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Traveling between Yogyakarta and Malang YOGYAKARTA - It's not really difficult go get up on time, around seven in the morning, so for that matter it's a nice service that it's possible to get a minivan in front of the door within the hour when I'm making a trip to a destination at a bigger distance than just in the city or nearby. That kind of minivan is called a travel here, and plies a fixed route a few times a day, for example from Yogyakarta via Solo, Madiun and Malang to Surabaya. Of course you can also travel the other way around, if you like you can go as far as Jakarta, but from Yogyakarta that is such a big distance that I rather prefer taking the train or a plane. Trains often depart or arrive at the most strange times possible, but that's a matter of looking what you personally most like.

Until one evening before departure you can still make a booking and in fact you will always have a seat. This is mainly due to the fact that all different companies on the same routes form one big group. This causes the prices to be fixed, but at a reasonable level - a single trip will set you back 90.000 Rupiah (that's 7,50 euro) and you can always 'hop on' for that matter. Sometimes it looks like a very quiet trip and you and two others are in the same minibus in which eight people fit. Most likely you will be kicked out in Solo, or others will join you there. When you are less fortunate your minivan will be loaded full with goods and you can hardly sit normally. This however is quite rare as I only had to experience this once, so that will not be the main problem.

After I made this trip (single way at least) about a dozen times, it might be a nice idea to write down what it all means. However I wanted to depart on time the first time to travel overnight, that journey was the worst of all, so most of the trips I made during daylight. However there is still enough to see at night, most of the times it's not much more than a single traffic light or a series of bright white neon tubes directly along the main road in the villages and towns. There is too little to see - according to me - to enjoy your trip. Since I know there are some volcanoes on the way it was traveling at daylight that I preferred, so I could at least see something.

'Looking at things' is very relative as well of course. I assumed that I was able to stay awake the entire day, so I could remember the entire route. Of course I realized that it was one big illusion though. A car on a somewhat bumpy main road at speeds between 40 and 60 kilometers per hour together with the air-conditioning that is on the entire trip creates an almost perfect environment to doze, however it might not seem that way at first glance. That dozing already occurs on the first leg, the four-lane highway from Yogyakarta to Solo. That's just over an hours drive. When you start dozing early, it is very tempting to keep doing it during the rest of the trip, and there is nothing that will stop you from doing it as well. Your Indonesian neighbor is already doing it for over an hour and is probably already sleeping.

Travel sickness

Too bad I know what travel sickness is. The first few times I traveled to Indonesia (from the Netherlands) I took a number of anti-travel sickness tablets with me which I then actually needed. However it has all improved now - after a few hours I actually manage to sleep a little - I still have to be careful. With that thought I managed to travel big distanced and always without big trouble. Because that eight hours of travel, ooh well, 11 is possible too, but that depends on the traffic, how much rain we have or whether the driver is in a good mood... and so on. But of course I would like to be at the destination a little bit on time, the minivan has to go back as well after a few hours.

I was well-prepared by bringing Antimo anti-travel sickness tablets. A dozen of them should be more than enough. Since the travel starts it's trip around the city around eight in the morning (or evening) to pick up passengers, I thought it would be smart to take one on time. I still remember those long car trips from Eindhoven (southern part of The Netherlands) to Denmark when I always got somewhat sick, but with regular stops it was still fine at the end. Those regular stops were no option now, with just one pit stop to eat and use the toilet. I feared that something might just go wrong. I didn't bring a plastic bag however, that's something I didn't think of.

The route from Yogyakarta to Solo and then to Sragen.
The route from Yogyakarta to Solo and then to Sragen.

The minivan didn't arrive exactly at eight o'clock, but half past eight. Still a pretty good time, because picking up people can sometimes take a while, especially when the address is hard to find and you have to follow people's directions without knowing themselves where they are exactly. Reading maps is something exotic here anyway, but that's another story, and it's mainly fun when I'm making a trip on my motorbike. My travel sickness tablet had already started to work, not entirely at the wrong moment because it would be a perfect start now. Since the medication was also had some little side-effects, I would be missing out on the scenery. During the first nightly trip was not a disaster at all, but when traveling during daytime I just felt sorry to miss it. But everything is better to fall ill with eight other people around you which most likely don't have any problem at all.

