Traveling across Java: West to East

Our journey out of Jakarta started with a train. We had heard it is the cheapest mode of transport available, so we used a Blue Bird taxi to get to the station from our accommodation. I recommend Blue Bird as they use a meter so they don’t rip you off, and they are also the most reliable company.

We had to wait at the station for 3 hours to catch the train to Bandung, so we passed time drinking Starbucks Caramel Frappes (amazing!) and using their extremely slow WiFi. The trains get booked up far in advance so we were forced to take executive class, so I would recommend booking online a day or 2 before.

The sun had set by the time we arrived in Bandung, as the trip was almost 4 hours. We had booked accommodation there through Booking.com, because they are the only website that allow you to book without a credit card, and not pay a deposit.

After hassling with the price of a taxi, we got it from 100 000 IDR to 50 000. Driving through the city, it seemed almost as crazy as Jakarta and not at all like a “little Paris”, which is how it is advertised. We drove through obscure alley ways, and down dark, deserted streets before nearing the area in which our accommodation was situated. Walls were high and fenced with barbs, and some properties had security guards! This was not at all what we were expecting, so just before arriving at our accommodation, we asked the driver to take us back to the train station. We were going to take the train anywhere, as long as it was heading East!

Due to some miscommunication, the driver wanted us to pay double, even though he would have had to return to the train station anyway because that is where he picks up potential business. A small crowd soon gathered around us, witnessing our little dispute and offering advice here and there. Desperate for the bathroom, and quite fed up, I stuffed a few extra notes into his hand and simply walked away. Call it a compromise?

Most of the trains had left for the day, so we couldn’t go to our ideal city, which was Yogyakarta. There some amazing temples there that apparently form part of the 7 Wonders of the World, but alas, the last train was fully booked. I grabbed a map and pointed to the cities in bold letters on Java, as I assumed those were the major ones, and the ticket lady eventually got my drift and booked us on a train to Surabaya. Economy was full so we were forced to take business class, which we were actually okay with because it was a 14 hour journey.

After buying some noodles and snacks, we boarded the train. It was 9:30PM. Business class was a shock. I thought it would be similar to First Class, but I was sorely mistaken. It much more closely resembled economy, just with slightly softer seats. The train was dirty and the seats were in a bench form, so Norman and I essentially shared a bench. It was a tight squeeze and we had no armrest between us, so I can’t imagine how we would have managed if we were a bit fatter. I actually thought there might have been a mistake so I went to query, but I was told that we were in the correct carriage. Too late to go back and change our plans, because we were on the last train and it was so late, we accepted our fate and settled in for the long journey.

Something about myself that is very inconvenient, and a trait that I don’t like, is my inability to sleep in an even  slightly uncomfortable position. Conditions need to be perfect for me to be able to sleep. I tossed and turned, and used towels and neck pillows in an attempt to get comfortable, but I only managed to drift into a light sleep for a few minutes at a time before I would get pins and needles, or a pain in my neck. By 3AM I resembled a zombi, and had to resort to extreme measures. I laid my towel down on the floor in front of our seat, and managed to curl up there if I kept my legs close to me, in a tight foetal position. This afforded me about an hour of sleep in total before my legs go too sore, and I eventually just sat on the seat like a normal human being, and waited the ride out.

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When the train finally pulled into the Surabaya station, I stumbled off in search of food and WiFi. We needed to get accommodation to sleep immediately! All that awaited us were vulture-like taxi drivers, eager to get our business as we were the only foreigners on the entire train. We must have disappointed them because by that point we were acutely aware of their business model, and we walked right past.

The thing is: only taxis without a meter are allowed into train stations! They try to tell you that there are no meter taxis or busses going to your destination, but if you just walk out of the parking lot of the station, there are many meter taxis parked outside.

After 30 minutes of googling, we decided to get to the bus station and catch the bus to Probolinggo. The taxi drivers spun their usual tricks and promised us there was no way to the bus station except in their taxis, but we shook our heads and walked out the station, where we found meter taxis, like we knew we would.

Those taxis turned out too expensive as well, so we asked about a local bus to the station. They played dumb at first, but we were relentless, and they eventually pointed out a corner a few meters away that we could stand on to catch the bus. Low and behold a local bus picked us up 10 minutes later, and for a mere 5000 IDR, as opposed to the 80 000 and 60 000 the taxis were offering, we could get to the bus station.

The bus ride was such a great experience that I’m so glad we persevered and caught it. It was filled with locals, and was so old I thought the floor might give away due to rust. Locals would climb aboard the bus play 3 songs on guitar, pass around their hat for donations, and then jump off again. This happened at least 3 times! I was more surprised by the fact that most of the locals, albeit poor, gave money to the buskers.

At the bus station we caught a rather nice bus to Probolinggo, where we would begin our adventure to the famous volcano, Mt Bromo!

Sitting on the bus I realised how spoilt we had been in Thailand, because it was totally geared towards tourists and in comparison, everything had been so easy. At that moment I probably smelt really bad from the constant sweating, and all the public transport we had taken! It had also been long since I had last showered. My eyes were feeling heavy and I was truly exhausted. Fuelled on junk food like Dunkin Donuts, crisps and Coca Cola, my body was crying out for a wholesome meal. The journey thus far had been one mammoth mission, both energy and time intensive, but I realised that that was the core of backpacking – traveling through a country, trying to experience it as authentically as possible, even though that way can often prove the most difficult.

 

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