THE MARINE CORPS TRAINING GROUND
I would say that Mount Argapura is the 2nd least known in Java after Mount Raung, at least amongst the volcano lovers. Standing 65 KM east of Mount Semeru, the 3088 M high volcano was not frequently climb due to its remote location. Amongst the 3000 M+ Java peaks, its remoteness is 2nd only to the easterly giant Mount Raung. But more so because of its track’s stretch. All together, it is 59 KM and at least 4 long days trekking. Well, it could be 3 if you are qualified for Marine Corps special unit.
Surabaya – Baderan
May 21, 2009. From Surabaya to Pejarakan we rode a rental Isuzu Panther along East Java’s eastern half north coast. A light bolang-baling breakfast in front of a simple shop in Sidoarjo. Under the tree, the 3 of us ate the delicious bolang-baling after buying some water and sugar.
After a moderate speed drive crossing Pasuruan and Probolinggo we stopped at the famous Nguling Rawon Center. No doubt this is one of the best gastronomy junctions all over East Java. The es-dawet was at the right sweetness, concluding our lunch perfectly. No wonder pak Susilo, RI President, did not skip it when he was in the area.
Just a little while before Besuki we stopped for the famous legen. The drink is made of the essence from the palm tree flower stalk. Sweet and fresh, it turn into tuak after a few days. Tuak could make you a little stoned for its mild alcohol. So do not drink it when driving.
From Besuki to Baderan it was 45’ and the road was narrow. The Sumbermalang town was lonesome, then a little while further up the Baderan village. It was not dreary but quite small. We reported our mission to pak Susiono the hilarious PHPA officer and were granted a stay in the small but clean guest house. After a chilling bath and superb dinner we took the long night rest.
Baderan – Macadam End
Five thirty (5:30) A.M. in the morning when we completed the re-packing and went down to warung for the breakfast. Then by 6:00 sharp we rode 5 motorbikes to the end of the Macadam road. The 20’ ride saved us 2 hours but the negotiation with the narrow, meandering slippery wet Macadam was really an energy and mental exhaustion. The world motocross champion can not lift a finger against the hilarious motor-bebek riders.
Macadam End – Mata Air 1
The sky was clear and the air was cool when we started our hike at 6:50. The vegetable and tobacco plantations very soon disappeared and change to almost real woods. But they were small for being cut down once every while. You could not loose your way because it was only one path. And it was quite mild in term of ascent. But it confirmed already that the trek would be a long one.
Almost 2 hours later we spotted 3 colorful tents and there they were, the brave spontaneous young lads from SMPN Situbondo who later on were declared missing. That was Mata-Air-1 which has a water spring some 20 M down below on the left side of the path.
Mata Air 1 – Mata Air 2
An extended short break for we enjoyed the chats with our young friends, and then we continued to Mata-Air-2, the next post on the track. The woods along the path were sparse, but a little further away they were thicker. Around 10:45 when we encountered a 20° steep ascent. It was the Cemarapanjang (long pine) area, well known as the steepest part of the trek to Mount Argapura peaks from Baderan. Good thing that it was only some 30’ to overcome.
On the more leveled path we could see the beautiful waterfalls in the distance on our right. It must be some 2 KM away, for the falling water was not very clear. The 3 waterfalls were tall, I reckon they must be at least 300 M in height. Falling quite close (less than 50 M) one each other, the 3 stripes on the green cliff were just magnificent ……………….
The lunch with the nasi-bungkus from Baderan was delicious, thanks to ibu Bari. The 1 hour lunch break was actually a combination of the real lunch and a peek at the water-source at the gorge at the right of the path. It was at Mata-Air-2 less than 5’ away from our lunch spot.
While 2 posts distance is usually 1 hour on the other mountains, on Argapura it is around 2 hours. In the densely vegetated woods we saw some black monkeys jumping around from one tree branch to the other and communicating with their friends using their medium pitch voice. I screamed around copying the voice and for a while they responded. After a while they jumped away and then silenced. They knew we were different, but I think they liked our visit.
Mata Air 2 – Sikasur
Then a yellowish green spread of weeds. From the distance it looked like a rice field ready for harvest. The meadow was not so wide so we knew it was not the infamous Sikasur but the Alun2-Kecil (Little Square). The savanna was so luring we wanted to camp over there. But off course we did not because 14:25 afternoon is no way the time for camping.
