We got off to a great start towards Java at three o’clock in the morning. We were well loaded with small articles of luggage and we stumbled over the square to where the bus was waiting. I fell into the drain beside the road and I swore badly, without the satisfaction of being understood. Even at that time, the streets were not empty. The markets were beginning. Shapes were moving through the early dusk, small women supporting huge and heavy baskets.
Soon, as the bus swung onto the open road, rain began. It rained on me too because I sat directly underneath a ventilator which was not properly closed. In the darkness, I stood and pulled it shut. When I sat, the greasy metal arm from the ventilator fell on my head. Betty slept. I watched the raindrops falling into the beam of the lights ahead.
Our trip to Jakarta had begun and, as yet, we took it lightly. It was wonderful to see Java from the western tip of Bali. Rising out of the plain, Mt. Merapi stood above us, iron-grey, awe inspiring. Java was heavy with mystery.
As you travel west in Bali, you notice the change of character in villages; there are fewer temples, more small mosques, fewer roofs of thatch and more of clay tiles, fewer women with baskets on heads, more carrying their baskets slung from their shoulders in sashes called selendangs. Although there is a boundary of water, Bali merges gradually into Java.
At Gilimanuk, our bus was loaded onto a fat and dirty boat and we followed. We lent on the grimy rail and watched Java and the narrowing stretch of oily sea. On the Java side, the bus hit the road again, with loud music piped for our uncertain benefit. There were new wonders on the road,: great Brahmin cattle yoked to wide-roofed drays, stately, slow and sculpturesque, that made their way slowly, as though hours were minutes, and centuries were years.
The bus took us to Banyuwangi. There we boarded a train, sat as straight as soldiers on rattan seats in one of the second, or was it third class, carriages. And so we sat for eight hours.
Javanese gentlemen sit cross-legged on these seats and seem more comfortable. We, and the irritable Javanese women opposite us, hung on grimly, numb-bummed. But discomfort is a passing thing. Long, long after our circulation had returned, the marvels of the Javanese landscape stay with us. There are the textures of gorges filled with palms, the lights of the forests where sunlight filters through, there are the villages of tiled cottages, bird cages slung on poles high above rooftops so that the birds enjoy the view.
Eventually, we limped off the train at Surabaya. A travel expert had told me exactly what to do. `Outside the station’, he had said, you will find a bus labelled Mutiara. Get on it’.
Miraculously, outside the station there was an old bus labelled ‘Mutiara’. We got on board. It whisked us away. To disaster, as it turned out, because we were not meant to travel on the Mutiara train at all.
`This ticket is for the Bima train’, said the uniformed man when the bus had put us down at another station. Bima and Mutiara take different routes and start out from different stations.
`When does it leave?’ we asked.
`The other station.’
Here was a pretty fix. We had booked sleepers on the Bima train, now pulling out of Surabaya. I lay the blame squarely on the Bima people and our adviser in Denpasar.
Mutiara did manage to find us two reclining seats in a second class train and dinner was served free of charge on the night train to Jakarta. Things were looking up. We sat opposite a young girl student who spoke good English. But at one point in the conversation, Betty went strangely quiet. Her face coloured and she began to splutter and cough. She had bitten on a chili. Our night was not good. Betty was ill and once the train staff had gone to sleep, I had great difficulty in finding a glass of water or a cup of tea. Eventually, I woke a brigandish man who turned out to be a friend in need.
At station stops, women selling jackfruit passed the windows; the great fruit balanced on their heads. In the morning we saw the northern plain of Java, flat as flat except for an occasional soaring volcano. Armies of harvesters moved across wide fields of rice, slowly and deliberately.
A night trip on a train is always followed by a feeling of fellowship amongst travellers. It is as though we had shared one gigantic bed. Conversations started up. We talked long with the man behind us who was Balinese.
Betty still felt bad when we arrived at Jakarta. Mutiara (generously, I thought) refunded us the difference in fares between their train and the one we had missed. This did cheer us up. We left the station light-heartedly.
