Apr 29, 2022 • 6M

Couchfish: East Java sojourn day 6, achievement unlocked

Time to get wet, very wet.

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The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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It feels like Bali is a lot further than 357 km away as we rise for our morning visit to Tempak Sewu waterfall. It’s taken us five days to get here and given my previous record for time taken to get to a waterfall was about four hours, this one better be good.

It’s a five-minute ride from D’Corner Homestay to the deserted waterfall parking lot. Deserted save for the ever-present ticket dude who frees us of 20,000 rupiah per head, plus 5,000 rupiah for the bike. Payment made, we start walking.

The money shot. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The distant traffic noise fades fast as we work our way down, the echoing mosques, however, linger. They ran late last night and started well early today, one right by the homestay went tag team from 3 am, meaning Will had no need for an alarm for school. Eventually, even the mosques fade, and it’s just birdsong and our heavy tread on the slippery moss-covered trail.

We reach a split in the trail, right to the viewpoint, left to the base of the falls, we go right and in no time reach a split-level viewing platform, we climb the stairs, walk to the edge, and are hit with the reveal.

Down, down, down we go. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

It is absolutely magnificent. I’ve seen many a waterfall in my time, but never, ever, something like this.

The horseshoe-shaped hole in the earth is ringed by jungle and falls. There’s a central, main torrent, but at least a dozen lesser others ring the lip, falling into the depths forming a curtain of foam plunging into a pit of mist and spray. Behind it, Semeru looms, just gathering its crown of clouds. Magnificent is the word for it—there is no other.

Waterbom this is not. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

We go to the lower platform for a better view, it’s a slightly wider angle which better takes in Semeru and the light is amazing. The power of the falls is staggering, a thumping, continual boom emanating from the depths.

We retreat and start our way down into the pit. I’d read the trail was slippery and care should be taken, but it is flat out dangerous. It starts out with steps, but as it gets steeper the steps give way to slippery-as-ice metal platforms. Of all the materials that could have been used, slippery metal has to be the least safe choice. Ill-kept grip-ropes and broken railings that hold no weight add to the challenge.

Slightly soaked. Photo: Will McDonald.

We continue down, slowly, gingerly, and then the trail ends. Well, it doesn’t end, rather it transforms into an actual waterfall. We slip and slide down its surface, using ropes when we can, but also taking care of the two-foot-tall steel metal rods that are hammered into the stone. I assume they’re there for gripping, but they’re prime tools of impalement—like the metal walkways, a terrible choice of material.

Still, we survive unimpaled and finally find ourselves at the canyon base. The trail splits at another ticket booth (10,000 rupiah each please) and we veer right, then shortly after the trail ends at the surging muddy river—we have to cross it. No point is marked and we can see no guiding rope, so we randomly pick a spot and cross, the pulsing water, almost waist high, is as powerful as it is icy cold.

Even a pano can’t capture it… Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Across we continue, ever closer, the air thick with spray, we yell at each other above the thunder of the falls. Another crossing is needed to reach the pit, again unmarked, we cross and climb atop a ridge, and we’re there.

The power is indescribable, and the spray has me pointlessly wiping my glasses every thirty seconds. Will scampers up higher, for an even better view, while we can’t quite see the impact of the main falls, boy can we feel it.

The secondary falls with a swimming pool supplied. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

There’s another crossing required to get even closer and we draw the line, I can’t see a safe place to cross and the water at this point is so powerful it could easily sweep one away, so we just stand where we are, literally soaking it up.

Soaked, we backtrack to the ticket office and fork out another 10,000 rupiah to visit a secondary falls ten minutes away. It’s a beautiful set, far more sedate, reminiscent of La Popu Waterfall in Sumba. Near its base, a weir has been added to form a swimming hole filled with crystal clear, icy water. We rest by its edge, alone. Save the ticket guy, we’re the only people here.

“Hi, Mum.” Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Lingering over, we start the long slow climb out. The ropes are more useful going up than down, but it remains a dangerous route, and I’m not surprised a well-dressed Indonesian trio we meet near the top turn back.

Then it’s back to the homestay, to clean up and head back. It’s time to start the long ride home—five hours on two wheels to Kalibaru.

So was Tumpak Sewu worth all that time riding to reach from Bali? You bet.


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