In a post I wrote last year, I referred to 2020 as annus horribilis, the horrible year, for life as we knew it suddenly ceased to exist. Cities became eerily quiet, our movements were restricted, we could only meet friends online, and wearing a mask became mandatory, among other changes we have since gotten accustomed to. That blog post to end the year was meant to celebrate the little things we had taken for granted for too long, and to appreciate life no matter how different it had become from what we envisioned.
However, when I thought 2020 was bad enough, 2021 turned out to be my annus horribilis. I lost my father in February, and a few months later I also lost my uncle (my mother’s older brother) who had been living with my parents for more than 10 years. On an unassuming Wednesday in June when I was resting on my sofa during lunch break, I got a phone call from my mother. She usually never calls me on weekdays, unless it’s something important. As soon as I picked up the phone, all I could hear was her frantic cries. His sudden death, presumably from a heart attack, just four months after the passing of my father hit us really hard. Being overwhelmed was an understatement, but we had no other option than to deal with it.
Everything that happened took its toll on my work; I couldn’t give my best to some of the projects I was handling at that time as there were details I missed because of all the meetings I couldn’t attend since I had to go back and forth between Jakarta and Semarang between February and June. An offer from a former boss to work at her company was the fresh start I needed, or so I thought. Only after a few months in the new job, I realized that I wasn’t in a better place, and it took me weeks to reconsider my options. After a long heart-to-heart discussion with her, I came to the conclusion that a break was what I needed after all. In October, I took the courage to step back from the fast-paced life I had known since I was reemployed in early 2016 following my six-month Spice Odyssey, to give myself the chance to do things I had previously never had the time or energy to carry out.
During the pandemic, it is evident that many of us are choosing to explore outdoor places for safety reasons. I’m glad, albeit slightly jealous, that this is exactly what some of my blogging friends have been doing. Caroline and Alison have been sharing their hiking trips (with gorgeous photos) from around western Canada, while Sue is exploring more of Alberta. Lex, on the other hand, recounted her epic road trip across the American West. Reading their experiences and looking at the awe-inspiring landscapes, scenic hiking trails, beautiful lakes, and all the greenery that is always present wherever they go made me think of doing something similar. This sedentary life I’ve been living since the beginning of the pandemic certainly isn’t good for my health. It wasn’t until September this year, however, when I finally told myself to just do it. Just go!
On a Friday morning in September when I was working from home, I got this sudden urge to go hiking in a place not too far from Jakarta. I’ve been telling people how much I want to do it, but until now, I had never really acted on that desire. This was partially caused by my reluctance to deal with the bad traffic Jakartans cause when they flock to the hilly and mountainous regions to the south every weekend. However, a friend reassured me that if I leave Jakarta early enough, I should be able to avoid getting stuck in the congestion. Then I looked up easy hiking trails near Jakarta that can be done without a guide, and many sites mentioned the Cisadon Trail in an area called Sentul. With some more information in hand, a weather forecast that said Saturday would be sunny, and the fact that the odd-and-even number regulation only allowed me to drive on even dates (which that Saturday was), I was convinced the following day really would be the best time to do what I’ve been thinking of doing for a long time. James was unsurprisingly less enthusiastic about the notion of getting up so early on the weekend to do a physical activity.
When we arrived at the trailhead, the parking area was already filled with cars. Clearly many Jakartans had turned to hiking as a safer and easier alternative to traveling to faraway places with all the pandemic-related hassles. However, when we started walking on the rocky path, I barely saw any other hikers. Presumably the owners of those cars had a much earlier start than us and they were already way ahead of us. With no one else on the trail, I decided to take off my face mask after a few minutes to feel the cool mountain air which was very refreshing. I walked in a brisk and steady pace, and my head was filled with excitement. Finally, I’m doing this, and the skies are clear. It’s perfect!
