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Eindhoven - In the very early hours of a day in july, 2000, we left home in Pondok Labu for a five-day trip to Yogyakarta. With we I mean Fifi, one of my relations in Indonesia and myself. We would go there to visit Candi Borobudur and Candi Prambanan, and to have pleasant stay outside Jakarta for a few days. That early morning already meant a surprise to me. Jakarta could be quiet like a rural area as well, but you had to go out very early. And that would not be the last surprise.

First how to get train tickets. When you want to make a longer trip than a local commuter train, you have to apply for your train tickets in advance. Usually the selling period is one week in advance of the departure of the train. This shouldn't be a problem, but it can become a problem if loads of trains depart from various stations in Jakarta (for example) and the ticket office of that company or train is located in another station, as happened with our tickets.
We had to get the tickets for our trip at Stasuin Juanda. That train station is a busy one with lots of ticket offices, rows of waiting people and people who are seemingly still figuring out where they actually want to go. It's common that a train is fully booked so you have to wait another day for your departure, but if you are already booking one week in advance, you have to come back the other day, no excusses made. It's probably better to find another train which departs earlier, even if that means that you have to queue in another row all over again. Often the queues look longer than they actually are because entire families and relatives queue happily together.
Be sure you queue for the right train or company ( indications are made above the booths ), because different trains are often run by different companies, and they can't help you get a ticket for another train. If the person in front of you books the last few seats of the train you wanted, too bad for you, you had to get out of your bed even more early, dumb ass ! No, it will happen to you, considder it bad luck only and try again for another train, as said before.

We left home about 6 in the morning, the sun hadn't woke up the mother city yet. Driving towards Monas, because the train we took would leave from Stasuin Gambir at 7.15. Of course that was measured by the Indonesian time standards, so if we were on time, we could at least wait until we would finally depart, but the only thing I was certain of is that we would encounter one form of a delay or another.
Stasuin Gambir was different than I expected, training in Indonesia is probably more efficient than using a car, but its far from modern most of the time, especially when you use commuter trains in the area. They are virtually always overcrowded, demolished and looted from everything that is re-useable at home. But this was different, the train we used was an 'eksekutif' one. What wasn't executive was the waiting on the crowded platform. Yet it was crowded by 6.45 in the morning already. It were all people who has a long time of travelling ahead, since the trains departing here all headed for eastern Jawa.
Of the people who are early birds are the newspaper sellers, and a handfull of people willing to polish my shoes, if they were polishable, but they were not. One or two people selling candy didn't even do an effort to sell anything to me, the Indonesian languaged newspaper didn't work out as well. Several announcements were made that trains were delayed and eventually they also announced our train, we wouldn't depart before 7.30. That finally worked out to be 7.50, but time flew as I had a look around to what people brought with them.

Just before departure the train stopped at the platform. People didn't move towards the rain as I was expecting. They were waiting until people opened up the train, they looked like stewardesses, directly taken from an airplane. Those people pointed us to our seats, and the tickets were checked by someone else in a suit. Suits are powerfull in Indonesia, they can check your train tickets, can give you fines and can even deny to access to a place where you want to go.
The train itself was a modern, and more important, clean train with lots of space and light for each passenger. Some of the windows had been replaced not too long ago, probably they were hit by people ( youngsters ) who like to throw stones at passing trains. A thing that regularly happens here. Every once in a while someone gets injured by scattered glass as well.
Soon everyone had found their own spots. Some people complaining about wrong places and other little things, but when everyone had settled down the train departed for Yogya. On the way we would make several stops. Since this train is a diesel engine, we needed refueling. Our chairs, which were together, were not completely fixed ( anymore ). A little bit annoying, but hey, I think I don't have the right to complain about a train journey of about 7 hours which only costs Rp 100,000. ( Right now, Oktober 2002, this same trip with the same train costs Rp. 150,000 ).

Around 11 in the morning we stopped for the first time. We were in Cirebon. Every station has information about it's altidude around here. Cirebon station is located at +4 meters above sealevel, only just above the lowest parts of Jakarta that is. Only a short stop in the green environment of Stasiun Cirebon. The next stop would probably be Yogyakarta, talking about intercity trains.
But only shortly after Cirebon we stopped at another station, Karangsari at 223 meters above sealevel, just before we reached 299 meters at another station, which we only passed slowly, but we didn't stop there. Right now we are waiting again. Some people already got out the train and went to the building of the station for a drink or a newspaper maybe. A Pertamina train which is also waiting at the station is next to us, that only leaves one track empty for the train which is on our stretch to the next station. Most of the tracks are only 1 lane, so you have to wait for the others to clear the tracks before you can leave.
The part from Cirebon to Karangsari is the most hilly part of the trip upto now, probably the piece after Karangsari is mostly downhill to just above sealevel and some hills. The views we had were about the same as when you go by car or bus, but you don't have the time of the world to absorb is because the train is a lot faster most of the times.

Not long after we stopped the Pertamina train departed, but we were still waiting. the train signal is red, and I dared to get out of the train as well, the morning was still reasonably fresh, but that's mainly because of the altitude. There were several dead-end tracks and we were the only train waiting. People near the station building continued their lives as if our train could depart any moment now.
Finally a light and diesel fumes appeared in the distant valley between the green hills. That was the train we were waiting for. With some noise is passed us without stopping, and soon all people from our train went back on it, ready for the last leg to Yogyakarta. Slowly the train departed, leaving the small town of Karangsari. This was not our last stop, because we made a planned stop in Purwokerto, I didn't know that because I have never travelled by train here, but since Purwokerto is a fairly big city, stopping here is normal. The stop didn't last very long at all. The altitude of Purwokerto Station is 94 meters if you really want to know.

Too late, by far too late, we arrived at Stasuin Tugu in Yogyakarta. Probably the stop at Karangsari was not calculated into the total travelling time of about seven hours. We left about 40 minutes late, and made it to our final destination around 5 in the evening, three hours behind schedule. Since we were finally here, and still had to find an hotel we took the becak together. ( Imagine two people with backpacks in one becak! ) The driver would drive us around to the nearest or cheapest hotel, since we didn't have a clue where to look we just listened to him, the first hotel was just outside the gates of the train station. They still had rooms available, and we could stay there for all the nights we wanted. The becak driver wasn't too happy with us, but we paid him and he went back to his place on the station premisis.

Posted in Travel @ 12 October 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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