August 29th, 2008
Surabaya – our pit stop before heading to Bromo
Our train was to leave at 2:20 pm from Yogyakarta for the 5 hour journey to Surabaya. We waited around and the train finally arrived at 3pm. This train was much nicer, and the seats actually stayed upright when needed. Right next to us sat a woman with her two well-behaved young sons, her new born baby girl and a nanny, all travelling to Surabaya to meet her husband. She spoke English and so we chatted with her during our journey.
The journey was supposed to be 5 hours, but the lady informed us that there was a change in the train route. Last night a freight train had pushed off the track on the Yogyakarta-Surabaya route, so our train had to take a longer route to the destination. This meant another 3 hours. We were determined to stay low on our fluid intake to avoid having to use the train bathroom, but when we heard this news, we knew that “holding it in” for another 3 hours was just not possible. So we faced our fears, and well tried to quickly shove the experience out of our memory.
Finally we were in Surabaya, where all we had to do was find a hotel to get some shut-eye, shower in the morning, and find a bus to Bromo the next morning. An aggressive taxi driver, who spoke English quite well, approached us. The woman from the train suggested we wait till her husband came to pick them up so that he can help us find a hotel. It being so late, and her kids looking as tired as they did, we didn’t want to bother them. So we decided to go with the taxi driver, who by the way was wearing some sort of a uniform, which he pointed to and mumbled something about being an “official railway taxi driver”.
So off we went, and after walking through the dark parking lot at the train station, we weren’t feeling too comfortable. His jeep didn’t have any “taxi” sign on it. But for some reason, we were too scared to tell him that we didn’t want to go with him or to show that we were scared or uncomfortable with him at all. So we kept up our confident appearance and told him that we wanted to find a good hotel that wasn’t too expensive. He said he understood and took us to some dive. The place was surrounded by seedy looking men, and Penny saw a hooker just down the bend. The building didn’t look very clean from the outside either. So we told him that this wouldn’t do. He started to argue with us and insisted that we stay here. We firmly told him to find us another place. By the way, when he asked us where we were from, we told him that we were from India. We have been telling people that (mostly taxi drivers) so that they don’t try to rip us off. He was going on about Bollywood and talking about movie stars. His speech seemed kinda funny. Something about this guy wasn’t right. Taking a closer look at his eyes in the rear view mirror Penny could see that they were quite red. Perhaps he was tired, or perhaps all the other signs were telling us something. Our theory felt more right when we came across a Police check point. He was surprised to see it and got quite panicky. He was sweating and was quite nervous, while telling us not to panic and asking us if we had any drugs on us.
The police officer came to the window, looked at him, took his papers, went off for a few minutes, and came back. Penny, sitting on the side where the officer was, looked for any signs of trouble from the police officer’s body language. Nothing, but the officer did look a little wary. Needless to say, we were getting a little nervous. The streets were otherwise quite empty, it was about 11:30 at night, and this taxi driver was on something and definitely not straight as an arrow. So as we left the check point, we engaged him in conversation about tours and drive to Bromo. He was interested in providing us the service and to make that money. So we asked him for his name and number. He hesitated and gave us a name (it was probably fake), and his mobile number. This kept him busy until he drove us to the next hotel. The hotel looked safe and clean enough, so we told him we’ll get off here. We were just glad to be out of that taxi and away from its driver.
We checked in and were happy to have gotten a sweet discount. But when we got to the room (which was quite basic) and noticed the bedsheets, we almost threw up. The sheets were full of blood stains, and definitely weren’t washed properly. The toilet didn’t flush. And we were hella tired. Room service changed the sheets to brand new ones, and fixed the toilet, and well, we decided to sleep there anyway, as being on the streets just didn’t feel too safe.
August 30th, 2008
The next morning we went to have breakfast, but since they didn’t have any bread, and the milk looked bad, we decided it was time to get outta there. We grabbed a taxi to take us to a travel agency to figure out our options. Apparently it was too late for us to go through the agency to leave that day, and the only other option was to take the bus. We were going to head to the bus station to buy our tickets when a British fella warned us that we should only take the bus “if we wanted to die”. Apparently the bus drivers are crazy here, and the ride would have been quite risky, even though quite cheap.