Afterwards woods and savannas appeared one after the other. No wonder Mount Argapura is nick-named as the savanna mountain by some hikers. After the 5th savanna and woods we spotted a very large savanna and a little more upward, some dark solid shapes at the right side of the meadows. Downward we found out they were ruins of an old house made from bricks. I continued my walk while Phil and Alham checked the ruins.
A little further then the shelter stemmed amidst the afternoon mist over Sikasur. Very picturesque and pleasant to stroll across. I was surprised by the sound of the peacock wings flapping airborne. The sound was unique, because of their width and thickness. Sounded like a spring bed being hit with a thick stick. Down below there flew the river with the pristine clear water. The watercress (slada-air) was abundant, ready to accompany our early dinner. Put your feet in the river, and you will experience half the chill those marines bear when they were soaked in the river at 2:00 in the morning with full battle uniform for 30’. Then they directly march towards the Sicentor valley 3 hours ascending.
We ate our early dinner of nasi-bungkus with the watercress accompaniment. No wonder some hikers call Sikasur the hikers paradise.
Sikasur – Sicentor
The rest at the shelter was combined with a firework to warm our damp cold bodies. Phil strolled around the ruins close to the shelter and felt the existence of the spirits …………… Off we went to Sikasur crossing the savanna, woods, savanna and woods again. Then the semi-final approach to Sicentor, the narrow path with a deep ravine at the left. Slippery and unstable was the path, we slipped once and a while. The ravine at the left was more than ready to trap the uncaring ones. The final approach was a very steep slippery descent of about 75 M. At the bottom of the descent a small river was welcoming the tired and sleepy pack. Sicentor, what a nice feeling knowing we would sleep very soon in the warmth of the sleeping bag. The dinner was very light, some hot noodle with hot ear widening ginger tea. And then slipping into the warm sleeping bag.
Sicentor was nice in the morning although it was situated in a valley without open scenery. The sound of the river was loud and very natural. Very enjoyable for city boys. I chose not to wet myself in the river but ate the sweet havermuth breakfast with raisins. Afterwards we started the final trek to the peaks. Yes, peaks, because Mount Argapura has 3 peaks.
Sicentor – The Peaks
The trek to the peaks was not difficult indeed, nor was it very steep. It was gently sloping but meandering so making it lengthy. Thanks to the hectometer posts one every 100 M. No one would likely lose, unless by something metaphysical ……………..
The woods were bad because of fires in the past. Some big tree trunks were only black charcoal remains by the time. Some smaller savannas were in between them. The edelweiss trees were tall in Argapura, not like any mountains else. They were 2 meters and rich with flowers. Beware of the Fire Leaves. When you touch one it feels like touching an ember. Hot and painful you scream at once. The pain stays on your skin 14 hours. They were many on the ascending trek after Sicentor.
One hour 10 minutes later we arrived at Rawaembik (sheep marshland), a small savanna with an underground river or spring. The water was clean but we found an instant noodle plastic wrap in the mini pool. Not a good sign of preservation no matter who had left it there.
A little further the peaks were obvious and looked close from Rawaembik, but as like the trek before, it was meandering in circles so we needed 2:45 more hours to get to the last savanna just below the peaks. It was a beautiful meadow and really serene. Prior to it, the ascent was not very steep but the fallen tree trunks sometimes asked for backs bending. Like paying tribute to the nature it was. Some other climbers were resting over there, under the shade of the tall edelweiss trees. Idyllic place for poets, I would name it. However we also felt the magical atmosphere of the meadow.
The Rengganis Peak was at the right side of the savanna, over some 15’ of mildly ascending climb passing not so dense woods. At the end of the ascent there was a little edelweiss group that suddenly changed with the mountain grape bushes. Then the Rengganis complex was standing in front of us, a large stone hill of about 30 M high. There were some remains of stone fences, and on the very top there was an altar made of 20 CM stones. The worship must be intensive for we still saw cigarettes on the altar.
Fariz, our porter told us the locals normally put some coins into a hole beneath the altar. We did it, as well as rubbing our feet with the water from a 30 CM stone bowl. There used to be some statues up there but they were gone. Fariz said they were stolen. I tried to find ripe grapes to no avail. The birds must have eaten all of them.
