Sunday, June 19, 2011

Salatiga and the Argo Lawu

Tire swing at a neighbor's house
The van from Bromo dropped me off at the bus station in Solo (Surakartat), where I was told that I could catch a bus to Salatiga (the Solo to Semarang Bus Line), for there are no trains that run there. I imagined myself trying to discuss with a ticket agent the proper bus and waiting an hour or two before departure or worse, finding out that I had arrive too late to catch the bus. But none of those nightmares came true. Instead, I walked into a bus compound and a young man in a uniform approached me and asked my destination. “Salatiga,” I responded. “This way, Sir,” he pointed. I went in that direction and instead of a ticket counter found four buses waiting. I asked another official looking guy which one to Salatiga and he pointed to the second bus and sure enough, the sign on the front said Solo-Salatiga-Semarang. I asked if I needed a ticket and the driver shook his head and said, “You can get it on the bus.” So I hauled myself onto the bus and before I had my backpack stored, we pulled out. I was getting my phone to call Jared, the son of a pastor friend in Michigan who is in Salatiga studying languages, when he called to see what time I should arrive. According to what I had surmised, it was supposed to take an hour (it was closer to two). We talked a couple of times and as the bus mostly dropped people off at the roadside, I wanted to make sure they dropped me off at the Salatiga bus terminal, so that Jared could find me. The attendants (there is a driver and two attendants, one who helps with traffic and the other who collects the fare which was only 10,000 IDR or about $1.20) spoke no English, but the woman in traditional Muslim dress who’d gotten on the bus and sat beside me finally said, in perfect English, that we’d be at the terminal in five minutes, just after her stop. I called Jared to give him a more firm time and then the bus stopped for gas! Finally, I was dropped off at the terminal, but on the street corner by the entrance (not inside the terminal) and for a while Jared tried to figure out where I was at while we were less than a hundred meters from each other. Soon, however, Jared spotted me and rode over on his motorbike and we were off to his home.

Pool at Spa

Jared and his family, his wife Melanie and son Israel, live in a beautiful part of town.  People in Java think of Salatiga as cold (it is in the mountains and is cooler than anyplace else I’d been except on top of Bromo in the early morning hours).  They had a bedroom for me and I was able to relax and enjoy two nights with them.  After connecting with my family back in the States by internet, I made up for lost sleep (remember, I’d been up since 3 AM).

 I’d planned a relaxing day for my time in Salatiga.  The next morning, Jared showed me around town. I found an ATM and was able to get enough money to finish out my stay in Indonesia.  ATMs here won’t let you withdraw but 1,000,000 IDR at a time, which sounds like a lot of money but is less than $120.  All the extra zeros is confusing and once (before I knew about the limit), I thought I was getting 2 million IDR and instead got 200,000 and it grieved me to think about the bank charges on such a small amount of cash).   Jared also took me to a travel agent who was able to book my ticket back to Jakarta on the Argo Leuw, an “executive class train” that leaves Solo at 8 AM.  The cost for this ticket was 265,000 (or about $30 for an 8 hour 300 km trip in an air conditioned coach).    

Evening Light at the Spa

As Jared and his wife were in school in the afternoon, they suggested I go to a spa and encouraged me to have a massage.  The spa, which included a pool and wifi and restaurant cost only 20,000 IDR ($2.50) to visit and that included a free soft drink or bottle water.  The pool was lovely, surrounded by shady tropical trees and flowers.  I scheduled a massage for 4 PM, and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and writing and napping under the sun.  At four, I went up for my hour long spa.  Having never had a “professional” massage, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but had been assured that it was nice and that I had nothing to worry about.  It was lovely.  Everything was peaceful.  The massages were given in an open area on the top floor overlooking the pool.  I was to dress into a special pair of short pants and to wait, with my feet sitting in a tub of water filled with flowers.  The masseuse came in and washed my feet and massaged them, then had me lay on the table as she began to work my legs.  The rest of my body was covered with a light sheet.  Lying on my stomach, I looked down onto a bowl of water with three flowers and enjoyed the experience.  A light breeze was filtering through the curtains the separated the massage area.  After she worked my legs, she rubbed them with oil and moved on to my back and shoulders and down my arms…  It was wonderful.

Next, she had me roll over on my back and she repeated the same process, working up my legs, my stomach (how she did that and not tickle is a question I still ponder), my chest, my arms and finally my head.  As I lay there silently, I could watch the light fading on the open timber tresses and the tile roof (as I was near the equator, the sun was already setting).  Birds began to sing.  When she was done (the massage lasted an hour and cost 120,000 IDR or less than $15), she gave me a towel to shower and to dress and asked what kind of drink I’d like.  When I came out, there was a glass of warm ginger with a small container of honey so that I could sweeten it to my liking.  I sat in a chair overlooking the pool and watch the light fade from the sky.  The moon, nearly full, shined down through the trees.  It was a most heavenly experience.
That night, Jared and his family had arranged for us to have dinner with two Muslim friends of theirs at a local restaurant.  We had a great time as they shared a bit about their lives (they live in a commune type setting where they work together and share in responsibilities).  The restaurant was outside and we talked for a long while, enjoying the night air.  As I was leaving early the next morning, it was an early night.  The next morning, Jared took me to the bus station at 5 AM.  We had to wait about ten minutes for a bus to Solo to arrive.  We said our goodbyes and I got on board for the ride back into the city.  At the bus station, a ojek (motorcycle taxi) came up to me and asked where I was going.  I told him the train station and he said he’d give me a lift for 15,000 IDR.  I had been thinking about going by rickshaw, but his English was good and he quickly got me to the station where we spent a few minutes talking (he was practicing his English).  I was worried about being late for the train, but was at the station an hour early.  I got some breakfast and waited (and waited some more as the train was 30 minutes late).
View from my "executive class" window

The ride back to Jakarta was pleasant and uneventful.  I sat next to a woman who works for the education ministry in Indonesia and who has her master’s degree from Indiana University!  She was traveling with her two sons, back from her parents’ home in Solo.  We talked about the education system in Indonesia (and in America) and how they tried for years to run everything from the national level, but because of the diversity of Indonesia (each island is a different culture and often a different language and religion), they were trying to find ways to involve more local governments in the education of children. 

Food seller on platform

While on the Argo Lawu, I decided to eat in the dining car instead of at my seat as I’d done on my first train in Indonesia.  The dining cars are all fancy with colorful murals, but they also allow smoking (and I can see what many people choose to have their meals at their seats).  I had chicken noodles and ate quickly and then quickly retreated back to my seat and to fresh air.  Luckily, this time I was seated on the opposite side of the train so where we were on the same tracks for much of the distance, I was able to see different things.  We arrived back in Jakarta nearly an hour late. 


  1. I don't know about you Sage but I am thoroughly enjoying this trip thus far!

  2. Being an American overseas is both a blessing and a curse but in my experience mostly the former. Whenever I am in a third world country, it seems as if people practicing their English appear out of nowhere to help me find what I want to find. Granted they are wanting a few thousand of whatever their currency is which is pennies in our own, but it is almost always worth the experience and we both walk away happy.

    Thanks for the installment. They are more frequent than I had expected and I'm starting to get spoiled.

  3. Looks awesome! Thanks for blogging regularly, I always look forward to the next post!

    I love the photo through the cracked glass, gorgeous picture anyways! :)

  4. Thanks for the update. It sounds like a wonderful trip. I envy you. :)

  5. How lovely that you could connect with friends. And the spa time sounds lovely, too.