National Geographic, Eat Your Heart Out

It started at 5:30am on Saturday and ended around 11:30pm on Sunday.

No, it really started when Seth text me on Thursday asking if I wanted to go to a primitive Baduy village this weekend with his friends Ted and Puji, and their friend Nunuz, who is studying the ancient tribes. My initial thoughts were that this would be a great opportunity to get out of Bogor for the weekend, do a little trekking, and witness a several 1,000 year old Indonesian civilization. I asked if Ellie could come.

Ted and Puji spent the night on Friday and the driver arrived around 5:30am. We crawled out of bed and into the car, picked up Nunuz, and drove for four hours to the base camp for the Baduy villages. We came prepared with a backpack, packed with a change of clothes, basic medicine, a sheet and blanket, water, snacks, and a small mattress pad to sleep on.

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We met our guide in the base camp and snacked on several durians before we set out. The hike started easy enough and Eliana walked about 90% of the hour or two it took us to get to the next village. The hike took us up a couple thousand feet and through some amazing jungle filled with durian trees and arenga pinnata (palm trees that sustainably produce brown sugar). We arrived around 4:00 pm to the village we were invited to stay in. The guesthouse was traditional; woven from palms, without furniture, a fire pit used to cook food in the kitchen, and no electricity. The river was the bathroom. No joke.

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Time seemed to grind to a halt. We sat on the front porch for an hour or two and watched the village work. Families trickled in and out, to a small waterfall on the outside of the village where they bathe. Women sat on their front porches and weaved textiles using backstrap looms. It looked terribly uncomfortable, but the women looked at peace while they worked. The clicking of the wooden rods from the looms, and the occasional rooster call was all we heard.

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Just as the daylight started to fade, we unpacked some headlamps and gave some ingredients to our host to cook us dinner. Our host cooked us rice, greens, omelet, slightly fermented tofu (it tasted like cheese!) and sardines in a tomato sauce with garlic. Ellie loved the sardines. We sat on the floor in our house and ate our dinner, then made our beds. After a short exploration around the village with our headlamps, we went to bed around 8:00pm.

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We woke up on Sunday to rooster calls and daylight. It was early and we were starving. We ate a continuation of our dinner from last night, with some fried noodles to fill our bellies a little more. We packed up our gear and head out to travel around the other villages.

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Several obstacles lay between each village. The first was a swaying bamboo bridge we had to cross over a very high river (our toilet, if you remember). We had to escalate several peaks, traversed over large and small rocks, small streams, and a lot of mud. So much mud that everyone besides me and the guide were forced to take off their shoes and walk barefoot, as sandals were pointless in the extremely deep and slippery clay. At one point we crossed a stream and walked to a large lake. Our friend Ted jumped in, but I stood there in disbelief. Did we have to cross this!? It took a few minutes for me to comprehend that we were only there for a swim, not to cross. Whew…

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As much as Eliana struggled to walk the approximate 7 km (4.5 miles) between villages; she was a warrior. She found joy in the smallest things and did a beautiful job keeping herself engaged, without too much panic in stressful situations. We visited around 6-8 outer Baduy villages in total. The people were, for the most part, friendly and inviting. Everyone was impressed that we hiked through so many villages, especially with such a young child. And the biggest bonus of all was actually getting to see and say hello to some inner Baduy people, who crossed our path on the trail. Traditionally it is forbidden for outside visitors to enter an inner Baduy village, so the fact that we got to meet some on the trail was pretty exciting.

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Our trek on Sunday lasted for over 8 hours. We returned to base camp wet, muddy, and absolutely exhausted. We purchased a few things to remember the experience, such as a beautiful table runner woven from the village, the traditional Baduy patterned sari and bandana, and some bracelets. We rested at base camp for a half hour while Eliana, and I’m not kidding, ran around flirting with the village boys. After 8 hours of hiking this kid still had so much positive energy! Amazing.

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The trek was one of the most challenging that we had ever experienced. We were not only proud to have done it, but to have successfully completed it as a family.

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