Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When a So-so Rafting Daytrip to Batu Turned into an Awesome Time at the Hot Springs

There we were. Standing at a corner of a relatively busy intersection of the mountain town of Batu, right outside the breezy and laidback city of Malang in East Java, lost and trying to retrace our way back to the city center. People on motorbikes and those in cars and angkot (minivans) amusedly stared at us—four bule (boo-leh, white foreigners) and one Filipino (me). We all had an identical clueless expression on our faces, so while completely capable to pass for a local, I was clearly not fooling anyone.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Looking towards Mount Arjuno from my gazebo at the backpacker hostel, Batu situated on those vast slopes.

It had been a disappointing day, and we hadn't even done anything yet. Having set our minds earlier that Saturday into being "productive" tourists whilst in Malang, we decided to do a daytrip here in Batu, a city on the slopes of Mount Arjuno, to get our adrenaline pumping with some white-water rafting. Nobody knew where the rafting company in Batu was nor its contact number, so we had to find it ourselves.

As can be expected, we got lost. We got stared at a lot, too, giving me the impression that Batu was indeed a tourist destination for locals and locals only, not used to having bule walking around town. By the time we found the rafting company's office, it was already 4 p.m., so we had to reschedule the next day.

A daytrip to Batu completely wasted.

Angkot, Batu, East Java, Indonesia
The Indonesian angkot, where the total seat capacity is "one more"

Then again, finding ourselves less than enthused and completely underwhelmed a few minutes into white-water rafting the next day Sunday, the experience itself may just as well be called a waste. And we put so much effort in getting ourselves this experience, too, cramming ourselves in one already crammed angkot after another and spending most of our Saturday trying to book it.

To be fair, white-water rafting in Batu only cost us 150,000 IDR (15 USD) and it did have some exciting moments. Some rocks made for obstacles and shallow cascades here and there. Our paddling guides (bless them) tried hard to keep our excitement up, too. But as they affirmed with us after the hour-long rafting session, it was odd that a group of young, reasonably fit people would be interested in an experience designed for local families with small children.

Well, that taught us to do ample research next time.

Batu Rafting, East Java, Indonesia
Am I even rafting here?

Batu Rafting, East Java, Indonesia
Bless our rafting guides for trying to keep our excitement up.

White-water rafting ended around lunch time and since it was still early, we decided to really make the most out of our daytrip to Batu. We all agreed. Everyone was up for a dip at the hot springs. Only problem was, again, nobody knew exactly where it was.

The hot springs facility—Air Panas Cangar—was unfortunately well away from Batu city center, almost an hour further up the mountains in fact. Fortunately, however, we managed to convince an angkot driver, despite the language barrier, to take us to Air Panas Cangar (and back) for what amounted to just 3 USD per person. For the trouble of going way off his usual route and for offering to wait for us at the hot springs' parking lot, I would have paid him a whopping 5 USD. (Not much, but still!)

The angkot zigzagged through high mountain roads and soon enough, the wind got colder outside and inside the open-air vehicle. Houses became fewer and farther between. More and more, we saw lush, forested hills with deep ravines enveloped in mist. A few plantations and greenhouses showed up here and there.

Air Panas Cangar, Batu, East Java, Indonesia
The lush, forested surroundings on the way to and around Air Panas Cangar

We arrived at Air Panas Cangar just an hour or so before its closing time at 5 p.m. We paid the 5,000 IDR (0.5 cents US) admission fee and hurried down to the pools on the bottom of the hill. We were stopped on our tracks by the sight of a stream freely flowing and unmistakably steaming due to the high temperature of the water and the cool climes of the forest.

All eyes went straight to the four bule and the local-looking person with them as we all undressed to our swim shorts. It was unnerving to say the least. Only locals and local tourists were here and judging by the stares, it was very rare that foreigners made it this far into Batu.

It did not matter, of course. The stares went away eventually as we all began to seriously relax in the hot spring waters of this volcanic town.

Air Panas Cangar, Batu, East Java, Indonesia
The stream snaking around the hot spring pools were also steaming. Good sign.

Air Panas Cangar, Batu, East Java, Indonesia
The very relaxing (and far-flung) hot spring pools of Air Panas Cangar

Later that day, when we got back to our hostel in Malang, the staff at the reception asked us how our daytrip to Batu went.

"We went to Air Panas Cangar. It was really nice and relaxing," I replied.

"Air Panas Cangar?!" The staff's eyes lit up. "Wow! You made it up there?"

Yes. Yes, we did.

I guess it's a clear sign of a day well spent when locals approve of and are even impressed by the things you saw and did while traveling in their neck of the woods.

Air Panas Cangar, Batu, East Java, Indonesia
Four bule and one Pinoy made it at Air Panas Cangar in Batu that day. You gotta respect that.

What were some of your favorite daytrips here in Southeast Asia?

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