Monday, March 19, 2012

The Road to Tanjung Kasri...

This is the second of three posts describing my recent trip to the Serampas region of Sumatra.  My assistant and I hiked from Kerinci district to Serampas last week to visit some villages that lie within Kerinci Seblat National Park to learn about the way farmers cope with living inside a protected area.  The villages of Renah Kemumu (previous post) and Tanjung Kasri are completely located within the park, and so under Indonesian law they are technically illegal, though there is an informal agreement between the park and the village residents.  However, the illegal status prevents district funds from being used to improve infrastructure in and around the villages.  The story is also complicated by the fact that, according to the villagers, they and their ancestors have been in Serampas for 800 years, whereas the park was formally decreed only in the 1990s.

Getting to Tanjung Kasri

I had originally planned to visit Renah Kemumu and Rantau Kermas only, because the latter received a significant amount of development aid from the World Bank back in the late 90s whereas the former didn't, and so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two.  However, when I was in Renah Kemumu I was told that it would cost a total of 300,000 rupiah (approximately $33) per person just to get to Rantau Kermas, and then I would need to think about getting back.  This would have cut into my "buy your way out of trouble" reserve, and so I decided to scrap the visit to Rantau Kermas and visit the next village, Tanjung Kasri, instead.  Since there's a "road" between the two villages, I decided we'd drop our mess kits and other superfluous gear (including the batik shirt I brought for meetings with village heads; I soon learned that in Serampas camo pants and sweat soaked shirts are formal attire) and hump the 15 kilometers through the hills.  How hard could it be, right?

The answer to that question is "pretty %&$#*#$ hard".  The road is much steeper, and at one point I was on a hill that made me feel like I was in some sort of Sisyphan hell designed just for me.  It took me about 5 hours to make it to Tanjung Kasri.  About a kilometer and a half out of town my assistant road by on the back of a farmer's stepthrough and waved at me.  "See you in Tanjung Kasri", he smiled.  Indeed.  By the time I got into town I was beat from the sun and the climb, but fortunately my assistant had a cousin there who we ended up staying with, so I spared him the angry words I'd been preparing in my head as I staggered the last bit of the way.

The road is through the national park, and so it required special permission to be built, which took a number of years.  Previously it was hardened gravel, but the new approval allows for a paved 2-meter wide road, the theory being that it would improve access while preventing big trucks, which are used for illegal logging, from entering the park.  Currently approximately 10% of the way is concrete (1), but the the steep roadcuts with no buttressing combined with the heavy rainfall has led to a significant amount of erosion and gullying.  It's still tough to make the trip, and in the rainy season it's impossible to pass.  There are a couple of rivers that have to be forded by 4-wheeled vehicles as you can see in the video below, but there are plans to build bridges in the next couple of years.  I made the video on the way back, and my new friend, the village secretary from Renah Kemumu, was out in the middle of the river with a hardhat clearing the way.  The truck is filled with goods for his small store, one of two in the village.

About an hour and a half walking (20 minutes by motorcycle) you can stop at Grao Sakti, a hot spring set right by a nice stream.  The hot spring is designated a "tourist site", but it doesn't get many visitors due to the isolation of the area and the lack of publication.  This is a real shame, because the place is really nice.  Locals say you can bath in the waters and boil eggs, but I wasn't really in the mood.  Still this is the most spectacular hot spring I've seen in Indonesia, and if it were located any place else it would be fully developed with bathing facilities.  As it is there is a "homestay", a shack built across the river for visitors, but from what I understand no one ever uses it.  While we were at the hot spring we saw some guys that had killed a deer ("rusa"), which is technically poaching.  The area is a good place for hunting because animals come for the salt that comes up with the water.  My assistant wanted to go chat with the hunters, but I find it's usually best to leave folks engaged in illegal activities alone, especially when they are armed and you're in the middle of the jungle.  The hunters take the meat for personal consumption or to sell for about 30,000 rupiah (US$3.33) per kilogram, which is much cheaper than beef or goat, which is consumed only on special occasions.

