Recently, my site mate invited me to go camping and plant trees with her school near Batu, a city neighboring Malang which is well known for its natural tourism. It had been particularly hot in Malang that week, so the idea of going up into the cool mountains was more than a little appealing, and since I am continually frustrated by the excess of burning trash and lack of recycling facilities here, the thought of doing something for the Earth spoke to me like nothing else since I have come here.
My site mate had been told we would be planting one thousand trees, but in truth we only planted maybe twenty. Nonetheless, the act of placing a young tree in the soil and covering its small bundle of roots with rich soil filled, for at least one moment, the hole left by the gardens and potted plants—most of whom I nursed back to health—that are half a world away. I am constantly surrounded by greenery here, but it has been a long time since my hands were in the dirt, and I fear if I am not careful the green thumb I was blessed to be born with might fade away. So I smiled at the dirt under my fingernails, and breathed a small “Good luck” to my sapling, thankful for the opportunity.
But while we may not have planted as many trees as we thought we would, our time in the mountains was full of many other adventures which we did not anticipate. There are many air turjun in the mountains beyond Batu: air terjun is Indonesian for “waterfall,” with air meaning “water” and terjun translating to “plunging.” During our short trip to the area, we were fortunate enough to be able to see tiga (three) air terjun.
Our first air terjun, which we hiked to after setting up camp, was Coban Rondo. Coban is the Javanese word for waterfall, and rondo is Javanese for widow. According to legend, Dewi Anjarwati, or Goddess Anjarwati, of Kawi Mountain married her love, Raden Baron Kusumo of Anjasmoro Mountain. While traveling to visit the home mountain of the groom, the beauty of the heavenly bride attracted the attention of a character named Joko Lelono. Raden Baron Kusumo hid Dewi Anjarwati in a secret cave near the waterfall, and he and Joko fought fiercely over her. In end, they both fell to their deaths, leaving Dewi Anjarwati widowed, and Coban Rondo was named for her.
Coban Rondo is a slender waterfall, but at 84 meters (276 feet) tall, it is quite impressive. I was lucky enough to go to college near Taughannock Falls, which is the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. But at a mere 65.5 meters (215 feet), Taughannock pales in comparison to Coban Rondo.
Our hike back to the campsite that evening was during sunset, and seeing the warm colors of the sinking sun floating through the lush jungle, dripping with freshly-fallen rain, I found myself completely in awe of the beauty which surrounded me. It is strange, and so incredible, how the same sun can seem so different in a new place. It was like I was experiencing the sunset for the first time.
The next day, after planting our trees, we went on a hike to Coban Tengah. Though I believe tengah was originally a Javanese word, it has the same meaning in Indonesian: “middle.” I am unsure whether the name refers to the waterfall’s location (between Coban Rondo and Coban Manten, another famous waterfall in the area) or if it is implying setengah, which means “half” in Indonesian, as it is about half the size of the other well-known waterfalls in the area. As seems the situation for many sites in Indonesia, there was no information posted near the waterfall and not much more available online, in English or Indonesian.
Whatever its name may mean, Coban Tengah is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. With its torrent of water crashing past lush vegetation into a cool, surprisingly still pool below, Coban Tengah somehow perfectly balances the frightening power and the soothing peace that can only emanate from Mother Nature.
The last waterfall we saw during this trip required a slightly more challenging trek, but it would have been worth it even if there had not been a waterfall at the end of it. We hiked past—and sometimes through—the terraced fields that grow so many of fruits and vegetables that make up some of Indonesia’s most significant exports. I’ve never before thought of cabbage as aesthetically appealing, but I certainly do now.
We also walked past groves of tall, pine-like trees whose bottoms had been carved out, with bits of plastic bottles poised to catch the tree sap. One of the teachers who was helping to guide us said they were rubber trees, and in their shadows there were coffee trees, which need shade to grow properly. Though I grew up tied to the land, this was a partnership I never would have been able to conceptualize without seeing it, but standing beneath their canopies, I found it made perfect sense.
Indonesia is known for not being the most environmentally conscious place on the planet; with a developing infrastructure, I suppose this is understandable. Even I sometimes that when I think of agriculture here, I think of burning jungles and barren mountains sides that used to be thick with jungle; but Indonesia is capable of carefully planning their crops, a fact which is impossible to deny when the truth is before your eyes. Those coffee trees quickly transformed in my mind, from a simple crop to a symbol of hope.
Eventually, we did reach Coban Manten. Manten is the Javanese word for “married,” and Coban Manten gets its name because it actually consists of two waterfalls, resembling the bride and groom standing side by side at the altar. We could hear the waterfalls before we could see them, but once the jungle started to open up, we were able to see the crests of both waterfalls, and it was not long before we were soaking in their glory and cool mist.
The first waterfall we reached was the groom, and at 85 meters (279 feet) tall it is not only the larger of the two, it is also taller than Coban Rondo. I also found it more beautiful, for it did not have the barriers and other human elements that were distinctly present at Coban Rondo. Coban Manten is still wild.
The second waterfall seemed to be a few meters shorter than the first, but wider. This is the bride, and it is because it is wider that is has earned this name: a female waterfall must, after all, have the hips necessary to bear a brood of baby waterfalls. Getting to the second waterfall required quite a bit of wading through the stream below the waterfalls, but foolishly playing in the mist below with students was completely worth the wet feet.
Before deciding to apply for my grant in Indonesia, I confess I knew very little about this diverse and incredible country. I really only knew it as a quickly developing country, and as a religious phenomenon. Once I learned that I would be spending nine months immersed in a place on the other side of the world, I dived into Indonesia’s culture, history, and language, to the best of my ability. But it was only after arriving here that I really became aware of Indonesia’s reputation as a natural paradise; and every day that I spend here only seems to prove that it deserves this status. I’ve stepped into another world, and a truly beautiful one at that.