I’m looking at my watch, while running down the road, backpack flying behind me. As I rush to meet the train it pulls into the station. With a sigh of relief I take my seat just at the same time as the train pulls away, loose my balance and fall over. But this isn’t the UK, USA or any other Western country, so this doesn’t happen.
Instead we arrive at the train station an hour before the departure time. We mill around until the train arrives 40 minutes before it’s due to leave. Porters carry packages and suitcases on their shoulders and heave them on the carriages. Then we settle ourselves and sit and wait. The train leaves five minutes early. By our Western standards we should have missed it.
It all sounds very organised and civilized, but this is an antiquated system and everything needs time to get going. After all it’s apparently going to take us eight hours to travel from Bandung to Yogyakarta. Like many things in Indonesia, the trains have seen better days, although they have progressed from steam. Attempts to keep the carriages clean are dubious and questionable – the man who has just mopped the toilet floors has now swabbed the passageway with the same mop – twice.
But the view from our window is inspiring. From the train window we are able to experience glimpses of life, not visible from a car, sprawled along the railway siding; lines of washing, muddy backyards, football pitches and little kiosks selling snacks. But it is the verdant countryside that is the real picture; tiered paddy fields, tumbling rivers, canyons spiked with willowy palms and banana trees, onion-domed mosques peeking above village roofs, cloud-topped mountains, ploughs pulled by ox. Life here is both simple and hard. It’s a long journey, but an interested and educational one. Taking an eight hour train journey with two small children sounded like a foolhardy idea – but it has been remarkably easy and pain free. Good practice for the ten hour car journey to come in two days time.
Accommodation: The Phoenix Hotel, Yogyakarta, central location by the Tugu Monument. Grand, elegant, fully of colonial history and great value. www.thephoenixyogya.com