That thought was rather premature, unfortunately. Around 15 minutes after the start of the hike, I took a short break to catch my breath and to drink. However, as soon as I stopped, suddenly my head started feeling light and my vision began to blur. Then everything gradually became brighter and brighter, as though there was a brightness setting in my head and it had been turned to maximum. Sensing that this could be really serious, I turned my body and looked for something I could grab onto. Is that a branch? Or is it a root? I couldn’t tell for it looked too blurry. But I knew I should grab onto it to prevent myself from collapsing. While standing, I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deeply. Then I started yawning a lot, a signal from my body that it needed more oxygen. All I could think afterward was don’t collapse, don’t collapse, the hospital is far from here, and there’s no way James is going to take me there since he can’t drive in Indonesia.
Slowly I regained my vision. Everything still looked so bright, but at least it had been dialed down from its maximum level. I told James that we could start walking again, but he convinced me to wait for another five minutes. A little later, when my vision had completely returned to normal, I continued the hike, albeit at a much slower pace and with a lingering mild headache. As we went further up, the rocky trail occasionally turned to a dirt path, at some points wet due to rivulets and small waterfalls crossing it. All sorts of natural scents from different species of plants wafted in the fresh air, stimulating my olfactory bulb which attempted to identify them. Forest critters tried to outdo one another when it came to sound, although none of them was visible to my naked eyes. But out of sudden I heard a loud thump right above my head, high in the forest canopy. From the way the upper branches moved, it couldn’t have been caused by a bird. Maybe it was a small primate, although from my perspective it was impossible to confirm this.
The higher we went, the better the view became. Behind us, far in the background beyond the hills of Sentul, the volcano Mount Salak loomed large with its distinctive eroded summit. Beneath its rugged peaks was a layer of air pollution hanging over the Greater Jakarta area, home to more than 30 million inhabitants. Seeing this – the very same air my lungs take in every day – from a far less polluted place was a sad reminder of the price people have to pay to live in the country’s economic hub where opportunities are abundant. However, another stark reality soon hit me. This very trail that connects the remote village of Cisadon to the outside world is already popular among city dwellers, so much so that 4×4 vehicles and motorbikes are now a regular sight on weekends. They forced us and other hikers to stand on the inner side of the path every time they passed us, and for short moments after that we had to breathe in toxic fumes.
More than two hours since we started the hike, we finally got a glimpse of our destination. Cisadon is a village of around 60 people. Despite its relative proximity to the Indonesian capital, it has no cellular reception and it’s not connected to the national power grid. Fortunately, thanks to the abundance of water around their village, the locals turn to a micro-hydropower system to generate electricity, just enough to keep the houses lit at night. Around 20 minutes later, we arrived at the village gate and kept following the pathway that led us to a small mosque at the center of this settlement. Most houses were quiet, but a few that had been turned into warungs (small, informal eateries) were lively and busy. Curiously, a communal washing basin nearby was emblazoned with the flags of Indonesia and South Korea. For some reason, this trail is popular among Korean expats (we met some along the way), and they helped install this public facility last year to raise people’s awareness of cleanliness and sanitation.
After having very refreshing and deeply satisfying young coconuts from one of the stalls, we took a short tour of the village before going back to where we started. That day I was happy that what I had been wishing for was finally realized. But now, looking back at that fine Saturday in September, I can’t help but draw some parallels to what 2021 has been like for me. First, the fast ascent. Moving at a high speed and living a fast-paced life may well be the norm these days for most people. But we often put aside what our bodies need, and only start paying attention to them when problems arise. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down from time to time, and if you need a break, just take it – exactly what I did in October when I decided to quit my job. Then, those motor vehicles along the trail. For me, they are like problems which we will always encounter in life. And that’s totally normal. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to just let them pass, and allow peace and serenity to return afterward.
My annus horribilis has definitely not been easy, but here I am in the last month of 2021, cautiously excited for what 2022 has in store. Happy New Year everyone! I’m wishing you health and happiness, always.