2015 Java Steam & Sugar Tour Part 6 (21 September 2015)

After sleeping in the probably the most luxurious hotel that we stayed throughout our trip, we woke up to see a very beautiful vista on our window, with mount Lawu volcano looming in the background.

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Our hotel is definitely the tallest structure in the town of Madiun. Other than ours, there’s virtually no other tall buildings that hindering our view at all. In fact the hills at Pacitan regency, which is around 100 km away from where we stood, are clearly visible.

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We can also see the “Railway Academy” campus; a government owned vocational college which specializing in railway. Although founded by government, I heard that the only railway company exist in Indonesia, Indonesian State Railway (PT KAI), only partly acknowledging its existence, and it is doubtful if its curriculum are relevant to the railway operations outside Indonesia.

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Beyond the railway college is Iswahyudi Air Force Base. The air base premises can be partly seen as a small green clearings to the left of the picture in the background.

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The base is well known as one of the leading air force base in Indonesia where many advanced warplanes such as F-16 (or MiGs in the past) are based. There has been a talk of opening the base for civilian air traffics, but it has constantly been refused by Indonesian air force.

We are hungry, and it’s time to have a breakfast. The restaurant where we had the breakfast looks very lavish, reminds me of the hotels in Jakarta.

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For starter, I took the smoked beef cold cuts and some salad.

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The hotel doesn’t seem to be very busy, but it does provide nice backdrop for my food photo.

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After that I tried the crab, corn, and asparagus Chinese soup. Tasted really delicious!

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Then, I took that grilled sausages, Lyonnais potatoes, and baked bean.

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And lastly the dimsum menu, such as chicken foot stew and shrimp tofu balls.

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After completing the breakfast, we returned back to our room to have shower and packing our bags, before checking out from our hotel.

The hotel where we stayed is actually strategically located: quite close to Kanigoro sugar mill. And had the Madiun-Ponorogo branchline still in operation, it would have been very convenient as it is located a few houses down from where the railway line used to be.

Today’s route is from Madiun we will head North to Cepu, where along the way we will stop by at Purwodadi sugar mill or any sugar mills with steam loco.

But first, we would like to see the Kanigoro sugar mill nearby.

Upon arriving at the mill’s administration office, I head to the division which normally handles visitors. I mention our intention to see the steam working. To our dismay, they said that the regular steam working have ceased since last July. In fact no railway work are performed at all as now all of the sugarcanes are lifted straight from the truck, instead of being transferred to rail wagons like what they used to be.

They even say that in the next 2 years the mill will be closed as the demand of the Madiun’s town expansion made it uneconomical to keep the mill going.

Feeling slightly disappointed, we bade farewell and resumed our journey to the North. A few minutes later we eventually arriving at Purwodadi sugar mill where the steam whistle and chugging greeted us.

We had a high expectation to see some more actions in Purwodadi sugar mill. And upon arriving at the mill’s yard we pretty much got what we want. Today’s working is hauled by number 10 and 15.

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The number 16 is nowhere to be seen…….or is it?

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Apparently an F-16 buzzed overhead as it approached the nearby Iswahyudi air base. And unlike our previous visits where no air traffic were seen, today’s fighter planes traffic is quite busy.

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But on a contrary, apparently the first run that we see at Purwodadi turned out to be the only run that we see today. After the train disappeared into the mill, there were no more workings to be seen. Some of the employees can be seen giving hand signals to me which I couldn’t understand the meaning.

Only when one of them approached me, then I realize that it’s working shift break time. They said that the working will resume at 3 pm, once the replacement group turned up. It was around 11 am, and we think that it would be better if we conclude our visit to Purwodadi and resumed our journey.

As we left Purwodadi mill, we were wondering whether if it would be the last regular steam working in Indonesia that we encountered?

I was suggesting Stephen to visit Sudhono sugar mill, just a few kilometers to the North of Purwodadi mill, which was accepted by him.

This small mill is located just right next to the railway mainline. And just like most mills in Madiun, it has long gave up its regular steam locomotive working, as well as closing down its field lines. But unlike other mills in the area who operating on 700mm tracks, Soedhono is the only mill in Madiun area who utilize 600 mm tracks.

The security in the mill seemed to be the most relaxed one. In fact we saw no one on the security post, so we head straight to the locomotive shed which is located right next to the yard’s entrance gate to photograph this loco.

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This loco is the last steam loco in working condition at Sudhono.

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The loco is only used on chartered basis, where it will run around the mill area, as none of its former field lines are in existence anymore.

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From Sudhono mill, we went to Geneng station which is located right behind the mill compound.

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This small station is currently used as local train stop and passing siding.

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Back in the old days, the station was also used as a junction for branch line to Sudhono sugar mill, but that branch was closed back in 1980s.

