Man Sitting Spread Eagle

Travel Day, or The Bromo Bus Scam, or Viva La Revolucion

Humor, Indonesia, Travel Cartoons

The travel day is a neglected day for travel bloggers and writers. We almost always focus on the major sites – the big events that photograph well and make our friends and family jealous. We rarely blog about the days between the highlights – the travel days. Travel days are usually filled with hours of boredom broken up by bits of stress and panic. Are we at the right place for the train? I think this taxi driver is trying to rip us off? Are we really putting more people in this bus!!!?

I decided to give some love to the neglected travel day and write about our journey from Yogyakarta to Bromo before we left for the day. Little did I know that I’d have so much rich material.

Yogyakarta to Probolinggo by Train

It was the longest 9-hour train ride of my life. From Yogyakarta to Probolinggo I sat across from the tallest, skinniest, boniest man in Asia. He wore a black T-shirt with skulls on it, a green surgical mask and had a shaved head. Oh, and I almost forgot, he had on the shortest jean shorts I’d ever seen on a heterosexual male. Daisy Duke would have been ashamed to wear them. He looked like this:

Man Sitting Spread Eagle

He sat spread eagle with his legs straddling me. His knees swayed to the rhythm of the train so that they were bumping and grinding on my knees the entire journey. He slept most of the way, but his eyes never completely closed; he was seemingly creeping on me the whole trip. As he slept, he slid further and further down the seat, meaning my knees where in constant danger of getting tea-bagged. As a result, I wasn’t in my right mind when we got off the train in Probolinggo, making us easy targets for the bus scam.

The Bromo Bus Scam

After debarking the train, my wife and I, along with seven other foreigners, were herded into a pygmy mini-van with two bench seats down the sides. It felt a little weird that a group of loutish locals were so helpful in getting us into the van, but it was bemo #4 to the bus station which was correct, according to the trusty Lonely Planet.

Yet again, I had an awkward view of a strange looking person: I was crushed in the back by a Frenchman who had the most amazing beard I’d ever seen. His beard was close cropped everywhere, except the hair on his cheeks was nearly a meter long and flowed elegantly down to his majestic man-boobs, which where lushly carpeted in salt and pepper chest hair and were out on display since he’d only buttoned the bottom two buttons of his shirt. We named him French Santa.


French Santa

French Santa.

Instead of taking us to the bus station, the mini-van dropped us off at a travel agency. We knew this was a bit shady, but according to Lonely Planet and the Yogya tourist info center, the public buses to Bromo ended at 4pm. We knew we’d have to arrange a private van or taxi. A single French lady in the group had the wherewithal to protest. We sort of knew something wasn’t right, but went along anyway. The travel agent assured us that a public bus to Bromo would be stopping by in 30 minutes and we could take it. But, he also had packages and tours we might want to look at in the meantime.

After Slime-ball Travel Agent took a run at selling us package tours, something we all flatly rejected, he told us he could take us all to Bromo, right now, for 50,000 Rupiah (About $4 USD) per person. He said the public bus would cost 30,000 Rupiah but would be painfully slow and crammed full of people. All of us decided to wait for the cheap bus.

Yogya Tourist Information

A very helpful man at the Tourist Information Center in Yogyakarta who have us a wealth of info for our travel day.

Shortly thereafter, a Frenchman with a wild ‘fro and his girlfriend arrived. Fro boy, who we nicknamed French Resistance, immediately got into a very heated argument with Slime-ball about the price of the public bus. Slime-ball announced in front of everyone that French Resistance was not getting on the public bus to Bromo: he was blacklisted.

The eleven of us waited patiently for the bus. The clouds turned a fiery orange. Evening call to prayer reverberated from the mosques. Street lights came on. It became evident that the 30,000 rupiah bus wasn’t coming.  Every few minutes a tout in the employ of Slime-ball would take a run at us, trying to get on the 50,000 Rupiah bus but we flatly refused.

