Jostling Through Java by Train

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Our train. Not fast. Not particularly comfortable. But as you’ll see, a great choice.

I love the train.

I love it because it not only gets you to your destination but also connects you to the reality of local transportation, provides a real sense of a country’s scale, immerses you into a culture and offers sights that are otherwise unavailable.

This is my second trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) and both times they have included a train journey as part of it. While train travel in Asia is not a luxurious experience it is comfortable and I think OAT has it right. It is an essential experience.

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I have many photos of rice fields but I’m afraid taking them through the train window doesn’t offer the best results.

Java by train

I’m guessing that this train is about sixty years old. It will take us seven hours to go through the mountains of Java between Bandung and Yogyakarta. The ride is not smooth but the views are amazing.

The terraced rice fields seem endless and are endlessly fascinating. They follow the form of even the most unforgiving landscape and the vivid greens virtually vibrate. Occasionally, just one person can be seen working alone in the fields or sometimes just a few.

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Clearly, this is a hard life. But there is something appealing about its simplicity – or am I romanticizing?

The houses in the small villages are clustered, again following the natural design of the landscape. Most are of grey cement with red-tiled roofs but some are brightly colored in yellow, pink or turquoise. Sometimes there are only a few homes together suggesting an extended family compound rather than a village.

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People’s homes seemed far nicer overall in the country thAn in the city.

Between the rice fields and villages are dense forests of palms, bamboo and other plants. As we make our way through the countryside we often pass children and adults standing close to the railway tracks which are also used as pedestrian roadways from villages to markets towns. Some of them may simply be watching the train as people do in every country but some have likely just jumped off the track to let the train go by.

That’s what I see outside. It looks quiet. Peaceful.

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If you look at the tracks carefully you can see what looks like small metal towers. These are actually small landings to the side if the tracks for people to take safety on when a train comes.

Inside is a noisy quiet. The train itself is loud between the sound of steel wheels against the steel of the track, the strain of an air conditioner (that is making a difference I think), and the engine itself. Otherwise there is only quiet conversation as most people are entranced by the scenery.

Every once in a while a man dressed in a uniform that defies the age and quality of the train arrives to take orders for food and coffee. Overseas Adventure Travel has arranged box lunches for us as they can’t be sure of the sanitary quality of train food. I suspect it would be fine as I ate train food in India but then, I too would rather be safe than sorry.

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The attendants did their job well – but the contrast between their fresh uniforms and the very tired train did amuse me.

Despite the quality of the train, the bouncing around, and the noise, I love it. Train travel offers a behind the scenes view of a society that car and plane travel can’t – an opportunity to see more of the details of daily life.  In this case, it also gives us the chance to ask Manik, our tour guide, about these details, from who owns the rice fields (plots are typically owned individually but things such as irrigation are coordinated communally) to why so many houses have ponds (because they raise fish as part of their diets). There is much to see and learn while jostling through a country by train.

My trip to Indonesia is sponsored by Overseas Adventure Travel. They are committed to providing excellent single-supplement-free options for solo travelers and opportunities to connect with local communities in unique ways. So far, I have been to a local home for dinner, met veterans who fought for Indonesia’s independence and walked through villages and into people’s homes to learn how tofu and other food staples are made. I have much to share and will do so over the coming weeks.

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This man is 93 and was a general in Indonesia’s fight for independence in the 1940s. Meeting him and other veterans was a unique privilege and made the history of Indonesia come alive.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Love it! Brought a big smile to my face. Thanks!

  • r azman

    life simple pleasures, experiencing things through train rides. Here’s a pic of a station in Java. The sign says to be careful of passing trains before you cross to the opposite platform. I just stood in the middle to get the feel.

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  • http://www.sid-thewanderer.com/ Siddhartha Joshi

    This is great! I am also a big fan of train travel and do it quite often when I travel. I really like how you put it – its gives a perspective to the scale of the country! So true…

  • Scott

    Train travel, no matter where, is – for me- the best way to go. My favorite thing about it is the proximity it puts me with the locals. Flashing back right now to a train trip many moons ago . . . Yoga to Probolingo, arriving at some god-awful-hour, quick huddle with the Westerners that disembarked, quick pooling of resources, bargaining with a minivan driver under a bare street bulb, then BOOM! . . . up to Bromo, just in time for sunrise. LOVE trains :)

  • leelaurino

    another wonderful opportunity to cherish

  • Gillian Frances

    Thanks for that….I am ‘doing’ Java by train for the whole of August, and looking forward to it. Easy enough to organise independently, so I will let you know re train food (though I tend to not bother to eat en route, but at either end of the trip…same on planes).

  • Alex Greene

    Great info Janice! Looking forward to your next post.