Sense of discovery in Seloliman Nature Reserve


Published: August 8th 2023

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Tigers die because of their stripes… ~ Indonesian Proverb

Today we were travelling east from Yogyakarta to the Seloliman Nature Reserve– by rail and road.

After spending our final morning exploring the leafy neighbourhood of Brontokusuman (where our eco-focused hotel was located in Yogyakarta), we wandered back to our comfy room, grabbed our packs and checked out of Greenhost Boutique Hotel at 10am.

We jumped into a taxi and headed to Yogyakarta’s train station, where we’d arrived three days earlier in pouring rain. We made our way through the passport / ticket checkpoint and settled in a couple of spare seats in the crowded waiting area. Two young Javanese girls were sitting with their parents in the seats opposite us, and they were fascinated by Ren. When they asked for a photo, Ren happily obliged. The younger of the two (who was about seven) seemed to be mesmerised by Ren’s appearance. They were such a happy family. Coincidentally, they were waiting for the same train as us.

We picked up some local ginger lollies for the trip, gathered on the crowded platform as our train approached, then boarded our airconditioned carriage around 11:15am. It was a relief to get out of the heat. The

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train wasn’t as plush as the previous two trains we’d travelled on in Java, but it was comfortable enough. The track was also a little rougher, so we jolted and swayed a bit more.

As we eased out of the train station and started travelling east towards Mojokerto, the landscape changed quickly from urban to rural. Bustling suburbia disappeared and lush green rice fields and small villages began to dominate the vista from our carriage window. The sun was out and the sky was blue, which was so different from the menacing sky that greeted us when we arrived in Yogyakarta three days earlier.

The snack cart arrived minutes after we left the station, and we enjoyed a hot jasmine tea with sugar and a cappuccino. We were growing to love the hot drinks on Javanese trains. Unfortunately, this was to be our last train in Java. The remainder of our Javanese adventure would be by road.

We occasionally stopped at train stations on route to Mojokerto, including Klaten, Solo and Sragen (in Central Java) and Madiun, Nganjuk and Jombang (in East Java). As we left some of the stations, I noticed basic dwellings crowded together along

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each side of the tracks… a difficult life in a difficult country for those that subsist below the poverty line. As the track-side dwellings faded from view, the vista from our carriage window was monopolised by people tending rice fields in the searing midday sun. The rice fields disappeared into shimmering hills on the northern horizon and shimmering mountains (quite possibly volcanoes) on the southern horizon.

Nothing much changed as we passed into East Java, apart from the prevalence of teak plantations, rice fields and palm groves. Distant mountains began to appear on the northern horizon (our side of the train), while looming mountains towered into the clouds on the south side of the train.

We sampled a few local snacks on our train journey to Mojokerto, including:
> getuk (cassava flour, butter and milk) – a gelatinous sweet snack
> bakpia pathok (mung beans in sweet pastry) – a delicious pastry, although not quite as good as the bakpia pathok we sampled during our city walking tour in Yogyakarta.

At the start of this train journey, a young family of five had settled at one end of the carriage. The three kids were young, and

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it wasn’t long before the oldest (a young girl) was asleep. However, we weren’t so lucky with the two younger boys, one of whom was in nappies. They screamed and yelled the whole journey. At times there would be silence, but not for long. A blood curdling scream would tear through the carriage and shatter the silence we had been craving, and that we had cherished for such short periods of time.

After four hours on the tracks across Central and East Java, we arrived at Mojokerto train station around 3:15pm. We donned our packs, clambered out of our carriage, walked through the station, jumped into a minibus and headed southeast to Seloliman Ecolodge – our accommodation for the night.

This ecolodge is part of a volunteer-run environmental education centre in the Seloliman Nature Reserve, which is about a one-hour drive from Mojokerto. It is also quite isolated (in terms of its distance from shops), so we picked up some beer and soft drinks along the way. On arriving in the late afternoon, we walked through the sprawling grounds of the centre to our basic bungalow, which was named Pigeon Bungalow. The setting was extraordinary. We were in

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the foothills of Mount Penanggungan, which was shrouded in mist high above us. Its imposing presence was palpable.

Now when I describe our bungalow as basic, I mean ‘basic’ in every sense of the word. The shower and toilet were outside in the open air, with fabulous views of the mist-covered mountain. Round black tubes on our thatched roof provided sun-heated water, which we accessed via a shower hose in a blue tiled bath. Guests in the bungalows closest to ours did not have a direct line of sight to our airy shower and toilet, but their voices carried in the breeze. Loudly. A little disconcerting, yes, but liberating and invigorating at the same time.

