After checking out this morning from our hotel in Jogja, we caught a taxi to the train station. While not that far, and easily done by becak, the huge suitcase I borrowed from my daughter, (now full of school resources & oleh oleh) and my new bright red onboard suitcase (for everything I’ll declare on arrival in Australia) would mean I’d need to hire 2 becaks; one for me and one for my luggage!! Much easier to go by taxi!!
We arrived at the train station much earlier than the half hour recommended by the travel agent who organised our tickets. Just inside the station, up a few steps, is a printer where the kind ticket collector printed out our tickets. He then checked our names against our passports, highlighted something in orange and then gestured the way we needed to go to reach our platform. With dismay, Marg & I faced the steps leading down to the tunnel under the railway lines! We gritted our teeth and went forth. Marg carried her suitcase down the stairs while I placed mine on the narrow strip that looked more like a scooter track going from top to bottom. With gravity helping, it was definitely a better option than carrying it yet steering it was tricky. With relief we reached the bottom of the stairs, turned right and then up ahead waiting for us was another set of stairs, leading upwards!! Once again, we gritted our teeth and put one foot in front of the other. Marg again carried her suitcase while I attempted to drag it up the scooter track. I almost made it but with about 3 steps to go, I gratefully accepted an offer of help from a very kind man, who no doubt regretted his offer once he realised the weight of my suitcase! I hate to think how many kilos it weighs and refuse to even think about it until we pack again tomorrow ready for our flight home.
We found some empty seats to collapse into; although almost rejected them as they were 2 steps up on a raised platform!! After what we had just accomplished, 2 steps turned out to be a piece of cake!
The Jogja station is actually a lovely station, very clean and organised. There was a smoking section over by the railway line and on either side of our seating area were food stalls offering a wide range of processed and fresh food as well as drinks and magazines. They also offered us our last chance to buy some bakpia, the souvenir everyone iis encouraged to buy in Jogja. I was very tempted to get some but in the end it was not possible as I had nowhere to put it! Bakpia are small round cakes/biscuits ranging in size from a 10c piece to a large scone looking a little like a very flat scone but they are delicious as they have a filling in the very centre. The filling options include chocolate, strawberry, peanut or cheese – yet my all time favourite is the mungbean paste filling.
In no time at all, an announcement over the PA alerted us to the imminent arrival of our train. The family behind us grabbed a porter who for Rp20,000 carried their suitcases and boxes of gudeg ( slow cooked jackfruit in spices – the most requested souvenier from Jogja)
The train pulled in and carriage 3 stopped right in front of us, so it was a very short walk to our carriage. We lugged our luggage onboard and thank goodness the height of the platform matched the height of the doorway onto the train. The passageway between the seats is quite narrow, so I turned my suitcase sidewards and dragged it to our seat. Our smaller bags were easily hefted up onto the shelf above our seat, yet the legroom was just enough for our suitcases. Just when I was imagining a 7.5 hour train trip with my legs squeezed in somehow between my seat and my suitcase, our “customer service” attendant , Anita, explained that at the front of our carriage is a luggage bay. With delight, I again dragged my suitcase sideways back through the seats and placed it in the small luggage bay. I then returned for Marg’s suitcase which I placed on top of my suitcase. This turned out to be a blessing because with the added height, Marg’s suitcase is visible from our seat!
Our seats are incredibly comfortable and we are pleased we booked tickets in the executive class. Each seat has a cushion, adjustable footrest, curtains across the windows, a tiny drink tray along the window, a mini side table hidden in the arm rest and a powerpoint for recharging devices. The carriages are non smoking and are fully airconditioned.
Not long after organising our luggage, a whistle blew and the train was in motion. A very quick stop. Withing minutes we were passing sawah and Jogja was gone. For the first few hours, the rice fields were very dry. The main crop we could see in the fields appears to be sweet potato and in the heat of the day, people are still busily harvesting leaves or working in the fields, threshing rice. Many of the dry sawah fields have black circular remnants of burnt rice stalks and other left over vegetation from harvesting and threshing the rice insitu. Along the train track too were tarps covered in rice drying in the sun. Everything looked parched and dry as if hanging in there for the first rains. This landscape continued for several hours sandwiched between small kampungs and towns.
Around 11am, we started the ascent and almost immediately the landscape changed. Suddenly we looked out upon lush green ricefields with plenty of water for irrigation unlike previously where the irrigation channels appeared sluggish at best. Here rice appears to be in all stages of growth but there are also sloping hills covered in vegetation including cassava, bamboo and banana palms including a variety of grasses looking like sugar cane. The ground up here in parts looks very dry too but because of all the greenery it isn’t as obvious. Yet we still pass pockets of extremely dry landscape. One pocket in particular looks like a struggling teak plantation while on the exact opposite side of the tracks is a lush vista of rice fields.