All during the long wait for the mythical buses, we talked in little groups, weighing our options, complaining about the situation. At one time, French Resistance plopped down next to me and started talking. I was afraid to be seen talking to the persona non grata, fearing Slime-ball might ban me also. After we’d been there two hours and concluded that the bus wasn’t coming, we had a big meeting, noisily discussing our options in front of the touts. At this time, someone mentioned that the bus station was only a kilometer away. Had I known this earlier, I’d have left from the beginning!

We decided to walk to the bus station but took one last run at negotiating the price to 30,000 rupiah for the private van. The travel agent refused to budge. To an outsider, it might look like we were squabbling over pennies. In reality, we were arguing over principle. pullquoteAs we were dramatically gathering up our bags and preparing to leave, I decided to write down the name of the travel agency in hopes that I might spread the news of the scam on Lonely Planet or Trip Advisor.

“What is the name of the agency?” I inquired.

“We are not travel agency, we are tourist information center,” said the sleaziest of the touts as he pointed to a tattered banner out front that read OURIST INFORMATION.

I argued with him. I knew for a fact this was no government run place. He showed me a bogus rate sheet and said the actual price was supposed to be 75,000, that this was the local price and that we were getting a deal. Like all humans, I really hate being lied to.

“Indonesians do not pay that price,” I declared.

“How do you know what Indonesians pay?” he sniffed defiantly.

“Look at us,” I said, “We have all been traveling around Indonesia. We have an idea what things cost, and I know that the price is NOT 75,000 for the locals!”

With our bags gathered, we took off triumphantly, led by the Polish guy wearing a pink V-neck and capri pants. “VIVA LA REVOLUCION!” Shouted Kristi. Bringing up the rear was French Santa with his flowing beard and massive rolling luggage. We were a motley crew of wronged travelers.

Bromo Bus Scam PhotoAll along the walk, friendly Indonesians shouted “HELLO,” waved at us, called us over to talk to them. They restored our faith in humanity.

We arrived at the bus station and immediately found a man who offered to take us all, right now, for 30,000 each. I suggested we pay extra to drive back to the travel agency and collectively flip off the lying touts.

Those two wasted hours in Probolinggo and the frustration of dealing with the touts was the worst thing that happened to us our entire two months in Indonesia. All over the archipelago we met friendly people and dealt with only very minor hassles. It was a good trip. Well, I guess the bus scam was the second worst part of the trip. I am still having trouble getting this image out of my head:

Man Sitting Spread Eagle



What scams have you fallen for while traveling?

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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

14 thoughts on “Travel Day, or The Bromo Bus Scam, or Viva La Revolucion”

  1. Adventures in Kevin's World says:

    The image that sticks most in my head is a (non-intoxicated) Kristi shouting “viva la revolution!”

    Well, that and salt & peppered man boobs. You scarred me with that one. You now owe me a drink.

    • Kevin,
      The funny thing is we saw French Santa in two other places. He never had his shirt buttoned. Yes, Kristi shouting “viva la revolution” was priceless, but we were intoxicated by the uprising!

  2. Jeff, I didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or cringe at this one – your illustrations were priceless! I guess it was still better that you sat opposite Mr. Spread Eagle instead of Kristi. My boss at work had the same thing happen with the Bromo bus scam, although it all happened at the bus station, and I think irate French travellers may have also been involved.

    When we were in China a few years ago, Bama and I wanted to do a hike along the Li River a couple of hours outside Yangshuo. From Xingping, we took one of those fake bamboo rafts (with a motor and bamboo made from PVC) up the river to another small town and decided to walk the way back. Problem was, we would have to cross the river twice and there were no bridges in between.

    The sneaky locals told us we would have to pay at least 110 yuan each (about $18) for a ride but it was steep considering that was virtually the price of a return trip. At this point we banded together with a Uruguayan traveller from our hostel/hotel and a young Chinese couple who also wanted to hike.

    It took over 45 minutes of heated discussion in Mandarin (the young Chinese couple kept saying the locals were tricksters, and the locals blamed the government for higher prices) before we agreed to fork out 90 yuan each ($14.60) for someone to ferry us across the river at both crossings.

