Welcoming 2014 in the mountains

[Bandung, December 2013]

My words spilled out in many places, from my head to the ground and never to paper, resulting stories that are always too late to eventually be told. Nevertheless, this is my story of December 2013, an inconspicuous trip to hometown Indonesia, greeting a brand new year with heavy stars above my head, learning about solitude and free falling.

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There was a potluck event at Coffee War on Christmas Eve. I came straight from the airport, barehanded and restless. There were familiar faces in a familiar place but that night the coffee shop felt like it was another foreign world. Like Jakarta itself, it was humid and there's a hint of unwelcoming in the air. But everybody was happy and Christmas spirit didn't let me get drowned in the odds. There were food and drinks that kept everyone's tummy happy, fine tasting wine and good live music by our musician friends that made the night merrier. There was a couple slow dancing to a romantic song sung by Bonita And The HusBand, there were newborn lovers ignoring the crowd and holding on to each other tightly, there was an unfriendly lady screaming at me for being in the public toilet for too long, there were midnight drug calls, there I was, in my own sweet existence, writing in my head, observing everybody, feeling overwhelmed.

The night stretched as I disappeared for a while to another group of people elsewhere and when I went back to my best friend's place to spend the short night around 4 AM, I got locked out of the house. A good four hours spent reading Kafka On The Shore in the dark, while getting eaten by mosquitos. I didn't mind, I couldn't complain even if I wanted to. At 8 later in the morning a cleaner lady finally let me in the house and I slowly knocked on my best friend's room. He let me in, sleep deprived and silent, I helped myself in the bathroom to shower and get ready for my next destination later that afternoon. Just as my night, my morning was short too, so was my sleep. The next thing I knew I was on a travel van, heading to Bandung.

A friend with spray paint stains forever in his hands, picked me up at the travel drop-off around 7 in the evening. Bandung, as breezy as ever, has never felt so intimate. After putting my huge hand-carry at his hotel, we went for drinks someplace familiar. I spent my childhood in this city but I didn't grow up here enough to know the streets well and to go to places. We both rode a rented motorbike around with no directions at all, trying to figure our way to places we wanted to visit. Sometimes we'd stumble upon his mural paintings on the street walls and we'd joke about it, I'd say something like 'who the hell did this horrible painting' and he'd say 'oh I don't know this Singaporean artist I heard he's quite good looking'. I enjoyed his company, we have mutual imaginations on so many things but sometimes we also clash and break apart into uncomfortable silence.

After bottles of beer I went back to his hotel to get my bag and then I was dropped off at Tessa's place where I planned to stay for the next couple of days. When I got to her place, that childhood best friend of mine wasn't home. She wasn't even in Bandung and she forgot to tell me, she forgot I was coming. After a couple of hours finding my way in, one of her housemates opened the door for me. I found her room and felt her existence but she wasn't there. Her love filled up the air in the room, I was in her world without her letting me in. Our worlds have been separated for years and often times I felt like I didn't know her, and she didn't know me. My mood was all over the place. I was alone but contented, present, bold however uncertain. My time was limited and I kept thinking I needed to make use of it the most. I ended up pressuring myself. In the end I took my time to just slow my pace and keep writing in my head. I mentioned writing in my head a lot because that's merely what I did the whole time. Every moment was captured through my lens but I word vomited everything I felt all over the place. I was messy but I was vastly alive.

I slept through the night on someone else's empty bed and woke up the next afternoon and it was about golden solitude, an unwanted story that happened. I was somewhere far from the crowd, just in the right latitude to be hiding with perfect companion of a musician friend, making stops at abandoned parking lots to take photographs of the sunset and the twinkling early stars. I was a grasshopper on this trip, I didn't have a proper place to sleep, and getting locked out of people's houses happened to me all the time. I had plenty of time to kill, having the time and space to doodle and finish the book I was reading. My second night was spent at Dhira's house, my cousin's girlfriend. The girl welcomed me with open arms and fed me with every love possible, knowing I had no place to stay she did all she could to provide me everything I needed. Her warmth humbled me, she always has that something that makes me feel like I should always try to give more to everyone at all time. We spent the chilly night drinking hot chocolate and munching on egg martabak and talking about random things. I liked being there, it felt like home although it wasn't mine.

I woke up the next morning in another lonely bed. Dhira had left to Jakarta for new year's and I had plans to drove uphill with my usual Bandung companions. After late lunch I packed my bag again and headed to a cafe nearby for coffee while waiting for another group of friends to pick me up and go uphill. A wall calendar showed it's December 29th when it was actually December 30th, and somehow it didn't feel like 2013 was ending, I lost track of time. Nearing the evening, a car pulled up in the cafe's parking lot and there were Tama and Ponti picking me up. From then onwards it was another speedy, familiar adventure. Hours spent on the road listening to the guys making conversations in Sundanese as we made our way to Gilang's house somewhere uphill. I didn't question much as to where we were going to be for the rest of the night, I trusted these wanderers enough and I knew we're going a bit higher this time, it's drawn in the way Ponti steered the wheel, it's hinted in Tama's intonation, the energy in their voices, I felt safe. The sky got dark and my eyes lit up in excitement. To my friends this was just another one of their usual short trips to the hills, to me it's another chance of getting inspired beyond the usual. We reached Gilang's by dinner time, it was a house that stretched into gardens of orchids and cactuses. In the dark I can see shades of violet and white and orange and I was in awe. We made our way to Gilang's wooden cabin where we prepared wood blocks and instant drinks for our trip to the mountains later that night. I really liked it in that cabin, corners filled with inspiring unfinished wooden crafts that belong to Gilang, manly marks of hard works here and there, a mess worth embracing.

