Upon leaving Yogyakarta after five very enjoyable days, we decided to make our way towards the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a place that our recently downloaded online Lonely Planet guidebook chapter on Java (bargain with a capital “B” at £2.40) describes as possessing a lunaresque landscape of epic proportions and surreal beauty.
Being just a chapter, it contains no images, so what lies in wait is left to our imagination.
The problem for us is that Bromo lies a good 10-12 hours away from Yogya, and most peoples preferred method of transport for the journey (organised tour minibus) really does not appeal to a family with a 13-month old child prone to opening their payload doors at any given time.
Instead we determine to take a train to Surabaya (Java’s second city, a four-hour rail run away on the coast), overnight in a cheap guesthouse, make another short train journey early the next morning before switching to a minivan to get us to Bromo in good time for sunset.
Forcibly taking a 2nd class ticket on the late departure, we still figure that arriving some point after 8pm, we should be able to source accommodation upon arrival in Surabaya and then grab some food whilst “The Boy” sleeps in the buggy.
All goes well until we reach the royal city of Surakarta, an hour or so into our journey.
Now, regardless of my genuine attempts to change my ways, I will confess that I’m not known as being a particularly patient man.
I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, but I’m slowly concluding that it’s really not in my nature.
Over the past few years, I’ve made great leaps in my ability to keep calm when all around me seems to be turning to horse manure. All the same, it’s not wise to test my temperament too much in this faculty.
There is an emotional trip switch with a flashing red light, test it and it may just go off.
Today, Surakarta (or Solo as it’s popularly known) has decided to go the extra mile and push all the wrong buttons. In the process it has had the misfortune to join a concise list of cities that I wholeheartedly detest.
Along with Bilbao, Spain and (substandard) Liege in Belgium, Solo is now up there on my roll of dishonour as a city I’d rather see razed to the ground than to waste my piss on whilst extinguishing the flames of its destruction.
Really? How can a train stop for almost two hours with no problem beyond not having enough capacity?
Here’s an idea. Don’t sell any more damned tickets.
Better still, don’t delay an on time train in order to dragoon in an extra carriage, causing even further disruption as we now need to give way at every single-track red light we hit.
Jesus on a penny-farthing pushbike!
A scheduled four-hour long journey almost doubled in time, forcing us to pound the streets of a strange and less than salubrious industrial city searching for budget accommodation at some point around midnight.
After several epic fails, we finally find a room at the Wisma “International” hotel, a place which I can only guess has earned it’s suffix from accommodating similarly desperate foreigners on other similarly delayed trains from Solo.
The room was over priced, as was the mini-bar beer (oh yes, but I needed one by now and not only was I prepared to pay for it, but I was destined to order more from room service).
The rather tired bathroom came with a loo that would not flush, some questionable cleaning, and a most interestingly designed shower facility.
A weak spout of tepid water trickled from a showerhead that had been secured at such a height to give Frodo Baggins ground for complaint that he might well crick his neck whilst stooping to wash his hair.
I swear to God, if it were solely my mat of chest hair that I was interested in shampooing, I would still have been in difficult straits.
Anyway, the staff of the Wisma were friendly, efficient and courteous, and their buffet breakfast went some way to making amends for the poor state of our room.
Early the next morning they arranged a metered taxi for us, and paying significantly less that our desperate selves had for the opposite journey in a barely roadworthy cab a few hours previous, we reached the train station in time for the 9am departure to Probolinggo.
We sourced tickets in the “Executif” carriage and arrived at our destination two hours later.
Leg one complete.
Now to get to Bromo….