Thursday, December 2, 2010

A City Called Solo - Rainy Days and Chatty Nights

Solo aka Surakarta - The train from Yogya to Solo took only an hour (1:35PM to 2:35PM). Upon reaching Solo Balapan train station, I was drenched with sweat and low lying rain clouds hover over the city. There had been constant afternoon rains for the last couple of weeks, I was told. I ignored all the becak touts that came to greet me outside and proceeded to the ticket counter to purchase a ticket bound for Jakarta a few days hence. The ticket reservation form was all in Bahasa, I needed help to accomplish it. Fortunately, they had a customer service counter for people like me - in a corner room that looked like an airline ticketing office. This time, I didn't care about the ticket price, I wanted a comfortable sleeper seat to take me back to the capital. This would take less than 9 hours if I were to believe the ticket details - 9:17PM to 5:30AM, and heaven knows how I am starting to have an aversion to trains. This one cost me 250,000 Rp - the price of a mid-range 3-star hotel room in Indonesia. On weekends and holidays, it would have cost me 310,000 Rp.

It was starting to drizzle by the time I made my way out of Balapan station. I walked on foot outside the station grounds and found a parked a taxi. I stated emphatically, "Meter!" I was headed to Cakra Homestay, a guesthouse that was described to be better than Solo's Kraton (Royal Palace). It didn't take 15 minutes - and for a measly 15,000 Rp. for an AC vehicle. One becak driver (rickshaw) even quoted 50,000 Rp - the nerve, really.

Cakra was truly a sight to behold. It was like staying in a museum, intead of a guesthouse. It has a lot of character and the atmosphere inside evoked sophisticated grandeur of the olden times. Unfortunately, service provided is rather too basic for my taste. At 150,000 Rp that doesn't even provide breakfast - a first in my travels around Indonesia - the bed sheet had stains all over them, I was afraid to lay over them, brushing away tendrils of hair. The floor was spotless, but the door was creaky, I could kick it without much effort and it'd sway open. Moreover, it didn't even have a blanket! No darn blanket! My towel would suffice for the night - bathing myself with a thick goo of mosquito repelant.

There was a swimming pool beside a lush garden on my way towards the room (C6) at the 2nd floor, facing an exhibition hall that looked like a candi (pronounced "chandi") - a temple. The whole compound is undoubtedly rich with old world charm and a lot of homey atmosphere, with fruit bats flying around the hedges at night - but right where you sleep, that's where it falters, which is sad as that is exactly its current reason for being.

There was only one occupant in Cakra ("cha-kra") a room from mine. She would be Helen, from Melbourne, an artist-cum-PhD student-cum wayang patron. You see, Solo is known for a few things: political activism, gamelan, wayang, puppet performances and culinary offerings like Nasi Liwet, which I was able to find by the streetside later in the evening. Helen was an adorable conversationalist - she simply loved to chat, and this initial encounter stretched on for almost 4 hours while I was waiting for the rains to let down a bit.

There was downpour by the time I made it inside my room. I checked out my veranda and found an Australian woman sitting stolidly, staring at a distance, impassive. She was languidly puffing her ciggie. She managed to look my way and I said hello. There were just the two of us. She beamed and invited me over for a chat. This would be the first of a series of protracted chats that we would both enjoy during my stay in Solo.

When the rains finally stopped, I excused myself to venture into the city's dimly lit avenues. It's always been a cruddy habit of mine to sort of venture into the unknown, with hearts racing - and all. I needed to orient myself early on, for I'd be going to the mountains to check out Sukhu and Cetho Temples tomorrow.

By the time I got back to Cakra, Helen was still there. We chatted further until the wee hours of morning, then I excused myself. I was bushed! Like an Eye in the Sky who was up all day.

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