We have been offered (for a cost) food and drink several times on the journey by crew wearing very neat blue and batik uniforms carrying trays of nasi goreng and something else containing chicken (nasi rames). Drinks are also carried on trays including cups of hot sweet tea, sprite, fanta & aqua (water). The lunch trolley has just passed us with the same dishes on offer. On my last train trip, I remember being able to buy pecel from a seller who came to the train door but our station stops so far have been very brief and there have only been 2 stops so far! Might have to have another look at the trolley on its way back!! Starting to feel peckish with all the beautiful food smells circulating the carriage!
The toilets on this carriage are the cleanest I’ve ever seen on a train in Indonesia. Probably something to do with the cleaning staff with “OTC – On Trip Cleaning” embroidered on the back of their shirts.
We’ve seen them several times carrying brooms etc passing through. The toilet is a squat and can only be used while the train is in motion – very tricky with the sidewards motion!! I was impressed with the roll of toilet paper too – yet when it refused to flush (Yes!! A flushing squat toilet!) I realised the toilet roll of paper is actually meant for towelling hands dry after washing! Oops.
The windows on our carriage unfortunately are covered in a film to reduce glare (I guess) and at first makes the view somewhate blurry yet is is impressive how quickly I have adjusted to it. I would love to take photos as we move along but not sure how clear they will be. I’ll let you be the judge of that!
We’ve passed quite a few cargo trains and passenger trains racing in the opposite direction. It apears to be a very busy line.
After a yummy lunch of nasi goreng, we stopped at Cirebon. Before the train came to a stop, a porter jumped on board and ran through our carriage towards the group at the back who were obviously disembarking. However to his disappointment, they did not wish to employ his services, so back through the carrtiage he ran and out on to the platform. They must take a chance on each carriage hoping it to be the one with a passenger with too much luggage. After sitting for so long, it was lovely to get up and walk around. I went and stood at the back door and watched our food crew enjoy a few minutes to relax and take a break. They were greeting other staff and taking selfies! I then walked to the front door where an elderly man was enjoying the opportunity to smoke a cigarette. Water splashed down and the man explained that they were filling up the water tanks in the toilets. I stepped out onto the platform and sure enough hanging above each toilet was a tap and hose and walking along the top of our train were 2 men. One by one, they would unravel each hose and point it in through an opening in the roof where there seemed to be a water tank. After they had moved to carriage 3, I commented to the gentleman about how the last time I travelled by train, there were food sellers on the platform. He explained that they were now banned from entering the station and consequently the grounds were rubbish free, a fact he was proud of. He was impressed too that the carriages were smoke free and had no complaints at all about having to step outside and quickly smoke one before the train headed off again.
Instead of heading through the Bandung hills, the train traveled north via Cirebon close to the north coast. So it was no wonder that after Cirebon, the scenery returned to one of either fields of dry brown rice stalks with black crop circles evenly dotted thorughout or townships which, from the raised train track, looked like a sea of tesselated red tiled rooves with the houses built so closely together. Such a desolate and bleak landscape.
At times the dry fields seem to stretch out to the horizon where a line of trees indicated a river bed. Most river beds we crossed were either totally dry or filled with polluted stagnant water, so the few healthy flowing rivers we crossed were beautiful in contrast. Gone are the mountains along the horizon. Just a flatness broken up with occasional dusty villages dominated by a mosque rising up majestically and impressively above the houses. In the dry fields we occaisonally see small herds of goats with their herder somewhere nearby.
Once we arrived in Bekasi, a city that has been swallowed up by sprawling Jakarta, the view from the train became entirely residential. Fancy, tall buildings in the distance and slums built right up to the edge of the train line built from all manner of discarded materials, cobbled together ingeniously.
The next stop after Bekasi was Jatinegara where quiite a few passengers disembarked and minutes later we arrived at Gambir Station in the heart of Jakarta. With a sinking heart, we disembarked onto the 3rd floor right in front of the staircase. Then with joy, we turned and saw a group of passengers & porters jostling to get to the front of the crowd waiting to use the lift! With our luggage, we were more than happy to wait and we joined the 4th load down to the bottom floor where a kindly person pointed us to the taxi rank. What a huge station, with very clear signage and very helpful friendly staff.
A long train trip – unlike going by plane which is considerably faster – yet gave us the opportunity to see the largely dry landscape between Jogja & Jakarta which hopefully soon will receive a good wet season drenching .