From the Rengganis altar on the peak we could see the savanna below and over there in the mist, the Argapura-1 Peak that is to be the highest in Mount Argapura at 3088 M. So we did not stay very long and soon we found our easy way back to the savanna. Then turn left towards the Argapura-1 Peak.
Argapura 1 Peak
After crossing the savanna about 100 M we were directly welcomed by the steep ascent to the peak. The trail was not so clear, it was marred by fallen trunks and some soil drop offs. But the peak was quite close and obvious so we were confident to find our way. Half way we came across some trekkers coming back down. The trek to the peak was amongst the steepest at about 75° in some places, but in average it must be 60°. Fortunately it was short and precisely in 30’ we arrived at the Argapura-1 Peak.
The peak was quite vegetated with 20 to 30 CM pine trees. Again, there was an altar or looked alike, made of stones. Camping at the peak must be fine for the woods protect you from the wind. To the other edge of the peak there was a path to the Argapura-2 peak a little lower and some 200m away through a saddle, but we did not visit it. Fariz said the Argapura-2 was similar to Argapura-1 and the antiquities had been gone already.
After some pictures and drinks we went back to the savanna where Fariz were cooking our lunch of instant noodles and sausages. The lunch was hefty and very satisfying partly because of the hot coffee ending. The cold from the mist was compensated by the warm lunch. And there is a good thing about the Argapura Peaks complex. No littering like on the other mountains.
The Peaks – Sicentor
The descent to Sicentor was quick. We left the savanna at 13:30 and arrived back in Sicentor at 15:30 with a stop at Rawaembik to get some water. At Sicentor we took a rest for 15’, packed our stuffs and left for Aengkenik by 16:00. Before leaving we spotted our young friends descending the cliff to Sicentor from Sikasur direction. We yelled to them letting them know we left 4 cans of food.
Sicentor – Aengkenik
The path to Aengkenik was quite straight. Again we passed savanna and woods one after the other but the woods were more. The bushes along the path were thick, our trek was slowed down a little bit. The Fire Leaves were also abundant, some were very accessible if you want to try you skin’s durability. The descent was almost fully leveled, we gained the altitude loss very few more than 1 hour. Then the bushes cleared and when it was almost dark we heard the sound of the water flowing. There was it, the Aengkenik camp that was located in a little valley not so deep like Sicentor.
It was 18:00 when we stopped to camp in Aengkenik taking advantage of the water in the nearby river. The water was so pristine we drank it confidently. The night came quickly, the darkness was a little worrying somehow. Around the 3 tents camping area the fire-leaves were abundant. Must watch our hands not to touch them.
The dinner was hot and delicious after the long day trek of 11 hours up and down the peaks. I stuck my stick on the ground and hung the lantern on it to light the camp. At 20:30 we slipped into the sleeping bags in the tents and snored. It was almost midnight when I woke up abruptly because of a nightmare. My dream was so scary I screamed loudly waking up the other campers. I was hesitant of going to sleep again in fear of the dream-devil coming again into my dream. But 2 hours later my eyes were so heavy I did not care anymore ……………
Kundang, the porter immediately asked us in the morning if we had played with the hanging lantern and threw gravels onto their tent. The lantern blinked on-off for some seconds in the night and it was moved around the stick. When we said we had not, Kundang simply concluded it was “them” who played.
Aengkenik – Taman Hidup
Breakfast was quick and by 6:40 we left Aengkenik for Tamanhidup lake. The trek was not easy at all despite the rule that it should be descending to 900 M from approximately 2500 M. Soon after leaving Aengkenik, for almost 4.5 hours we climbed down and up many times such that we wondered if that was the right trek to Bremi. Never in other mountains we encountered so many ascents on the way down. And the trek was meandering all the times.
By 11:00 we stopped for lunch around Clapakan little plain. The lunch was warm and fulfilling. Then some laydown on out mats and feet drying. Our feet were so wet all the time the skin wrinkled and soft, they could easily be peeled off. The bushes were so dense sometimes the paths were covered totally, and they were wet so our trousers and shoes became wet all the time. Even Alham’s gaiters were wet as well.
