Indonesia Part I: Planes, Trains and Becaks

I never pictured myself visiting Indonesia for some reason. Maybe a factor in why everything has been so unpredictable thus far.  One month into my travels.  Sun-baked and pleasantly satisfied.  From Kuta and Seminyak, the party, beach-bum surfing towns, to Ubud, a heady, organic, superfluous spa induced town, to a one night retreat under the stars at a Lewak coffee plantation (world’s most expensive coffee) combined with a sunrise volcano hike to Mt. Batur, then onto Lovina, where the black sand beach and locals were nothing to write home about, Bali glistened with comfort and tourism compared to Java.  You got what you expected in Bali.  On the other hand, the minute we stepped onto the island of Java, we learned to “expect the unexpected”, especially with our modes of transportation. This is where the mystery and anticipation of what kind of vehicle we would be taking left us laughing, sighing, and sometimes almost crying.

Head in the clouds Mt. Batur, Bali

“Standard” bus

Hot. Sticky. Crowded. Smokey (yes, smoking is allowed on public buses). Bustling with life, and life on the edge, literally, when our bus rolled off the ferry from Bali to Probolingo.  Heading anywhere in a third world country, maybe it’ll take four hours, maybe twelve.  Ear piercing music blasting sometimes, other times all you hear is simply the chatter of passengers and almost always the horn honking in the background.  Mullet headed guitar, ukulele and tambourine players hop on and off at each red light roll through.  The in-house entertainment was rather enjoyable and added another cultural highlight at first.  After the second hour, we remorsefully sank in our seats penniless to avoid eye contact when the performers would walk past us, tipping their caps with desperate eyes after performing their one hit wonders.

Motorcycle

Signs saying “Hati hati” appeared on each corner.  An appropriate and necessary reminder. My first motorcycle experience on the Andaman Islands with my fellow travel partner close behind gave me a few grey hairs and promise to myself that I’d never be in control of one of those vehicles again. It is the most efficient way of getting around, not to mention the most money savvy way as well.  This proved to be the most popular way in Indonesia.  Most drivers find my “Oh dears” comical, but always respect my mother like, fearful cries, obeying those signs of  “go slow.” Only 3 kilometers to our accommodation in Probolingo and motorcycle was our only option.  We loaded on, helmets secure, leaning forward with all force like a balancing act in the circus. Three kilometers seemed like 300 with our 15 kg packs on our back.  Wobbling back and forth at the red light, solo drivers zoomed past us like bullets in the night.  When my feet touched the cement, a mix of energy and adrenaline surged through me after a quick thankful prayer. I knew I had to get used to this!

Horse

After resting our heads, we headed off to Cemero Lawang, a dusty, sandy mountain village that resembled a cross between a dried up Tuscany and eerie deserted town, but home of the famous active volcano of Mount Bromo.  Not only was the transport a surprise, but this time our accommodation as well. Our decision to pay for location and not comfort led us to a loony bin looking, grimy, room that had us popping up at 4 am gladly to hike in the frigid weather to the first viewing point, Penanjakan, for the sunrise. We then followed fruit loop colored jeeps kicking dust in our  faces across the desert terrain and up the 100 stairs. We stood on a ridge between the vast openness of the desert and the rim of the crater. Unable to bear the harsh conditions, we accepted two desperate invitations from dust-covered, toothless men, whose over sized shoes shuffled through the sand as they guided our horses back to civilization.  The thought of them doing this everyday for a living put a knot in my stomach.  The extra dollar I gave him was all I could do to wash away the guilt of my heedless suffering complaints through what I thought were “unbearable conditions.”

“Shuttle” Bus

The silver lining to our hell-house stay was hot water. We waited for the bus to arrive at the junction after cleaning ourselves up from the excursion.   We were shoved into a rusty van, not a bus.  The driver, no older than 17 blasted monotonous Indonesian beats from his ’92 Nokia phone.  Halfway through the death ride, I looked back through the bushels of leafy green vegetables, to see Leah’s smile pressed up against the window that was thankfully cracked open to allow her to survive.  Two of the drivers friends jumped in, squishing me not into a window, but next to a plump dark-skinned grandma who wrapped her arm around me tightly securing me like a human seat belt.  We bumped along, giggling away as all we had to share was the music, since the one line of “Where you from?” had already been used.  I started to relax, ironically, in the arms of the complete strangers around me.  And this comfort and warmth from the locals continued on as repeated theme throughout the rest of our Java travels.

“Express” Bus

Without time to think, we were shoved onto an express bus.  When I think of express, I think fast, comfortable and a tad bit more expensive.  This is none of the aforementioned, only a bit more expensive. Ripped. Off.

Taksi

Taksi (also pronounced “takshi) drivers sometimes provide an interesting and personal conversation, other times just a smile, depending on the language barrier.  After our “express bus”, we took a tour of the city Surubaya, by accident.  We could have and should have just stayed at the terminal, but instead took an unneeded ride to the train station, only to be sent back from where we came from. We took advantage of our time in an air-conditioned vehicle while it lasted, since we knew this luxury might not happen too often. Onto Yogjakarta.

 To be Continued…Indonesia Part II

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