512 Kilometers to Jakarta
There is something very romantic about riding trains, or maybe I have created a romantic image in my mind. I like watching the passing landscape and reading a book at a leisurely pace. So since I had Monday off and it cost less than flying to Jakarta, I took the train for $32.75 – I bought an executive class ticket because I wanted a/c and a comfortable seat (that three hour train ride on a wooden board as a seat in Ukraine still haunts me). I had also always wanted to take a train through Java, so it was nice to cross another “to-do” off my list in one weekend.
Surprisingly, the train was on time and left Yogyakarta around 9 a.m. Then it was seven hours, 512 kilometers, to Jakarta. The ride was worth it. The landscape was beautiful, interesting, and at times, I felt a bit like a voyeur, witnessing some moments that were meant to be private.
The first few hours out of Jogja were bucolic and green, so very green. Rice fields and palm trees dotted the landscape. I started reading Richard Lloyd Parry’s In the Time of Madness. Parry was a reporter in Jakarta during the late 1990s and covered the fall of Suharto and the violent ethnic conflicts taking place in Indonesia at the time (cannibalism was involved). This was not the right book to choose for a romantic train ride. Some of the towns the train passed through were mentioned in the book and it was sobering to realize that a little over 10 years ago Indonesia was a very different place politically and economically. I still have about halfway to go in the book, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in Indonesian history and conflict journalism.
This photos reminds me a bit of driving through Watsonville, California in the summer when many people are in the fields:
As if my book wasn’t enough entertainment, I also had Indonesian music videos to entertain/annoy me for a good chunk of the journey and then the Belgian version of Candid Camera (odd, I know).
Along the way there were several fields that had been set on fire. I don’t know the reasoning behind this. As the train got closer to Jakarta there were heaps of trash along the side of the train tracks and some of those had been set on fire because who doesn’t love the smell of burning plastic? In Jakarta there aren’t too many trash cans around and I’ve seen plenty of people litter. It’s sad because it makes the city look so dirty. I actually just edited a blog about this at work the other night.
At one point in the trip, we went over a bridge and a pine forest and lake came out of nowhere. This seemed very odd and non-tropical to me. Along the way I also saw several women and young children bathing and playing in streams close to the train tracks.
At lunch time the train stopped in a random station. And then came the calls of “Nasi goreng (fried rice), Gado-gado (a salad), and Indomie (think Ramen).” The vendors only popped their heads into the train car, but they were very loud and persistent.
I noticed another funny thing along the way: people taking photos of the train. There were several people over the course of seven hours who were standing close to the tracks with their cellphones and taking photos. There were also very cute kids who must know the train schedule and they stood waving at the train.
Some bananas on a tree:
As soon as the train pulled into Gambir Station in Jakarta the taxi drivers pounced. They ran onto the train and started taking people’s bags hoping to give them a ride (thankfully, I only had one small handbag). So in the end, yes, I would take the train again, but I won’t read about cannibalism.