The centre has been built with a very clear focus. Those who stay here are given every opportunity to engage with nature. It is a noble and benevolent enterprise. Our bungalow had old wooden furniture and a cumbersome mosquito net. It had a single power point and an extension cord. I was fascinated by our metal kettle with its encrusted heating element. My grandmother had a similar one back in the 1970s. I think they were outlawed after a few electrical incidents…

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The only thing that jarred the serenity of the place was the sound of motorbikes and cars passing within a few metres of the centre’s boundary. Yet even this seemed to disappear after a while. It was an amazing location, and I was happy to experience it.

As dusk fell, we made our way to Alas Restaurant (the centre’s open-air dining area) and grazed on a selection of dishes cooked by local volunteers. The dishes, which featured locally grown ingredients, included vegetable soup, beef rendang, tofu, bok choy (green cabbage) and perkedel (potato fritters). We enjoyed the dishes with rice, chilli sambal and dark soy sambal, and finished the meal with segments of mandarin and snakeskin fruit.

In the evening we watched a documentary titled Wild Indonesia. While the footage was old and the narration dated, it was interesting enough. The centre has an educational focus in every activity it offers. As a non-government organisation, it is heavily reliant on environmental conservation funds from other countries. In Java’s current economic climate, school groups and Intrepid Travel tours are keeping the place afloat. When COVID-related disruptions brought everything to a standstill in 2020, the centre kept its head above

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water by selling locally made products.

On retiring to Pigeon Bungalow, we clambered into bed (making sure not to disturb the beleaguered fabric of the mosquito net) and quickly fell asleep – it had been a long day of travel.

I woke early the next day and braved the outdoor shower. Surprisingly, the water had retained some warmth in the black rubber tubes on our roof, despite having had no direct sunlight overnight. It was fantastic to shower in the hazy presence of Mount Penanggungan, which loomed high above me. We made our way to Alas Restaurant around 7am and enjoyed a selection of breakfast dishes, including:
> pancakes (fluffy and thick)
> scrambled eggs
> toast (thick, buttered and lightly fried)
> homemade jam (papaya and pineapple)
> coffee (thick, strong and grainy)
> fresh fruit (papaya and bananas).

The centre was expecting 350 school kids from the Mt Bromo region (around 100-kilometres away), and they arrived en masse as we were preparing to leave on a guided walk around the reserve. They were fascinated to see us, and some wanted photos. It was great to see their enthusiasm, and it was heartening to witness the

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positive impact that an environmental education centre can have on kids.

With their excited screams behind us, we slowly made our way around the grounds of the centre. We walked through a variety of well-tended crops, including chilli, tomato, aubergine, lemongrass, cardamon, cinnamon and bananas. We then wandered outside the centre’s boundary and explored the tiny village of Seloliman. The narrow village lanes were reasonably busy. People were passing us on motorbikes, and some had large bundles of vegetation clippings tied to the back of their seat. We passed houses and tiny shops; we walked alongside rice fields; we walked through rice fields. It was a fascinating and very local experience, and one we savoured.

As we walked back to the centre through narrow forest tracks, I embraced the ambience and coolness of Seloliman. However, I was jolted back to reality when we arrived at a busy bitumen road that skirted the boundary of the nature reserve. On crossing the road and re-entering the centre’s leafy enclave, we made our way back to Pigeon Bungalow and enjoyed a warm shower in our outdoor bathroom.

Feeling very relaxed and rejuvenated, we settled at a table in Alas Restaurant

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for lunch. Prior to eating, we listened to a couple of local musicians perform a song on banjo and violin, and we watched on as our friendly guide prepared a traditional Javanese herbal medicine. There are several versions of this natural beverage, and its generic title is jamu. This particular version contained six ingredients – ginger, lemongrass, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and secang wood shavings. The wood shavings give the beverage its distinctive deep red colour. The ingredients were crushed and thrown into a pot of boiling water. After simmering for a few minutes, the aromatic mixture was strained into a pouring jug. We sampled it hot, and it was very refreshing.

We enjoyed the jamu with a selection of lunch dishes that (once again) featured locally grown ingredients, including vegetable soup with tamarind, mixed vegetables with chillies, fried chicken, tempeh and corn fritters – all served with rice, chilli sambal and dark soy sambal. We finished the meal with guava and bananas.