Soon after, we're all packing kettle and drinks, stuffing wood blocks to the car and we drove higher than the clouds. As we dove into the darkest of mist, car windows rolled down letting the sharpest of cold pierce our skin, we were making playlists, songs that became the soundtrack of this short getaway. Once in a while we let the benumbed air steal our breath away and then we'd share comfortable silence. Ponti parked the car in a pitch dark place somewhere in the mountains, everyone got off the car and we made a bonfire by the steep hill. It was windy as hell, but my hands couldn't stop taking photographs. All I could think of was the mountains were all I craved for a long time, all I could think of is that right after new year's I'm going to Jogjakarta with spray cans and sketches for an exhibition and I'll be alone and there wouldn't be any friends to drive me to places like this or even time to look for another mountains. We made glasses of coffee, spiking them with rum to keep us warm, sometimes when the wind blew hard we felt like hugging the fire tightly. We spent hours sitting by the bonfire and talking and taking photographs, often we'd be in our own individual world, spacing out thinking about mundane things.

The dawn was breaking and we're headed back down to the wooden cabin. I didn't know that when the guys mentioned 'breakfast' they meant putting back our heavy belongings and hiking Mount Batu. We traced the path from Gilang's through a cemetery and to a steep track that led us to the legs of Mount Batu as the sky began to let the sun shine through, we started climbing up for the best last morning view of 2013. We reached the peak of the mountain just when the sun perfectly rose. I climbed a huge rock and sat there for a while, filling up my head with the rareness of everything. It was amazing, right in that moment I felt like I have welcomed a brand new year. We spent a short hour up in the mountain top and went back down and got ourselves real food breakfast. Sleep and rest were fleeting, and soon it was 4 in the late afternoon and I was sipping coffee with Ponti somewhere in the middle of the city, talking about movie ideas and how much of unusual introverts we both are. I could spend hours chaining conversations with someone like Ponti, we both have similar idea of perfect solitude. 

Tama had left to Jakarta by that time to spend NYE with his girlfriend, and it left only me, Ponti and Gilang for the night. I spent hours before the countdown accompanying Gilang at his workshop back in the cabin while Ponti dozed off on the floor. I wish I had the drive Gilang has when it comes to doing my art, he is the kind of guy that would push his limits beyond the imagination and he doesn't surrender to the tiredness of long hours. At midnight we went out to the front garden to watch the fireworks as we counted down the last remaining minutes of 2013. It was ironically amazing, out of so many plans we ended up choosing to stay uphill and away from any new year's parties. From where we stood we could see and hear fireworks from a lot of places we could've been at instead, explosions in the sky making the mountain peaks very visible in the dark, and then 2014 was born.

Bandung was soon over. Ponti drove me down the next afternoon to a bus interchange in the city and then he left. Alone, with a bag worth of spray cans and markers on one hand and my heavy hand-carry on the other, I booked my bus ticket to Jogjakarta and I never knew, that a crazier, more daring, unforgettable journey awaited.

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• Coffee War's Potluck night on Christmas Eve •
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• Getting locked out of a friend's at 4 AM •
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• On my way to Bandung •
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• Spending the first night in Bandung at a local bar •
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• A visit to Lawangwangi •
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• Taking photographs of the sunset from an abandoned parking lot •
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• A night well spent at Dhira's •
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• Wondering around Dhira's beautiful garden the next morning •
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• Arriving at Gilang's wooden cabin •
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• We do R-rated jokes every time •
• Tuning the radio in the mountains is one of the hardest things ever •
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• Preparing wood blocks •
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• Heating up a drink that went cold after 3 minutes •
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• Getting ready to go to the mountains •
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• Arriving at the misty hills •
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• Warming up by the bonfire •
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• Sharing silence by the fire •
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• Dozed off Gilang •
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• Photo by Ponti •
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• Putting out the fire •
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• Disappearing crescent moon at the breaking dawn •
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• Heading to Mount Batu •
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• Spotting our videographer making footages •
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• Last morning of 2013 •
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• Caught photographing with a struggling face •
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• Heading back down after sunrise •
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• Resting after our morning hike •
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• Back in the cabin •
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• Gilang and his amazing handmade clock at the back •
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• New Year's traffic and a singer friend in the back of a truck •
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• Spending new year's eve at Gilang's wooden cabin •
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• Counting down to 2014 •
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• The cactus garden at Gilang's •
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• I secretly wanted to be here a bit longer •


Marisi Gultom said...

Hi! I'm Ichi and I'm a huge fan of your blog. The writing, the photos, the soul in it.. gosh you're amazing!
Uhm, may I ask, with cherry on top, what camera do you usually use? what lens? and, is it the same one when you took the stars photos?
Thanks! :)

C said...

@Marisi Thank you Ichi. I use Nikon D7000, normal 35 mm lens.

Anonymous said...

I really miss you. I hope you're doing good there. Take care, Chi.