We’d heard tell of a place in the hills called Dieng where it was a little bit cooler and the mere act of breathing wouldn’t send your sweat glands into shock causing them to expel every drop of moisture from your system in a blind panic. Sounded wonderful. Sign me up. Getting there is a piece of piss, it’s just long. I’ll put all the technical shit at the end of this post for thems that need it. So it was some god awful hour in the morning when we shuffled, bleary eyed, into a taxi they’d called for us at the hostel. We were to catch a gorgeously air conditioned train to Purwokerto which kind of made it all the more brutal when we stepped off it into the heavy, wet heat, then a tiny public minivan to the bus terminal because it’s about as far a-fucking-way from the train station as possible whilst still legally being classed as being in Purwokerto. We didn’t know this though. We walked to something marked on our map as a sub-terminal and asked a chap wearing a whistle round his neck (because men with whistles tend to look official) if we were at the terminal, but the complete lack of buses had pretty much answered our question before we’d asked it.
Fortunately terminal is the same in Indonesian as it is in English, except you say it with an accent and put a slight emphasis on the last syllable. He lead us back to the road and between him, a woman and another bloke they managed to tell us without a word of English being spoken that we had to get a minivan to the terminal and then we could go to Wonosobo. They even flagged us the correct van and Rp5000 each later we jumped off and were immediately shuffled onto another bus once they’d found out where we were going. It was 2½ hours to Wonosobo but I think our driver was borderline psychotic. I’m not even shitting you, I’d forgotten that bus rides in Asia were a little bit difficult on the old sphincter muscle but this guy was swinging the bus around blind corners on the wrong side of the road because he deemed it an appropriate time to overtake, with a fag in one hand and his phone in the other having a little chat to his mates. I’m not gonna lie, as he overtook a stream of traffic on a corner he literally had no way of seeing around I assumed the brace position and tried to think of a deity to pray to. I’d have crossed myself if I wasn’t too busy clinging on in terror.
Then we were hustled off that bus onto a smaller bus which wound its way up and up to Dieng as the clouds started to roll in and the heavens opened to a relentless downpour. It didn’t last long though. It came down hard and fast whilst we were still on the bus and kicking ourselves for not knowing the exact location of all of our waterproofs, but by the time we were dropped off it had stopped and we were free to find somewhere to call home for a couple of nights without drowning. All we’d had to eat all day was half a packet of crisps each so we were about ready to eat one of the chickens strolling around the place raw. Or one of the fucking rats scrabbling about in the roof at Bu Djono which was where we stayed but guys, it’s cheap as fuck there. You get exactly what you pay for which in this case was a comfortable mattress on the floor, a shared bathroom of questionable cleanliness with a Western toilet and a tepid shower, and lots of furry night time guests to lull you to sleep with the pitter patter of their tiny feet. Aww. We were just glad there was literally no way for them to get into the room. And fortunately there are about a million cheap warungs where you can apply liberal amounts of nasi goreng to your facehole whilst promising yourself you’ll try something different soon so there was no need to go crawling around inside the walls with a spear.
Okay so the trick with Dieng is to get up bastard early rather than still be drooling into your pillow at 9.30am because you were awake at an hour the sparrows would consider unholy the day before. We took our sweet, sweet time dragging ourselves out of our pit and even then we only bothered because there was a lot of noise outside. A shit tonne of noise. If noise could be measured by weight then it’d beat a T-Rex with a penchant for cake in a sumo match. Turned out there were literally hundreds of bikers and scooter riders in Dieng for the weekend and they were riding up and down the road beeping horns, shouting, revving engines, all the general things that aren’t conducive to sleep when it’s occurring outside your window. It was fine though, we figured we should get up and go for a little walk, see some of the pretty things, because Dieng is indeed a stunning, volcanic place surrounded by stepped hills covered in crops.
There’s this handy circular walk you can do so we made a start on that to gawp at something called Colour Lake on account of the fact it reflects different colours. The viewpoint is also up a hill as viewpoints do tend to be. Fuck my life I’m out of shape! I mean, I knew I was. I got well fat after I sprained my ankle. Not that I was a fucking supermodel beforehand but sprawling on the couch and comfort eating cheesecake and Doritos and washing it down with wine for two weeks does generally mean you’ll be able to grab your midriff with both hands and hook it over your knees. But dragging myself up this fucking hill, which wasn’t even the worst incline I’d ever laid eyes on, opened my eyes to exactly how unfit I actually am. Muscles I didn’t even know I had in my legs begged for mercy as I panted my way up, inhaling Jupiter sized gulps of air laden with the distinct stench of sulphur. It was worth the pain even though it was cloudy by the time we made it to the top.