Hundreds of becak (pedicab) drivers waited outside and they jostled and pushed and crowded us. When we insisted that we needed a taxi they crowded us to the taxi rank and pushed us into a waiting cab. As we drew away, several tukang becak leered through the windows. They were shouting: ‘Terima kasih, terima kasih’.
`Why are they thanking us?’ asked Betty.
`I really couldn’t say’, I said. We found later that we were being thanked for Betty’s expensive and only cardigan which I had, until then, carried in my rucksack. ‘Terima kasih’ indeed.
Six days in Jakarta, `City of Victory’, making seemingly interminable rounds of Government Departments, scattered wide afield, gave us a chance at least to get to know the transport system and also something of their bureaucracy. I am an impatient creature and I was chafing at the bit. I tried to adopt a little of the Indonesian attitude ‘pelan pelan’, to take it slowly. There were endless opportunities to admire the beautiful country, the great wealth of tradition and culture; many times I looked into people’s faces to see simplicity, warmth, interest and delight. Mostly their movements are graceful and serene, their faces unlined. They have a philosophy, so it seemed to me, which brings happiness in an acceptance of what is.
But around and around we went. The Department of Immigration, The Department of Culture, The Police Department, The Department of the Interior, and our sponsor The Department of Science all had to be visited, several times in some cases, and satisfied that we were who we were and doing what we said. Sometimes satisfaction took the form of a financial contribution. At last we were armed with a sheaf of necessary documents and lists of people we must visit in any centre in which we planned to work. All this ‘toing’ and ‘froing’ was doubly frustrating as all business comes to a halt at 1 p.m. Even the museums close their doors, something we had cause to regret, because our brief look at the Museum Pusat, the Central Museum in Jakarta was tantalising. It is filled with a marvellous collection of Hindu-Javanese antiquities and a vast wealth of archaeological treasure. If you visit on Friday morning you can have a conducted tour with an English speaking guide.
Though we saw few Europeans in the streets and public transport of Jakarta, we met up with them in the sumptuous, extravagant hotels. Jakarta is proud of these ‘world-standard’, towering monuments to tourism. Sheltered by glass and gilt, you can feast in luxury on menus which cater for a world-wide taste, at a price, of course. A glance at the canals in moon-light cannot reveal the unbelievable sludge and stench and the fact that in last night’s storm there was flooding; we were caught in a storm in the central city area only a minute’s walk from our hotel, but we didn’t get home for hours. The water was soon waist deep and the canals rose to enter hovels which line their banks, home to thousands of impoverished Indonesians.
Jakarta seemed a city of extreme contrast, wealth and poverty exist side by side. It seemed a city struggling to the west, but it is a city which commemorates in abundant, huge postrevolutionary sculpture the `new’ man, the freedom fighter, victory over communism in the bloody 1967 coup.
Friday was our sixth day in Jakarta and at twelve o’clock we were handed our last document completed. By 1 p.m. we had packed our far too many bags, bits and pieces and were off to catch a bus to Bandung, so-called `Paris of Java’ and approximately one hundred and eighty kilometres south-west of Jakarta. We had paid for our over-land ticketing throughout Indonesia before leaving Australia, but sure enough we found we would need an extra one thousand rupiah to do this trip. No bus was available so six passengers and their luggage were piled into a Holden taxi.
We had as a fellow passenger a blind Javanese gentleman. I sat next to him and was delighted to meet him. He spoke excellent English and had been to New Zealand for two extended periods, the second two-year period had been to study the violin which gave him a great deal of personal joy. He spoke with concern and knowledge of the problems of his people and he saw the time as one of great change. We talked and I saw we were passing spectacular scenery. Tunnels of tall trees gave way to hills and mountains as we climbed to the Puncak Pass. Beyond Puncak we saw the massive rim of the volcano Gunung Gede.
Meanwhile we all realised we had a maniac for a driver, bullet shaped head and beetling brow. He hurtled along. He screeched to a halt inches behind other traffic.
Our speed at times was over ninety miles an hour. He placed absolute reliance on the car, which I hoped and prayed had tyres a little better than many we had seen with tread worn to canvas.
David said, `As this may be our last drive we should enjoy it’. I urged him to DO something about the driver. Our blind friend just accepted the `impatience of the driver’.
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