With that hint of doubt in our minds, we decided to make a deal with the honest looking taxi driver who drove us to the agency to drive us to Bromo at a lower rate. He agreed. We got back to the hotel, picked up our things (and oh didn’t shower…just couldn’t in that place) and got in the taxi to be on our way. The ride was comfortable, the driver was a really nice fella, and the scenery was beautiful.
Four hours later, we reached a small hill station right before Bromo. We told him that we wanted to stay in the best hotel there. At this point money didn’t matter. All we wanted was a good and clean room, clean sheets, functional and clean bathroom, and a nice view! He realized that to get to Bromo ‘proper’, and to find such a hotel, he would have to drive through steep roads, which his car couldn’t handle. The only vehicles that can make it up to the town of Bromo are 4x4s or heavy duty jeeps. So he dropped us off at a hotel and waited to ensure that we found a ride up to Bromo on a reliable vehicle before he headed back.
We took a 4×4 jeep up to Bromo. The drive was absolutely beautiful. We finally got to the “best” hotel in town, with the views of Mt. Bromo (crater). As we checked in and took in the views, we were happy. Then…we were taken to our room…and we were shocked that this was “the best hotel” in town. This room was tiny, had ugly fluorescent lights, a 10 inch TV on a stand that was falling apart, super ugly walls, and the bathroom had a shower head right on top of the toilet! The flush didn’t work here either, so we were moved to another room, which was just the same as the one before, except with a functioning toilet. We were so upset. We couldn’t believe that such a room would cost $50 in Indonesia. We consoled each other…well mostly Karthik consoled Penny who was experiencing a minor breakdown at this point. We were starved and headed to the hotel’s restaurant to grab dinner.
They were out of a lot of the dishes. We had dinner, which wasn’t too good, and decided to try to get some sleep – after asking them to change the sheets. We had to be ready by 4am to go on our sunrise tour.
August 31st, 2008
We layered up, made use of the Old Spice body spray, and met our 4×4 while it was still quite dark out. We were advised to rent jackets the night before by various vendors, being told that it was going to be extremely cold this early in the morning. We layered up instead, and were happy with our decision this morning. It wasn’t all that bad!
As the driver started driving, we asked him “hati-hati”, which meant to be careful. There were no street lights, and so the drive through the mountain seemed a little scary. We drove down the hill the hotel was on, and got onto the flat land surrounding the crater. We could see headlights of other jeeps way ahead of us, and passed quite a few motorbike headlights. We also saw some people walking along the path. We had decided to not go with that option.
Finally, passed through the flat land, only imagining how close we were to the crater, and then on to a rugged road leading up to a mountain. From what we could make out through the headlights, the roads were quite narrow. The road was quite bumpy, and we couldn’t see much around. The driver seemed to know what he was doing…taking sharp turns and slowing down when Penny exclaimed “Hati-Hati”! After 45 minutes of the bumpy and adventurous drive, the jeep stopped. There were over 30 jeeps, a dozen vans, and a couple dozen motorbikes parked along the side of the road. From there we had to walk up about a kilometer, passing by vendors selling souvenirs, renting out jackets, and tea shops, to the vista point to see the sunrise over the crater and the volcano.
The vista point was crammed! We found a spot looking over the east. But the crater and volcano were towards the west (which we only realized as the sun came up). So we headed to the other side, but had to wait a long time to be able to see the amazing sight. Some other tourists did play by the congenial rules, while most were rude and didn’t care if they bumped in front of others. We waited patiently, and our patience was rewarded with the amazing sights of the volcano burping smoke clouds, and the crater expelling thick smoke. It was unbelievable! We spent quite a bit of time there, and went camera happy! All the hurdles and hassles we had to bear to see what we were seeing then seemed all well worth it.