We’d enjoyed our short stay at the Seloliman Ecolodge, and we had grown to love the cosy and basic Pigeon Bungalow. However, it was time to move on. We organised our packs, dropped our keys and

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left the ecolodge at 1pm. We had a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Mt Bromo… in a minibus.

We left our hotel in Yogyakarta at 10am and caught taxis for the short drive to the train station. We were on our way to the Seloliman Nature Reserve. After having our train tickets and passports checked, we walked into a station that was seriously hot and stuffy. It didn’t help that it was super packed, and it looked like most of the people were waiting for our train. As we generally do at stations, we piled our bags together, and while some of the group went for a wander, others stayed with the bags. Andrew was on a mission to get me snacks for the train, and a few other members of the group were hunting for a coffee spot.

As a huge fan of anything ginger, I was delighted when Andrew returned with a bag of ginger lollies. They were as potent as they were delicious! On the seats next to us was a lovely local family of four, and I’d noticed that the two young daughters had been fascinated with our group. Sharing our ginger

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lollies with them was all the encouragement the girls needed to ask if they could have photos with me. The older girl was about 12 or 13 and spoke perfect English, and she explained that they were from Yogyakarta but going to visit family in Surabaya (where our train terminated). We see all sorts of human behaviour and idiosyncrasies when we travel, and it’s heartening when you see people who are genuinely happy to be travelling together. They were beautiful and well manner kids, and it was a pleasure to see their interactions with the clearly happy parents. I was also highly amused that the mother and the older sister had to take turns reminding the younger girl not to stare so openly at us. ????

Our train left exactly on the dot at 11:15am; and by now we were all genuinely amazed at how punctual the trains in Java had been. Susi (our group leader) explained that the drivers are fined if their trains are late. I don’t necessarily agree with this policy, but it certainly seems to be getting the desired results.

We were in executive class again, but this time the train wasn’t as plush

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as the others we’d caught. When the food and drinks trolley came around, we bought our ‘usual’ – jasmine flavoured black tea with rock sugar for me and a cappuccino for Andrew. From Day 1 our group had been very generous with sharing snacks, and while we passed around packets of biscuits and chips/crisps, Susi shared local bakpia pathok (a small round pastry roll with mung bean filling) that I love, as well as some getuk. Getuk is a layered boiled cassava sweet made with grated coconut, milk and palm sugar. These are all ingredients I love, but I wasn’t a fan of the gluggy texture of this getuk.

The train trip was supposed to take four to five hours, so we relaxed into the journey. We love train travel for its comfort and for the time to catch up on travel notes and picking photos for Facebook. However, this train ride was very shaky, and fine motor skills like using a mousepad or typing on a device was a lot harder with all the jolting going on.

As with our previous train trips, the scenery of rice fields and banana plantations were our continuous companions after we

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left the city’s urban sprawl behind. The only new entrants in the ‘what I spy through the train window’ game were the large commercial farming warehouses which we hadn’t seen in other parts of Java, and the increasing number of teak plantations the further east we travelled. The houses on the sides of the tracks were traditional one or two room dwellings with Javanese red pointed roofs, but there were also smaller humble dwellings which didn’t look like they’d fare well in a strong wind. ????

The rice fields were a combination of newly planted and fallow ones patiently awaiting ploughing for the next planting. I had always thought rice plantings were seasonal, but it seems multiple plantings are possible depending on the rain. I was a bit sad that this was going to be our last train trip in Java… we’d seen so much of the island through the train windows and as we’d enjoyed the trips so much!

We arrived in Mojokerto’s train station at about 3:30pm. We hopped straight into a minibus for the one-hour trip to our final destination in the hills. Well, it should have only taken one hour but we had two

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breaks on the way – at an Alphamart to use the toilet and buy soft drinks, and a longer than expected stop at a possibly dodgy place to buy beer. I assumed the beer place was dodgy purely because our driver asked us to stay in the minibus while he organised the transaction. Our ecolodge hosts for the night would be providing us food, but we had to bring our own drinks.

As we headed into the hills it became apparent how isolated the Seloliman Nature Reserve is. It sits on the slopes of the sacred volcano of Mount Penanggungan, and with dusk setting in, the landscape looked very enigmatic. The Seloliman Environmental Education Centre is in the nature reserve and has many roles, including running an ecolodge. Their ecotourism venture was right up Intrepid’s responsible and sustainable travel alley, and I love these slightly obscure and out of the way places Intrepid includes in their trip itineraries.

