“If this thrilling, often heart stopping drive to Ujung Genteng is the yardstick for the type of adventure that we will encounter there, then we are in over our heads”, I brooded, shaken with worry as our huge nine-seater rented car snaked dangerously through some narrow and precipitous winding mountain roads with barely enough space for two vehicles. Most drivers were on a speeding hurry, seemingly oblivious to the fact that one miscalculation will tip the car and everyone in it down the ravine. As I recall that cliffhanger of a drive past tea and rubber plantations, farms, rice fields, mountains, bridges, rivers, towns, forests, valleys, and beaches, I couldn’t help but heave a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks for escaping unscathed both ways. Risk averse folks like me prefer to watch thrilling drives on James Bond movies. The seven hour journey to Batu Besar Losmen, our accommodation for our three day, two night adventure with the group Go Wild Indonesia, ended at 1:30pm when we finally drove into the ample parking lot of the resort located at Ujung Genteng.
A breezy place with basic accommodations and no facilities but a big outdoor area where we can walk or light a bonfire, Batu Besar scored high on authenticity of experience. Simplicity is beauty and we loved it. Around us were fields of green. A long table laid on the grass signaled that all 16 of us will be dining alfresco everyday. And our lunch, composed of rice, one meat dish, one vegetable dish and fruits tasted excellent. The sun shone brightly yet we did not feel the heat. The sea breeze cooled us down. It felt refreshing and energizing to be out in the open, with no pollution, traffic, nor noise. We relaxed as our eyes wandered into the distance and took in the soothing colors of nature. To dine under the sky, feet on the soil, eating organically and chatting with our family and 11 strangers pleased us to no end. As for our accommodations, our family of five shared a clean airconditioned room with five comfortable single beds and an ensuite bathroom.
After a nice leisurely lunch we were ready to swim. We walked for five minutes and sighted the beach. It stretched far and wide, no building in sight. And we heard the sea. Thundering, its mighty waves crashing on the sand, supremely powerful, like wild galloping horses.
We ran towards the sea. As we entered, the waves lashed at us like whips. I tried to get out but could not stand up as I was caught in a whirlpool of water. I must have been a funny sight for I was barely knee deep in water. The water roiled and I kept falling, I just couldn’t keep my balance to stand up. Finally my husband pulled me out. The currents were strong so we didn’t swim but we played running games and our boys jumped in and out of the shallower water, under our watch. Parents should keep a tight watch on their kids whilst they are playing on Pangumbahan beach.
These conditions may be detrimental for safe swimming but it is perfect for nesting turtles. Pangumbahan Beach is known as Turtle Beach because hundreds of Giant Green Sea Turtles nest here throughout the year. They haul themselves on the sand every evening to lay hundreds of eggs. The government has declared the area a protected zone and built a turtle sanctuary to ensure that the eggs that are laid are relocated to the sanctuary, incubated, hatched and released towards the sea 45 days later. The Giant Sea Turtles are an endangered species and many steal their eggs for commercial use.
At 5:00pm we returned to the beach to watch the wardens release hatchlings to the wild. They allowed us to put the baby turtles on the sand and take photos of them waddling towards the sea. It took a few minutes of walking before they finally reached the water and the waves carried them to the deep. We learnt that male turtles will never return to the shore while female turtles will come back to Pangumbahan Beach to lay eggs for the first time in 25 years and again every three to four years. If a female turtle is able to survive, mate regularly, reproduce successfully and live for a hundred years (their life span), it will return to Pangumbahan Beach 19 times during its lifetime.
At nine pm we came back to the beach to watch mommy turtles lay eggs. Both man and turtle journeyed from afar for this moment. After an hour of waiting, a warden alerted us about a nesting site but requested not to shine flashlights nor take photos with flash so as not to disturb the turtle while digging or laying eggs. We followed him towards a secluded corner, and under the cover of a tree lay a busy turtle using its flaps to remove sand and dig. We watched and listened at the sound of its digging. Apparently the mommy turtle will dig for about four hours and waddle back to sea. The next morning we saw a few fresh turtle tracks along the length of the beach.
While most of the group woke up at 4am to take a four hour walk to a secluded white sand beach, our family opted to take a 1.5 hour paddle boat trip to an estuary that bordered the Cikepu National Forest. We didn’t wake up early and by the time we left the losmen it was after 8am. We were driven to an area where the river met the sea. The sight was incredibly beautiful! Raging waves on a totally pristine beach on the left and the sparkly river and lush forest on the right. The sound of crashing waves on one side and the quiet ripple of the river on the other. Blues skies and white sand. Green trees and the brown river. Wow! We felt so lucky to be alive and to experience such natural magnificence.
But when I saw the small blue wooden paddle boat that would take all five of us plus one boatman, my spirit sagged and I questioned, “Will it be safe?” Unsure about this new adventure but thinking that my husband and boys could swim very well, I stepped into the boat even if we were not provided with life vests. This is the year of living dangerously.
The river was not mighty as I feared, but narrow, slow moving and stable. Not once did I sense that our lives were in danger. We didn’t see many birds because we arrived late. Nevertheless, we all appreciated the peace and quiet that we felt during the mangrove tour. And towards the end of our ride, when we were no longer expecting any sighting, we caught a glimpse of a whitish grey owl perched majestically on a tree branch. I looked straight into its wise eyes and hoped that it sensed that I was saying thanks for gracing us with its presence. It is a rare occurrence to see owls in the wild.
In the afternoon we drove for about an hour to reach the mud bat cave owned by a farmer at Gunung Sungging. We took a 15 minute walk past paddy fields and ponds to the cave. The caverns and mud sculptures looked eerie and very interesting.
In the evening we savored a meal of chicken barbecue, rice, and vegetables under the stars. The dinner prepared by the cook tasted simple and divine. All the dishes we ate at Batu Besar exceeded our culinary expectations.
We made a big mistake on our third day. Instead of leaving before 9:30am as advised by our tour leader Nick Andrews, we woke up late and decided to stay longer so that we could play in the beach. Due to the stronger waves and currents, we aborted our plan and went back to the losmen. It was already 11am by the time we left. As a result, our six hour drive home turned into an 11 hour crawl due to the horrible traffic in Sukabumi and at the toll roads. Lesson learnt: trust and follow your tour guide.
Our Ujung Genteng excursion stands as one of our most adventurous family trips ever. It also embodied some of our best experiences in Indonesia: seeing wildlife, living simply and one with nature, playing on the beach, trusting the experts and our driver to keep us safe, eating delicious home cooked food with few ingredients, and spending priceless family time outdoors.
In Ujung Genteng, simple is beautiful and beautiful is simple. It can’t get any better than that for a two night three day family adventure.