Puncak in the Rain
Copyright © Judith Shaw
Every three weeks, rain or shine, we drove from Jakarta to the mountains known as the Puncak. The village where we shared a bungalow gave “rural” a whole new meaning, but the air was always fresh and cool.The drive was an adventure, courtesy of Soroto, our driver and general fixer. He was a cavalier and aggressive driver, always pushing the edge, and the mountain road was like a playground for him.
On one of our most memorable weekends, we got to the house and unpacked the boxes while Barnaby chased a chicken around the yard, diving into the bushes and screaming with joy. Soroto thankfully kept him from damaging the chicken.
The sun was shining, but in the mountains rain is always around the corner, so we quickly got ourselves together for a walk up the hill. The path was slippery with red clay, and we hung on to vegetation beside the path to keep from falling over. The path went through the clouds, and on the way down it started to rain. Soroto cut huge leaves from wild elephant ears and gave one to each of us to use as umbrellas. They didn’t do much good, because the leaves quickly filled with water that emptied on our heads. Soaking wet, we slid down the path to the house.
Both kids were covered in mud. Baths before lunch were in order, but in the Puncak there were no bathtubs, only mandi, large containers filled with water to pour over our heads before and after soaping up. No matter how hot it was outside, the water was always cold, and we were all shivering before we were clean.
We had lunch on the open verandah so we could watch clouds flow over the mountains and smell the rain. After lunch the tukang came, smelling out our foreignness and bringing all kinds of stuff to sell. There are rules for this kind of thing. You don’t have to buy, but you have to look. And you have to be polite. In Java, rudeness can be fatal.
The first man unpacked wayang golek, the doll-like puppets used in the shadow plays of West Java. He spread them out and showed the children how to make them dance. Other tukang came, bringing their versions of antiques for us to sort through. Most were junk, but every once in a while not.
You can’t have wayang without gamelan, and soon a group of men showed up with a whole orchestra. They set up shop and started to play, using the padded mallets from West Java. The music was muted, soft and magical.
Evenings come early in the tropics. The junk sellers packed up their boxes and prepared to leave, but the musicians played on and on. We sat and watched the sun go down, listening to the music and the rain.
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