Monday, October 29, 2012

East Java Trip Part 1: The Trip Plan, Probolinggo And Gili Ketapang

Hi sweeties, here's the first installment of my recent travel notes to East Java. There are only three of them so I don't bore you out with the details. Hope you like it. 

Confession: I was born and grew up in Java island, but I had not been to the East Java province prior to this holiday.

Sounds pathetic, doesn't it?

So when my friend Aneen asked if I had any place on my mind for the next holiday destination, I obviously mentioned East Java. Anyone who had been to that province would agree that Mount Bromo is the highlight of East Java's tourism attractions, so yeah Bromo went in the to-do list. Other friends Desy and Daeng wanted to do whitewater rafting, so Aneen put in Songa Pekalen into the schedule. And to finalize our holiday, Windy suggested a night at Sempu island, just offshore of Malang's Sendang Biru beach.

Since each person has different interest, Aneen tried to accommodate everyone's needs and drafted the trip's itinerary to fit our schedule. So here's the final deal: I'd go to Solo to pick Aneen up on the eve of Oct. 15, then we'd go to Probolinggo on Oct. 16 and spend the night there. Desy and Sisca would arrive in Probolinggo on Oct. 17 (morning), then the four of us would go to Mount Bromo on the afternoon.

On Oct. 18, the fantastic four would catch the sunrise from atop Mt. Bromo and explore the savannah and the sea of sand, before going back to Probolinggo to pick up Daeng and do the whitewater rafting. Then the five would go to Malang on the evening. The last trip member, Windy, would arrive in Malang on Oct. 19 and all of us would spend the night in Sempu island.

Phew. What a hectic trip schedule.

I decided to take a train to Solo because Java has a great railway network and I have a train brain. There are several trains going to Solo, but I picked business class train Senja Utama Solo, which departs from Pasar Senen station at 8:20 p.m., for two reasons: (1) I usually finish my work at 6 p.m., so I can catch the train, sleep during the trip and doesn't have to waste one day of leave on the road. (2) The fare is relatively affordable, only Rp 155,000, compared to executive class train Argo Dwipangga, which is priced at Rp 260,000.

I arrived in Solo Balapan station at 6:50 a.m. Then Aneen and I left for Probolinggo from Solo Jebres station at 8:47 a.m. We took economic class train Sri Tanjung that runs between Solo, Central Java and Banyuwangi, East Java. One ticket for Solo-Probolinggo is priced at Rp 30,000 and the train ride lasts for seven hours. I spent 18 hours on the train in total. Ouch, my butt.

The happy face of a person who just spent 18 hours on the train 

We arrived in Probolinggo at around 4 p.m. We hopped on a becak (tricycle pedicab) to Hotel Ratna (0335 427886) and took a Standard room (two beds with bathroom, TV and fan) for Rp 70,000. That price includes morning tea and breakfast, but excludes the 10 percent tax.

 I found a sewer top with Probolinggo on it

Probolinggo has hot weather and I soon found that my underwear dry perfectly even when it was only wrung inside the hotel's room. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant Sari Laut, where one dish of crab is priced for Rp 55,000. The crab dish was delicious, so we tried ikan bawal goreng (fried pomfret) and it was even more delicious.

Lost in Translation in Probolinggo
One thing that surprised me in Probolingo was the massive usage of Maduranese language. Madura island is only several hours ferry ride away from Surabaya, East Java. East Java people speak Javanese language with a local accent that is different with the accent used in Central Java, but I understand Javanese so I can follow up the conversation. But Maduranese was like a totally foreign language. I'd look at Aneen for help and she'd look back with blank stare. She also doesn't know Maduranese. It felt like going to another country :P.

Old buildings in Probolinggo
I love to see many old buildings dated back to the Dutch colonial era still stand in the city. Some are being re-purposed into cafe, hotel and commercial buildings, but others are just residential buildings. Below are some old buildings that I photographed.

Desy and Sisca were scheduled to arrive in Probolinggo on Oct. 17 at 12 p.m., so we decided to explore the city center on foot and check out Gili Ketapang. The boat ride to Gili Ketapang takes between 30 and 45 minutes, but each boat will only depart when the boat has 25 people on board. Each person must pay Rp 4,000.

Tips: If you're in rush and have the money, you'd better rent one boat for yourself rather than waiting for other passengers.

Gili Ketapang is tadpole-shaped island that has white sandy beach. We went to the east side of the island and visited Goa Kucing (The Cave of Cat). I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Climbing down the cave, my friend Aneen  looks like Sadako, doesn't she? :P 

Then we rushed back to the port to catch the boat ride because Desy and Sisca already reached Probolinggo. Unfortunately, there were not many passengers during the noon, so we waited for two hours! We told Desy and Sisca about the situation and they decided to go first to Bromo.

Once the boat reached Tanjung Tembaga port, we quickly checked out of the hotel and went to Bayuangga bus terminal to catch the last Elf Bison to Cemoro Lawang, a village on the foot of Mt. Bromo at 4 p.m. There were only two Malaysian tourists waiting, so we bought our logistics.

When we're back from the shop, there were two more tourists coming. Then one of the Malaysian tourists approached me, asking if I could speak English. He wondered how many more hours they needed to wait because the Elf Bison driver said that he would wait until there were 12 passengers.

I asked the driver how much we should pay in order to leave the place quickly, he said we should pay Rp50,000 each. The Malaysian tourists didn't mind paying that much, but I could hear the other tourist grumbled,”Paying Rp50,000 is just stupid.” Well, if you're that smart, try negotiate with the driver yourself and you'd better speak Javanese when doing so, Mister. Hmph.

We reached Cemoro Lawang and National Park of Bromo Tengger Semeru at around 6 p.m. The Malaysian tourists stayed in a homestay inn, while the other two (one is from Seattle, the U.S, the grumbling one is probably from Germany, he had that guttural accent. Ok, so I accidentally overheard their conversation, couldn't help it, they talked very loud.) wanted to stay in Cafe Lava. Desy and Sisca had rented a small house with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and a pantry, priced at Rp 350,000 per night. Aneen and I used one bedroom and they used the other one.

There were not many eateries in Cemoro Lawang and most had the standard taste. With the pantry, we could cook instant noodle and hot water for bathing, but the weather is cold and it takes time to boil the water. I just skipped bath and wore jacket to sleep.

Next post: Climbing Mt. Bromo!

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