Beautiful Bogor

Jakarta can be a choking hellhole. Thank God there are places in its outskirts where one can escape to. One of them is Bogor, the city of rain, about 45 minutes away from Jakarta.

My friends Daniel Powell and Adam Martin wanted to play golf there, and I was to tag along in my inappropriate ballet flats and possibly carry their clubs. We took a Bluebird cab to the golf course (surprising how cabbies want to make trips like these), which turned out to be closed for renovation.

So we decided to head into Bogor, the city itself, which reminded me a lot of my hometown — chilly air, laid-back people, lots of artsy cafes.

We ended up at Pia– a small but seemingly popular cafe fixated on apples and pie– which Dan picked out of my Lonely Planet book. (Taxi fare: around Rp 250,000)

The boys got chicken pot pies that were the size of their calves, while I got what I thought was the funkiest thing on the menu, Apple Fried Rice, which I wasn’t so happy about.

With our bellies full and me wanting to vomit, we decided to walk around the city and explore for a bit, but ended up taking a hired car to the city center. We chose to visit the famed Kebun Raya, an 87-hectare botanical garden initially built by Stamford Raffles but expanded by the Dutch.

On the way, we got to see Istana Bogor, the summer palace, where herds of deer actually graze in perfect formation. I suspected they were animatronics, but I saw a kid petting a live stag near one of the gates surrounding the palace.

Behind are the deer.

With our overnight bags slung heavy on our shoulders, we started a nearly three-hour trek inside the botanical garden. We were trying to locate a flower that smelled like rotting flesh, but could not seem to find it even if it looked giant on the map.

The rest of the hike consisted of us randomly following paths in the hope it would lead us somewhere new, with great sights to see or touch or smell. We saw giant lily pads on the artificial lake that cut into a big lawn dotted with brass sculptures of Victorian children playing. On the way, Dan pointed to a 10-inch lizard walking into the water.

We saw a variety of odd-looking plants, some of which made my skin crawl, and elaborate flower arrangements and bushes on manicured lawns in some parts of the garden. We saw a palm tree that had dread-locked outgrowths swarming with brown insects.

We marveled at the huge trees forming a high canopy overhead, some of which had amazingly grotesque tree trunks that writhed and twisted like a rheumatic man’s fingers. At one point, deep into the garden and late into the afternoon, we took pictures with a pig canary, a giant tree whose wood is apparently useful for keychains.

The high point for me was seeing this little venue sloping up a hill, where I intend to someday get married.I joke, but it looks very appealing, no? All the time, I felt like an Englishman on a horse would suddenly appear and tell us to get the hell out of his land.

It was definitely peaceful and slightly dangerous to be wandering around in a place that seemed both tame and wild at once. Near dusk, we made our way back to the main gate, which was a pretty far hike up and I started getting cramps from said inappropriate ballet flats.

With Adam’s friend calling him back, we decided to head to the train station back to Jakarta, scrapping our plan to stay overnight. Stepping out into the street, it started to rain, and we picked up an angkot (green minibuses, not unlike the mikrolets in Jakarta).

We were led into a dingy lot with some stores around it and walked along a covered passageway lined with kiosks selling anything from hats to food. At the end of the long passageway were the ticket booths, and we bought ourselves Pakuan Express tickets for just Rp 11,000 with about half an hour to spare before we were to leave.

To get to your respective train, you have to climb into others and come out on the other side until you find your track. Some of the trains had rasta bands and vendors selling DVDs and combs.

Part of the excitement would have been sitting in our own train compartment, watching the scenes go by, but it was a subway-type train with tinted windows. Though it was a slight bummer, we managed to get back to the capital, tired but sated and grateful for the adventure.

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