A few days after my arrival to Central Java I only hardly found some time to write. Oh yes, what am I doing in Indonesia? Well, the story of my arrival here is long and complicated. I wouldn’t be I if I wouldn’t complicate things a bit though.
Normally a person decides to go on a vacation somewhere warm, buys a ticket and just leaves. My decision to go to Indonesia is a product of many of my different interests. First of all I love whitewater kayaking. Creeking, big water, freestyle, you name it, I dig it. I also like teaching kayaking a lot, especially people that are keen on learning. And last but not least, I like meeting new people and am widely open to and curious about my interaction with different cultures. After all I did study social anthropology and cultural studies, which I am quite passionate about. That is why I just go crazy if I don’t travel for a while.
It has been a year since my last bigger travel and afterwards I was just too busy to do anything special again. About six months ago I started daydreaming about visiting Indonesia for a second time in my life, this time with a kayak. I found a group of local Javanese enthusiasts on the internet, called Tirtaseta. Their blog posts and internet presentation got me thinking about organising a bigger expedition of European kayakers with their help. The idea was to help locals with our knowledge, to pull some connections and bring them some sponsorship gear, to embark on first descent missions with locals and do a promotional video about the whole thing. Needless to say no one would become a loser in such a scenario. Unfortunately it got complicated with raising sponsorship money, even though kayaking community was keen on helping. The thing then got delayed a few times, I got more nervous and nervous and at the end we had to cancel the team thing. I wasn’t willing to give up at this point though. I bought myself a plane ticket, raised some gear and, well, here I am.
I was maybe a bit too fast buying a plane ticket and didn’t think about alternative options enough as I ended up traveling about 50hrs until I got to Yogyakarta. Luckily Tirtaseta guys came for me at the airport. Toto, a Tirtaseta founder and a pioneer of Indonesian whitewater kayaking, alongside Puji, an enthusiastic kayaker and one of the kindest people I ever met, relieved me of my 40kg baggage and escorted me to their van, driven by their relative. They first brought me to a few months earlier erupted volcano Merapi. Even if I was extremely tired, the views of burned land and houses had affected me a lot. But even though people lost most of their belongings, they kept the faith and will to life. None of them seemed to have given up as houses were being rebuilt and most people kept smiling and saying hello to us visitors.
Our next stop was Toto’s Yogyakarta home. His wife, children and the rest of his family welcomed me with kindness, a fantastic meal and gave me a bit of a positive upset before continuing our journey. The centre of Tirtaseta activities is in Purbalingga, a small city as they call it (with roughly 1 million inhabitants in a broader area), located who knows how far from Yogyakarta. I just know I fell asleep a few times while driving and that we drove for more than 5 hours. When we arrived I was introduced to the rest of the Tirtaseta crew. Sigit, Tomo and Nafi are all kayakers, while an important Javanese journalist also named Toto welcomed me among them too.
It didn’t take long next morning until I knew quite a few funny and interesting stories about Tirtaseta club and their history together. I was mostly impressed about how Toto, a former flatwater kayaker not too long ago decided to become a whitewater kayaker, even though Indonesia had no tradition in this sport. He learned some basics in New Zealand, bought some gear and started the club. In about three years of existence Toto taught a number of other Purbalingga locals how to kayak.
But we had no kayaking in plan this day. The room they gave me has a picture of a perfect 11m waterfall on the wall. It has been bothering me since my arrival at night and it very much cheered me up when they told me it was only about 20min driving away from our home. They decided to drive me there after breakfast. Man, was I excited to see it in perfect jungle surroundings. Unfortunately its lip broke off and it wasn’t so perfect anymore. The entrance was now tricky and the last time they were checking it there were still some rocks at the bottom from the break-off. There was no sign of them now, but we will still have to wait for some higher water in order to make a descent safer. Even though it hasn’t been descended with a kayak yet, Sigit has a great anecdote to tell about his unintended first swim descent. You’ll be able to hear it in a video interview I gave him.
After a great day of getting accustomed to the area, guys took me kayaking next day. Their local Kalawang River is mostly an easy 2 – 3 level whitewater with just breathtaking tropical scenery. Nature impressed me a lot, but so did kayakers. Modest as they were about themselves and the fact that they were mostly self thought, in a period no longer than three years, made me believe their knowledge will be limited. But in fact I couldn’t have been more mistaken as most of their stroke techniques are near perfect and even advanced moves like flatwater loops were no obstacle for some of these guys. I guess I need to respectfully honour Toto as a great teacher who in short period thought these youngsters to become even better than him. Keep in mind he is quite a good kayaker.
Knowing these facts and seeing the nature of some (now unfortunately too dry) creeks in the area just made my expectations much higher as we have some very promising first descents to do in the next weeks. But before we do that I have kayak teaching and river rescue courses to do with these guys. You can expect more updates and photos in next days.
As Tirtaseta guys are really proud of their Javanese culture and traditions, they are also driving me around sightseeing. Here are some of the pictures from local traditional market. We came there at about 5:30 a.m. and nearly missed the whole thing. Yes, Javanese like to wake up early. The pictures were taken at about 6:00 a.m., just before they started to clean things up. Enjoy!