The Train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (1/2)

Early Thursday night was spent waiting in Gamber station, Jakarta for the express to Yogyakarta. After the usual collection of crowds, beggars, and other hoards was the sight of a local train arriving with streetkids on the roof and only inches from being fried by overhead electric wiring. Anyway, the platforms filled with expectant crowds and various mountains of belongings when it was announced the train was one hour late. So the four of us found a small space and continued to sweat with the rest.

After this joyful news we waited for the one hour with other trains coming and going and many bearing witness to local attentions with dents, shattered windows and a few suspicious holes that reminded me of bullet shots in Cape Town trains. Then, along with the usual bells and jingles, we were informed that it was now another hour to go. So we retired to the platform end where thankfully there was a cool breeze and people making fires out of the rubbish to pass the time and give the place a clean appearance.

So the trains came and went. The two hour wait became three, then four, until finally the battered excuse of business class express rolled in with much cheering and rushing etc. After we had all piled on and found our seats amid the trash and the pretty star patterns on the windows by thrown rocks, it was told to all and sundry that the loco needed fuel so it promptly upped and buggered off and did not return for another 30 minutes. During this time the highly entertaining topic of food was discussed and soon burger, chip, steak and pizza fantasies were being sprouted.

A small bump and then five hours past departure time headed out. I watched with professional interest the passing scenery and the odd cockroach crawl forth from the small table for food. Soon a waiter happened past and amazingly there was in his hand a large juicy steak and vegetables and chips. Three dollars for the lot and could you refuse such a bargain? Earlier Liyana had given me a serve about drinking coke and being bad for your health, she promptly attacked my chips resulting in a payout of similar nature. For some reason no reply was forthcoming.

For two hours we made good progress, passing through flooded towns and some large stations until we came to a stop. Everything fell into silence except for the sound of frogs. We sat and sat for 30 minutes until moving off for no reason. We travelled on for about 10 minutes until it happened again. This time power shut down, the wagon and the few aircons ceased and plunged us into darkness. We all sat and dripped sweat and I watched in the station light how the two cockroaches had mysteriously now become five.

Eventually things restarted and wandered off…until only a few minutes when we stopped again. This time I managed to open a door to see a large lake populated by more noisy frogs and distant mountains. But with nowhere to walk to I returned to the sauna, trying not to splash sweat on the other dozing passengers.

A few bumps and jerks and then slowly moved forward into yet another desolate station. Escaped again and wandered about, while the signalman’s eyes rolled wildly in their sockets at the sight of a white person. The other railway workers were busy asleep on the floor or benches. So we sat and sat. Liyana wandered out in search of more frogs and various other passengers milled aimlessly about searching for some small breeze. The other two sat and lost kilograms of weight courtesy of the railways sweat therapy workshop.

Read Part 2

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