Terraced rice fields. Green vegetable gardens. A vast forest hugged by jagged mountains. It was a deliciously warm afternoon on the breezy, hilly region of Pacet, Mojokerto, East Java. Odino and I were swimming about in a river full of large boulders. A few hours later, we collected firewood and made a bed out of wild grass. We’d decided to camp out at this dreamy spot. It was a decision that we regretted that night, but cherished the next day and hopefully for the rest of our lives.
The story began with our unplanned trip to Trowulan, the site of the ruins of Majapahit Kingdom. On the map, the place seemed quite close from Pacet, so we thought we’d stay at one of the hotels there. I have a weakness for hot springs, and Pacet is known to have sulfuric ones. I once said to myself that if I ever went to Mojokerto, Pacet would be on my places-to-visit list. Little did I know that Odino and I would spend a lot of time fighting there.
For those who wish to go to Pacet but don’t bring their own vehicle, you’d be directed to taking one of the line hijau, or green, public vans, at Mojokerto’s bus terminal. A local pedicab driver told us that it could take us directly to Pacet. It didn’t. Instead it stopped at the Pugeran T-section in Gondang, about 8 kilometers away from our destination. It was past 5 p.m. According to a couple of motorcycle taxi drivers that finally took us to the hot springs area, public vans weren’t allowed to go further up during the dark hours. “They could kill the local motorcycle-taxi business if they were,” they said. Fine.
But the motorcycle ride up to the location cost us IDR 30,000 each. According to the owner of the hotel where we stayed that night, it normally cost IDR 10,000 per person. For Odino and I, who agreed to spend as little as possible on our first backpacking trip outside of Jogja together, this really put a dampener on our spirits. Moreover, all of the hotels and villas closer to the hot springs put a price tag too high for anyone used to going to Kaliurang, a similar highlands area in Yogyakarta. For a similar room in Kaliurang that would cost us about IDR 50,000 to 75,000 per night, we paid IDR 140,000. A room with hot water would’ve cost us almost double that amount. We didn’t expect this. We were pissed.
Odino’s annoyance erupted when we paid a visit to Pacet’s wana wisata padusan, or the hot springs park, later that night. The bathing compound was being open for 24 hours due to the Eid holiday. Having paid IDR 25,000 for two persons to enter the park, which was filled with food vendors as well as vegetable and fruit sellers, we arrived at another gate that led to the bathing compound. To enter, we would have to pay IDR 10,000 per person.
“It’s f*cking weird!” Odino shouted. He didn’t like the idea of paying more to swim in a man-made hot springs pool. Walking back the way we came, Odino yelled at the ticket seller, saying the management could have put a sign informing first-time visitors that they would have to pay more and more money as they went further into the park.
Odino tried to explain his actions to me as we sat down at a local eatery (and had the best rawon ever, if I may add). As a person who believes in anarchy, Odino doesn’t agree that the government should be given the right to charge people money just so they can enjoy natural tourism attractions. “They didn’t create it,” he said. “Okay, so they say they use the money to take good care of it, but we don’t know that for sure.”
And he’s right. There are hundreds of villas in the area; new concrete buildings are sprouting on all sides; the water channels are filled with trash. Last year and early this year, big floods occurred here, bringing thousands of huge rocks from the Welirang and Biru mountains, threatening to demolish the park and the surrounding fields and villages the way it had in 2004. And if you think those villas and hotels are owned by locals, a man named Pak Purnomo, who has lived in Pacet for over 20 years, told me that “many of them are owned by people from outside [of Pacet or Mojokerto], such as from Surabaya, Medan, and Balikpapan.” Most of the locals work as food vendors, cleaners, or by toiling vegetable gardens and rice fields that are slowly but surely being converted into more villas.
Back to Odino and I, instead of saying that I understood his arguments and that we should try to make the most of our time here, I told him that I never wanted to travel with him again. “I hate traveling with you. And don’t you dare shout in my face ever again!” I added.
“Did I really shout?”
Maybe he didn’t. Maybe I was just being a princess. The thing is, I am a “princess.” And even though Odino and I are only eight months into our relationship, I had made sure early on, in the clearest way possible, that that’s what I am. “You may hate Hollywood, but you’d better treat me like Julia Roberts,” I had said to him one day.
