Simon Marcus Gower
One of the wonders — if at times a potentially terrifying wonder — of Indonesia is its incredible number of volcanoes. These are extraordinary places, but how much more extraordinary is it to arrive at a volcano and be greeted with the words “buy some eggs for boiling.” The first question that comes to mind is, ‘Why would I travel to a volcano to buy some eggs?’ The answer soon becomes apparent.
A little boy, perhaps 8 years old, proudly introduces himself as Arief Hidayat. He is willing and ready to act as a guide and gives an explanation for this “eggs thing.” His mother sells the eggs, and as Arief eagerly says, “We will go to Kawah Domas and boil the eggs there to eat.”
Kawah Domas, or Domas Crater, is another side of the huge volcano that is Tangkuban Perahu, which sits scenically just north of Bandung. The vast majority of people that visit this volcano do so in a really rather lazy way. A road carries visitors all the way, practically, to the edge of the largest crater of the volcano, which is known as Kawah Ratu, or Queen Crater. There, the scene can be busy with people seeking photo opportunities and horse-back riding.
This area can become crowded and, frankly, a little ugly as sellers of cheap trinkets and souvenirs line the crater’s edge. They are not really annoying but they do detract from the scene of natural wonder here. But the sellers can be left behind with a walk down to Kawah Domas.
It literally is a walk down. Kawah Ratu is effectively at the top of this amazing mount while Kawah Domas is on a lower slope. The path down to Kawah Domas leads through thick forest that looks like it could easily double for the set of movies like “ The Lord of the Rings” or the “The Chronicles of Narnia.” As a mountain haze sweeps across this pathway, it almost seems from another world.
Arief, our little guide, is sure-footed leading the way but occasionally he turns and calls out warnings like “be careful here, it is slippery because of the rain.”
He is right, too; although the pathway is quite deliberately cut into the slopes this does not prevent the way becoming muddy and treacherous after rainfall.
Moisture lingers here too as this is a rainforest and with the height that we are at, the clouds come in and cover the slopes with more hazy moisture. A sudden rustle in the trees and Arief excitedly points aloft.
“Monkeys, monkeys,” he cries, “you don’t often see them at this time of day.” They are hardly seen now though, as they swiftly and frantically leap between trees.
Arief continues the journey, and we pass trees that have fallen across the path, as well as trees whose hollow trunks you can stand in. Soon, though, an odd sound can be heard and it almost sounds industrial; like a machine being driven, a constant noise that is different from the occasional birdsong or wind through the trees.
The pathway gets steep and reveals a view of an almost lunar landscape. We have arrived at Kawah Domas and it becomes clear that the name is somewhat misleading. This is after all not really a crater but a rock-strewn slope from which steam is pouring out and hot water is bubbling up.
Here the landscape is rock-strewn and desolate. There is the putrid smell of sulfur in the air but people actually come here for therapy of sorts. There are people getting back scrubs and people soothing aching feet in the small ponds of hot water. Other people still are taking the dust from the rocks, moistening it and smearing it on their faces.
All of this creates a rather odd spectacle of semi-naked people looking almost zombie-like as they cover themselves in the grayish-white of the rocks. The magma just below the surface here generates the heat that literally boils the groundwater. This mixed with the sulfur creates a seemingly therapeutic combination.
In fact, this whole area seems like one giant open-air sauna. Steam spouts not just from the ponds of water, but also from cracks in the rock surface. It is evident that this place is alive and active not too far beneath your feet.
On arrival, Arief is quick to place the eggs for boiling in a reasonably high up pond of water. It seems that the higher the pond, the hotter the water will be. It takes a while but soon enough half a dozen eggs are hard-boiled — though eggs don’t make the ideal refreshment here. Drinks are what you need more.
The heat can be stifling and unpredictable. Sudden bursts of steam can take you by surprise and a gust of wind can quickly engulf you in such a burst. This is not dangerous, the steam is not scalding — but it can momentarily take your breath away.
Kawah Domas may perhaps have therapeutic qualities but it is undoubtedly a place where the power of nature can be witnessed at close quarters. Unusually, this is a volcanic slope rather than a crater — and this fact makes it unique and remarkable.