We headed back to look for our 4×4 and were quite content. We then headed back down the mountains, onto the flat land around the crater, for the next part of our tour – climbing up the crater to look inside it! The jeep stopped about a kilometer away from the base of the crater, and we hired a couple of horses to ride up to the base. As we got closer, the rotten egg smell was starting to fill the air. We were glad to have hired the horses, as the walk up to the base was long and seemed tough. Besides, riding the horses was fun, though scary at first! Actually, when getting on, Penny had the most difficult time, and Karthik overshot his bounce and fell off the other side. He landed on his feet, and didn’t get hurt. Phew!
We got off the horses, and were happy to see that the 240 steps up the crater were “normal” sized and even. We walked up, out of breath, and it was difficult to catch our breaths up there with the sulphur-filled smoke everywhere. Covering our mouths and noses under our t-shirts, we were amazed to see where all that smoke was coming from. A tiny opening in the middle of the crater was expelling so much smoke. There was no end to it. And it goes on all day and night, every day. Nature! Amazing!! We couldn’t stay up there too long and breathing was becoming a little difficult. So we headed back, down the steps, then on the horses, then on the 4×4, to the hotel.
We had already made arrangements for a taxi to take us from Bromo to Ketapang harbour to catch the ferry to the island of Bali. Even though the price was quite steep, we were looking for comfort at this point. So we had our breakfast, used more Old Spice body spray, got our luggage, and were ready and excited to go to Bali! The jeep was spacious and comfortable, and the driver was a very nice man. The scenery was gorgeous. We got to see road sides full of mango and banana trees, little villages, vendors, little eatery shops, farms, mountains and the sea. Before we knew it, the 5 hours had passed, and we were at the harbour.
The place looked quiet and while we were figuring out when the ferry leaves and what tickets to buy, some guys at the ticket counter started to rush us and planned out our journey to Denpasar for us. It all happened in a few minutes and so quickly. We were rushed into the ferry harbour parking lot, where we were told the best way to get to Denpasar would be to take the direct bus which was arriving there in 2 minutes and would load up on the ferry along with the passengers.
Before we knew it the bus was there, our luggage was shoved in the small luggage compartment, and we were told to get in the bus immediately. We walked in, and the bus was crammed. It was not air conditioned and so was extremely hot and sticky. We couldn’t find two seats next to each other, but found seats separated by the aisle. Our laptop bags didn’t fit in the stow away area above. People were smoking inside the bus. There was no room to move as the vendors were walking around with their baskets selling alien looking items. And we were being told by a dishonest-looking man that it was a direct bus, would get us there in 3 hours, and for us to pay him 50,000 rupiah each immediately. All was rushed. All was overwhelming. All was uncomfortable, frustrating, and scary. We paid the guy and a man a couple of rows behind assured us that it was a direct bus.
The bus waited behind other vehicles to get on the ferry. As soon as it did, people started getting off the bus to go up to the higher levels of the ferry. We did the same… we needed fresh air. We took our laptop bags, and only prayed that our luggage was safe in the bus, and that it was actually even there at all! We went to the top most level, and sat on benches, looking out at the water and an island that didn’t look too far.
We were trying to figure out what happened, how we got there, and if it was the right decision. There were a bunch of guys hanging out there with their motorbike gear. A couple of them came sat on the bench beside ours and we started chatting with one of them who spoke English quite well. His name was Itonk. We introduced ourselves and told him that we were a little shaken up from our experience in the bus. He assured us that it was the right thing for us to do as taxis could be quite expensive, and finding another mode of transportation from the harbour in Bali would have been very difficult. He also told that it would take longer than the 3 hours we were told.
We chatted with Itonk for a while and exchanged contact information so that we could meet up while in Bali. He advised us to take him along when we go shopping so that we don’t get charged 3 times the price for things, which is the usual “Buleh” (tourist) price. As the ferry docked, we went back to the bus, and decided to remain strong through this crazy experience ahead. At least we had made it to the island of Bali!