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Published: November 1st 2008
After being softly rocked to sleep in a wooden-panelled cabin while our train wound it's way through the mountains of Sapa
last November, we decided that we would travel by night train whenever possible. Now, with Jakarta's Gambir train station a short walk from our front door and the bus stop far outside town, we figured this would be another perfect opportunity to spend the night on the train as we travelled the 10 hours East to Yogyakarta.
Getting the train ticket turned out to be relatively hassle-free, so we were feeling pretty good when we arrived at the station later in the evening with our backpacks. We found space to stash our loads above our heads, and the train pulled off at exactly the predicted time. We had not paid for air-con, and we were sharing a bench-type seat, but once the train was moving the wind coming in the narrow windows was cool enough. We settled in to read our books for a while, as people passed up and down the isles selling coffee and hot bowls of noodles.
Two hours later. It was now 10pm. Surely the lights would be turned off pretty soon, especially considering
the train arrives in Yogya at 4:30 am, so everyone must be looking forward to an early night. The dinner time vendors have not given up, in fact there are now at least double the number of them. The same guy selling peanuts passes us every 4 minutes stopping to ask if I don't perhaps want to buy his delicious peanuts this
time. He stops each time on his way back to the front of the train too.
It's 1:42am, and we've been stopped at a station for at least half an hour now. This express, direct
train to Yogya has been stopping the whole time. The stops themselves aren't that bad, but with 80 of us in the carriage, the sticky tropical air pretty soon becomes unbearable without the breeze. There are now so many vendors in our carriage that they have to squeeze down the aisle in two reverse-flowing streams as they bang their wares along the aisle-side passengers. Even though I'm sitting with my ears plugged with earphones and my eyes closed, I'm still periodically poked by some guy who wants to sell me bananas, or coffee(??!?!?). It's 2am
, do I really look like
I want to buy a banana?!
I'm convinced that the train drivers are getting some sort of commission from the vendors. The stops at the train stations (which is when the vendors are at their thickest) are ridiculously long and it doesn't look like they've left the bright fluorescent lights on all night for the benefit of the passengers, who seem to be trying just as hopelessly to get some kind of rest. In fact I can't see anyone who looks vaguely interested in buying a banana.
We travel to learn about foreign cultures and places, but one of the main lessons we learn is patience. And tolerance.
After arriving at half-past-ridiculous in the morning, we catch a series of buses, and are soon on our way to perhaps the most famous ancient Buddist temple, Borobudur.
It's incredible to think that in the 18th century, on a tip off from some locals, the Dutch colonial governor went for a stroll in the jungle and unearthed the huge, intricately carved structure, lying partially covered in volcanic ash. Even seeing the huge 118mx118m structure with tourists walking all over it is an impressive sight. To chance
upon it must have been spectacular.
Since its discovery Borobudur has been cleaned up and well restored. It certainly is an impressive sight, the huge pyramid-shaped stone structure towers above everything around it. When you get up close it does not disappoint, the walls of each tier are decorated with stone carvings depicting the story of Buddha and several moral stories. It's incredible how well the carvings have weathered the centuries.
Entry to the monument is a bit pricey, but for only a few more dollars we were able to stay at a pretty luxurious hotel on the grounds (the Manohara) with unlimited access. It was a real treat to have pressed sheets and air-con, and we took the time to wash all of our clothes (which dried in about an hour).
Another very interesting sight was the museum next to the main structure, which was dedicated to the history of Javanese sea travel. Some intricate carvings on the walls of Borobudur of large ships had inspired further study into seafaring at the time, and even one philanthropist to fund the Kon-Tiki-esque building of a period boat. The boat was sailed from Indonesia to Madagascar and on
to Ghana in an attempt to prove that the Indonesian seafarers were capable of trade with Africa. The boat has since been returned to Java where it sits in the museum next to the carvings that inspired its creation.
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