A fruit-based chronology is at work in Bogor’s Mekarsari Botanical Park, which bases its calendar and events on what fruits are ripe for harvest.
March, for example, is the month of the pink, juicy jambu biji, or guava. And so to celebrate this fruit’s glory an hour-long tour of its farm using a train is held during the month.
During the tour, which costs Rp 30,000 (US$3.09) per person, participants can learn various facts about the fruit, such as its health benefits and ways to plant it. Of course, it also involves fun fruit-picking.
Brochures and maps from the information center - a three-story building called Graha Krida Sari in an area called the Family Zone, however, revealed that a Rp 50,000 tour of the area called Greenland offers a chance to be acquainted with many more types of fruit.
The tour is basically a circuit of one of Mekarsari's zones called Greenland, which is home to productive fruit trees such as star fruit, durian , jambu air (rose apple), guava, longan, mango, mangosteen, passion fruit, pineapple, jackfruit, rambutan and snake fruit.
Aside from Greenland, the 264-hectare park also comprise five other zones called Water Zone, where visitors can ride jet skis, water bikes or go canoeing, the Mediterranean Exotic Zone, which has cottages shaped like tree houses, Central Park, Family Zone and Festival Point, which is equipped with a stage.
Also included in the tour are 500 grams of snake fruit, one star fruit, a souvenir in the form of a hat or a small strawberry doll and a plant. Even in Indonesia, that is quite a bargain.
The non-smoking wooden train was comfortable and the guide’s voice sounded clearly enough as she explained in Bahasa Indonesia the itineraries and the places nearby.
English language guides are available on the spot for all tours involving small groups. Bigger touring groups should book a week before to ensure the availability of these guides.
Aside from the double 16-seat trains, tandem bikes and four-wheel tuk-tuks are apparently available for rent, although on The Jakarta Post Travel’s visit this month none of them were seen.
The park was far from crowded even for a Saturday but the train was full, mostly of locals.
The tour’s first stop was at greenhouses for melons. While it was already a hot day, the greenhouses are even more sweltering.
The park has around 30 green houses, each housing 300 to 600 melon plants in small pots or planted using the hydrophonic method, which uses nutrient-rich liquids with or without soil. Each pot, which use rice husk charcoal as its media, contains only one melon to maximize the fruit’s sweetness.
Other than the regular round melon, Mekarsari also develops them in unique shapes such as cubes, hearts, triangles and stars. Visitors were given a taste of the sweet, juicy fruit.
The next stop was the Salak Forest, which looked like a forest indeed. The snake fruit tree is a species of palm that grows to a height of between 3 and 6 meters and they are planted very close to each other.
Salak plants need to be planted with higher trees to protect them from the sun.
"If not, [the sun] can burn the plants and decrease the fruit's quality," the young tour guide said.
As promised, each person got a half-kilogram of salak in palm-leaf baskets. But several of the visitors that day bought some more after tasting the crunchy fruit.
Next in the itinerary was the three-hectare star fruit, or belimbing, farm. Mekarsari grows 19 varieties of the fruit, including belimbing Malaya, Penang, Paris, Demak Kapur, Dewi, Bangkok and Sembiring.
"All the belimbing fruit we have are wrapped in two layers to keep them from direct sunlight and fruit flies. The first layer is carbon paper that we reverse and then we add newspaper as the second layer," the tour guide told us. "Never ever wrap it in plastic because it will make the fruit rot easily."
Star fruit, she said, was good for those with high blood pressure, especially the younger, pale varieties.
"But if you have low blood pressure, don't eat too many ripe belimbing because you will get a headache instead," she added.
After a bit of sightseeing and star fruit shopping the train moved to the last fruit stop: the lengkeng.
Originally from a subtropical area in the southern part of China, lengkeng is more suitable to be planted in Indonesia's highlands that have the same subtropical climate. But nowadays there are many varieties of lengkeng that can adapt to the lowlands and tropical weather.
Mekarsari, situated less than 100 meters above sea level, owns highland and lowland varieties of lengkeng, but only the lowlands varieties such as Diamond River, Kaisar and Aroma Durian, can naturally bear fruits.
One variety is called pingpong, because its fruit can grow as big as a pingpong ball.
While riding the tourist bus, we also passed other fruit farms such as soursop, which is said to contain substances that can kill cancer cells without harming good cells, srikaya (sugar apple) which is high in calcium, and nangka, which is one of the heaviest fruits in the world and can weight up to 50 kilograms.
The tour lasted around two hours, which means exploring the whole park might take two whole days.
Naturally, fruit shopping in Mekarsari is recommended. However, the place also sells fruit chips, which are hard to come by in Jakarta. There are just as many varieties of snacks as there are fruits in the park.
At each stop on the Greenland tour, you can always hop off and hop right back on to the next train if you wish to explore a particular area longer. The trains come every half an hour.
The park's entrance fee is Rp 15,000 per person on weekdays and Rp 20,000 per person on weekends. The parking fee is Rp 10,000 for cars, Rp 5,000 for motorcycles, and Rp 2,000 for bicycles.
Elementary school students are Mekarsari's regular guests since there are many activities for children here.
You can spend the night in one of the park's five unique tree-house-like cottages, lodges or stay in family camps.
There are fruit stores and snack shops in the Family Zone, but you can also buy fruit and chips at each stop of the Greenland tour.
Bring your hat and umbrella and wear something comfortable since the weather can be really hot but also pouring with rain the next minute.
Mekarsari Botanical Park is located in Jl. Raya Cileungsi - Jonggol Km. 3 Kab. Bogor 16820 - Indonesia, opens daily from 8:30 a.m until 4:30 p.m.