Whenever I get a tummy cramp, and I often do, I’d make him sit down and give me a rub with eucalyptus oil. Whenever my joints ache, and this usually happens to the back of my knees after a long walk, I’d ask him to give my legs a massage. In short, whenever I’m in pain, I make sure he knows about it, and I ask him to help ease it. Of course I also expect him to not be the one who inflicts it.
But I don’t act like a spoiled brat around everyone. I only ask for those things from someone I’m in love with, especially if he happens to give a damn good massage.
“Please don’t get mad,” he said that night. “I’ll give you a massage before you go to sleep.”
The next morning I returned to the park to have a hot bath and take some pictures, while Odino went to the same eatery to have breakfast. Having done what I came there to do, I walked around the market and noticed a small sign saying “Natural Hot Springs.” I followed its direction before I stopped to ask a food vendor about what I might find at the end of the path in the middle of the pine forest.
“Hot springs,” she said. “There’s a natural pond, big enough for ten to twenty people to get in.”
“Do I have to pay to bathe there, like in the padusan?”
“No, it’s free.”
Imagine how excited I was. I walked as quickly as possibly to fetch Odino. Now imagine how disappointed I got when he said he didn’t want to go there. “I’ve had it with this place,” he said. By this time I had softened down and tried not to have any more fights with him. Yet I couldn’t understand the way he stayed quiet as we walked down the main road to a spot where we might find motorcycle-taxis. Odino obviously wasn’t in a good mood. But I was! And I love to talk a lot when traveling, be it among friends or strangers. It’s a trait I must have developed when I was still a full-time reporter, which often involved traveling. I had to be chatty enough in order to dig as much information as possible from potential sources.
I guess I annoyed Odino by repeatedly asking him what’s wrong. And after repeatedly getting a head shake and “nothing” or “I’m fine” as answers, it was my turn be annoyed. I hastened my pace and left him trailing behind me. I eventually led us to a wrong turn and becoming lost. We had taken a route where neither public transport nor motorcycle taxi could be seen, but I was determined to keep on walking. My GPS told me that we had walked for over six kilometers when I spotted a bridge surrounded by vegetable gardens, a teak forest, and rice fields dotted by boulders in the distance. It was a hot day, and I could use some rest there. Using a tone that was a combination of excitement and irritation, I said to Odino, “I’m going down there whether you’re coming or not.”
“But I’m using these shoes,” he said.
“They’re real leather boots! They were created for this!” I yelled. “Oh man, you’re the worst travel mate ever!”
Despite having lived in Java for eight years, Odino is not always able to properly convey his thoughts in Indonesian. What he actually meant to say was that the long walk and the hardness of the leather boots had created blisters on the soles of his feet. He showed them to me after we had taken a refreshing swim in the river and started being lovey-dovey again. Then there was this combination of feeling really bad about his feet and feeling challenged when I said yes as soon as Odino asked the question: “Would you like to stay here for the night?”
In the beginning it didn’t seem like a big problem that we didn’t bring a tent or a sleeping bag, and that we were still in a hilly area. The place just seemed perfect for us to realize some naughty plans that we’d had in mind for some time. But, boy, were we naive!
You know that feeling of getting stiff in all of your joints to the point where you’re unable to move a muscle? That’s what we felt after night fell and it was too dark to collect more wood to stoke the dying fire. Using bags as pillows, all we had to cover ourselves were our clothes and a couple of thin scarves. The rocky stream and the small waterfall across the river produced all sorts of scary hums and thuds, preventing us from getting a peaceful sleep. It goes without saying that it was also extremely chilly. Hugging Odino tightly, I could not even bring myself to open my mouth and say, “This is such a bad idea.”
“Did we even sleep last night?” Odino asked me as the sky started to gleam with yellow.
“I’m not sure I did, but I heard you snore,” I answered. I looked at Odino long and tenderly. A wonderful feeling of being grateful slowly swathed me like a warm blanket. I thought, this is the man who spent months in the jungle when violence broke out in his homeland when he was a kid. Here is a man who traveled hundreds of kilometers from his village to Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, to get a proper education. This is the guy who later on set out to Java with, according to one of his professors during his first year of study in Yogyakarta, the bahasa Indonesia skill of a kindergarten student. Here is a survivor — a man who can make the princess feel safe.
That morning, sitting around the fire that we had rekindled, I made a wish that Odino would be strong enough to spend the rest of his life with an awful boyfriend who likes to complain, makes stupid decisions when he’s annoyed, and can’t curb his mouth from hurling hurtful comments when he’s angry, so that the prince and the princess can survive more hardships in the future and live happily ever after.