Central Java Road Trip

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Home Page > Travelogues > Indonesia > Central Java (Jawa Tengah) > Central Java Road Trip


Crest of West Java

Road Trip Through Central Java


Crest of West Java

In the summer of 2004, we took a road trip from Jakarta to Yogyakarta (joke-ja-KAR-tuh) to see the place from where Vero's family came.  Getting there was not easy, and car was still the best way, even though it meant 12-16 hours on the road one way (airplanes and trains are options, but not particularly good ones) and the roads are pretty tough in spots.  But the road allowed us to capture all the great sights along the way, of which this photo gallery is but a small sample.  It also gave some good insights to life on Java outside the big city.

This travelogue begins at the point where we left behind the industrial complexes east of Jakarta, at the small West Java harbor city of Cirebon (CHEER-uh-bone).  The route we took followed the north coast of Java from Jakarta to Semarang in Central Java, then south through the volcanic passes to Yogyakarta.   Some of these places may warrant a longer stop over in future.

Masjid and independence memorial Traditional Javanese fishing boats
Central Java is predominantly Muslim, and also very proud of its role in the independence of Indonesia from Dutch rule in the mid-20th century.  Most cities on the route has a brilliant white Masjid and one or more independence memorials, such as seen above.  Most cases, the Masjid was the best maintained structure in the city. From Cirebon to the beginning of Central Java province, we hugged the coastline, crossing over river after river.  A number of such rivers harbored traditional Javanese fishing vessels such as shown in this photo.  These wooden boats were incredibly colorful, but at the time activity was low.  Javanese fishermen typically head out to sea in the very early morning and return mid-morning with the days' catch that they then sell at the local markets or to larger distributors.  (Much of the fish sold in Jakarta itself is grown in modern nurseries.)
City roundabout in coastal Central Java Modern shopping mall in Tegal
Several of the cities also had a central roundabout near the town square with a column like this.  They had a plaque on the side that listed 10 goals for the town, things like 'quality services,' 'care for the environment'.  These 10 goals were virtually identical for each town.  We also saw a few sculptures of a hand showing two fingers, legacies of a 1970s population-control program where the states was recommending all families have only two children (similar to a program in China that continues today). This shot was from the Central Java city of Tegal, on the coast east of Cirebon.  Tegal was one of the wealthier towns, a benefactor of a common Javanese practice -- sending the eldest children to Jakarta to make their fortunes and send the money home.  Vero pointed out that a number of street sellers around Jakarta are listed as "Warung Tegal", roughly meaning "Tegal Food Stand."  As street food is still a primary means of subsistence across Indonesia, it doesn't take too long before the money sent home is enough to fund the construction of modern shopping malls like this one.
Rice fields along the coast Lovely mountain pass
But in between signs of civilization were miles and miles and miles of these scenes -- rice fields as far as the eye can see, worked by a handful of men and women.  It was planting season, and people were out planting the rice the old-fashioned way, by hand under the baking sun.  Although it was mostly clear, it was so hazy that none of the pictures we took caught the beautiful mountians in the backdrop. Once we turned south from Semarang, the terrain changed from flat rice fields to thick mountain jungles, and the cities largely gave way to small villages.  This shot was taken from one of the steepest passes, capturing the palm forest below, and a Javanese man standing at the side of the road wearing a traditional conical straw hat, the same hat worn by most of the workers in the rice fields.
Mount Merapi Mount Merapi and Merbabu
This is Mount Merapi, the largest active volcano in Indonesia, most recently erupting about ten years earlier.  At the top is a small billow of steam that was more visible from the south side toward Jogja, an indicator of the potential for future activity.  Such would be a disappointment for the Central Javanese, who have been given offerings for protection from such events for many years, and whose faith was badly shaken after the last eruption. But Mount Merapi was not the only volcano, here it is in the background with Mount Merbabu, another volcano that is now inactive.  Mountains like these lined across the middle of Java like a spine, with beautiful plains in between.  About once an hour during the return trip, we stopped off the side of the road to take a couple pictures, and respite for a moment while the scenery took our breath away.
Rice paddies in the heart of Central Java Today's buffaloes, tomorrow's daging sapi dinner
This shot was taken from the interior of Java island.  The rice fields here are more terraced, naturally, much like the paddy fields all around Bali.  The rice grown here was on a different cycle from that of the coastline, much of it was already grown and nearing harvest time.  There are several varieties of rice grown, each with its own time cycle -- from three months to six months.  The longer the growth cycle, the more expensive but the higher quality the rice. But the Javanese don't just eat rice.  Buffalo meat (daging sapi), chicken (daging ayam), and goat (daging kambing) are also staples.  The cuisine is known as 'sundanese', encompassing Java and neighboring Sumatra, and can be characterized as spicy-sweet, using chili peppers and palm sugar among other ingredients.  Buffaloes are also beasts of burden in Java, but those buffaloes are usually black or brown.  Sadly, these white ones are bound for someone's dinner table.

Late May was a good time to go because the summer heat wasn't so bad.  There were numerous rest stops along the way with good quality Javanese food and clean facilities.  The only drawback was the traffic.  So much of the route was secondary road with no outlets, and trucks dominate the roadway.  Java is so spread out that the cost of producing a true autobahn system is prohibitive, meaning that anyone wishing to follow our route must be prepared for occasional slow-going and the risk of significant delay.  But don't let that deter you.  It's a really great drive.

Trip taken 31 May 2004 through 2 June 2004 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin

Useful Links:
bulletCentral Java Page on Indonesian Tourism Site


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