As we drove through the centre’s gates, we entered a lush green area with a handful of traditional open-sided buildings. We were directed to one of them, where we checked-in and were allocated our accommodation. The animal-named bungalows were spread

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out in tiers in a lovely tropical garden setting, and ours, called Pigeon Bungalow, was on the lowest tier of bungalows. We had been warned multiple times about how basic the accommodation was, and that it had an outside open-air bathroom. To say I was a bit apprehensive as we walked towards our bungalow would be quite accurate. On the other hand, Andrew is very comfortable with camping and roughing out, and wasn’t worried in the least. ????

Even though our bungalow was simple, the sheer charm and atmosphere of the small but functional double occupancy room made most of my apprehensions vanish. The bungalow had a small entry porch, and the front door opened into a single room with a traditional thatched roof and tiled floors. The room had two beds with massive mosquito nets draped over them, a small lockable wardrobe, and a tea and coffee station. Another door opened into a semi open-air bathroom and toilet.

Given the over-the-top emphasis on how basic these bungalows were, I guess they wanted to prepare our expectations for the very worst. So, I was actually surprised that we had the ‘luxury’ of electricity and running water! The rooms

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didn’t have air conditioning, but the air was a bit cooler up in the hills anyway.

We had a bit of time to get sorted before dinner, and I wandered outside to take some photos, but it had got dark very quickly. There was no doubt that we were in a jungle setting, but even through the dusky soundtrack of crickets and frogs, we could still hear motorbikes and cars from the nearby village of Seloliman. The definition of ‘isolated’ is clearly very different in a country that is so populous.

After slathering myself in insect repellent, we walked to the dining building where some of the group had already gathered with drinks. We didn’t have long to enjoy the cold beers and soft drinks we’d brought before it was time for dinner. The centre runs an organic garden, and most of our dishes were either from this garden or gathered from the local farmers. The cooks had also been hired from the village.

Our dinner consisted of a delicious vegetable soup, organic rice, beef rendang (slow cooked beef braised in coconut milk and a caramelised herb and spice mix), stir-fried bok choy (Chinese cabbage), perkedel (potato

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and meat fritters), and fried tofu. It was wholesome home-cooked food. The dessert was a simple platter of peeled mandarins and snakeskin fruit. We’d seen piles of snakeskin fruit in the markets in Jakarta, Pangandaran and Yogyakarta, but this was our first taste of it.

Snakeskin fruit is native to Indonesia, and we had been excited to try it… but unfortunately, none of us liked it! It was a little embarrassing, because we’d been telling Susi how much we wanted to try it, and I wondered if she’d requested it especially for us. The white flesh was slightly crunchy (similar to a raw cashew nut) and tasted sweet and sour with hints of apple. However, it had an astringent aftertaste and a smell of old socks. It really wasn’t pleasant. I had been very excited about snakeskin fruit because it’s very rare that we come across a product like this – that’s beloved in its home country but hasn’t as yet become popular in other countries. My disappointment was matched by a few others in the group.

After dinner we walked to another building and met the softly spoken manager of the Education Centre – Safi’i. He gave

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us a brief history of the centre and the nature reserve. The nature reserve started in 1990 with help from the Swiss based World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and with various grants from the UK, Australia and New Zealand over the years. They have 3.7 hectares of land, and have over time regenerated much of it to recreate jungle ecosystems. The centre’s main aim is to educate and create awareness about the importance of biodiversity conservation.

They’ve since branched into community farming and ecotourism, and manage eight bungalows, the organic farm, and a micro hydroelectric plant. They are now 100% self-sufficient, and even supply electricity to the mountain houses that the government can’t service. It was their 33rd birthday the following day (15th May) and Safi’i was rightly proud of their achievements. They must be doing something right, because despite setbacks like COVID, they have managed to keep operating.

After the briefing Safi’i screened an hour-long BBC documentary called Wild Indonesia. It covered all the essential wildlife in the wide-ranging Indonesian archipelago, and detailed how species have adapted to island environments over time. It was fascinating to hear that the main evolutionary differences between the orangutangs in Borneo

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(who are very large and move predominantly on the ground) and their Sumatran cousins (who have remained smaller and move around on trees) have been attributed to the Sumatran Tiger. The orangutans in Borneo didn’t have any natural predators, until us humans came along!

Even though it wasn’t very late when the screening ended, we were quite tired and ready for bed. We returned to our bungalow, and I had to face the only apprehension I had left – a shower in the outside bathroom. The angle of the bungalows made the semi-enclosed bathroom quite private, but I wasn’t totally comfortable with standing in a brightly lit space with total darkness staring back at me!