At this moment I have had a dozen of those kind of trips and I don't have to take any Antimo anymore. It's fine as it is and that one stop in after four hours, just outside the city boundaries of Caruban near Madiun, is fine. I always bring some snacks and fresh fruit myself. Maybe that's the most important preparation I have. Because it's widely available, I eat much more fruit here than I ever did in The Netherlands as far as I know. Maybe that also helps me not to fall ill. At least I'm busy with something else than falling ill and that helps as well. For that matter I'm almost becoming an Indonesian. They get in the minivan, put out their shoes, put a hat and jacket on and fall asleep in a matter of a few minutes.

Why that jacket was included I didn't really understand at first, but you will find out fast enough. The air-conditioning, in most cases, is not really a piece of handy equipment since it can only be turned on or of. Or it is as warm inside as it is outside, or it is ten degrees Centigrade cooler. There is no middle road here. After sitting in the car for two hours, the air-conditioning has made it so cold that a jacket or at least something with long sleeves is desired. After traveling I still get something like a cold, but after a few sneezes it will subside rather quickly. Because I like to sit in the back, I also take care of the window there. That's always ajar. This causes sufficient warm air to enter so the minivan doesn't turn into a freezer. Whether it is appreciated I don't know, no one gives any feedback. At least I know I like it this way.

Wet monsoon

Traveling during the wet monsoon. It is said that it will take longer than during the dry season. However time seems somewhat less important here sometimes, people still want to talk about other things. Weather is still a good subject, so for that matter I can just join in without adapting myself first. Recently I came back from Malang and it was around four in the afternoon when we entered a heavy rainstorm near Sragen (east of Solo). That happens more often here, but I try to be inside at those kind of moments because of the simple fact that generally I can't see how long the rainstorm will last. Unfortunately I was in a minivan now and all I could to was counting rain drops. The minivan itself wasn't entirely waterproof anymore - the rubber strips were never changed - and droplets of water entered the vehicle at all four doors.

Since the downpour was really heavy in the first minutes, traffic almost immediately came to an halt. Stopping wasn't needed, but it came very close to that. Directly besides the two-lane road is an old strip of asphalt which is often used for local traffic, bikes and pedestrians. There was no traffic now because there was about 20 centimeters of water, about the amount the old road was lower than the current main road. Still a driver of an AKAP (antar kota antar propinsi intercity) bus (maybe the worst drivers in Indonesia) tried to use that road and crashed into the water with an incredible speed. With that high speed and using the horn very frequently he tried to overtake the traffic jam, astonishing motorcycle drivers and other traffic which halted because of the heavy rain.

In a loud roar of billions of big droplets which came down from the dark, low clouds we were sitting on the main road towards Solo. This rainstorm with later also included some thunder, would not last very long, but the heavy thunders kept following us for quite some time. Eventually they would find their own was as well and by that time the emergency lights of the cars could be turned off again. These lights are used here in heavy rain as well, so that other road users know it is actually raining... or something like that because it is not very useful to use those lights in heavy rain. Buses don't do 80 kilometers per hour anymore and sometimes use another lane, this probably causes the biggest danger to be avoided anyway.

During the nightly trip to Malang we arrived in the area of Kepanjen in the early morning. The town itself is not really important, but we had to cross it to reach our final destination of that day. Earlier it had been raining for hours, not much, but long. Generally that is not a real problem as traffic was more slow than during daytimes, so we were able to continue our trip. Maybe that had some bad side effects as well. Visibility was far less than when it was dry and of course it was night as well. But well, we were still driving, so all I could hope is that we would reach Malang somewhat on time. The expected time of arrival was around five in the morning, so a little bit of delay was no problem to me actually, but mentioning that is not clever as well I suppose.

