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:
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
All 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:
What scams have you fallen for while traveling?
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