I knew that being in a jungle environment, I would probably have to deal with insects or animals of some sort in our bungalow, or more likely in the bathroom. Luckily, the only animal we encountered was an army of house geckos busily attacking any insect that dared enter their domain. I love geckos, and I love having them in our tropical lodgings for this reason. However, there had been an incident at dinner that made me thoroughly check the exposed beams of

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our bungalow when we got back. It seems that it’s not only geckos that lurk on those beams! While at the dinner table, a group member sitting opposite me had a rather awful scare. For some weird reason, a huge frog decided to ‘fly’ out of the beams and land on his head! It was a very high roof, so it would have been quite a heavy landing (and it definitely sounded like a heavy landing!). Luckily he wasn’t hurt, but it did cause quite an uproar at the table… shock and concern were soon followed by giggles, and then a lot of laughter! The loud ‘thwack’ sound of the landing kept ringing in my ears for quite some time. ????

Having survived my cold shower, I gratefully crawled into bed. However, I had to crawl right back out again when I noticed our mosquito net had a few holes in it. I always carry a few rubber bands (in my ‘you never know what you’ll need’ emergency pouch), and they fixed the holes up nicely. By now I was more than ready to fall into a deep peaceful sleep… but sadly it wasn’t to be. Despite Andrew having

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no trouble sleeping, I slept fitfully with the roar of motorbikes and the loud music from the nearby village waking me every now and again. It wasn’t until about 1am that I realised there was blissful silence, and I fell asleep to the beautiful melody of frog calls…and the occasional soft chirping from the house geckos on our roof beams.

Our alarm that morning was the very discordant calls to prayer which started at about 4:15am. They were in every key possible, and the one closest to us went for 45 minutes. I finally gave up trying to sleep through it and decided to wake up and do some writing. In the deep silence that followed the broadcast prayers at 5am, I was thrilled to hear distant monkey calls echoing through the valley. ????

Arriving in a location at night can sometimes give a misleading impression of the place. It wasn’t until the morning that I got a proper sense of our surroundings – it was even more beautiful than it had looked at dusk. And in a surprise turn of events, I decided that I actually really liked our outside bathroom. I appreciated it much more in

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daylight, especially after I realised how beautiful and relaxing it was to have a morning shower while looking out to Mount Penanggungan and the misty forest. In fact, our humble outside bathroom turned out to have a better view than our front porch did. It also helped matters that Andrew had discovered there was a trickle of warm water and I didn’t need to have another cold shower (I had been turning the tap the wrong way!). ????

We had a bit of a fragmented day ahead of us, with a long nature walk and lunch at the ecolodge before travelling on to our next destination. We prepared for it the best we could, then trotted off to breakfast at 7am. There was fresh fruit, thick toast, scrambled eggs, pancakes, house-made papaya and pineapple jam, and honey on offer. However, I wasn’t particularly hungry, so I settled for a cup of tea and a large plate of cut up banana and papaya drizzled with honey. It was all from the centre’s organic farm.

At 8am we joined Safi’i for a nature and village walk, and it was brilliant. We started in the centre’s organic garden, with Safi’i giving

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us a running commentary of all the herbs, vegetables and medicinal trees they grew. He explained how they started making jamu (traditional herbal drinks) with ingredients from their garden. It was a thriving part of their business, but had only come about as a way to survive without income from the ecolodge. The tomato plants were fruiting and Safi’i invited us to sample the fruit. They weren’t as red or glossy as home-grown tomatoes in Australia, but they were quite juicy… I wish I had some fresh bread, butter and a sprinkling of salt to really enjoy them with!

We kept walking into Seloliman village. We walked past rows of modest houses that were punctuated with fields of rice or corn, and plantations of bananas and balsa wood. The main mode of transport seemed to be motorbikes, which are used as much to transport families as for farming purposes. The villagers were very friendly, and there were lots of smiles and calls of salamat pagi (good morning) as we walked through. As with most villages, the small local shop seemed to be a popular place to gather. I have a theory that the ‘niceness’ of a place can be

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judged by the vibe of their domestic animals, and I’m happy to report that the cats in Seloliman were friendly. Although they were clearly unused to getting pats from strangers. ????

As a lover of bananas, I found it extremely fascinating that within the space of the first 100 to 200 metres, Safi’i had already pointed out at least four or five different varieties of banana trees. They all looked the same to me, but his expert eye knew the slight differences. Apparently, the fruit comes in different sizes, has diverse consistencies and varying levels of sweetness. Interestingly even though Indonesia has so many varieties of banana, I was yet to come across any in cooked dishes (apart from banana chips).

