A Wayward Journey into Indonesian Rock Climbing { 2/4 }

Mar 18, 2012Brooklyn Boulders

Surowiti, Java, Indonesia
On the coast of eastern Java, one hour north of Surabaya ( Indonesia’s second largest city ), limestone cliffs peek over endless seas of kaleidoscopic jungle. A remote mountain village carries on with its daily routine as me and my unlikely companions set forth to clean the growth from walls some bolted only one year ago. The walking track disappears into thigh-deep vegetation as we stop to take the machetes off my pack. I thought briefly of a distant life in Australia . Of the months of suffering and saving that allowed me to be here, right here, in this very moment. But past was exactly that…..the past, and there I left it to remain.

By the time I look up, Florian is slashing like a madman through the wild growth. The tip of his rusty blade coming dangerously close to my sweaty face. We push our way forward through the tangled mess.  A million dying leaves lying in the wake of a forward march. Ten meters from the rock face mother nature would launch a surprise attack aimed at out reckless ambition and blind over-confidence. From beneath the earth a torrent of giant red soldiers, ants larger than any I had ever seen, came pouring up my legs and beneath my jeans. The night before we set out I had foolishly and arrogantly been applauding the decision to wear a pair of jeans in the sweltering tropical heat. “Everyone will be wishing they had my foresight once we get out there,” I thought. Then I imagined myself brazenly pummeling through the wilderness as the others stop with nervous anticipation of its contents. But now that I was dancing around the jungle, swinging a giant machete at one inch ants, whooping and hollering with a vicious wave of hot pain crawling up inside of my jeans, the decision seems to have been slightly less sound. I almost just took my pants off right there in the jungle. We had been defeated and come completely undone. The wall would have to be cleaned another day. By harder men. With tougher skin. And more practical trousers.

There were constant reminders that this was not our place. Atop one of the easier climbs I stopped to watch an evil squadron of red ants carry a snake skin across the speckled face. My mind awash with worry. “What kind of snake lived in that skin?,” I thought. Later in the day a local village man came strolling down the path as casual as can be, loose pants, flip-flops, cigarette dangling between fingers, and a long  rifle dutifully slung over his left shoulder. Note to self: Mind your P’s and Q’s.

There are only a handful of established bolted sports routes at the crag, but potential for heaps more if you’ve got the gumption, a good drill, and maybe a can of raid.  The rock is sharp and brilliantly featured, but with so few established climbs it was hardly the climbing paradise I had been hoping for. My quest to find an off the beaten path climbing gem was slowly becoming an irrelevant idea though. Indonesia seemed to be offering greater adventure than anywhere I had ever been. I didn’t know it yet but this was just a start. In a few weeks I’d embark on a spur of the moment journey across Java that would be as challenging as it was rewarding.
{ 2/4 } – Jean-Pierre Chery
* Check back in a few days for the third part of this four part story.

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