A few days after my arrival in Central Java, I hardly found some time to write. Oh yes, what am I doing in Indonesia? Well, the story of my coming here is long and complicated. But, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t complicate things a bit.
Usually, a person decides to go on a warm vacation, buys a ticket and simply goes. However, my decision to go to Indonesia is a product of many of my different interests. First of all, I love whitewater kayaking. Creeking, big water, freestyle, you name it, I dig it. Second, I also like to teach kayaking. And lastly, I enjoy meeting new people and am widely open to and curious about my interaction with different cultures. After all, I did study social anthropology and cultural studies, which I am pretty passionate about. That is why I just go crazy if I don’t travel for a while.
It has been a year since my last considerable travel. About six months ago, I started daydreaming about visiting Indonesia for the second time in my life, this time with a kayak. I found a group of local Javanese enthusiasts on the internet called Tirtaseta. Their blog posts and internet presentation got me thinking about organizing a larger expedition of European kayakers with their help. The idea was to share our knowledge with local kayakers and secure some sponsorship gear since it is hard to obtain in Indonesia. Together we would then embark on first descent missions and do a promotional video about the whole thing. Needless to say, everyone gains with such a scenario. Unfortunately, it got complicated with raising sponsorship money, even though the kayaking community was keen on helping. The thing then got delayed a few times, I got more and more nervous, and in the end, we had to cancel the team plan. However, I wasn’t willing to give up at this point. I bought myself a plane ticket, raised some sponsorship equipment, and here I am.
I was maybe a bit too fast buying a plane ticket and didn’t think about alternative options enough. So I ended up travelling for about 50hrs until I got to Yogyakarta. Luckily Tirtaseta guys came for me at the airport. Toto, a Tirtaseta founder and a pioneer of Indonesian whitewater kayaking, alongside Puji, an enthusiastic kayaker and one of the kindest people I ever met. They relieved me of my 40kg baggage and escorted me to their van, driven by their relative. They first brought me to a sight of a freshly erupted volcano Merapi. I was exhausted, and the views of burned land and houses greatly affected me. But even though people lost most of their belongings, they kept their faith. None of them seemed to have given up as houses were being rebuilt, and most people kept smiling and saying hello to us visitors..
Our next stop was Toto’s Yogyakarta home. His wife, children, and his family welcomed me with kindness and a fantastic meal. They gave me a bit of a positive upset before continuing our journey. The centre of Tirtaseta activities is in Purbalingga, a small city as they call it (with roughly 1 million inhabitants in a broader area), located relatively far from Yogyakarta. I just know I fell asleep a few times while getting driven and that we drove for more than 5 hours. When we arrived, I was introduced to the rest of the Tirtaseta crew. Sigit, Tomo and Nafi are all kayakers, while a Javanese journalist, also named Toto, welcomed me as well.
The following day, it didn’t take long until I knew quite a few funny and exciting stories about the Tirtaseta club and their history together. I was impressed by how Toto, a former flatwater kayaker, not too long ago decided to become a whitewater kayaker. Even though Indonesia had barely any tradition in this sport. He learned some basics in New Zealand, bought some gear and started the club. Toto taught several other Purbalingga locals how to kayak in about three years of club’s existence.
But we had no kayaking planned for this day. The room they gave me has a picture of a perfect 11m waterfall on the wall. It cheered me up when they told me it was only about 20min driving away from our home. So we decided to go there after breakfast. I was excited to see it in perfect jungle surroundings. Unfortunately, its lip broke off, and it wasn’t so perfect anymore. The entrance was now tricky, and the last time they checked it, there were still some rocks at the bottom from the break-off. There was no sign of them now, but we will still have to wait for some higher water to make running it safer. Even though it hasn’t been descended with a kayak yet, Sigit has a great anecdote to tell about his unintended first swim descent. You’ll be able to hear it in a video interview I gave him.
After a great day of getting accustomed to the area, guys took me kayaking the next day. Their local Kalawang River is mostly an easy 2 – 3 level whitewater with breathtaking tropical scenery. Nature impressed me a lot, but so did the local kayakers. Modesty about themselves and the fact that they were primarily self-thought, in a period no longer than three years, made me believe that their knowledge was limited. But in fact, I couldn’t have been more mistaken as most of their stroke techniques are near perfect and even advanced moves like flatwater loops were no obstacle for some of these guys. I guess I need to respectfully honour Toto as a great teacher who, in a short period, taught these youngsters to become even better than him. Keep in mind that he is a good kayaker.
Knowing these facts and seeing the nature of some (now unfortunately too dry) creeks in the area made my expectations much higher. We have some very promising first descents to do in the following weeks. But before we do that, I have kayak teaching and river rescue courses with these guys. So you can expect more updates and photos in the coming days.
Tirtaseta guys are really proud of their Javanese culture and traditions. They like to drive me around for sightseeing. Here are some of the pictures from the local traditional market. We came there at about 5:30 a.m. and nearly missed the whole thing. Yes, Javanese like to wake up early. The pictures were taken at about 6:00 a.m., just before they cleaned things up. Enjoy!