Text by Krystyna Krassowska
Pak Ajat is looking upwards, as if seeking something. We slow to a walk, our blue trekking poles clattering to a stop along the rocky trail, watching in silence as he reaches up into dense foliage. Gently retrieving a bright green leaf, Ajat crushes it between his thumb and index finger, calloused from a generation of farming these highland fields.
An aromatic scent wafts across, all-enveloping. Senses at once awakened, we whisper in wonder as to what this familiar scent could possibly be. Ajat is smiling, his calm demeanour encouraging us to discover for our ourselves. A moment passes, as if we are suspended in time puzzling over this sensory riddle. “Cloves!!” Henrietta cries out, more an astonished question than answer. “Cengkeh, betul… cloffess”, pronounces Ajat, his Sundanese-English shining through a wide grin.
Passing round the young clove leaf, sniffing ourselves almost silly, we move on along our trail, at once aware of the hundreds-of-thousands of young flowers budding around us in the trees, to be harvested as the valuable cloves crop by Ajat and his fellow villagers in just a few months’ time.
WIDE HORIZONS AND WELLNESS ON TRAIL
We are in the midst of a private half-day trek in the Sundanese highlands of Sentul, just a 90min drive from Jakarta. After months enduring the confines of four walls and screen-time, an endless tunnel of coordinating, cajoling and cleaning, our walk in the deep iridescent green and wide horizons is a welcome shock to the system. If, as mega-city urbanites, we were not already aware of our core human need for nature, earth and the elements before the pandemic struck, then after months of uncertainty, confinement and overtime, we are most certainly aware by now.
The feeling you get on trail is immediately transformative. You are at once grounded - literally earthed – through our feet, up our spine, into our soul, calming the mind. Moving on foot along the earth and stone trails, whether at a walk or a run, you are immersed in a kaleidoscope of colours and aromas. Movement over terrain with the breeze swirling and the sun shining in your face awakens a chemical reaction – it is food for a sensory-starved body and soul.
This is the pure joy of a journey on trail – it is both an inner expedition, a physical exploration and a re-discovery of all our senses. We come alive, moving with the elements in sun wind rain, grounded and being In The Moment. We learn from locals and reconnect to landscape. We benefit immensely and if we take to the trails responsibly, we can ensure that local communities and the environment benefit as well.
TAKE TO THE TRAILS RESPONSIBLY
As more discover the joys of hiking and being outdoors, we must also be aware of the impact our visits may have on local people and environment, and of the risks, we need to manage hiking in rural and wilderness areas. In short: Know Before You Go. Growing up in a city, we are often not sensitized to the risks, for example, “just on a day hike to a waterfall”, especially in the rainy season, where rainfall upstream can result in sudden rise in water levels downstream. To avoid the unnecessary, best to leave the waterfalls and steep volcanos for the dry season and instead explore low ridges, fields and forests.
Hiking on trails during the next few months will be deliciously fresh, from afternoon and nightly rainfall, however, you must ensure your private group is capable and fit to undertake the hike, prepared for slippery conditions and equipped with footwear, water, food, rain gear and a sense of humour. Make an honest self-assessment of your ability to undertake a trail. To help you make a decision, ask your provider for a trail profile, with difficulty and fitness level ratings, and a realistic estimated distance and time they expect your specific group to take to safely undertake the trail. Ensure that you are not pressuring the provider or the guides to do something they do not recommend you doing, given weather conditions on the day may evolve.
When you take to the trails, “pack out what you pack in”. Anything you bring on your hike you should bring out with you again. For the international principles of Leave No Trace, see www.lnt.org. Rural communities often do not have the infrastructure or institutions to manage waste, so rather than burden villages with our rubbish, we should not only lead by example but also empower local people with waste management solutions.
Rural communities who live and farm in high conservation ecosystems such as Sentul’s Ciherang River watershed where Pak Ajat farms and has been guiding with idGuides since 2009 have a valuable role as environmental stewards. Their trails are a communities’ eco-tourism assets, which if responsibly managed and revenues are re-invested carefully back into communities, can provide conservation-based livelihoods and a green economy from trail tourism.
Our spirits sour as we round into Acacia Camp, where Pak Ajat has promised us hot lemongrass tea! Cupping the warm fresh tea, we reflect. Tracing our route in the expansive views of the Ciherang watershed ridges before us, we reflect on our exhilarating half-day horseshoe hike, smelling our way through the coffee blooms and clove farms, feeling the sticky pine resin of the pine forests carpeting the valley floor, and the mesmerizing glowing green of the padi fields. A sensory journey for the soul.
Krystyna Krassowska is a professional expedition leader, sustainable development advisor, and co-founder of idGuides, a social enterprise developing Indonesia’s community trail ventures and community trail guides, linking to responsible trail tourism markets. www.idguides.net IG @idguides