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We politely introduced ourselves to the station crew. The warmly welcoming us, and allowing us to enter the signaling room of the station. Just like most rural railway stations in Java, this station still utilizing the old Siemens & Halske mechanical semaphore signal, which dates back from 1955.

Being a railway worker with more than 30 years of working experience, Stephen gladly exchanging his knowledge with the local railway worker in here. We also found that there are many similarities between the signaling system in Indonesia and Australia.

But the obvious difference has to be the token key system. The token system is completely unfamiliar to Indonesian railway workers, so much that they mistake it as signal error despite the fact that it was common to pass the key from one station to another on regular basis back then.

Soon, we hear vibrating noise from the signal equipment. Apparently there is a train approaching from Madiun.

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The train gradually appeared in the distance.

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It wasn’t long to realize that it is Malioboro express train that travel between Malang to Yogyakarta.

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After the train passes through the station, we resumed our journey north. The trip went without too much problem before we finally arriving at Cepu, after a rather leisurely and scenic drive through the hilly interior of Java island.

Finding our hotel is a bit tricky. Our GPS directing us to a place to the north of Cepu, but we found nothing! Only after asking some locals then we could found our way to our hotel. The hotel’s grandeur entrance contrasting to its rather rural backwater surroundings. So much that Stephen called it “oasis”.

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We arrived at its stylish lobby where the check in progress went smoothly.

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Stephen commented that the hotel reminds him with the resort hotels in Bali. He said it’s quite unusual to find such hotel “in the middle of nowhere” in Java.

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The backyard is also equally nice too.

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There are more rooms on the back side, but I would like to explore it later.

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They also provide bike hire service, in case if we want to explore the surrounding areas.

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It’s time for us to put our belongings into our room.

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Our room is apparently located down stair from the lobby, in a small garden in front part of the hotel.

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Our room looks nice, but unfortunately it’s a bit smelly.

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The working desk is not much of use if we turned the TV on!

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But what I like about our room is the “naughty” design of our room. It has an open roof where whenever you have a shower, you feel like being naked in the outdoor.

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The real benefit of such open bathroom design is it will allow the smell to dissipate immediately.

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While my brother and Stephen relaxed, I spend the afternoon exploring the hotel premises.

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I have to say that this hotel’s design closely resemble the resort hotels that you would normally found in Bali. Unless that in Bali you won’t hear the rumble of GE 7FDL engine, or the sound of Wabco AA2 or Nathan P3 Airhorn in the distance.

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The restaurant is rather unique, and has minimalist design.

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But what is good about the restaurant has to be the adjacent swimming pool.

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It’s probably the best place to throw a poolside party too!

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I went further to the back.

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Apparently there is another pool, with the fountain above.

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In fact this hotel seemed to have more than one swimming pool.

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There is also a “secret garden” complete with Balinese style hut too.

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There are also some VIP room ,which essentially came with their own garden…

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…..and even private swimming pool too!

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On the back there are also some newer rooms that are built above the artificial lake.

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This quarter with hanging chair looks very new.

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I decided to return back to the lobby while capturing some parts of the hotel that has ethnical beauty in it.

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But somehow, I also got the impression that this hotel is rather quiet. And the employees don’t seem to keep up the cleanliness level of the place.

I returned back to the lobby, and when I approached the receptionist desk, I was really surprised on how putrid the smell is!

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I asked some info about the local cuisine, souvenirs, and the most importantly, the info about the steam logging railway.

The younger employees couldn’t give exact info about that. Some says that they loco is still in operation, but only for short trip. Some said that it’s no longer running.

But there is one elderly employees who said that the train occasionally run all the way until the Gubuk Payung, the furthest point of the train journey inside the teak forest. He know this because his house is located right next to the logging railway line.

He also said that a few years ago, the steam train would also run to Pasar Sore, an area on the outskirt of Cepu to collect the harvested teak timber.

After I finish chatting with them, I returned back to the room to relax.

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At night, we want go out for some dinner. But since Stephen was too tired to go out, we decided to have a dinner in the hotel instead.

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Contrary to what I see a few hours earlier, the hotel is now looks very busy and lively as all of the oil workers returning back from their workplace. Their loud and noisy attitude makes the place slightly unpleasant for us.

Judging by their accent, according to Stephen, they are American, English, Scottish, and Welsh.

Just for your reference, Cepu is well known for its oil wells. In fact the Dutch Shell oil company started their oil business venture in Cepu!

We ordered the menu. This is one of the appetizer: a spring rolls with chicken ragout filling.

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This one is a grilled chicken and rice.

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One of the drinks which is a mixed of fruits and jelly, served with shaved ice and condensed milk.

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We think this hotel is a great accommodation for those who want to see and enjoy the steam logging railway tour. It has all of the amenities needed for tourists from western countries.

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But first, we must ascertain the fee and also whether if the train still goes all the way into the middle of the forest. That’s what we’re going to find out tomorrow.

TO BE CONTINUED

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About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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