I had forgotten how much I love train travel. I don’t mean the subway – that doesn’t count as train travel. That’s just another form of urban travel, like a cab or a bus.
No, train travel means spending at least 3 hours on a train going from 1 destination to another, preferably through the countryside. The last time I did that was over a year ago when I took a train from Seaward to Anchorage, Alaska. I spent at least 2 hours of the 3-hour journey hanging off the platform between the car I was supposed to be in and the engine car, grinning like a fool at glaciers and mountains and lakes, and snapping a million photos. Bliss.
Anyway, I finally took a train here in Indonesia and I loved it!
As I previously said, because of the short-staffed situation at the centre, I didn’t take my September days off. So I decided that I would take 3 days off over the first weekend of October, from Friday to Sunday. I didn’t want to fly somewhere because what’s the point of flying somewhere for 3 days? So I decided to stay in Java (where Jakarta is located…you should know that by now) but go to a different city. I asked a few of the local volunteers here where I should go and they all said Bandung (pronounced Ban-doong). Bandung it would be.
I made that decision on the Saturday evening that I was heading out for my mini-escape. I vegged out in my hotel room all day Sunday and was swamped with classes and work on Monday, so I didn’t actually start thinking about organising my weekend away until Tuesday. This was unusual for me; my days off were starting on Friday and 3 days before, I was just making arrangements. I usually have things set at least a week and a half in advance.
I thought about flying to Bandung but my Java consultants told me that the train ride was only 3 or 4 hours long and it was easy so I should consider that option instead. Well, you know I’m all about the new experiences right now, so I said to myself, “You know what? I think I will get the train.”
On Tuesday morning, I got onto the cross-island train service’s website and reserved my tickets, then hoofed it over to Alfamart to pay for them. I paid a total of 210,000 rupiah for my journey to and from Bandung. How much is that? Yes! About US$16. Beats a plane ticket any day.
For my outbound journey, I booked an executive class seat on a train that was leaving Jakarta at 8:30 am on Friday, arriving in Bandung at around noon. I seriously considered booking the 5 am train, but 2 things stopped me. First, I had no desire to leave the centre at 3:30 am, not again. After feeling so exhausted on my first day off at Lake Toba, I’m not doing that again unless I have to. Secondly, check-in at the hotel I had chosen didn’t begin until 2 pm so there was no point in me arriving there at 9 am and then wandering around for 5 hours, since the point of my escape was to relax.
On Thursday evening, I booked my cab (apps are marvelous! No fuss, no muss), finished up all the work I needed to, re-checked my hastily packed backpack to ensure that I had everything I wanted to bring with me, and went to bed. I woke up at 5 am on Friday, got ready, made myself a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, and was setting off in the cab by 5:40 am. I hadn’t planned to leave until 6 am (I originally planned to leave at 6:30 but Jakarta traffic is no joke, even at that hour) but as usual, the cab company was early. I was at the train station by 6:10 am. I went to one of the check-in kiosks, put in the booking code for my outbound ticket and got my boarding pass. Then I settled down to wait for 2 hours before they would let me on the platform.
I can now attest to the fact that, like Indonesian flights, Indonesian trains don’t leave on time but they still arrive on schedule. The train left the station at a little after 8:35 am and as soon as we were underway, I felt that train ride thrill I always get. I was so happy!
We chugged past graffitied walls and the backs of people’s houses and shops. We rolled through intersections where motorists waited behind the barrier for us to pass (power!), the train whistle blowing. After about 30 minutes of soaking up the city scenes outside the window, I fell asleep and was out for about an hour and a half. I woke up some time after 10:30 am to find that we had exited the city and were wending our way through the countryside.
I watched rice fields and mountains go by. I saw villages and villagers and wondered what their lives are like; I wondered if they wanted to stay in the village all their lives or if they wanted to go and see what life is like beyond it. We even passed a train graveyard.
We arrived in Bandung on time at noon and I got off the train and exited the station. I easily caught a cab to my hotel, where I checked in and dropped my bag because it was still early and they weren’t quite ready for me yet. I passed 30 minutes wandering up and down the street outside my hotel, then I decided to have lunch at a nearby restaurant. They had sate and I wanted some. Unfortunately, it turned out to not be that great – the honour of the best sate I’ve ever had still belongs to that place in the Jogja countryside that Tugi took me to. But it still hit the spot.
By the time I was done eating, it was after 2 pm so I got my room key and headed to my room. I spent the rest of the rest of the afternoon reading, napping, relaxing and Whatsapp chatting with friends.
It wasn’t an exciting day by many people’s standards, but it was perfect for me. A train ride through the countryside and a nice, clean hotel room. I really didn’t want more than that.