November 1980, travelling with two friends. We took a becak (a brightly painted trishaw pedalled by a buff and sinewy crazy guy) south to a remote and wild fishing village surrounded by nationally protected forest and nature reserve. After the sensory overload of the cities and towns, we sank joyfully into the peace and beauty of that place.
The tourist industry was in its infancy; mostly local students. The trash culture and noise of tourist towns like Kuta and Sanur was absent. There was only the three-note song of cicadas in the forested peninsula, into which we immediately disappeared, hauling ourselves up slippery paths by grabbing onto tree roots. There was mud so squishy we had to abandon our sandals and go barefoot, purple crabs with red claws and giant red millipedes as big as fat plastic pens. Exploring one of these steep tracks, we found a large cave where we could climb down on a bamboo ladder into a Doctor-Whoscape of giant-fungus-elephants-trunk shaped stalactites. We could hear the drip-drip of moisture and bats squeaking far below somewhere, deliciously spooky.
Sometimes, exploring the jungly paths, we’d suddenly pop out into a stretch of unpopulated grassland with wild grey buffalo grazing.
(Photo from here)
We took another side track to the beach, not far from the village, with an exposed coral reef swarming with sea stars, sea cucumbers, bright coral snakes and fish. We followed the beaches and sharp, rocky headlands away from the village to a 60 metre waterfall falling from a sheer cliff covered in graceful vines and pandanus. Behind the next headland, we found the mouth of a river, with shady broad-leaved trees. This, and the waterfall, became our sanctuary for daily dozing and letter writing.
An even further beach, which we discovered on the last day, was tiny, with white sand and vicious surf, and so isolated we took our clothes off, because we were young and stupid. On the way back through the forest I found some very old-looking mossy stone carvings, a little shrine and a Komodo dragon (perhaps).
We even had a sort of surrogate mum there. Ibu Murad ran the Warung Nasi Ampera near our losmen. Ibu Murad’s language was cheerful and scatological. We learned heaps of useful Indonesian, such as Pakai Rata (same as usual) and Kau Babi! You pig! She talked to us by the hour in between cooking large amounts of the best food we had ever seen. She would serve up extravagant plates of fruit salad covered in grated fresh coconut, fried banana with more grated coconut, and her special, nourishing chicken soup with potatoes, as well as the more conventional fried noodles and Nasi Goreng. In between kitchen tasks she’d give us severe warnings about “playboys” from the cities and about eating magic mushrooms, if some wicked laki-laki should offer us any. In return for her hospitality we told any western backpackers we met to go there to eat, or else.
The place has stayed as a jewel in my mind. I have always wanted to go back there.
Its name was Pangandaran.