Safi’i gave us many insights into life in the village, as well as information on the farms we passed. He pointed to tiny plaques outside the older homes that seemed to have a hand with different fingers held up – this represented the number of people in the home. It was apparently to make it easier for the census collectors.

The rice fields we walked past looked so lush healthy. I was surprised to hear that

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the native variety of rice takes five months from planting to harvest; whereas the imported hybrid varieties only take three months. I can see the temptation to grow the hybrid rice and get a higher turnover. He also talked about the politics of land ownership and the complexities of irrigating the rice fields – the villages had to resort to setting up a management system to ensure fair distribution of water to everyone.

Even though the homes in the various parts of the village varied in size and plushness, they all had immaculate front yards and gardens. Growing orchids seemed to be a popular activity, with even the humblest houses displaying vibrant orchids along their front fences. It was a Monday and most of the children were at school, but the younger ones still at home were fascinated with us. Even though we tried our best to discourage them, two little ones decided to follow us. Safi’i didn’t seem worried but I got a bit concerned when they started crossing rice fields and waterways with us. Much to our relief we finally saw their mother racing after them. She didn’t say much, but the look she gave them was

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universal – it was the ‘just you wait ‘till we get home’ look! ????

It had been a cool enough morning when we set off, but walking uphill and through terraced rice fields on the way back was very hot and humid. I enjoyed the walk through the rice fields immensely! We’d being seeing them ever since we left Jakarta, and it was lovely to be able to walk freely through a couple of them. We returned to the ecolodge via a jungle track that was extremely fun to walk through.

We had been warned that the education centre had a few hundred primary school children arriving that morning, and we heard them before we saw them! They were everywhere and looked like they were having a very fun excursion. I couldn’t help but hope that a large proportion of the children took the message of environmental sustainability to heart.

We were thankful that we still had our bungalows to retreat to before lunch. Sorry to be graphic, but it was so nice to peel off my sweaty clothes after that humid walk. I thoroughly enjoyed a welcome cold shower (even the trickle of lukewarm water felt

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too hot)! On a related note, Andrew couldn’t believe how much my attitude towards our outside open-air bathroom had changed since we arrived the previous night! ????

Soon afterwards we said goodbye to Pigeon Bungalow and took our packs to reception, as Safi’i had one more treat for us before lunch. He was going to demonstrate the making of one of the traditional jamu herbal drinks. Indonesians put a lot of faith in their herbal tonics, and apparently there is a strong market for all the different kinds of jamu. Safi’i started by introducing us to the herbs and spices used – lemongrass, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and red secang bark. We’d seen all of these growing in the organic herb garden, including the secang tree (which is sometimes called Indian redwood and is native to tropical Asia).

All the ingredients were bruised, and everything apart from the secang bark was added to a pot of boiling water. After five minutes of a rigorous boil, the bark was added and boiled for a further five minutes. The secang wood has antibacterial properties, but also added a very attractive intense red colour to the liquid. The jamu was then

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strained and served in little cups. This particular jamu was supposed to be good for healing upset tummies. It was surprisingly very delicious, and apart from the secang wood, I could easily recreate this at home.

Having had a very light breakfast, I was very happy when lunch was finally served. There was a vegetable and tamarind soup, steamed organic rice, deep fried kumpung (village) chicken, sweet corn fritters, stir-fried tempeh in kecap manis (thick sweet and salty soy sauce), and stir-fried mixed greens (with cassava leaf, bok choy and shredded coconut). I’d been really loving the Javanese soups – they were always simple, but comforting and delicious. The rest of the meal was also nice, but all the elements were dry and it desperately needed something with a sauce to pull it together. For dessert we had beautiful red guavas and tiny sweet bananas.

Even though our short stop in the Seloliman Nature Reserve wasn’t quite the ‘ultimate jungle retreat’ it was advertised to be; it was a wonderful place to be surrounded by nature (even when having a shower!) and learn about the steps that are being taken to combat deforestation in Indonesia. In a way,

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this felt more like a pseudo village stay than a jungle stay. The close-up experiences we’d had of the local environment, local farming practices, traditional Javanese herbal medicine and the farm-to-plate organic produce we were served, are normally the sorts of insight and immersions we love getting in village stays. However, as opposed to staying in a homestay, we’d had the experience of staying in our cute little traditional bungalow.

After lunch we said goodbye to Safi’i and the friendly centre staff who had taken good care of us. We boarded our minibus once more and began our onward journey.

Next we travel south to the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, in East Java.


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