Experience real Indonesian life in Cianjur, West Java

By Jennifer Waring
“The Pecak Pass is the busiest country road in Indonesia” our homestay host told us proudly. But we’d already worked that out. After a gruelling four and a half hour ride in a winding night-time traffic jam, we had arrived at a Bamboo hut, in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black. Our driver, who spoke no English, showed us our room and left us. We could have been anywhere. Luckily, we were in Cianjur, Indonesia because the next day we awoke to this:
volcano view from Cianjur

We stood on our little bamboo balcony and wondered about breakfast. We didn’t have to wonder long because we were soon brought a delicious breakfast of rice, egg and tofu in a banana leaf by one of the local homestay staff.
We met the Dutch couple who were staying in the hut ajoining ours and it was decided that we would go with them and two other homestay guests to visit a traditional village. The guide that took us to the village was another local. He seemed genuinely interested and passionate about the area and showed us many interesting plants and trees on the way which I would have walked right by never knowing what they were.
boiling sugar at Cianjur in Java
After a short but hot hike we reached the village itself. We refreshed ourselves on coconut juice and syrupy palm sugar whilst the village ladies showed us how they boiled the sugar in a hot vat and poured it into bamboo tubes to cool.
We then sampled a variety of local dishes for lunch. They were things I’d never tried before but my favourite was the Jack Fruit Curry. It’s sounds strange but the jackfruit is chunky and fleshy and not at all sweet once it’s in a curry. It’s an excellent meat substitute. There was also tempeh and a variety of other fresh, local produce. After lunch there was time for a massage and a nap before we had to head back. We were dropped off at the main house were the homestay owner lived and we sampled yet more delicious, vegetarian friendly local food including some sugary, coconut rice cakes which definitely tipped me over my already nearly saturated sugar allowance for the day.
traditional lunch at Cianjur in Indonesia
The next day we went with the Homestay owner’s wife to a market where we had a tour of different local produce and caused a stir amongst the local people. Despite being in the Lonely Planet, Cianjur is genuinely untouristy and our novelty value reflected that. Apart from the others who were part of the programme we didn’t see any other foreigners at all.
After the market we visited a floating village on Lake Calingling which had been formed by the impressively resourceful residents when their land had been flooded to make a reservoir a few years early. We were treated to 'fish therapy' e.g. putting your feet directly into the fish farm to have them nibbled. There were different size fish depending on your level of ticklishness. I wouldn’t recommend starting with the large-mouthed ones! We then went to see fresh cacao growing and rowed a little boat around; to the great hilarity of the locals.
On our final day there we visited a tea planation which, after the heat of Cianjur, was refreshingly cool and green. We learnt how the workers gather the leaves, sort them and about the different types of leaves they grow.
tea plantation in west java
After the tea plantation and another delicious homestay lunch, we went to a rice farm to learn about their organic farming methods. My partner and I discovered that we were particularly inept at both planting and ploughing. And I learnt that an afternoon standing knee deep in mud is not my idea of fun, especially when wearing all white. It was interesting to learn about local efforts to encourage farmers to turn organic and if muddy buffalo rides are your thing then this trip is for definitely for you!
Cianjur Homestay is a great place to stay if you want to escape the metropolis that is Jakarta. I have friends who told me that Indonesian food was nothing to rave about but that definitely wasn’t the case here. Considering myself to have a fairly extensive knowledge of world cusiine it was refreshing to sample new things. The bamboo huts are basic and you’re definitely close to nature (there was a bee nest on the roof in the next room) but the views and the experience are worth a couple of nights shaking up with the insects. It was also the closest I’ve got to a genuine local experience anywhere in Asia.

WRITER FRIENDLY: 3/5 (nice and quiet with a lovely balcony and view but there is only one plug socket inside the villa)

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