Back in early 2015, a person named Robert Hannaford from UK e-mailed me and saying that he is an avid reader of my blog. He is very impressed with the trip report of my “2014 Java Steam & Sugar Tour”. He was asking whether if he can have similar tour in mid-2015. I said that is perfectly possible.
So I began to arrange the tour itinerary, accommodations, and also monitoring the situation on each mills that we planned to visit. The harvesting season has yet to start, so we didn’t know how the steam operation would be.
A few months later, another railway enthusiast also showing his interest in traveling around Java to see the steam locomotives. He is an Australian named Stephen John Picker. He have been to Bali often, and he frequently sees a steam locomotive on display in one hotel near Kuta beach.
Being a railway worker himself (a train driver) he longing to see real railway operation in Indonesia, and if possible seeing real steam locomotives in action too.
At the time, I was promoting “Bali-Java Railway Tour” for Australian market. He initially like the tour package, but considering that he was unable to attract additional 9 railway enthusiasts to go with him, and due to the fact that his holiday time allocation was shorter than the total number of days on the Bali-Java Railtour, we were doubtful if we can run such tour.
So, instead I offered Stephen to join the Java Steam & Sugar Tour. He gladly accepted it. So, informed Robert that Stephen would like to join us. Robert agreed, so the tour will have 2 participants.
Another vital element of this tour is the itinerary itself. Robert initially wants to have tour itinerary similar to what I arranged back in 2014, but in addition we also wants to see Olean sugar mill in Situbondo. Yet, the time allocation is also equally the same.
So I need to do some filtering which means removing some sugar mills from our itinerary, while others would only be visited on chance basis (such as those in Madiun).
So after some calculations, I planned the itinerary that went from Surabaya to Situbondo, then Surabaya to Ambarawa and Solo. But I also was thinking about allocating time for Pemalang area too.
When I proposed the itinerary that includes Pemalang, it was met with mixed result. Robert disagrees as he wants to spend longer time in Surabaya at the end of the tour. While Stephen generally agrees as he wants to see more steams. The initial plan was that from Ambarawa we would proceed to Pemalang for two nights, where from there we would head to Solo and then Surabaya again.
I initially persuade Robert to join to Pemalang, but he vehemently refusing to go there (I later learned that his health condition is the reason behind this). So I had to return back to research table.
After some alteration, I finally came up with two different itineraries. Both itineraries are essentially identical for the first ¾ parts, unless that in Solo Robert will parted with us and went to Surabaya with train, while the rest of us would go to Pemalang.
With this concept, the agreements were eventually reached and it was good to go.
The moment that has been waited for eventually arrived. It was the time for me to receive them. It was late afternoon on 14th September 2015, where I waited at Surabaya’s Juanda Interational airport for Robert’s flight from Singapore to arrive. Robert’s flight arriving right on time and I took him straight to the hotel which is located in Manyar Kertoarjo area in Surabaya.
While Stephen’s flight arrival from Bali were delayed not once, but twice! He was supposed to arrive at 10pm, but eventually I picked him up just past midnight!
Both of them stayed in the same hotel, which is located right above a prominent supermarket in Surabaya, which Robert found very advantageous.
HEADING TO SITUBONDO
Our first part of the itinerary involve trip to Olean sugar mill in Situbondo. This mill, as per 2014 milling season, had the reputation of being one of two sugar mills in Java who deployed its steam locomotives for regular field working (the other being Sumberharjo sugar mill near Pemalang, Central Java).
However, prior to our departure, I’ve heard some report from early visitors in 2015 season (notably local railway enthusiasts) that the regular steam field working may have ceased. During their visits, they found no steam working at all. However it was too early to make the conclusion as the milling season had just started and the volume of work was minimal.
In later visits, some enthusiasts reported some steam working. But up until late July, no confirmed report had been obtained.
Perhaps the closest thing that we can get to confirmation was when a group of European railway enthusiasts (headed by a British senior railfans) visited the mill in August 2015. It was reported that steam locos only work on chartered basis.
Prior to the commencement of the tour, Robert had stated that he doesn’t want to charter anything. Stephen is rather neutral in his opinion, he won’t mind to charter as long as it won’t cost fortune.
So there it goes: we went to Situbondo with uncertainty over regular steam operation!
For the eastern leg, I was accompanied by my friend Derri, my railfans friend who is also a keen railway enthusiast who also long dreamed of driving a locomotive. I had invited him so he can accompany me during a 5-hour driving from Surabaya to Situbondo, and also prevent some boredom too.
After checking out from the Surabaya hotel, we went to Situbondo. The trip from Surabaya to Situbondo went uneventful. In fact it was much easier to negotiate when compared to driving to Banyuwangi, which I would normally do when I took tourists to visit mount Ijen.
ARRIVAL AT SITUBONDO
Upon arriving at Situbondo, we checked in into our hotel. Stephen marveled the sight mount Ringgit, which he nicknamed it “face mountain” as it resemble facial texture seen from sideway.
We stayed at the famed Rosali hotel, which is known as the leading hotel in Situbondo town area. This hotel is frequently used for accommodations by visiting foreign railway enthusiasts who wants to see Olean sugar mill (or the nearby Wringinanom sugar mill).
We booked Superior room, which provide better quality when compared to the Standard ones.
It has an ample amount of hot water, working air conditioning, and clean air.
But I have to admit that Situbondo seemed to have very little to offer when it came about culinary. So much that I nicknamed it “Culinary Blind Spot”. Although we have read some reviews about great food in Situbondo, but we just couldn’t find any good restaurants. Only street side food stalls.
So we ended up having dinner in one popular Chinese restaurant in the town.
TO BE CONTINUED.