Couchfish: East Java sojourn

Couchfish: East Java sojourn

Get a bike and go

So the other morning my son wandered into my office, laptop open. He told me he’d found a waterfall and would I like to go there for the weekend? “Google says it is only ten hours away,” he said, then, seeing the look on my face, he added “it’s in Java.” He knew he’d have me with those last three words. And so it is tomorrow morning we’re off on a wee road trip—though not a ten-hour one.

Best laid plans and all that. Screenshot: Stuart McDonald.

When I asked him how he’d found it he said he’d been searching for things to see “near Surabaya,” and the falls, Tumpak Sewu surfaced. This was the reveal of the true calculus going on in his head—he hoped I’d agree to go, but baulking at riding that far, would go with a flight to Surabaya. He loves flying as much as I loath it, which is to say he loves it a lot. A lot.

Nevertheless, he miscalculated—badly—we’re going by motorbike.

I’ve hopped and skipped through some of the highlights of East Java, but I’ve never had the time to go there and just wander. Will’s ten hours has blown out to seven days—or so. He attends a distance school out of Australia, so as long as we have internet access, he can keep up with his studies. Plus, given the time difference and his homework allergy, schoolwork will be done and dusted by midday. Perfect.

Now we’re talking! On the way down from Ijen. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Aside from surfers, southeast Java’s coast sees few foreign tourists. From what I’ve been able to garner so far, along the south coast accommodation (where there are any at all) is basic, and the roads are not great. There are though a tonne of waterfalls and beach after beach after beach. All that backing onto some of East Java’s most magnificent volcanoes. In summary, it could be worse.

The tentative route is for a blast out to West Bali early tomorrow for the ferry over to Banyuwangi in Java. There, we’ll sleep on the slopes of Ijen before looping to the south via Kalibaru to Jember. Along the way, there are a bunch of beaches we’ll try to check out, but it will depend a bit on the state of the roads and the weather.

Light supper at Mbok Wah, Banyuwangi. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

From Jember we’ll press on to the actual waterfall, then down to more south coast beaches. From there, north to Malang for a hot shower and perhaps a splurge at the Tugu. Also, the food—Malang’s food is terrific. Then we’ll cut east and ride into Gunung Bromo’s caldera from the side entrance and sleep on the northern rim.

After that, assuming we’re still talking, it will be to Probolinggo. After that, the plan gets pretty loose, back to Bali somehow.

This is how most of my trips start. Grab a map and start drawing lines. Ask for tips on Twitter. Troll through Instagram (though its location search is just awful). Do a bit of other random online research. Once you’re on the road, things change—roads wash out, traffic clogs up, tempers flare—or sometimes it all falls into place. We’ll see how things shake out—I’m hoping for the latter.

Band practice at Glenmore in Kalibaru. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The thing is, to fit the above into seven or eight days will be a mission in itself. I could spend twice as long doing the same loop. Yet even pre-Covid, outside of Bromo and perhaps Malang, you could do this entire trip and not see another non-Indonesian backpacker. When Sally and I did the East Java research trip a few years ago, we were on the road for around three weeks. The number of obviously foreign tourists we saw? In total? Under two dozen.

Under two dozen.

I’d struggle to better illustrate the monumental failures of Indonesia’s tourism promotion efforts. “Ten New Balis” … give me a break.

Rawon of Malang I am coming for you. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Anyway, I’m a believer in doing rather than whining (though I’m quite apt at the latter), so we plan to detail our trip day by day, warts and all. Perhaps we’ll discover the reason why foreign tourists don’t bother, but, my gut feeling is we’ll have a great trip.

So, over the next week, I’ll be juggling Couchfish around a bit. The paid posts will be on hold and you can expect a daily update on the free list instead. Each day (internet allowing!) we’ll replay our footsteps onto Couchfish. Who knows, we might even inspire you to take a look-see yourself.

Our East Java sojourn—fingers crossed for more waterfalls than whining.

Couchfish is 100 per cent independent and reader-supported. If you’re not already a subscriber, and you’d like to show your support, become a paying subscriber today for just US$7 per month—you can find out more about Couchfish here—or simply share this story with a friend.

Don’t forget, you can find the free podcasts on Apple, Pocket Casts and Spotify as well as right here on Couchfish.

The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.