Ten tips for backcountry hiking in Indonesia

These guys offered Buckaroo Rob shelter when he turned up at 6pm at the top of Gunung Salak (2,211 meters, West Java) with no tent and sopping wet clothing. (Robert Webber/Indonesiaful)

These guys offered Buckaroo Rob shelter when he turned up at 6 p.m. at the top of Gunung Salak (2,211 meters, West Java) with no tent and sopping wet clothing. (Robert Webber/Indonesiaful)

All right, maties. Listen close and Buckaroo Rob will take you on a journey up and down mountains, treading across rivers, shivering in the cold of the mountain breeze. So you want to go it alone? Well, he’s got a few suggestions for you. Pay attention now, so you don’t get burned.

  1. Buy a tent. A short day hike can easily turn into an overnight jaunt, and you never know where you’ll have to camp out. Get yourself a tent, with mosquito netting and rain tarp attached (consult www.avtech-indo.com for a comprehensive, current listing of outdoor stores in Indonesia.
  2. Just do it. The best thing about hiking in Indonesia is you can go anywhere. You can cross rice fields. You can trudge through the jungle. You can walk through people’s backyards (sometimes). If there’s a mountain on the map, then there’s already a trail leading up to it. Actually, there are probably ten trails. Gunungbagging.com has awesome topological maps of all the islands in Indonesia. Pick a peak, plot a general path, and just do it.
  3. Be wary of national parks. In the United States, parks encourage camping, and they even construct spiffy campsites for people to stay at. In Indonesia, national parks mostly exist to gouge money from asing (foreigners) and close the mountain at arbitrary times. It is easy to dodge the national park headquarters. But some offices watch for headlamps on the mountain. If you are spotted, the police will come and demand a fat bribe (IDR 60,000 , according to a local Lombok guide).
  4. Follow the ridge. Mountains are surrounded by ridges, like the arms of a great sea star. If you are hiking backcountry, pick an arm and stay on it. In this way, you can avoid dangerous river valleys and stay clear of the thickest part of the jungle. All the established trails follow ridges. Ridges can also lead you from one peak to the next [consider the gnarly traverse from Salak I (2,211 meters, West Java) to Salak II (2,180 meters, West Java)].
  5. Watch out for rivers. When you’re planning your journey, take note of big rivers on the map. You can try swimming, but you may get caught in a current and lose your backpack with your father’s $50 headlamp in it. It’s better to meet up with the main road, take a bridge over it, and return to the wild thereafter.
  6. Pitch your tent wisely. Where do I pitch my tent? On top of a ridge, of course. Generally, Indonesians don’t mind if you walk through their backyard (just say “Permisi, bu,” – excuse me, mom – or “Permisi, pak,” – excuse me, dad – and flash a big smile.) They’re not as happy if you pitch a tent there. Actually, a woman might see you in the morning, scream like you’re a ghost or spirit, and then run away. The best place to pitch your tent is on top of a mountain, because there are flat places, and generally it’s uninhabited land.
  7. Be kind to yourself. bring chocolate and lots of coffee. Camping can be lonely, particularly if you’re camping on your own, particularly if it’s rainy and you’re mosquito-bitten and hungry and totally addicted to coffee but you don’t have any and it’s morning. Then, you start contemplating your life and what you’re doing in Indonesia and how you’re 10,000 miles from friends and family that care about you. Be kind to yourself: bring chocolate and lots of coffee.
  8. Accept hospitality. When you hike through villages, people will invite you to “Mampir dulu” – come into my house, drink coffee, eat cake, and chat with me for a while. Lots of people will invite you to “Mampir dulu.” After living in Indonesia, you get accustomed to saying “no, no, no.” But once a day, say “yes.”

    Buckaroo Rob on top of Gunung Rinjani (3726 meters, northern Lombok) at sunrise. (Robert Webber/Indonesiaful)

    Buckaroo Rob on top of Gunung Rinjani (3726 meters, northern Lombok) at sunrise. (Robert Webber/Indonesiaful)

  9. The monsoon season is no laughing matter. Even on a sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky, you may experience three hours of thunderous bathtub hiking. Do yourself a favor. Buy a kayak bag, and stuff your sleeping bag, cell phone, money, and book into it. You’ll sleep warm and dry, and your items will be secure (once, Buckaroo Rob carried his laptop computer in the outer pocket of his hiking bag – it was a $950 disaster).
  10. Hike with restraint. Spend a luxurious amount of time bathing in waterfalls and reading books in your one-person tent. Your life will be lovely, poetic, but a little sad. Perhaps it’s best to think of hiking like trimming your fingernails. You do it sometimes, so you’re more attractive to yourself and the ones you love. But don’t do it too often, because then your skin gets red and itchy, and you wonder what was the point?

About the author: Robert is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the small town of Parung, Bogor, in West Java.. Robert graduated from Brown University in 2012 with a degree in education studies. Robert has taught English to six-year-old children in Italy, and in the summers he works as a wilderness trip counselor at a girl’s camp in Wisconsin. He can be reached at robertjacobswebber@gmail.com.

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6 thoughts on “Ten tips for backcountry hiking in Indonesia

  1. Pingback: Reaching the summit of Mt. Rinjani for sunrise « Indonesiaful.com

  2. Also consider setting up camp on a soccer field. It’s public land, and you might get a lot of friendly visitors. 😉

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