Chugging to Kalibaru

Much of the fun in going somewhere is the journey itself, and trains can offer a unique experience otherwise lost when travelling by car or plane. Noni Khairani hops on the Kalibaru train and shares the fun of sightseeing by rail.

Travelling by rail can be a unique experience. One sightseeing train available in Indonesia is the Kalibaru train, which runs through the East Java district of Banyuwangi. Kalibaru is a small town that lies at an elevation of about 428m above sea level and this cool little place turns out to have a lot of interesting attractions which remain largely unknown by tourists.

The Kalibaru sightseeing train (which is known as the Argo Raung and more commonly called Lori) is no ordinary old train. It is small in size, and one car will only accommodate a maximum of eight passengers. It also boasts a distinctive red, yellow and white carriages. The station doors and ticket counters open for business at precisely 6am, and on the morning of our visit, a few other passengers were also waiting for the arrival of Pak Imron, the KAI official who was going to guide us in our trip aboard the Kalibaru Sightseeing Train.

At 8.30am we finally set off on our trip. The train trundled slowly through the town’s residential areas, passing houses, school children and an old woman who was standing near the track wearing only a towel, waving and laughing as we clattered past.

Gradually, the landscape began to change. We entered a coffee plantation and, aside from a few workers, all that we could see on both sides of the track were coffee bushes. The air grew colder and the houses started to grow increasingly scarce. Several times we crossed small bridges and were a little unnerved by the gaping chasms below. Pak Imron then told us that in about five minutes time the train would enter an impressively long tunnel of some 790m in length, which was built in 1910. We could see the red brick tunnel entrance as we entered, and suddenly the only light was that coming from this little Lori.

After emerging from the tunnel, Pak Imron told us that we would soon pass over a 178-metre-long wooden bridge traversing a 43-metre-deep ravine. The train stopped right at the start of the bridge and the wind started to pick up. The wooden tracks were straight and Pak Imron and the train driver gave us an opportunity to take pictures and soak up the beautiful ravine ambience. We enjoyed a view of rooftops, coffee plantations and the slightly hazy Gumitri Mountains in the distance.

The train started up again, moving slowly across the bridge. Down below we could see the densely forested gorge. Suddenly the train stopped, right in the middle of the bridge, and Pak Imron encouraged us to stand on the tracks and take some photos. The train rocked back and forth while we did this, making our hair stand on end.

Our Lori visited two stations. The first was Mrawan Station, where we stopped for about 25 minutes as we waited for another train to pass us. Our second stop was at Garahan Station. There are many food sellers here. In fact, when a train is about to enter the station, one of the locals gives the vendors a signal by hitting the utility pole hard. The food sellers then immediately rush to the station and commence peddling their wares.
Overall, the tour proved to be great fun. And the fair fare of IDR 500,000 makes this trip well worth the price.

How to get there
From Surabaya, take the Mutiara Timur train that leaves at 9.30pm. Executive Class tickets cost IDR 130,000 while Business Class tickets will set you back IDR 95,000. Trains arrive at Garahan station at 3am, while the sightseeing train usually leaves at around 8am.

Where to stay
The Margo Utomo Resort, which is located just behind the train station, is well worth a look. Rates start from IDR 375,000. Another option is the Kalibaru Resort, which is located not far from the train station and which has rates that start at IDR 267,000.

What to do
In addition to travelling on the Sightseeing Train, there are many interesting places waiting to be checked out around Banyuwangi and Jember. Whether it’s surfing at G-Land, relaxing on Pulau Merah, off-roading in the Meru Betiri National Park, watching the turtles at Sukamade, walking through coffee plantations, enjoying grilled fish on Papuma beach in Jember, or just lazing about in your resort, a pleasant break is guaranteed.