Life in Tanjung Kasri

Being closer to the main transport artery, gas and goods are cheaper in Tanjung Kasri than they are in Renah Kemumu.  In addition, the margin of profit for agricultural products is higher.  All of this is reflected in the appearance of the village.  There are about 110 households in Tanjung Kasri, and 85% of them are coffee farmers.  There is a rule in the village that compels farmers to grow coffee because it is seen as a way to improve the economy of the village and because it supposedly draws less ire from the national park authorities, given that it's a tree crop.  Before coffee was adopted most farmers harvest cinnamon from trees planted over the years.  The folks say that transportation is still the biggest concern, but the new road to Rantau Kermas (see next post) helps.  It costs 1000 rupiah (US$.12) per kilogram to get goods to or from the main road at Danau Pauh, as opposed to 2000 rupiah in Renah Kemumu.  The local folks also resent the park because they have yet to be granted formal control of their land.  The land is very fertile, and the farmers don't use fertilizer or pesticide, so they produce organically.  In other places around the park the fertile land under the forests draws outsiders who clear the trees for cultivation, but Tanjung Kasri has succeeded in keeping outsiders out, in part because of their customary (adat) law.  Most of the people in the village feel that they are due some sort of compensation from the park, since they claim they've been protecting the forest for ages.

Jono, Con, and Chua (RA) at the Batu Larung
If you make it to Tanjung Kasri, you can ask one of the locals to take you to a nearby megalith, called batu larung in the local language.  This artifact is located probably around 5 kilometers from the village, depending on who's fields you cut through.  It's located in the middle of a coffee gardlen and was pretty well overgrown before my new friends cleared away the growth.  The locals don't pay too much attention to the megalith; they don't know where it came from and many consider it to be a relic of the days before Islam came to the area, and so it's blasphemous.  Others say it is a relic of the "battle between the mountains", the result of one mountain attacking another.  It's about 4-5 meters long, and is carved on both ends.  One end has a carving of a man, the other (in the picture), a woman.  On one side it's flat, and so it appears that maybe it was toppled over at one point, possibly by people looking for treasure beneath.  This megalith is one of several scattered throughout the wider region, as you can see from the map below.  I couldn't find any information about what era they might be from, but it looks pretty old.

Map from David Neidel's PhD dissertation; see references.

You can also poach birds from the park if you are so inclined.  All the men in the village carry air rifles, which while not a "man's weapon" (i.e. a Winchester), are sufficient to send birds to their reward.  While songbirds are taken to sell, some are also eaten since there's not much meat around.  I witnessed a significant amount of bird shooting; farmers "hunt" opportunistically while they are working in their coffee gardens and some folks walk the village trails looking for birds.  I witnessed an interesting innovation: the use of cell phones to call the birds.  Some of the folks I have met have bird songs recorded on their phones and when they are walking through the forest they play the song on the external speaker, which attracts their quarry.  I recorded a few of the songs on my voice recorder and made "movies" so you can get the idea.

The first bird is a Murai Batu, which according to my bird expert buddy is Copsychus malabaricus, or Whited-Rumped Shama.  You can see it in the picture that goes along with the recording.

The second bird is Cucuak Daun, or Chloropsis sp.  One of a variety of leafbirds found in the area.

The last bird is Copsychus saularis.  Locally known as the kacer, this is an oriental magpie robin.  I'm not sure if the hunting of these birds or the rusa mentioned earlier makes a dent in the natural populations, but they are all supposed to be protected by the park.  Most populations can stand some hunting for local consumption but problems arise when the creatures are sold in outside markets.

I had a very productive experience in Tanjung Kasri and met a lot of people.  This is a town that only sees foreigners every couple of years or so, so everyone was very curious about me.  After two days here we continued down the road to Rantau Kermas instead of heading back to Renah Kemumu because we found that transportation is actually a lot cheaper than we were told in the first village.  But that's Sumatra for you; anything to do with prices, times, or distances is highly subjective here.  In the next post I'll talk about the village of Rantau Kermas.  


(1)  Like most infrastructure projects in Indonesia, a significant amount of the money allocated for the road was skimmed by politicians and contractors, and so the whole things hasn't been completed.


Neidel, David.  2006.  The Garden of Forking Paths.  History, its Erasure and Remembrance in Sumatra's Kerinci Seblat National Park.  PhD dissertation.  Yale University.

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