The sky was clear and the weather was warm. Some locals surfed as the waves of the Batu Karas beach came and went.

With only a few visitors, its quiet was markedly different from Pangandaran, the neighboring beach which is always crowded with visitors who flock from nearby major cities of Jakarta and Bandung.

Still, like Pangandaran, Batu Karas also offers natural beauty and many opportunities for fun.

Pangandaran is about a four-hour drive from Bandung; it takes another hour and a half from the bus station in Pangandaran to Batu Karas.

First I took a bus, then an ojek (motorcycle taxi). It was a hair-raisingride, passing over suspension bridges made of bamboo. But the tiring, dangerous trip was worth it for the sight of the stretch of virgin beach. There was no trash and only the sound of the waves broke the silence.

Waves falling on the eastern side of the beach have made it a favorite place for surfers. A short surfing course, costing only several thousand rupiah, is offered by guest house operators in the area. Surfing equipment is also available for rent. Many local young men, among them employees of the guest houses, surf in the morning until noon.

I was lucky to arrive during a local surfing competition. The prize was only a few thousand rupiah, but it was enough to stir enthusiasm among the local surfers.

“”A foreign tourist gave us this money. He wanted us to make a surfing competition. He also taught us how to be a good surfer. I think he was an athlete,”” said Oding, a keeper of one of the guest houses who always surfs in the morning.

An enchanting sight in the evening is the traditional fisherman on the western part of the beach. At sunset, the fishermen return from the sea with their boats laden with fish. Many people — men, women, children, eventhe old — help them anchor the boats with rope as others fold the nets. Women collect the catch and prepare to dry the fish the following day.

I wanted to buy the fish. “”You can take as many fish as you like. I’ll give them to you for free,”” they said in reply.

After I insisted on paying, they gratefully accepted the money. They looked happy knowing that someone was impressed by their work.

Unfortunately, the beach has poor accommodation and facilities. There areonly three guest houses, with the price ranging from Rp 15,000 to Rp 30,000per room per night, and there is one restaurant. Obviously the area has notbeen developed, but perhaps that is why its natural beauty is unspoiled.

The trip to Batu Karas would not be complete without dropping in at GreenCanyon, which is located three kilometers from the beach. Located on the upper reaches of Citaal River, it is a cave with a big canyon and waterfall. It took some 15 minutes reach the cave with a dugout. The five of us rented one for about Rp 25,000 an hour.

The cave itself is a big hollow surrounded by a steep stone riverbank. I rented an inner tube for Rp 2,500 and plunged into the river, with water dripping from the roof of the cave. I moved along the tunnel following the current of the river. The yellow and blue of stalactites and stalagmites all around the cave provided a spectacular view. Suddenly, I saw a big waterfall that cascaded from the top. And the sunshine broke through a small hollow, giving light to the tunnel.

Locals believe that people can stay young by bathing in the water and visitors do not miss the opportunity to dive in.

I was still enjoying myself when the boatkeeper warned me not to swim toolong because it was dangerous and that my one-hour ride was almost up.

“”Many dugouts want to enter this cave. We must come out now, otherwise itwill be crowded and we can’t move,”” he said.

He grumbled while rowing his boat. “”It is unusual for me to cross the cave from the back and not from the front, whereas Javanese culture always teaches us to enter somebody’s house from the front door.””

In fact, the contour of the cave enables us to enter from the back. But as many people do not know about Batu Karas, most visitors enter the Green Canyon from Pangandaran Beach. The Green Canyon, which is easily accessibleby car, is about a half-hour drive from Pangandaran.

I was left with an unforgettable impression in my trip along the river. Isaw the green canopy of vegetation on both sides of the river. There were common plants, such as coconut trees, palms and pandanus. As I approached the coastal area, I saw the row of palms and mangrove trees fringing the estuary.

It is hard to find a coastal area with such complete vegetation. Plant life along many Indonesian coastal areas, especially on Java, has been destroyed and caused erosion.

I met a diver who was looking for shells underwater. As he roasted the shells, I sat with him and tasted its flesh. It was delicious.

“”We call them karitip. They are full of protein. You can eat them as is or with ketchup and chili. I always bring them home for my wife and kids. They eat them as a side dish,”” he said.

I could also see many types of birds making their nests at the top of trees, which would be a big attraction for bird lovers. Suddenly I was alert to the fact that a place near to an estuary must be home to many crocodiles.

“”But don’t worry. If you don’t disturb them, they will not attack you,”” Pak Manto, my dugout keeper, said calmly. (Perrnah dimuat di The Jakarta Post)