Halimun Salak National Park-Part 3
Why You Need to be Fit to Visit Citalahab
I was glad that we ultimately arrived at our final destination, Kampong Citalahab of Malasari Village at Halimun Salak National Park. From its entrance gate, our car moved downward on a narrow, rough, cemented road to the parking area. Feri, our host, warmly welcomed us at the small parking lot that was occupied by the cars from Jakarta and Bogor, as seen from their plate licenses. When I was stepping out of the car, I put on my jacket and felt stiffness on my shoulders. I had not been aware of it until my feet landed in Citalahab. I heard sounds of hard laughter from down below where the community’s houses were located. On Saturday night, Citalahab became a weekend getaway for some urbans.
The Ice-Cold Water
Citalahab is a small kampong inhabited by only about 30 families. The Kampong started to receive visitors in the 1990s when researchers were coming to explore the nearby forest. Researching for months, they stayed at the villagers’ houses. Some recent guests had uploaded their picturesque photos of Citalahab on social media which attracted people to pour into the Kampong.
Having an up and down landscape, the houses were located on uneven ground. Feri’s house was situated down by the river. We walked along the off beaten path, a small number of the houses still kept their traditional architectures–stilted and made of wood. Despite being secluded, the villagers didn’t have to go out of the Kampong to meet their needs for logistic stocks and groceries, as a complete store stood in the middle of the residential area. We were passing by the verandahs that were full of visitors, who–just like me–wanted to spend their Saturday night in Citalahab. Although situated right next to the forest, the atmosphere was thriving.
Arriving at our homestay, straightaway I took a seat on the carpet leaning my back on the wall and stretching both of my legs. What a relief! On the carpeted floor, glasses of unsweetened hot tea, sachets of instant coffees, and a pot of sugar were already arranged on the tray. Hot unsweet teas were common beverages offered to visitors at the houses in West Java areas. We were chatting with Feri’s brother, Indra, who worked for the owa Jawa (a primate) research project in the National Park. His information about the owas’ behaviour was fascinating, for example, their monogamous lifestyle. “Hopefully tomorrow you will see them in the forest,” Indra added.
Feri’s stone house was one of the 20 houses that served as homestays. For a couple of years, Feri has provided two bedrooms at his house for visitors. Erik, who coached the Citalahab residents to perform the hospitality, told me that the community was like a big family. They supported one another when visitors were showing up. For example, when a house was lived in with guests, the other family would be in charge of the catering. “This way the income is distributed among the villagers,” Erik added.
The guests’ bedrooms were clean and very basic. Seeing the thick mattress on the floor, I was tempted to lie down over it, but Erik told me, there was still one program to go after dinner. To refresh myself, I decided to take a shower. In the bathroom, the ice-cold water kept spilling from an unfastened faucet. “We keep the water running, it is directly taken from the water spring in the forest and is channeled by the pipe,” Feri explained. I asked the host for boiled hot water since I couldn’t take shower with ice cold water. “I won’t take hot water, I just want to enjoy the natural, ice cold water,” said Erik which astounded me.
Shining in the Darkness
After having a delicious Indonesian dinner that was delivered from the house next door, we prepared ourselves for the last program of the day. Erik and Feri were taking us to Cikaniki Station, which was about two kilometers from our homestay. They would show us a unique, natural phenomenon–a glowing mushroom, which has become an attraction for night walks in the forest. Setyo and I were already drained from a daylong riding, but we were curious to see the glowing mushroom. The headlights guided us along the stone road and after about a 15-minute drive, we reached a small complex of lovely wooden huts. Cikaniki Station belonged to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, where their researchers or guests could stay.
We hiked on a cobblestone path that led to the unlit forest, where the glowing mushroom was found. Our track was spotlighted by the flash coming from the gentlemen’s mobile phones, the only source of light. After marching about 150 meters from the Cikaniki Station, Erik asked us to turn off the lamps and look down. As soon as I was in complete darkness, I felt an incredible, rare sensation. And yes, our eyes slowly could notice some shiny little spots. At first, my sight needed adjustment. “Look further in the bushes, there are more,” he added. As my eyes were adapting with the total darkness, I was excited to see more bright tiny dots all over the bushes. For some time, I forgot the darkness and enjoyed the glow from the mushrooms. We walked some steps further and the glowing mushrooms were around us. I failed to take a photo of the glowing mushroom, because of the lack of lights.
The glowing mushrooms live on the trunks or branches of the dead rasamala trees. There is a chemical reaction between the mushroom and the dead rasamala trees that generates the bioluminescent (light emiting) phenomenon. “Interestingly, this phenomenon is only found in this area,” Feri, who is also a ranger, explained.
After admiring the glowing mushroom, I felt light raindrops on my head. Then, we decided to return to our car as none of us brought any umbrellas. In the car we still enthusiastically discussed the phenomenon of bioluminescence. “Tomorrow morning, we’ll leave at 5 to catch the sunrise,” Erik told us.
To be continued