We’d planned to walk down and around the lake but we were pretty conscious of the clouds getting lower and lower and greyer and greyer so we bee lined for the Komplek Arjuna, a group of small, 7th century Hindu temples where we got in for local price probably on account of the fact that they’d taken one of the temples apart, literally brick by brick, and were reassembling it. No postcard photo for us to plaster all over Instagram then, but they’re still pretty cool and definitely worth a look. Oh, and you’re just as likely to have your photo taken here as in India. We were stopped several times for selfies but at least they don’t keep you there for ages as your smile becomes a grimace and your face starts to hurt.
We wandered off up another hill, past the big “Dieng Plateau” sign built into the hills like the Hollywood sign, and followed these huge pipes which apparently draw geothermal energy from deep within the ground the power the turbine which generates electricity for Dieng and a lot of surrounding places. It’s not what you’d call classically pretty but it’s fascinating to look at. There are sulphur deposits all along the gravel road which becomes a dirt track and by the time we’d got to the point which was meant to be a lookout for the whole volcanic complex it was raining thanks very much to our late start to the day. Not the utter, relentless pissing rain of yesterday just yet, but enough for us to stand there, gazing at a view of some clouds as we got steadily wetter and colder and questioned our life choices. It still somehow managed to be gorgeous though. Well, no point in any more sightseeing today but it was really rather nice not to be sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish shop.
Once we were back and inside and had a cup of tea in front of us and a roof over our heads, that’s when the rain really started pissing down. Perfect timing. Dwi, one of the staff, told us that there was a drought in 2015 but ever since that finished 1½ years ago it’d rained in the afternoon every single day. Dieng is most definitely a morning place, or a place for web-footed water fowl, and apparently a place for bikers. They’d all changed into waterproofs and were still revving and shouting and beeping. Oh, and there are some hot springs a drive away from town which you can go to until about 10pm I think, and hot springs are generally okay in the rain but they’re sulphur hot springs and that will tend to make everything you wear stink like rotten eggs and yes, I found this out the hard way in New Zealand. Hot springs are amazing but we didn’t currently want to bathe in a pool of arse.
And in other news, catching a plethora of buses from Purwokerto to Dieng has made me realise that I was incredibly lazy with language in India, probably because English was so widely spoken even if it didn’t go far past “how much?” and numbers. It’s hardly spoken on buses here, we basically just thrust money at the conductors and trusted that they’d give us the correct change. Yeah, we’re really gonna need to learn some Bahasa Indonesia beyond ordering more fried stuff to insert into our chops.
Stayed at: Bu Djono
Jakarta to Dieng
1. To get your credit card white listed to buy tickets from tiket.com, take a photo of the data page of your passport and your credit card, but cover all but the last four numbers. They need to be in the same frame. Then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to whitelist your card.
2. If you don’t have time then you can buy tickets at the train station. We literally had no idea how to do this so after gormlessly standing around staring at words we didn’t know the meaning of we fled to the customer service desk which was staffed by lovely, English speaking people who filled out a form for us and sent us to a specific ticket desk where we paid.
3. The day of travel you’ll have to check in if it’s a big station. Scan your ticket at one of the machines and you’ll get an orange boarding card which will be checked twice along with your ID. I believe if it’s just a small station you can travel with just the blueish ticket you’ll already have.
4. Enjoy the air conditioned journey while it lasts.
5. Once in Purwokerto, take a taxi to the terminal, or wait for a minivan. If you don’t have local help I guess the best bet would be to flag all of them and say, “Terminal?” at them until someone says yes. It does go past the station.
6. As soon as you’re out of the van someone will approach you and ask you where you need to go. As soon as you say Wonosobo they’ll know you want to go to Dieng. You’ll be put on the right bus.
7. As you approach Wonosobo you’ll be dropped exactly where you need to be for a bus to Dieng and again, someone will put you on the right bus and the conductor will give them a tip. This might bump the cost of your fare up, I’ve no idea, but it just makes everything so damn easy.
8. Take waterproofs. Lots and lots of waterproofs.