If you are looking for a bit of an adventure up in the mountains, not many locations offer beautiful landscape, untouched wilderness and thrills in one place like Selo, whatever your climbing skills.
Located in Boyolali district, Central Java, at an elevation of between 1,200 and 1,900 meters, the area joins the slopes of two of Java’s majestic volcanoes, Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu.
Selo is accessible an hour’s drive from Solo, through a back road connecting Solo and the famous Buddhist monument of Borobudur, known as the Solo-Selo-Borobudur (Sosebo) pass, which is littered with many viewing posts for you to enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery.
The area is known as a fertile tobacco-producing plantation ground as well as other produce to supply much of Central Java. It also offers beautiful landscape, serenity and fresh air for visitors who come here to get away from the bustling cities of Solo, Semarang and Yogyakarta.
The area is also famous with hikers as Selo provides the closest route to Mount Merapi’s peak.
Locals in Selo are generally very friendly toward travelers and they offer help as guides or porters to accompany you on your trek to either Merapi or Merbabu. You can also rent their houses for the night; many don’t set a fixed price and some gladly accept whatever amount you feel like giving them.
As I get to the subdistrict of Cepogo, I can get a clear view of the two mountains towering on both sides of the road. I take a turn right near the Selo market, where the road begins to climb. From a distance I can see giant letters saying “New Selo” nestled over a hill, inspired by the Hollywood sign.
New Selo is a tourist area located in Lencoh village, the last residential area before Merapi’s barren crater. There is a viewing tower at New Selo where you can see the equally majestic Merbabu on the other side — a must-visit, locals tell me.
From New Selo, Merapi’s summit is only four to five hours’ trek for the average hiker, but local guides say they can climb much faster.
“In clear weather, I usually reach the top only in two to three hours,” says Purwongatun, 58, a local farmer and part-time hiking guide who is with me on my hike up Merapi, Indonesia’s notorious “Mountain of Fire” that last experienced a major eruption in 2010. “It’s only three kilometers to the top, but the passageway has many turns that make it longer.”
Purwongatun has summitted Merapi hundreds of times, starting from when he was too young to even remember. Living on the mountain has made him accustomed to the climate and altitude, and he knows every pass and route scattered across the slopes of Merapi.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, my guide says, he was hired by the Geological Disaster Technology Research and Development Agency (BPPTKG). His job involved descending into the crater of Merapi to take mineral samples and measure the temperature.
Now almost 60 years old, he cuts grass on the slopes of Merapi to feed his cattle and occasionally guides hikers to the summit. “I hike the mountain almost every day and every night, especially between July and September, when foreigners come to hike,” he says.
Selo was also affected by the 2010 eruption, and Purwongatun says his family had to flee. Their cattle were killed by the blasts of superheated ash rolling down from the crater, and their crops razed. “But this year, the crop is very good as the ground become even more fertile than before eruption,” Purwongatun says.
Compared to other hiking paths such as Babadan in Magelang and Deles in Klaten, Selo offers the quickest and easiest climb to the summit. Another route, from Kaliadem in Sleman, has been closed since the 2010 eruption.
The trek from Selo is more crowded and is perfect for novice climbers who are just out for a good time like me. The path is clearly marked, passing tobacco fields, pine forests and barren crater area. More serious climbers may find the climb pretty mild, but not this aging reporter.
Hikers normally set off in the wee hours of morning to get to the peak in time to catch the glorious sunrise. But there are those who set out in the afternoon and set camp just below the summit at the Watu Gajah camping ground.
I would have preferred the later, spending a night enjoying the serenity of the mountain and watching the marvelous sky above, but with Merapi spewing smoke and ash in November 2013, the BPPTKG has warned all hikers to camp at Pasar Brubah, an ancient crater outside the one-kilometer exclusion radius set up around the crater.
For more experienced climbers, New Selo also provides access to Merbabu, where hiding paths like Wekas, Cuntel and Tekelan are much more demanding. Many climbers have been lost in Merbabu’s untouched rainforest, so hiring a guide is advisable.
Merbabu’s slopes offer a great view of Merapi, and novice trekkers like me normally visit two of the BPPTKG’s Merapi observation posts, located in Selo and Jrakah villages, to get a clear view of Merapi and snap a few pictures.
If you don’t fancy any climbing at all, Jrakah offers a picturesque view of Merapi from the village’s main bridge, which was rebuilt after the 2010 eruption.
A stone’s throw away from the village you can enjoy the picturesque Kedung Kayang waterfall in Wonolelo village. A further 10-minute drive from Kedung Kayang will take you to Ketep area, where you can get a 360-degree view of five of the most iconic mountains of Central Java — Merapi, Merbabu, Sindoro, Sumbing and Slamet — from the Panca Arga (Five Mountains) observation tower.
Selo offers an unforgettable experience for all, from occasional travelers looking to unwind in the mountains, to the more experienced adventure seekers and nature lovers. (Jakarta Globe)