The train races past vast rice fields, in different stages of production. Although large, each field is cut into manageable plots, separated by dikes to allow for flooding of the paddies. Here, six degrees below the equator, it is endless summer and the fields produce two crops a year. In some paddies, the green rice is tall and occasionally I see a farmer wandering through with a backpack, spraying what I assume is insecticide. Other fields are muddy, in the process of being cultivated for a new crop. In the paddies that are currently being planted, bundles of rice plants have been placed and workers in six inches or so of water are busy transplanting the young grass into neat rows. In other paddies, they’re harvesting rice, cutting the stalks and feeding them into a thresher or, in some cases, beating the stalks on the ground, separating the seed from the stalks. And then there are the paddies in which the harvest has occurred. The stalks in these fields are burnt as they get ready to prepare the ground for another crop. The smoke from the burning paddies waffles through the train.
The train was nearly an hour late leaving the capital city. For the longest time, we rolled through the sprawling city, its poverty evident. Trash was everywhere and the canals, which had gagged me when I’d walked across them on bridges, are filthy. In my reserve seat, I watch the crowded trains come into town, the only air conditioning that many enjoy come from climbing up on the top of the cars and riding out in the open, a dangerous position not only because one might fall off, especially if the train hit a bump, but also considering the close proximity to the overhead electrical wires. This is a country of great contrast with a few who are very wealthy and many who live in unspeakable conditions. Slowly, we leave the city behind us and moved into the tranquil countryside, with farms and elaborate irrigation systems lined both sides of the tracks. We pass small stations, each with their station master standing out front in his railroad uniform and red and yellow conductor hat, observing us as we speed by.
Our first stop is Cirebon. As the train approaches the station, a host of merchants jump onboard the slow moving cars to sell food and drinks and other goods. There are women with a thermos of hot water and cups along with instant packets of coffee and chocolate. Others sell baked and fried goods, fruits, and packaged snacks and chips. These merchants don’t enter the coaches themselves, probably due to regulations as the railroad itself has plenty of their workers already doing that, but they stand at the end of the cars, in the doorways, crying out for their products. Others run down the track, tapping on windows, offering up their wares.
|Lunch wrapped in plastic film|
As I finish lunch, the train turns southward and snakes up the ridge of mountains that form the backbone of Java. Rice is still grown and higher up, we see more fields in harvest. But there are many other vegetables grown. Also, there are a few cows along with sheep and goats. I’m impressed by many of the fields, in which the dikes that cut up the rice paddies have a row of string beans staked on top. There are also plots of corn, sugar cane and melons. I am enchanted with the scenery and how neat everything is. The irrigation works are even more elaborate here, the water running through masonry channels. The neat houses, all roofed with red tile, stand in contrast to the green fields and are shaded by tall palm trees, many loaded with coconuts.
|Rice paddies ready for harvest|
I walk up to the front of the car and stand by the door, between coaches and try to get a better angle for a shot of the back of the train as we move through the turns. An attendant sees what I’m attempting and opens the door for me, allowing me to stick my camera out and photograph the back end of the train. Although careful, I know that it is dangerous and you’d never be allowed to pull such a stunt in the United States. I remember once standing in such a place where another traveler with a camera opened a window. The car attendant was furious with him! I stay in the doorway for a long time, enjoying the breeze and the ability to photograph without having to shoot through dirty glass. Although the car, with many cracked windows, doesn’t look like what we might expect from “executive class,” I am impressed with the tracks. Here in the steep section of the line, line is mostly double tracked with welded ribbon rail and there appears to be new ballast under the concrete ties.