My Jakarta: Dan Quinn, Mountain Climber
Dan Quinn, a mountain climber from Cumbria in northern England, was knee-deep in the London avant-rock scene when Indonesian gamelan music prompted him to visit the archipelago.
Now, after 18 months in Jakarta and a number of climbs under his belt, he writes for a Web site that is putting Indonesia’s mountains on the map. However, be careful what you consider a mountain around Quinn — it’s not that he’s picky, it’s just that there are rules.
So how do you define a mountain?
For the ‘Gunung Bagging’ Web site, the way we do it has to do with prominence. In terms of world mountain lists, topographical prominence is what people use these days.
There’s a list called the ‘Ultras,’ which identifies all the mountains in the world with 1,500 meters prominence. We took that and brought it down to 1,000 meters because there are so many amazing mountains in Indonesia that miss out. There are about 200 such mountains, or ‘ribus,’ which we’re updating at the moment.
Bakosurtanal, the Indonesian mapping authority, has great maps but they’re hard to buy. Google Earth has revolutionized things because you can go online and search yourself. You don’t need to buy maps.
For somebody that rarely gets out of the capital but still wants to have a good climb, where can they go?
A great thing you can do on a small budget is catch a Primajasa bus from Lebak Bulus to Garut and stay at Cipanas. Rp 35,000 each way [$3.80]. Papandayan, Guntur and Cikuray are all nearby.
In 18 months, what’s the best climb you’ve been on?
Perhaps Gunung Lawu on the border of Central and East Java. It’s a big one, about 3,200 meters. The sunset’s amazing. You can see Mount Merbabu and Mount Merapi like islands coming up out of a red sea. There’s even a warung near the top.
Central Java is a great area because there isn’t a problem with too much vegetation on top. In West Java, below 3,000 meters you often end up with a lot of dense vegetation and there’s not always a focus on reaching the highest point, but we’re really keen on that. You need a machete for quite a lot of West Java peaks.
I’m actually arranging expeditions and getting local guides to bring their machetes and basically reopen the summits. This is what the Web site is developing into. Hopefully, it will improve access to these places and encourage people to use these trails to places they weren’t able to go before.
So prominence isn’t all about height?
No, but to have a prominence of 1,000 meters you must have a minimum height of 1,000 meters. So an island that is 1,000 meters high is a Ribu.
We’ve also got this secondary list called ‘Spesial’ which consists of peaks that do not qualify as Ribus but are of interest so we include them. We encourage people to submit entries. It’s more than one lifetime’s work to visit these places. Some have perhaps never been visited, some of them take weeks and some you could do as a day trip.
Can you give us an example of a Spesial peak?
A friend suggested Gunung Raksa, the highest point of Panaitan Island off Ujung Kulon [West Java]. One of the oldest Hindu statues in the world is at the top. It’s only 329 meters high, but it doesn’t matter as it sounds like an amazing trip.
Where’s your next hike?
This weekend I’m going to Gunung Muria [Central Java]. It’s where they’re talking about building a power station, I believe. I’m approaching it from Kudus. I think there’s a cigarette factory there or something.
You were in a band in London?
The latest group lasted about two years. It was called One More Grain. I did vocals — not so much singing as spoken word. I was more interested in the production side of things than technical ability.
Do you play in a band here?
No, but I’m involved in gamelan projects. I moved here primarily because I was a big fan of gamelan music and I thought if the music sounds fascinating then the people will probably be fascinating too.
I love the Balinese-style gamelan, but my favorite is the Javanese stuff. The recording that was one of those defining moments in life, for me, was recorded at the Yogyakarta Kraton in the 1960s. It was sent into outer space with one of the Voyager missions. If other life forms ever find this craft they can listen to this gamelan music called ‘Puspawarna.’
Why do you like the recording so much?
It’s so potent. The different instruments merge and blend, which is how you actually hear them. Today, the prevailing techniques dictate that you should record each instrument individually. You can hear the birds and insects in the background. I don’t think that’s something you should edit out.
You can’t play gamelan music on a keyboard or a guitar. The notes and musical textures sound alien to Western people. Some love it and some find it jarring, out of tune. But that’s what connected me to the music.
What’s you favorite place to listen to music in Jakarta?
Have you ever been to Iguana Dangdut at Hotel Menteng I? The rhythm section is the best I’ve heard in Jakarta. Really funky.