It was February 6th 2007 when the last big floods hit us in Jakarta. I remember that day well as our cafe in Kemang was flooded a metre deep with muddy, dirty river water that had climbed out of the nearby creek and covered all of the leafy South Jakarta suburb within a few hours. The cleanup took a while, but I am proud to say that we were trading on the sidewalk the very next day for customers in a need for a coffee do not just go away.
Yesterday I woke up to the third successive day of heavy tropical rain. It simply is that time of year again, not much can be done about it. I had been thinking about doing a motorbike trip into the West Java countryside, just to snap a few pictures of the locals going abut everyday life. I thought it might be good to post these on BX. In the States most of the Javanese Coffee available is from East Java, some 1200km from where I live. West Java however was where it all begun for the coffee industry in Indonesia. The Dutch originally brought coffee here, Arabica from India, over 300 years ago. Planting initially was around Batavia (modern day Jakarta). In the capital city today streets such as Jl Kopi and suburbs like Jatrinegara are testimony to the fact that agriculture was once part of the trading life blood of the place.

The Dutch quickly pushed their systems of plantation agriculture south, through Bogor and all the way to the town of Pelabhuan Ratu (Queens Harbour) on the Indian Ocean coast. Where I live, Sentul, is just about smack in the middle of where the heaviest concentration of plantations once stood. On the hills that wind in towards Jonggol and Bandung, coffee, pepper, rubber, clove and even the occasional nutmeg tree can still be found growing. Many of these old estates are now overgrown, but the trees and the way they were planted in grid patterns gives testimony to the agricultural systems of the day.

With the rain still falling I wrapped the camera in several plastic bags, donned some very inadequate wet weather gear and hit the road. Conditions ranged from between warm and very wet, to bloody cold and very wet. The good news was that the light was perfect for photographing the villagers as they sheltered in their verandas of gathered in local Warungs to drink coffee and chat. It was not too hard to get a smile, I looked like the proverbial drowned rat.

The villages in this area are still untouched by a lot of the expectation and disappointment that big city life creates in cities as big as Jakarta, or as small as Bogor. Graffiti is rare, people look healthy and are genuinely happy. Don't get me wrong, it is not my place as a visitor here to say that village life is many ways is superior to that in the city. Literacy levels (low) and infant mortality rates (high) are still a problem in rural Indonesia. However, in the coffee projects we operate here we are working hard to keep the farmers on the land, pay them well and develop infrastructure. I think there is no doubt that we have seen rural communities would rather stay in villages as long as they have a similar level of access to resources as those in the cities.

On this day I got thoroughly wet. I was caked in thick, sticky mud up to my knees. My eyes stung from the constant rain and the concentration required to keep the bike firmly on the road. My butt hurt from the constant trampolining effect the buckled tracks produced under the bike. By wrists ached, by back was sore. However I had a great day and have absolutely no regrets on doing the trip. Lots of coffee, thick, hot, tar-like Robusta with sugar was drunk along the way. I met newborn babies to a couple of 95 year men who told me stories of the Japanese occupation and Independence. I ate rambutan and sweet manggis picked from trees hanging over the road. I helped villagers pull a dilapidated land cruiser from a swollen river and walked amongst the ruins of a long abandoned colonial coffee plantation. Yes, a great day. Next week I will bring back the prints of the photos I took yesterday for the friends I made along the way and, hopefully, get a few more pictures while I am at it.

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