Published: Garuda Inflight Magazine, June 2010
The Adventure Begins
Although the clock said it was still only 4 am, I couldn’t keep my eyes shut. I was too excited about starting my journey along Ujung Genteng beach later that morning. The first test came a moment later as thunderbolts roared and the drenching rain poured down without restraint.
Our basecamp and starting point was Ujung Genteng Beach, where there are a lot of places to stay – mostly cheap guesthouses and villas. The Warung (small shops or stalls) were our last chance to stock up on supplies because after setting off from this place there would be no other warung or villages along our planned route. There would be nothing but beaches, forests and hills. Our aim was to pitch our tent in Batu Keris Beach, about 30 kms away. And the next morning we were to return via a different route, shorter at about 17 kilometres, through the forests lying behind the beach.
“We can’t wait any longer. We have to start now,” said Petrus, our team leader.
At 8 o’clock on the dot, wearing our raincoats, we started trudging along the beach.
Conditions underfoot were firm because of all the rain and this helped keep my feet from sinking into soft sand. Remember, I had a 15 kilogramme rucksack on my back.
The going got heavier as we made our way along Cipanarikan Beach. The weather became hot all of a sudden and the drying sand turned soft and sucked at our feet. Each step was really heavy! Fortunately the view was lovely with the calm, bluish water and the wide, white beach. We stopped for a short rest here.
After we’d had our picnic lunch, the weather grew hotter. This meant I had to get ready for the next, more difficult challenge. Firstly, despite the high temperatures on the beach, I had to go easy on our already limited reserves of water. Secondly, Petrus already warned us that along the next section of the beach it would be very difficult to find any shade. Thirdly, the hot weather would make the sand dry and soft. This meant that the walking would be heavy going.
The Challenge of Karang Taraje
For more than two hours we braved the heat and the laden strides before we finally came to a rocky beach. The ground was more solid here so it was easier traverse. We walked quite a long way under the hot sun above that southern shore before we eventually arrived at cliffs with forests behind them. The rocks were quite tall and jagged. It was just like Skull Island in the movie King Kong. This was Karang Taraje Beach.
There was no other way to go except walking along the foot of cliff next to the crashing waves. For a moment, with the rocks so slippery and sharp, I wasn’t sure I was all that keen on taking this route. If I were to lose my footing, it would be catastrophic! Petrus told us that Karang Taraje in the local language meant “rock stairs”. Perhaps this was because the rocks here were tiered just like a flight of stairs.
All along Karang Taraje Beach I saw only rocks and not one bit of sand. Indeed, this beach is not suitable for swimming. Our path came to an end at an even bigger cliff than the first one. I had to cross a crevice using only two bamboo poles. With the help of several seasoned mountain climber friends I crawled up the side of the cliff. The sound of the dashing breakers below as I scrambled up the four metre tall cliff was a terrifying combination.
I needed to be patient here because we had to tackle the difficult route one by one. Behind the cliff I was relieved to see a plateau of rock that was quite wide and flat. From here I could see the shoreline of Karang Taraje. Although seemingly unfriedly, Karang Taraje beach was a captivating blend of the beauty and ferocity with its commanding cliffs lapped by the boisterous breaking waves.
Once past the shoreline at “Skull Island”, the beach became sandy again. And once again our feet began to sink. We took frequent breathers because of our heavy packs and the stinging sun. At one point the group was split but we didn’t let ourselves get too far apart.
The journey was getting harder because it turned out that we couldn’t keep up with the schedule we’d set ourselves. The day was getting on and we still had a long way to go and knowing that made me feel even more tired. It was true, I didn’t have to climb cliffs again but the flat route with soft sand and the sun beaming down was all a big challenge for me. We were exhausted and dehydrated.
We continued walking and rested often before finally reaching Ombak Tujuh Beach. The curve of this beach was also quite long, stretching almost 4 kilometres. There were no sharp rocks here. What I could see was only the horizon in the distance and the rolling waves that tumbled onto the edge of the beach. There were huge waves that allegedly could split into seven, or so they say, and this is how the beach got its name.
The journey following this stretch of coast seemed never-ending. I felt like I was walking across an endless desert. I felt like Brooke Shield in the film Sahara. Sweltering and relentless. The porter who was helping us to carry our food continued to comfort me by saying, “We are almost there, Sir, just one more turn.” As far as I could remember, those were his exact words almost two hours beforehand.
We often encountered waterways that we had to wade across. Their depths varied, some thigh high, others came right up to our tummies. What was clear was that to cross these waterways I had no choice but to hold my backpack up high with one hand.
