December 26th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

So Christmas is over once again, + wasting no time – our visas do expire on the 31st – we must be on the move again, with no consideration for nonsenses like Boxing Day.  So after a quick breakfast, we headed down to the bank to change a travellers’ cheque – a most necessary pre-requisite to moving on.  Just about everyone else in town seemed to have had the same idea, but fortunately it didn’t take them too long to see to our requirements.

On the way back, we undertook a couple of transactions.  Val bought a large bottle of honey, but at the next place we stopped, she managed to knock it over.  It smashed, so there was honey + broken glass in a rapidly expanding pool on the floor of the restaurant.  They were very good about it tho’, presumably taking the attitude that it was no good crying over spilt honey.  Still, stoicism wouldn’t return our honey, so I went back to get another bottle – Val could consider it another present.

I also took the opportunity to buy Val a shadow puppet, something she’s expressed some interest in before, tho’ I hadn’t been able to raise more than tentative interest in it myself.  However, I saw one now that I particularly liked, + tho’; I’d tried the people on the stall before, + they’d been rather intransigent, this time they seemed more willing to bargain.  I finally obtained it for Rp 7000 – I’ve no idea whether that is dirt cheap or devilishly expensive.

We then went along to the railway station – we’d heard we could buy tickets for the evening train at about noon.  We weren’t surprised tho’ when we arrived, to receive all sorts of conflicting information.  First of all there were two large queues already formed, lone of which was full of people clutching official letters + clearly expecting some imminent action, the other, containing young men, obviously prepared for quite a wait.  To which group should we attach ourselves?  We asked, + found out that tickets were not on sale till 2.30.  So why were all those people queuing so expectantly?  They were, we discovered, waiting for reserved seats.  Reservations without tickets?  Apparently yes.  I left Val in the queue while I went back to pack, but she came running after me before I’d left the railway yard.  Apparently, a man in the queue had told her she must have an official letter to make a reservation, + that we could obtain one from the Tourist Office, but I think she was suffering from momentary hysteria, brought on by being in the somewhat helpless position of being alone in a queue.  So I told her we had no intention of going to all the fuss of fighting with bureaucracy to get hold of a form I knew not what for.  I was pretty sure we wouldn’t need the thing, but if we did, then fuck it, we’d go by bus.  So back Val went to the queue – somebody was holding her place for her.  She duly returned after half an hour or so, with reservations – an official had asked for a letter, but not too strenuously, + Val had just walked past him.

She returned at 2.30 for stage two, buying the ticket, which also went without a hitch – all that was left now was stage three, actually getting on the train.  In England it would have taken one visit to the station, here it takes 3.  Ah well.

Before leaving, I bought Val a sarong she’s had her eye on for some time – there are 2 pairs of women who maintain an almost constant watch in the losmen, 2 on, 2 off, with a vast array of sarongs, cotton trousers, tablecloths, etc.  More often than not, they lug out all the stuff they’d lugged in, but one of them finally came down to my required price, + Val wasn’t around, so that clinched it.  That just about made up a respectable total of Christmas presents, tho’ I was a bit late.

We ate a meal at Superman’s t prepare us for the ordeal ahead, then went off to claim our seats.  The train was sitting there waiting, + we envisioned some trouble persuading the people who were bound to be occupying our places to move, but in fact they shifted meek as lambs when we flashed our tickets – that’s Indonesian respect for authority for you.  We pulled out on the dot of 4.30, our departure being immediately preceded by a last-minute rush for places on the train, places anywhere, since the train was already jam-packed.  There had been enormous queues for tickets, so it was fortunate we had persevered with obtaining our reservations.

The carriage seemed to be almost new, but had been built along most Spartan lines – this was Economy Class after all – with upright, hard wooden seats.  There were cushions available for rent, but Val, for reasons of economy or puritanism, clearly disapproved, + I bowed to the moral pressure she exerted.  So we made ourselves as comfortable as possible using our own foam mats, + eventually tried to sleep.  Normally we can lie over each other, but it was so hot that the one underneath suffocated.  All in all, it was a hateful journey – I’m coming to the conclusion that 90 times out of a 100 rail travel is over-glamorised, by Christie, Greene, Theroux.  Next time I reckon I’ll take the bus.

An account of the regular bureaucracy that one had to fight with, though on this occasion at least, it seems to have worked out all right… even if I wasn’t at all impressed with the final result. No suitable photograph available, I’m afraid, so have merely attached a picture of a bus – one of the ones I wished I had caught, I suppose.

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