Going to Jakarta for yet another round of visa administration is usually just a tiresome trek from Solo to some office then back to Solo. This time we decided to make a weekend of it and head down to Bogor. This cool retreat, sometimes called a suburb of Jakarta and famous for being very rainy, was the country home of Sir Stamford Raffles during the brief British occupation of Indonesia, and features the Presidential Palace (Istana Bogor).
My objective was to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather who had visited Bogor many years ago and who first told me about the botanical gardens, one of the most memorable places in Indonesia for him. My grandfather, Peter Allen, worked as a scientist in the rubber industry, and I can only assume (since no living relative can remember) that he was in Bogor on business, for some kind of conference or seminar. He regularly travelled to Southeast Asia, often bringing my grandmother along too, and in Indonesia visited Jakarta, Bogor and Yogyakarta. As keen gardeners, both my grandparents enjoyed visiting gardens.
After a hellish taxi ride from Jakarta on Friday afternoon, we arrived well into the evening; this is probably the worst possible time to make this journey, since many Jakartans are escaping for the weekend. On Saturday morning we woke up bright and early to head for the botanical gardens, or kebun raya as it is called in Indonesian, before the rain. Walking from the friends’ house where we were staying, we followed tiny alleyways, too narrow for motorcycles to pass without stopping, that ran between houses in a criss-cross maze. We came to a river and, crossing a flimsy bamboo bridge, walked up the opposite bank and on to a road. Then we hopped in an angkot (little minibus, Rp. 2000 each to go anywhere), which took us to the botanical gardens.
We entered the gardens (Rp. 7000 entry) and I was struck by the variety of greenery around me. We saw trees, bushes and plants of all shapes, sizes and shades of green. They say anything grows in Bogor and it shows. We saw a tall kapas tree, which produces cloud-like puffs of kapas, to be made into cotton wool and pillow stuffing. Walking to the orchid garden we passed many interesting and unusual trees, plants and flowers. However, the orchids simply took my breath away. The orchid house is in two wings, and the first had barely any flowering plants. The second wing, however, was full of beautiful flowering orchids in all colours and patterns. We spent a long time admiring these plants, taking many photos.
Continuing our walk, we came to a large pool full of enormous lily pads up to a metre across, before walking up a hill to the Daun’an restaurant for lunch. The menu was varied, with Indonesian and Western options and all the food we tried was delicious. A good range of drinks including many juices were available and I rehydrated with a coconut drink. Then the wind blew and the fluffy white cotton from the kapas tree was blown everywhere creating a snowy effect. As we were about to leave the restaurant, the rain began.
When the rain had eased off we left the restaurant, walking to the aquatic plants area. This was the only disappointing part of the gardens; there was little to see and it looked rather unkempt. We quickly moved on towards the cactus area. We saw cacti and succulents in all shapes and sizes; I had never seen such large cacti before, which looked like prickly trees. As we were admiring these peculiar plants, the rain started again. Two of the group used banana leaves as (ineffective) umbrellas, and we made our way out of the gardens. We saw the main entrance, with its interesting combination of British lion statues in front, and Ganesh reliefs in the walls behind, as well as the neighbouring research building, that my grandfather may have visited for some work-related purpose.
The next day we headed to Botani Square, the mall that is considered the town centre of Bogor. After some window shopping we hopped on a Damri bus to Jakarta airport (Rp. 35,000 each). As the countryside whizzed past we noticed how green it all looked, despite being a stone’s throw from Jakarta. With its cooler climate, fresher air and pleasant scenery, Bogor is a refreshing weekend break and a good way to escape the traffic jams of Jakarta. I was pleased to have seen a place my grandfather described to me, and I can see why he liked it.