In the apparently last drops of rain from that long lasting rain over central Java we started to slow down. I awoke from my nap and straightened the lazy chair to see what was going on. I didn't see much water, no other traffic and all other passengers were still sleeping as well. Was I dreaming? I almost wanted to lean back in the chair again when I noticed we were still slowing down. The first red brake-lights showed up from behind the curtain of rain. Not much later we stopped. Several minutes passed before the driver opened his door. Sleepy Indonesians looked around them, but probably didn't realize where they were as well. Since they were just as curious as I was, they all woke up, one by one. The driver however had already gone so asking him had to wait for now and asking me was of no use since I didn't have a clue about what was going on as well.


It took a while before the driver came back, cigarette in his mouth, glasses on his forehead. The droplets of rain in his face reflected the light from the cars in the increasingly longer row behind us. A single intercity bus tried to gain some distance by using the right lane and stopping in front. There was no traffic from the other side at all, which caused me some concerns. Somewhere there was a big problem, but maybe the driver could enlighten us about it. The door opened again, and a hand searched for something. On top of the dashboard were some loose cigarettes, which had fallen from the package during the last hours of driving. He took one more. When I was about to ask what had happened there was an Indonesian who was at least as curious as me and asked me just a second earlier.

The answer was as simple as it as short. Flooded. At that very moment all kinds of images flashed through my mind; brownish water from mountain rivers. Cars and other objects in the street are washed away and people can just barely make it to safety. But that is just what they show on television when there is flooding. Most of the time that is, because the idyllic peaceful water in the city of New Orleans after Katrina had hit the city looked pretty nice from a distance, just like Jakarta earlier this year. More close nothing is idyllic is left of course, I understand that. However here it didn't seem such a dramatic situation. There were no emergency efforts made at all. That was a clear sign for me that there was no emergency - or maybe not yet - and also an indication that this could take a while. That was what worried me the most.

The area aroung Malang with in the south the town of Kepanjen and in the northwest Batu.
The area aroung Malang with in the south the town of Kepanjen and in the northwest Batu.

I had to agree with the situation soon after. Around three o'clock in the night it is of no use to inform people about my journey. That was still possible later that morning, since we would not be at the destination for sure. A big bus passed and then it was a wave of horns that woke up the entire area. All of a sudden all drivers seemed to want to get the local residents involved. Most likely it wasn't a very good idea of the driver of that bus to push it to the frontlines. Or maybe it was, because I never saw it moving back again. Eventually someone had to decide what was going to happen next, so the driver went out for a walk again. This time a little bit longer, but at least he brought some positive news. We were able to continue, but via a detour because the road ahead was blocked buy at least half a meter of water. Since we were not able to verify that from the location we were at, the driver choose to take the detour.

We maneuvered the minivan from the still growing line of traffic and joined two other travel minivans which also wanted to try this new way of travel. Near a small unpaved road the driver was expected to donate some money. He was given some instructions and was allowed to go on. It would be quite some distance, and as far as I could see there was no power as well, because it was pitch black in the area. Even the white neon tubes were out. That was a gloomy prospect. The first meters off the main road were not too good of a start. The minivan with all it's passengers hit some deep mud pools. Another minivan passed us and I was already happy that we were not the first ones to use that road.

It became a long trip over unpaved roads with potholes along houses and villages where sometimes an obscure figure in raincoat with a flashlight could be found. As far as I could see appointments were made about what route the detour would follow, because at certain points the villagers pointed the driver where exactly to go, via the side of the road or not. Sometimes we just missed a trench by a few centimeters; one mistake and we would be stuck. But that never happened and we didn't suffer much damage as well. Only once a low branch from a tree scratched the van on the left side, but with doing this, the driver avoided us from getting stuck in one of the deep water-filled potholes near an old bridge. However there was more then enough water and it was still raining, I didn't have the idea that it was needed for us to take that detour. Maybe that is just because I missed that action, but this trip was fun as well.

However this adventure via quiet and mainly dark villages in eastern Java seemed to be fast - one event was quickly followed by another - we spent over 45 minutes on these small roads Too bad it was in the middle of the night, because I can imagine the environment is much more beautiful than that just along the main road which we were supposed to follow. That wasn't for us during this adventure. Maybe another time, because traveling by travel is pretty much an almost ideal way of traveling.

Tags: travel, malang, yogyakarta, train, from, bus, kepanjen

Posted in Travel @ 19 April 2007 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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