    Just the day before, we were also scammed on the bus from Guilin to Yangshuo. Bama and I had taken the bus from Guilin airport to the downtown area, and we were dropped in the middle of a random neighbourhood. That’s how we met the guy from Uruguay – he was on the same bus and we were all looking for a way to Yangshuo.

    After asking around for directions, we eventually found the back entrance to the bus station and an old public bus with a sign saying “Yangshuo”. At the door we were greeted by a sleazy-looking man who helped put some of our bags in the compartment below. I don’t remember how much the ride cost, but it was cheap and we were happy to be going the right place.

    But after about 10 minutes of sitting in the bus with the A/C turned off, the same man came aboard and demanded an extra 30 yuan each for our bags. “The fuel price has gone up!” he declared. I didn’t buy his argument and angrily fought back. “But we’ve already paid for our tickets!” I mentioned something about being from Hong Kong and knowing that he was trying to trick us.

    Maybe it helped that they were playing Cantonese kung-fu movies in the front, but the sleazy tout was surprised at how adamant I was. In the end he relented and asked for 5 yuan each – I was just fed up at this point so I paid him 15 yuan for all three of us (about $2.40). He finally left us alone and I felt proud for confronting him in Mandarin. I guess those Chinese classes at school did help after all.

    • Oh I forgot to mention that before demanding the extra payment, the guy seemed all friendly and asked us where we were from. It was pretty amazing to see how quickly his expression and tone changed.

      Just before the bus left I overheard him talking to the driver – the tout said, “We can’t trick him, he’s from Hong Kong!” That was a pretty awesome moment, even if I did pay 5 yuan extra. One for the hometown!

    • HAHAHA! Thank you for sharing, James.

      Surprisingly, China, India and Egypt are the countries with the most hassles I’ve been to. It is surprising because China is in many ways a modern country, with one of the largest economies on Earth. We had a taxi driver who we paid to take us to the Terra Cotta warriors but he took us to a factory that made fake statues instead, demanding more money to take us to the right place when we got there. We were inexperienced travelers at the time. Now, I’d argue with that guy all day long!

      It is funny how only getting scammed out of 5 Yuan can feel like a victory and something you are willing to do just to make the problem go away!

      Thanks for sharing!

      • I am not surprised at all with your story of the taxi ride in Xi’an – that is so China! Bama and I avoided the Bromo bus scam by paying a bit extra and having our hotel in Cemoro Lawang pick us up at Surabaya airport.

        I don’t fault bus drivers for trying to cheat people. Let’s say you don’t make a lot of money each day and some clueless backpackers come along – it seems pretty natural to think, “oh let’s get some extra money off them, they wouldn’t know the difference!” Of course we resent the fact that they see us as walking dollar signs… we travel expecting people to be hospitable and genuine, but that is not always the case!

  3. Wow, your cartoons are priceless. Good for you guys for not caving in!

    I can think of two scams we’ve fallen for:
    #1 Ever thinking that we might enjoy an all-inclusive vacation at a resort in Mexico. Most boring trip of my life.

    #2 The car rental company in Boston convinced us that we’d benefit from their EZ pass for the millions of toll roads we were destined to run into, even after we told them we were heading from Boston straight to Maine. Being from somewhere with literally one toll road and having done no prior research on our driving route, we agreed and ended up spending something like $70 and went through probably six tolls which would have cost us like $10. I was livid.

    • Jennifer,

      That toll road scam is pretty bad. We usually associate scam with third world countries, no Massachusetts. Those cheeky Yankees! The all inclusive resort is one of the most pervasive scams on the planet. Go enjoy the culture and local food! Thanks for sharing.

      • I know, how did I get scammed in my own country? Had we taken this trip years ago, I’m certain this wouldn’t have happened. I was much more diligent in researching everything before hand as I didn’t have my trusty iPhone back then to tell me where to go and give me suggestions on where to eat…

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