Apr 30, 2022 • 7M

Couchfish: East Java sojourn day 7, all good things come to an end

700-odd kilometres done and dusted.

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So this is the point where my Java tale draws to a close. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the trip as much as we did! For free Couchfish subscribers, you could consider the last week of emails a look behind the curtain at what paid subscribers receive. The paid itinerary has its 300th day coming up this week, and if you upgrade to the paid list you get access to the full archives—you can see every post marked on a map here.

So, if I’ve got your feet itching and you’d like to upgrade, you can get 30% off with this link. With the discount it works out at around US$5 a month—dare I say, a bargain! If not, no worries, I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. Cheers!

I’m rolling two days into one here as after the waterfall pretty much all we did was ride. How much riding do you ask? Five hours to Kalibaru and then seven hours to reach home in Bali. As I write this on the couch at home, let me tell you, seven hours on a Scoopy in traffic is too much!

Best laid plans and all that. If you look at the map on day 1, we managed less than half what was planned.

So, while I could write about the red bus that ran us off the road on Bali, the pointless rapid test at Ketapang to return to Bali, or racing the home stretch through the rain, or easily the worst traffic of the whole trip, getting through hell-hole Canggu, I won’t.

Instead, I’d start off by saying Java is well worth a look. One need not ride across a chunk of it—the train is excellent and affordable. People in Bali often talk Java down, saying it’s unfriendly, has no beer, or is simply too difficult or dangerous to travel in, but these are all, in my experience, false.

Call it a DIY school excursion. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I found the people to be uniformly helpful, friendly and fun. While you won’t see alcohol stacking the fridges of minimarts, with the exception of the homestay by the waterfall (who I’m sure would have been able to rustle up some iced beers if I’d asked), everywhere we stayed had it on hand, and while it perhaps lacks a little of the hand holding Bali has, it is far from a difficult place to travel.

At least in the towns we visited the food scene lacked the international flavour of Bali, but that isn’t to say the food is drab or boring—far from it. Food is cheap and varied. For accommodation, we spent between 350,000 and 500,000 rupiah per night, I wouldn’t say it was the best value on the planet, but everywhere we stayed was at least adequate. We could have easily spent less, there are cheap guesthouses around the 100,000 rupiah mark in most spots, but standards can get pretty variable at that price point.

There be waterfalls everywhere. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Overall, I loved our time there, and I wish we hadn’t had to change plans and race back to Bali, losing our second week. Upside it leaves me fodder for another trip!

A few thoughts specific to motorbiking:

  1. I wouldn’t recommend what I did for novice riders. I’m used to the way traffic works here and I’ve been riding a bike for twenty years—that helped. If you’ve just taught yourself to ride in a temple car park in Bali, a ride like this probably isn’t for you.

  2. Don’t do as I did and do it in flip flops! Wear boots. I would have but was between boots and rode in flip flops because I’m unorganized and stupid. This was a dumb thing to do, and yes, my son wore shoes!

  3. Ride as if you’re invisible. I say this meaning ride assuming nobody has seen you—super-defensively. Others drive on the understanding you will get out of the way, and if you’re not familiar with this mindset it can be challenging.

  4. Always give way to size, and obey the road rules. Pack a raincoat.

  5. Wear a real, full-face helmet at all times. All times. No, I mean this, all times.

  6. Don’t ride at night.

One thing I was warned about was that bike theft is a real problem. Obviously, my bike wasn’t stolen, as you would have read about it here, and to be honest, I don’t know anyone who has ever had their bike stolen in Java—unlike in Bali. That said, I always parked in zones with a staffer who I’d pay a few thousand rupiah to keep an eye on the bike.

Exploring the less-travelled road. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Another thing I was warned about was the police, that they, even more so than those in Bali, enjoy paying particular attention to foreigners and fining them whenever possible. This wasn’t my experience. I barely saw a police officer the entire trip, one I do recall seeing and making eye contact with outside of Jember, smiled and gave me the thumbs up as we sped past.

So if you’re in Bali and would like an East Java taster, but are not all that keen on riding a bike for 700 km, what would I recommend? An easy week-long trip would be to first visit Banyuwangi and climb Ijen, then jump on the train. You could break the trip at Kalibaru, then continue by train to Malang. It’s a fab university city with some excellent hotels, sights and feeds. It’s also straightforward to get a bus or car from there to the small town by the waterfall. From Malang, you could push on to Bromo and then Surabaya before getting the train back to Banyuwangi (or flying). Or push on—Semerang, Solo, Yogyakarta—there’s a whole world of Java to explore.

Our bamboo digs in Banyuwangi. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

It’s easy to come to Bali and have a great time of course, but it’s only one of over 15,000 islands, so add a week—or three—to that leave request form and have a poke around Java when you’re next in the country.

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If you’re just joining us at the end of the trip, below are the previous entries, day by day. Enjoy!

Couchfish: East Java sojourn
Listen now (6 min) | 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 r…
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Couchfish: East Java sojourn, day 1
Listen now (8 min) | Best laid plans and all that. Before Will and I even get going we have our first speed bump. My bike is a rental and the owner tells me I can’t take it to Java. This isn’t uncommon as inter-island theft is a problem, and we have a solution at hand—Sam owns her bike, so I’ll just borrow that. Sorted. Well, not really…
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Couchfish: East Java sojourn, day 2, Ghost Empire
Listen now | The day starts with regrets. Regret that the hotel staffer was right. Regret I don’t have earplugs. Regret that the walls of our room are thinner than the lining of my eardrums. So many regrets, and it isn’t even 3 am yet. I climb down, out of our bamboo extravagance and, guided by the light of my phone, I stumble through the grove to the paddy field’s …
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Couchfish: East Java sojourn, day 3. The pointless beach
Listen now (7 min) | I’m on a daybed in the sand, it’s late afternoon and save a couple beside me the beach is near empty. Not a soul. It’s Monday you see, and the weekend hustle and bustle has packed up and blown out back home. Will is back in the room, and I’ve just a fresh coconut for company. The sun is setting. It is well pretty…
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Couchfish: East Java sojourn, day 4. On the road
Listen now (8 min) | School done for the day we pack and tally our losses. Yesterday it was a charging cable, today it is earphones. The perils of cabled travelling I guess. After checking the previous hotel to see if they were there, we grab a replacement pair for 75,000 rupiah at a local minimart. When we stop later, Will notes they work, “sort of.” Get what you pay for…
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Couchfish: East Java sojourn day 5, roads and lava
Listen now (7 min) | Google Maps tells us we have three options for reaching our homestay near the waterfall. The northern route on Route 3, a coastal route, and one in between. All are estimated to take around three hours. I stare at the map for a while. On Route 3, I figure we’ll have shit traffic, while the coastal route will probably be a shit road. Like is full of choic…
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Couchfish: East Java sojourn day 6, achievement unlocked
Listen now (6 min) | It feels like Bali is a lot further than 357 km away as we rise for our morning visit to Tempak Sewu waterfall. It’s taken us five days to get here and given my previous record for time taken to get to a waterfall was about four hours, this one better be good…
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