Indonesia 2016

Surakarta / Solo: Our Failed Day

Solo, or Surakarta, is a city east of Yogyakarta, and is called “The soul of Java“.

This was our failed day: the day where, inexplicably, everything went wrong. It happens on every trip, sometimes multiple times, and this was the day for it to happen to us.

We were originally due to go to Borobodur. We woke at 3:30am and waited outside our hotel for the minibus to pick us up, but it never arrived. We waited until 5am.

(This is the problem with minibuses picking people up at their hotels. If they’re late or get lost, there’s nothing you can do. We would rather have made our way somewhere for 4am than stand outside in the dark for an hour, waiting. At least it wasn’t cold.)

We had intended to go to Solo the following day, but we moved it forward. We headed there on the train after giving the tourist company who’d sold us our defunct Borobodur tickets an earful and extracted a refund.

Trains are always fascinating to me, because they always reveal a lot about a country. Indonesia — well, Java’s — trains are amazing. On time, efficient, comfortable, air-conditioned, and the stations cavernous and shiny, with free power points. The trains themselves didn’t travel very fast, but they were clean. I got the train from Yogyakarta to Malang a few days after this, and booking the ticket was also a breeze.

The train was not the bit that went wrong. It was once we actually got to Solo.

While on the train we realised the most interesting thing to see would be Candi Sukuh: an ancient, atmospheric, hypnotically beautiful temple on the other side of the city. Most people get day trips from Jogja to Solo, and had we done that, we would have been able to see it. But after arriving in the city and having a frantic half-hour or so trying to find a travel agency, we both sat down and realised that there probably wouldn’t be time. We wouldn’t get to see Sukuh, and so we were better off wandering around Solo and trying to make the best of it.

After a cup of hot, sweet tea and some beef noodles in a street cafĂ©, we eventually found a travel agency who didn’t say that the trip was impossible, but was just unable to contact the driver who would have been able to do it. Had we not needed to get a refund for, and rebook, our Borobodur trip, we’d probably have been able to sort it. When we left the agency, I realised I’d picked up a little caterpillar friend, who was the only good thing about our Solo trip thus far.

We attempted to see Solo’s Keraton, or palace, but were told that both it and its adjoining museum were closed. We had no interest in Solo’s malls or outlet stalls. And the central market was full of batik — not interesting.

The only enjoyable experience in Solo was its masjid, or mosque. When we arrived, the large, covered square outside it was full of inexplicably sleeping men, who we picked our way over and stood in the entrance. It was just an enormous hall — no side rooms that we could see — and Matt walked around it carefully, while I took pictures of him and marvelled at the sheer size of the room.

Then we went out and sat on a bench just beside it, and shortly afterwards the loudspeaker fired up for a Call to Prayer, accompanied by first one colossal drum, on one side of the square, and then the other. First the men in the square awoke and went inside, and then, as we watched, other people began to stream in, some walking through the entrance beside us, which had a small pool you could wash your feet in as you entered.

After this, Matt and I were going to visit its Batik Museum — not because either of us give a damn about batik, but because it was said to be exceptionally good. But by then, we admitted defeat. We couldn’t be bothered: we headed back to the railway station (using a taxi driven by a very strange, crazy-eyed gentlemen) — and were told that the next train wasn’t for an hour and a half.

There was nothing interesting in or around the station while we waited. Including toilets.

Before we headed to the station we walked through some residential streets, and I took some nice photos on the way. This was about the only other good thing about the day.

When we eventually got back to Jogja, we only had time for a quick dinner before we raced down to the Museum Sonobudo for the shadow puppet display. And that, I am delighted to say, was worth the wait.