By Vyara Wurjanta

Pacitan, a small town on the southern end of East Java province, has earned the nickname “1001 caves”. But you don`t have to just go caving here - this area has so much more to offer.

The Pacitan landscape mostly consists of karst hills that are part of the Sewu mountains, a limestone mountain range stretching from Bantul regency in Yogyakarta province to Malang regency in East Java.

Hidden within this karst landscape are countless caves, a couple of which have built a reputation as Pacitan`s main tourist attraction.
These are the famous Gong Cave and Tabuhan Cave in Punung subdistrict, some 30 kilometers west of Pacitan.

And then there is Jaran Cave in Pringkuku subdistrict, the longest known cave in Indonesia, famous for its massive cave pearls.

The need for special skills to enter the shaft entrance hasn`t stopped the many cavers and adventurers who come here to explore its 20-plus kilometers of gorgeous alleys and chambers.

But if you come to Pacitan, you don`t have to hide from the sun. For this is a place that also offers wonderful beaches.
Indeed, a drive along the coastline makes for a lovely day, as some friends and I discovered.

To start with, let`s take a close look at Teleng Ria, a beach just 3 kilometers from the main town. Its soft and creamy sand that curves along the calm Pacitan bay has attracted numerous tourists not only from nearby cities such as Yogyakarta and Surakarta, but also from abroad. And when the higher swell rises in the bay, some young surfers will take the chance to dance along its waves.

This natural beauty has even attracted El John, a company focused on tourism to invest here - the company will soon build a luxury resort like the one they have in Parai on Bintan Island.

They have already established Sea View, a restaurant and caffe next to Happy Bay Beach, with the only bungalows in the beach complex. Rumor has it that they`ve already paid for another lease of the bungalows.

Ironically, what this investment has meant is that the public can no longer enjoy the beauty of Teleng Ria Beach for free. In mid-2008, El John introduced an entrance fee for visitors. The result was that the beach, so popular before, became deserted.
“Girls and boys, also kids and families, used to spend their afternoons watching the sunset, or simply strolling along the beach here,” said Mbah Teguh, a 45-year-old native of the district who opened a food stall on Teleng Ria Beach in 1993.

This in turn created hardships for small traders, who are struggling to make a living here.

“For years, I could support my family from selling food here. But now, getting a customer once a week is a miracle,” Mbah Teguh said with a heavy sigh.
“It seems like they don`t notice sidewalk sellers like us as existing here,” she added, referring to the new kings of Teleng Ria Beach.

Although there`s an upside to this too: The deserted beach now looks much cleaner and with less trash than it did when it had frequent visitors.
We then left Teleng Ria and explored other beaches stretching along the Pacitan coast.

From Teleng Ria, we took the road to the west, following the sign that reads “Srau Beach”. Tranquil village scenery lines the narrow and twisting asphalt road until, some 30 minutes later, after carefully zigzagging through the hills, a glimpse of the sparkling blue ocean emerges.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the beginning of the Srau coast. Its beach is separated by hilly karst capes, closely hugging the dark blue waters. In a slight contrast to Teleng Ria, Srau has white sand, these grains of sand reminiscent of those on Tanjung Aan in Lombok, which earned its famous name of “Pepper Beach” thanks to its grains of sand the size of peppercorns. Srau also emits an aura of a pristine and quiet beach.

From there, we took the road to the cul-de-sac and parked near the former stall. The local government has built minimum facilities in this beautiful place.
Beside the stall is a booth built from concrete where tourists can sit while soaking up the beach atmosphere.

There`s also a permanent miniature stage here, occasionally used for dangdut concerts. During these public events, the semi-permanent kiosks come into use.
On the day we visited, my friends didn`t have to wait long before they could get out their surfboards.

“We used to surf here, if the waves in Teleng Ria weren`t good enough,” Agus, a young Pacitan surfer, said.
Plus, he added, Srau`s waves were more powerful than those at Teleng Ria because it has a reef below.

While they played on the waves, I explored the path up the hilly cape. Behind the hills, I found a small and very beautiful hidden beach. Yet there was no easy way to get to the beach, which sits under a slope 2 meters high.
Under the hot sun, a number of fishermen sat quietly by the hillside, waiting for fish to bite.

“I`m fishing for the cucut fish,” one of the fishermen said. Cucut is another name for barracuda. For the local fishermen, this fish, with its long sharp teeth, is the most common catch in the area.

And it gave us visitors an idea: Why not have barracuda for lunch?
So we grilled three freshly caught barracudas that we bought from a fisherman for just Rp 25,000. Sitting on Srau`s soft sand, we had our special lunch. Rice, srundeng (grated coconut pulp mixed with spices) and the hot sambal from the nearest warung completed our meal.

In the afternoon, we headed back east, passing the town of Pacitan. A hot spring called Tirto Husodo in the Arjosari subdistrict was our next destination.
The hot pools here are for bathing; the absence of that sulfuric aroma indicates that the source of the hot spring is geothermal.

“I used to come here in the afternoon to cure my rheumatism, or just relax my aching muscles, after working all day in the paddy field,” one of the visitors said. He submerged himself in the hot water after “warming himself up” by dipping his legs for about 15 minutes to get used to the water`s temperature - 45 degrees Celsius.
There are two main hot pools here, but most people tend to choose the lower pool, as the water in the upper pool is much hotter.

I watched as one bare-chested man proudly walked to the upper pool after bravely swimming in the lower pool. Using a dipper, he poured water from the upper pool all over himself.

It wasn`t long before he decided to come back to the lower pool. Another visitor jokingly pushed his friend into the hot pool; he then quickly swam to the edge of the pool to escape the water`s heat.

Well, it is seriously hot. During a half-hour visit, I could not sit in the water for more than 3 minutes. For the rest, I was satisfied to feel the heat through my feet.

“When the rain comes pouring down in the afternoon, you can barely find a place in here,” Agus explained, pointing at the near empty pools.
But as the afternoon faded, lack of rain notwithstanding, visitors did flew in.
And we headed back to town.

There`s not a lot to see in Pacitan when night falls, especially as it approaches midnight. But if you are having difficulty sleeping and need a snack of some sort to soothe your empty belly, you can head over to alun-alun, the town`s central attraction. Saturday night is the liveliest, but on other nights too, there is still this beat of the town.

To the sound of Javanese songs vaguely coming from somewhere, an old woman served her clients cups of strong black coffee, or glasses of hot tea and ginger milk on one of warung lesehan - a semi-permanent food stall with mats for guests to sit on - in the alun-alun.

As for snacks, patrons can chew on grilled tofu and jadah (a snack made from rice and sticky flour). These snacks were meant to be eaten with ketchup and sugar.
Here in these stalls, people easily strike up conversations with others, from light chats about their daily lives to serious discussions about politics. And so it goes until the sellers close their stalls at around 2 or 3 in the morning.

Well, what did you expect from a small town at the end of what is soon to be part of South Highway of Java? Pacitan did offer more than expected!

Source : The Jakarta Post

Monday, March 1, 2010 Posted in | , | 0 Comments »

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