One thing I love the most about my hometown, Bogor, is its proximity to the mountains. (Well, that, and the abundance of delicious street food). To me, beaches are lively and intense, forests are adventurous and mystical, but mountains are tranquil and relaxing. When I want to do nothing, I go to the mountains.
To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.
A few days ago, I found my latest favorite spot for ‘doing nothing’ in Mount Pancar. I was surprised knowing that it was only 30-40 minutes away by car from Bogor, and the journey was free from traffic jams.
We drove to the mountain from Sentul Selatan exit; passing the posh residential complex and a gigantic amusement park before climbing further up until the road became narrow and bumpy. The sounds dimmed, the air cleared, the mountain top appeared, and we drove through the villages, further up, and further up. We stopped at Babakan Ngantai village and entered an establishment that looked like it could be someone else’s house.
Well, it is, to some extent.
The Hidden Gem of Mount Pancar.
Tirta Arsanta is a gorgeous family-owned hot spring retreat overlooking the mountain.
The place reminded me of those stories Indonesian kids wrote for our composition homework in elementary school: those stories about how we spend our fictional weekend visiting our fictional grandfather in a fictional village.
Only this time, the place is real.
The resort hosts four teak joglo villas—each with a private mineral hot spring pool—surrounded by gardens where bananas are hanging from its tree. The villas are rented for IDR 1.5 million on weekdays and IDR 1.8 million on weekends. However, the room is so spacious—and with extra beds, you can have 4-5 people sleeping there comfortably. Two private hot spring pools, each with a spacious seating area and private shower room, are also available for visitors who do not wish to spend the night at IDR 350K for 4 people.
Down below is a small river you can cross to reach the vegetable plantation and the pine forest. To get there, be prepared to say hello to the gouramis, the chickens, and the geese. If you’re lucky, you can also meet the friendly owner, Pak Faisol, and converse with him on various different subjects through the night.
Tirta Arsanta exudes a certain familiar warmth and smells of lemongrass. I was surrounded by the sounds of nature and the beautiful view of the mountain. Everything that came out from the kitchen tasted delicious: the crispy banana fritters, the pecel madiun, the grilled rice with salted fish, the kampung fried rice, the ginger lemon tea…
I sometimes wonder if eating our meal in a beautiful place can actually improve its taste.
I spent my time around the compound mostly barefoot, feeling carefree, and child-like. That day, I came with a book I wanted to finish, but at the end of the day, I was mostly just walking around, relaxing, daydreaming, and enjoying the view. Phone signal, like the Wi-Fi connection, was unreliable (the villagers use Indosat); but it was actually a good thing. I love to unplug every once and a while, as it helps me to rest and be still.
In the evening, Pak Henri—the manager of the resort, invited a massage lady from the nearby village. Bik Nur came to my room equipped with herbal oil and a sarong. The staff had prepared an extra bed for my full body massage; and after more than an hour, my muscles were so relaxed I felt like a jellyfish.
As the temperature went down, I stepped into the private hot spring pool by my villa’s terrace—feeling its comforting heat on my skin until sleepiness nudged me on the shoulder.
The Village of Hot Springs and The Pine Forest.
Mount Pancar is rich in hot springs. Near Tirta Arsanta retreat, there are 3 sources of hot springs the locals referred to as Red crater, Green crater, and Black crater. A 20-minute stroll from the resort, crossing the river, would take you to these craters. There was no strong sulphuric smell in the air, as the village hosts mineral hot springs, not sulphuric ones.
“You see, there are mosses growing here,” Pak Henri said when we visited the Green crater. “The locals believe that you can use it as a beauty mask. You can scrape the moss, add the mineral water from the hot spring, and blend it into a paste to be smeared on your face. After a while, it would harden and you’d feel as if your face was stretched out. Do you want to try? I can get some for you later when we’re back.”
“Sure!” I exclaimed. It would be an experience to get this local beauty treatment while I was there!
That morning, Pak Henri took me and my friend, Chyntia, on a hike to the craters and the pine forest surrounding the village. It was quite a mild hike (I was on my leather sandal), but the track could be steep at times. It took almost 3.5 hours for us to go there and back, but the hike offers lovely scenery of the vegetable plantations and the villagers plucking chilis and climbing trees.
Pak Henri, like all the staff at Tirta Arsanta, came from the village. During our hike to the pine forest, we made several stops at the villagers’ houses when the owner called out to him.
“We’re walking to the pine forest,” he said.
“Walking? From the resort? So far!” the villagers responded.
I was scared hearing this as I was reminded of the day when I got lost in Taipei’s Yangmingshan National Park, looking for hot springs. At the time, tired and sweating, I stopped by a police station to ask about the exact location of the hot springs, but it seemed like the police officers could not explain it in English.
They could only say, “Ah, far, far.”
When I asked, “How far?”
The police officers replied by extending their hands, and said: “Faaaaaaaaaaaaaar.”
But the pine forest was not that far, and we reached it in another 30-40 minutes. The forest is where the locals go for dating or family outings. “I don’t know why they love it here,” said Pak Henri. “I mean, there’s nothing here but trees.”
But Chyntia and I loved it there. The breeze was lovely and the view was beautiful. We walked around the area, posing at a huge rock, and watching a ladybird. Chyntia also found a green pinecone. It made me feel as if I was transported to a scene from Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro.
A Soak in Time.
The best thing to do after a hike was dipping our sore feet in the refreshing water of the river; had some breakfast, and then retreated to our villa for a hot spring soak by the terrace. Pak Henri had prepared our traditional moss-mask from the hot springs, so Chyntia and I started our DIY beauty treatment by the pool. I could feel how strong the moss-mask stretched my skin; although the application made our bathroom quite messy and muddy (sorry, Pak!).
Maybe the time spent ‘doing nothing‘ can actually be a time well-spent, even if it’s just a day!
Lately, I am so used to long-term travels—in which I am actually working while traveling. It is fun, yes, and I am grateful for the opportunity; although to be honest, at times it can also feel intense and tiring. Pausing a reset button for a day; doing nothing but enjoying nature and having a relaxing time with a friend was actually reinvigorating.
For a day, forget Facebook and Instagram. Get your feet dirty. Smear muddy moss-mask on your face. Smile to the villagers as you pass by. Smell the lemongrass. Sweat as you hike. Jump into the river. Soak in the hot spring. Slow down.
And then, be still.