Surprises come in different forms throughout our lives. And it isn’t until we look back when we realize their value.
After a 2-hour boat ride from Nusa Lembongan to Sanur, I rode a motorcycle under the heat of the midday sun to Ubung Bus Station. From there, I took another 2 or 3-hour bus to Gilimanuk pier before boarding the boat to Java.
It was past 2 pm, and my stomach was grumbling like a beast. After obtaining my ticket, I dropped by a small shop to get something to eat. I stood there deciding which biscuit to buy. Suddenly, I could hear shouting in the background, and I looked up to see what was happening.
“The boat is leaving! The boat is leaving!” the officer yelled at me while I scrambled to find some change to pay the vendor.
Lugging my heavy backpack, I ran as I could towards the boat waving at the crew to wait for me as they prepared to leave.
The trip was brief, and I quickly found myself standing in Javanese soil just minutes later. A few weeks before, I had intended on staying in Bali for the entire 25 days of my trip, but after coming across an article about Java, I changed my plans and made this last minute decision.
Now, I had to wait for my train which would take me to Yogyakarta. It wasn't a straightforward trip though. I had to travel from Banyuwangi – Surabaya – Yogyakarta as suggested by the helpful receptionist at my hotel in Legian.
I looked at my phone and realized that it was still close to 3 pm. I had plenty of time before my train arrived in the evening. I decided to walk around town while cursing at my heavy backpack for making my life difficult.
I passed by a house where a stranger greeted me with a big smile and a hello. I stopped to say hello back. He was curious about where I was going. Usually, I wouldn’t talk to strangers particularly when I’m sweaty and tired, but there was something about him that seemed genuine.
He said that his name was Adi (short for a longer name that I can’t remember) and that he owned a small tour agency. He introduced me to his wife and child.
“What is your name?”
“Ahhhh! Melody! Melody ‘Ghina’!” Adi exclaims, and I smiled at his enthusiasm. I asked him what ‘Ghina’ means and he told me that in Islam, it means music. I googled it after going back home and learned that apparently, music is somewhat considered a sin in Islam teaching.
We talked about the similarities of the Javanese and Filipino language. Like counting and the words gunting for scissors, itom for black, and buka for open. He taught me a few words as well so I could enter the temples for free since he said I could pass as a local.
Adi stopped mid-conversation and excused himself politely.
He said he had to pray to God. He went inside his house and emerged a couple of minutes later wearing a more formal attire. Then he’d jump on his motorcycle, speeding off to the nearby mosque.
When he returned, we continued where we left off. The hours passed quickly, and soon it was dark.
“Are you hungry?”
“Yes. Do you know a place I can go to eat?”
“No, no, I cook for you. Do you like Mie Goreng?”
I nodded. Minutes later, my dish was ready. I told him I'd pay, but he refused to accept money.
I’ve never met people who were as kind to a stranger as Adi and his family. Overwhelmed by their generosity, I felt guilty that I could only repay them through my sincere thank you. Even though we just met, they went out of their way to make me feel like family. Also offering their bathroom if I wanted a bath.
I was feeling sticky from my long journey so I asked if I could wash my face. When I first stepped foot inside their house, I felt my heart sink. I encountered a humble setting—a mattress on the floor, an old television, a pail and bucket for washing in the bathroom, and a dimly-lit kitchen. There were no walls. Everything was in one room. I wished I could do something big for them.
Soon it was time to leave. Adi took me to the train station and gave me some fruit and a big bottle of water to bring with me on my trip.
I wished them the best and told them I’d come back next time to see them.
I had a hard time sleeping on the train that night. The seats were not so comfortable, and every time someone passed the aisle, my brain woke up.
When I woke up at dawn, something felt strange. The train wasn't moving. I looked out the window and saw people gathering outside, and discussing something serious. I looked for the train officer and asked her what was happening. She told me that there was an accident and they were not sure how long it would take to fix the problem.
I looked at the time and realized I had to be in Surabaya without delay or I'd miss my next train to Yogyakarta. I panicked. She seemed to notice this and told me I could take a bus outside but she didn’t know how long it would take to reach Surabaya.
Decisions had to be made. Fast. Should I wait for the train or take matters into my own hands and ride a bus? Time was running out. Without much thought, I went with the latter. Now, the problem was that I didn't know where to get a bus and how long it would take for me to reach Surabaya. The lady officer seemed equally clueless.
As I approached my seat to get my bag, a lady asked me what was going on outside. I told her there was an accident and I needed to go to Surabaya.
And as if the heavens were listening, she told me she was from Surabaya and needed to get there early too. She quickly grabbed her bag and followed me outside.
She talked to someone in their language and immediately found a van that could take us to Surabaya. Thank goodness.
For the next hour and a half, I sat squished at the back of the van with my enormous bag sitting on top of my legs. I swear I could no longer feel my legs at the end of that long ride. Things were out of control. I'd never felt so unlucky...
...but then this happened—A sign that things were going to get better.
We had quite an interesting chat in the van. The woman I just met was working in a university in Surabaya and also did a lot of charity work. One of her responsibilities was to help make sure the Indonesian women who traveled out of the country for work were treated fairly. She told me stories about the harsh lives some of them lived like being raped by their employers.
When we reached Surabaya, the road was packed with motorcycles even that early! It felt like an eternity sitting in traffic. I looked at my phone and saw that we only had a few minutes before my train left. It was too thrilling, I swear, I almost cried.
She was sweet enough to comfort me and said that she would take me to the train station since she lived nearby. When we got there, I said goodbye to her and thanked her for everything. I felt eternally thankful for her kindness. Literally a minute after I went on the train, it started to move. I wouldn't have made it on time without her help.
Unlike the first train where I splurged a little on a better seat, this time I booked an economy ticket. The air was loud with voices. It was more chaotic with sacks and bags sitting on the chairs. Yes, as expected, it was cramped and stuffy even for a tiny person like myself, but interacting with the locals made my journey unforgettable. Several of them wondered why I was traveling alone and tried to help me with my questions as much as they could.
Somewhere along the way, our train stopped in the middle of nowhere. I looked out the window and saw no sign of a station. So I asked the guy sitting opposite to me why we were stopping.
His answer caught me off-guard. He said that we had to wait for the first class train to pass before we could continue.
“We are in an economy train. Cheap. So we have to wait.” It took an hour of waiting before we were back on our way.
I closed my eyes. Yogyakarta, I’m almost there.