Walking past bend after bend on the beach, there seemed no clear sign that we would arrive at Batu Keris soon. We had walked for eight hours and there still seemed no end to it. As we approached Batu Keris Beach, we turned right into the forest behind the beach.
The forest here was dense and almost untouched. The road started to climb slopes and then descend again. Several times we came across small stretches of beach and then plunged back into the forest again. After more of this up and down trekking, we finally arrived on a pretty big beach below a cliff. I thought that this was where we were going to make our camp. It turned out that Batu Keris Beach was still way off in the far distance. I could see my friends who were ahead of us. Our destination was still very far away.
Arriving at Batu Keris
Again we walked through small forests and for the umpteenth time we had to cross an estuary this time using using the two bamboo poles. Afterwards, we walked along a beach with wooded hills up on our right. After turning one more time, I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. We had arrived at Batu Keris Beach.
The beach was quite big and several parts of it had some coral. Just behind the beach there was a hill covered with relatively thick forest. On our right there was a cliff standing 10 metres tall.
The sunset was obscured by clouds that evening but just enjoying the crashing waves and the rustling of the wind was refreshing enough. The forest and the hills behind us made our camp really seem like it was completely isolated. There were no other signs of anyone else around except for us.
“The nearest village is 10 kilometres from here,” explained Petrus.
After savouring dinner to the accompaniment of the splashing of the sea and the chattering crickets, I immediately slipped into a deep slumber. Both my legs felt sore from walking for nine hours along the sea’s edge while carrying that heavy pack. However, our challenge was far from over. At 3 o’clock in the middle of the night the rain lashed down on us and, with a strong wind buffeting too, my tent began to leak.
So, in the morning I had to take everything out of my backpack and dry it in the open. The rainbow that appeared near our camp made the view even more beautiful. The waves were not so big and the spectacle of the rows of rough coral caught by the sun’s rays accentuated the ferocious side of Batu Keris Beach.
Although flat, and in places sandy, swimming here was not recommended. Coral reefs were scattered everywhere including close to the beach and further out to the sea too. Because it was almost untouched by visitors, I was able to enjoy this natural beauty. Moreover, as we were told, the nearest settlement was 10 kilometres away. One thing that was guaranteed at Batu Keris Beach: it was free of peddlers and hawkers!
The Adventure is (not) Over
We should have started our journey home at 7 am. However, because the supply team had been delayed by the torrential rain and unable to reach our camp in time, our journey back had to start without breakfast. At 9 am we hiked back into the forest behind the beach.
“The forest route is shorter than the beach route,” our porter said. The beach route was 30 kilometres while the forest route was only about 17 kilometres.
It turned out that the short route wasn’t all that much easier. The rain that had been falling mercilessly since dawn had turned the narrow track into treacherous mud which made walking a real hassle. At one point I even sunk calf deep in mud. In the end I decided to go barefoot.
The muddy, sloping track saw me slipping over and over again. Several times I had to endure the agony of stepping on thorns. It was a no win situation because putting the shoes back on made it more slippery and difficult to walk. Travelling through the forest turned out to present its own challenges. The trees here was not as dense as they were in the mountains but there was a lot of coarse, face high grass and the path was narrow and mucky.
Meanwhile, the weather continued to overheat us, making the journey in the forest just as scorching as it had been along the beach.
Unforeseen circumstances made this journey feel never-ending too. The failure of the supply team to get to our overnight campsite, the unexpected natural conditions in the forest and the extreme heat, had resulted in our water running out prematurely. When we had to cross another river by walking along a very slippery tree trunk, it was very hard for me to concentrate. Luckily my friends kept encouraging me.
Several kilometres from the first river, we had to wade across another one whose current was swifter. This time we didn’t have a tree trunk but had to go into the water. This was better than crossing on that tree trunk. Splash!! We all jumped into the river.
When we had finished enjoying the refreshing water of the river, some of us thought we could not go on walking because we had run out of drinking water and we still had 10 kilometres to go. In the end we asked our porter to find motorbike taxis in the nearest village.
A few minutes later, a whole gaggle of motorbike taxis turned up to take our weary bodies home. Travelling on a motorbike in this area was also a unique adventure. Going uphill and downhill on slithery roads, through forests and tall coarse grass and past plantations, was all an unforgettable experience. As we went went over one hill I happened to see a stretch of coconut plantation on a hilly area with the sea as the backdrop. Very beautiful!
By 3 pm we had arrived back at our starting point, Ujung Genteng Beach. While resting, we ate our lunch and kidded around. Our adventure was complete although in the end we hadn’t been able finish it on foot.