Published: October 4th 2009September 27th 2009
On Wednesday 16th of September when I paid my house maid her monthly wage I also gave her the THR (Tunjangan Hari Raya) as well. This is a one month bonus which is commonly paid to household staff and employees in factories and offices at the end of the fasting month of Ramadhan. When I paid her the bonus I also told her that she didn't need to come again till the 28th of September because I wouldn't be at home in Cirebon.
Lebaran or Idul Fitri is a very important festival and holiday in Indonesia. My language school closed on Friday the 18th of September and didn't open again till Monday the 28th. It's an exciting time of year when Muslims travel around the country to visit their families. It is particularly exciting for children as it is customary for adults to give kids money at these family gatherings meaning that the young may be waiting at the door of the house shaking their wallets...
The result of this is that the transport system is in chaos in the run up to and during the Lebaran holiday. All the
roads out of the cities are jammed as families leave the cities to visit their relatives in the country. It's estimated that 3.5 million people leave the city of Jakarta alone during the holiday season which means that a third of the population of the capital all hit the roads and the trains at the same time.
I knew this but failed to make preparations far enough in advance. Initially I planned to climb Mount Bromo during the holiday. The first leg of this journey would involve a train ride to Surabaya. When I tried to book the ticket to the city on the Wednesday before the holiday I found that all the Executive Class tickets were sold out. Executive Class are the most comfortable carriages on the Indonesian railways, you get decent leg room and air-conditioning. It's a long overnight journey from Cirebon to Surabaya so I wanted a train on which I could sleep.
So, I changed my plans and booked a ticket for the train to Semarang on the 19th at 00.30 hours. I thought that maybe I could break the journey up and visit a few places on the way.
One of the old colonial buildings that has seen better days
The date was later than I wanted but I thought to myself that it would give me a chance to wind down before setting out across Java on Sunday just after midnight.
Saturday afternoon I checked my ticket which was dated the 19th for 00.30 hours. I looked at my watch, which said 16.00 hours but the date was the 19th! It was only then that I realized that I had missed the train. For some reason I had Sunday just after midnight firmly stuck in my head, even
though the ticket was for Saturday!
So, I decided to change my plans. Instead of going to Mount Bromo I thought I might visit Carita on the West coast from where it might be possible to get a boat to Krakatoa. This meant a train journey to Jakarta followed by a bus ride to the coast..
TRAFFIC FREE JAKARTA
Sunday morning I caught the train to Jakarta. There was no problem with getting a ticket to Jakarta as nearly everyone else was leaving the capital rather than going there. When I arrived in the city I found the streets
were deserted and the roads were empty of traffic. Normally the pavements are full of street stalls, parked cars and motorcycles but on the morning of Sunday the 18th which was the start of Idul Fitri they had all vanished. Added to this all the hotels had big banners outside of them advertising huge discounts in their rates. So, I decided to break my journey to the West coast and spend the night in Jakarta.
The next morning I had a mild case of diarrhea. I didn't fancy a long bus journey, so I decided to stay until I didn't feel the need to be near a toilet.
Then when I felt better, I changed my mind again. I made my way back to Cirebon, stayed one night at home and then caught the train to Semarang the next day.
Bandungan and the Gedung Songo Temples. Semarang
is the capital of Central Java, it is a large city that is hot and humid. I used it as a transit point to visit the pretty hill resort of Bandungan
. It allowed me to escape the heat of the North
coast and to walk up and down the sides of some Volcanic mountains. Along the tops of the hills near Bandungan are the Gedung Songo Temples
. These Hindu Temples were built in the 8th and 9th Centuries AD.
The voyage home
Saturday evening on the 26th I went to the train station to book a ticket back to Cirebon on Sunday. The woman at the counter told me (not totally to my surprise) that everything was full. I had to get back on the Sunday so that I could be in work Monday morning.
So, the next morning I booked out of the hotel and made my way to the bus station where someone sold me a ticket for an air-conditioned bus and told me to wait. Half an hour later he returned and told me that there was no air-conditioned bus and the only bus available was an economy bus. I told him I would take it and he wrote another ticket and gave me some of my money back. Five minutes later at 9am I was finally on a bus to Cirebon. There was plenty of space so I
got a window seat next to a window that I could open to keep me cool.
The trainee Formula 1 Driver
Two hours later the bus stopped, the driver got off without saying anything and vanished. After half an hour he reappeared and announced that those going to a destination which I didn't recognize should get off the bus and catch another bus behind us. Half the passengers left the bus. The driver vanished again.
After another 20 minutes he jumped back onto the bus without saying anything and started driving off to loud shouts from the roadside from all the passengers who had got off the bus during his long break. He stopped the bus in response to the shouts and I hope all of the passengers got back on.
After such a long time stationary he then took to driving very fast, weaving in and out of the traffic as is his life depended on every second he could gain. Ten minutes later he suddenly stopped and ordered us all off the bus telling us to get on another bus which he had parked in front
of. The bus he told us to get on was packed. There was no way I was getting on that bus. I wasn't the only one refusing to get on. There were a number of couples with small children who were also resisting. The driver gave in, ordered us back onto our original bus and took to driving like a mad man for another 10 minutes. Then he ordered us onto another bus which some of us couldn't get on. At this stage he had half a dozen passengers he hadn't managed to offload. So, it started again...
The mad Bule
Finally I was decanted onto a bus but I was not happy. The bus had enough spare seats but the windows didn't open. So, although there were spare seats I refused to sit in any of them. Instead I sat on the step next to the open back door. Everyone probably thought I was a mad Bule (foreigner) but I needed to sit there to avoid passing out from heat stroke.
A few hours later and we were decanted onto yet another bus. This time I got a window seat
with a window that opened, so I was happy for the rest of the journey back home.
The bus trip took eight hours, twice the length of the train journey.
There are more photos below