Travelling alone is something you either hate or love. There is no in-between. I had never even dreamt of travelling alone before my very first solo mini-trip of 4 days. Little was I to know that this trip would lay a foundation that would turn into a sort of obsession over the next few years!
I take you back to April, 2006. I had moved to Jakarta, Indonesia a few months ago, had made several weekend trips with friends to the surrounding areas. I was already in love with Indonesia and wanted to explore more. There was a long weekend coming up, and all I needed was to take one vacation and it would make a nice 4-day getaway. Unfortunately none of my friends could get out that time, and I really needed to. So I bought a guide to Java, and hopped on a “travel” to Bandung. I took courage in the fact that I would never be more than a day-long bus ride away from Jakarta and could always head back if needed.
My plan was to stay a night in Bandung, then take a bus onwards to Pangandaran, spend a day or two there and take the scenic bus-boat-bus journey to Jogjakarta and a train back from there.
But when I arrived in Bandung I felt hopelessly lost. I had just gone from one big city to another (albeit cooler) one, and I was just not feeling it. So I dropped the plan of staying there and decided to move on. I arrived in Pangandaran late at night, and took a becak (cycle rickshaw) to one of the beachfront hotels. I checked into a nice 10$ room, but was feeling lonely, and felt that I had made a huge mistake. On the verge of depression, I forced myself to head out and find a place to eat.
I found a little restaurant in the corner run by a chatty young lady who couldn’t stop talking about her Austrian-Italian husband and how she didn’t mind that he slept around as long as he came back to her. I still remember the fried chicken with rice that I ate there. As I downed a couple of Bintangs an old Englishman waddled in, asking if his snake was ready. It was. The demonstration was fascinating to say the least. He slit the snake lengthwise, collected the blood in a glass and offered it to the guy, who downed it quickly, followed by a glass of red wine!
The next day I discovered that the boat route was closed because the water level wasn’t high enough. I guess I’d be stuck in P’daran. Not that that was such a bad thing! I rented a motorcycle and drove around, stopping occasionally for a cold Teh Botol (bottled ice tea) or Kelapa Muda (tender coconut). On my way to Green Canyon, I stopped for a while watching the kids surf at Batu Keras. The wind was in my hair and I was feeling on top of the world.
At Green Canyon, I needed to hire a boat, but it seemed to be a bit expensive for one person, so when I saw two guys headed to the counter I quickly approached them and asked if they would mind splitting the costs and joing forces. They agreed. One of them was Japanese and the other was his collegue from Bandung. We had a great time sailing through the Canyon, swimming in a cove and talking about how Japan felt so restrained compared to the free-spirited Indonesia.
We headed back to Pangandaran after a quick stopover at Batu Hiu (Shark rock), admiring the long volcanic black sand beaches completely devoid of tourists. Once there, the Bintangs started flowing once more and we had a great time, several Indonesians joining us on and off. Somehow I staggered back to my room at some ungodly hour of the night.
The next day the three of us went to the nature reserve, which was a real tropical forest, complete with all the sounds you’d associate with such a place. There were monkeys, deer, exotic plants and a flower that smelt like horseshit. We hired a boat to take us around the peninsula, saw fishing farms in the water that looked like something straight out of Age of Empires, snorkelled around a bit before the rough sea forced us to head back. I was on the verge of becoming seasick just before we reached dry land. Just in time.
The next morning I wanted to head back to Bandung, and I reached the village to see a great commotion. Last night’s rough seas had resulted in a great catch, and people were gathered on the beach, helping each other haul in their laden nets. On top of that, someone had caught a shark! The fisherman was justifiably proud of himself and stood posing next to his prized catch. I got on a bus to Bandung, bought a ticket on the train to Jakarta and was on my way back from a trip on which, though I went alone, I hardly had time to feel lonely, except for the first few moments of the first night. Solo travel was in my life for good.