Then by 12:30 we started again the descent that has become less arduous when we approached the Taman Lumut (moss garden). The high noon was not hot at all in Taman Lumut. That was because of the dense vegetation in the jungle. The trees were covered almost entirely by moss and lichen. The moss is good for herbal medicine and valued Rp.8000/kg in the town. Taman Lumut reminded us of a movie scene in the Jurassic Park.
The descent was nearly leveled we did not feel the strain on our thighs in the 3 hours trek to Taman Hidup. At least the last 2 hours were flat and meandering and the famous Taman Hidup lake seemed to move sometimes on our right and sometimes on our left. And then by 15:45 we arrived at Taman Hidup, the fish inhabited lake almost 2000 M high in Argapura west.
After the wide shady camping ground, to our eyes stemmed the hectares large lake with the afternoon thin mist on it. A perfect scene for a roman movie actually, despite the ankle deep wet marsh land when approaching it. The 20 M wooden pier was already a little bit dilapidated although still passable. The wooden planks were missing in some places you need to be careful to walk to the shelter on its end. But the place was really idyllic for a nature-lover-couple honeymoon. Two campers was camping on the wet marshland just facing the beautiful lake. They were frying the small lake fish for their dinner. We wished we had time to fish and fry like them. What a coincidence, they were the friends of pak Sukur, our friend at the Forestry Office in Tretes, one of the entry points to Mount Welirang and Mount Arjuna.
We decided to camp at Taman Hidup for it was already a little late to start for Bremi. It was already 16:15 and it takes at least 3 more hours to Bremi. Not to count the shower and the darkness that will certainly befriend us very soon after leaving Taman Hidup, for the trek will be along a dense woods. But more importantly was the thought of becoming slower on the wet and steeply descending trek to Bremi.
The night at Taman Hidup was nice for water was plenty. Not very clear but ok for everything. And it was somewhat warmer than the camps up there, off course. The camp site was not very clean but ok. We ran out of sugar but the hot tea around the firework is always great and rewarding especially when you have walked all day long. The smell of the woods and the burnt wood were not to be exchanged with any voucher to 5-star hotel ………….
Taman Hidup – Bremi
The morning after we realized that our count had been totally right. The descend to Bremi was one of the steepest and slippery trek we encountered. Really knee jerking descend, fortunately the woods were interesting, with some different kind of trees from the other mountains. Some black monkeys were still around, jumping away surprised by our marching steps. Overall the forest was still reasonably dense although not as dense as Mount Slamet’s.
Two hours later we came to the flat part of the descent, when entering the damar woods. Damar tree is tall and straight protruding up like pine tree but having different leave shape, wider like kayumanis leave. Damar tree resin is collected like they do with rubber tree resin. The tree skin is slit and the liquid resin is taken in small bowls hung on the tree. One of the resin uses is for violin string coating. Other than that, the dammar resin is good also for fine pottery surface coating. Although the trek was flat, it was also very slippery at the same time. After no fall during the 3 days up and down I fell on the ground on that final flat ground part. So slippery …………….
The 1 hour trek was not boring, thanks to the magnificent dammar woods with the unique fragrant smell from the resin. Vague but not to be missed. The suddenly we came to the woods end by 8:40 where the villagers plant tobacco, corn and other crops. Fortunately there were 3 motorbikes so we asked the bapaks to take us to the Bremi village. The passage to Bremi was the most difficult, I reckon, for it has so many branches. Strangers will almost certainly lose their way.
Directly to ibu Pudji’s warung in Bremi, I was just conscious that it was May 25, 2009. Very soon we found ourselves sitting on the wide open warung benches eating the superbly delicious hot meat soup. The coffee was also extraordinary and later on we learnt that it was freshly grinded from the locally harvested coffee beans. One of the best coffee I ever drunk, and I asked for 0.5 kg to bring home.
So, there were we, one by one washing ourselves in ibu Pudji’s ice cold bathroom, then sitting on the park bench organizing our bags. But actually we enjoyed more watching the villagers passing by on the sloping street of Bremi. Their faces were so peaceful and merry, God must have blessed them with the fertility through Mount Argapura’s ashes.
Argapura Team(left to right):
1) Phil Salvador
2) Alham Samudra
3) Handjono Suwono