had been heading towards the volcano. We finally returned home and I headed happily to my hostel for a cold shower and a nap!

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