After three visits, we’ve officially concluded that Jakarta is not one of our favorite places on the planet. It’s hard for us to stomach the overgrown urban jungle with its persistent pollution and traffic, so why do we keep going back for more? Well, some of our favorite people on the planet happen to live there and that’s more than enough reason. They share our sentiments and on our last two visits, whisked us away in the wee morning hours to find respite in Bandung, just beyond the city limits.
Joined by a third family that we all share a special history with, our caravan escaped just after our morning prayers without stirring the beast of Jakarta. We scurried along the highways, as fast as we safely could, and with every mile we distanced ourselves from the capital, the scenery transformed into the ever-growing greenery of palm trees, rice fields, and tea plantations. The air became lighter and easier to inhale. Once we reached our accommodation, we could collectively exhale.
The design of Sindang Reret Hotel and Restaurant is much like a little village with self-contained housing units, mostly double occupancy with a few larger, two-story suites. Each cabin had a rear porch with a view of the landscaped walking paths and gazebos. The dense trees in the distance gave the resort a sense of seclusion without isolation. Wrapped around a tree-lined circular path, you can easily walk to other hotel cabins, the main lobby, and restaurant. The resort offered a host of adventure activities but we opted to explore the rest of the town instead.
The best spot for lunch in Bandung is Kampung Daun Culture Gallery and Café. Not only is the food amazing but the dining experience is seated in a beautiful valley, artistically crafted to maintain the natural landscape, cultural heritage, and aesthetic appeal. After lunch, we visited the Ciater Hot Springs where the children, both big and small, splashed around in the naturally hot, sulfurous waterfalls and streams.
After a day spent trying to dodge potholes large enough to hide small animals, we knew the feat would’ve been even more challenging by night. The path of least resistance was to eat at Sindang Reret’s own restaurant for supper. Starting with a traditional Sundanese tea of the green jasmine variety, we attempted to read the menu completely printed in Indonesian bahasa. Both the prices and menu were not tailored to foreign visitors which explained the resort’s affordability. Without English translation, we relied on recognizing our favorite dishes and ordered Bihun Goreng, Nasi Tembal, Tahu Goreng, and Tempe Goreng. Goreng, meaning fried, is the operative word for Indonesian cuisine. Bihun is a fine rice noodle, while nasi is rice itself. We ordered our white rice steamed in a banana leaf. Tahu is tofu and tempe is tempeh. Even after our light but filling meal was savored, we enjoyed sitting in the large bamboo furnished structure while the children spotted large goldfish swimming in the adjacent pond and ran around the mostly vacant dining hall.
We took a long stroll around the resort grounds in the cool night air, then drifted peacefully to sleep.
Waking up to the sound of rain is an ideal way to start a day indoors but inconvenient when you hoped to venture outdoors. Scrapping our plans to visit a volcano lake, pick strawberries, and walk through tea plantations, we convened over our buffet breakfast. After filling our bowls with rice porridge stewed in coconut milk, topped with roasted soy nuts, dried cilantro, pickled veggies, spicy sambal sauce, and sweet soy sauce, we consulted the smart phone users for some drier options for our day. With an entourage of six adults, one teenager, and six children ranging from two to ten years old, we had to come up with a fail-proof plan for our day’s adventure. The most viable option was the Geology Museum on the way back to Jakarta. While earth science has never been my subject of choice, the children enjoyed themselves.
Our early departure from Bandung proved helpful for navigating our way back into Jakarta before the afternoon rush hour started. We went to Lotte Mart for dinner and returned to the home of our friends, the more recent transplants to Jakarta, to say farewell. Being the night before our return to Oman, we needed just a little more time to part with our friends and their lovely children. It’s hard to believe that our friendships date back to more than ten years ago, when two of the three families were not yet formed, and four of the children were not yet born. From the US, to Yemen, and now Indonesia, our families have been independent sojourners with a very common goal and aim, which has kept our hearts linked in spite of the distances between us. Appropriately, we ended the night around another shared love, the Holy Qur’an. Graced by the beautiful recitation of the older children, we were teary and humbled by our time together. We parted once again, as we always do, but with the hope that our time together will sustain our connection until we meet again.