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Welcome to Java
Bogor (Indonesia), July 16th 2008

After a long and tiring journey, we finally arrived in Kalianda on the southern tip of Sumatra. The last six weeks on Sumatra were heavy, mainly due to the long distances, bad road conditions and the lack of diversity in the food. But we also had a great time on Sumatra. We saw among other things the wild Orang Utans, climbed the highest volcano on Sumatra, encountered a wild tiger and saw the spectacular Krakatau volcano (see photo impression). But now it’s time to say goodbye and to travel to the next Indonesian island: Java.

At 08.00 am in the morning we jump in an Opelet (a sort of minibus that operates as public transport within towns and between neighbouring towns) that will bring us from the town of Kalianda to Bakauheni, the place on Sumatra where the ferries to Java depart. We agreed a price with the driver, just to be sure that we do not have discussions about it afterwards. After an hour, we arrive at the ferry terminal where we pay the agreed price. But as expected, the driver starts the discussion anyway, in the hope to ‘earn’ some extra money. He tries to convince us that the 15,000 Rupiah’s (= € 1,-) that we agreed, is not the price for two persons, but for one. But we are not stupid. We definitely agreed a total price, and besides that, we saw that the other passengers in our Opelet paid a maximum amount of 5,000 Rupiah’s per person. We pay the price as agreed and walk to the ferry terminal to buy the tickets for the two-hour trip to the town of Merak on Java. The number of people and vehicles that travel on a daily basis between Sumatra and Java is enormous. There is a departure of a large ferry every 30 minutes, for 24-hours a day (from both sides), carrying hundreds of passengers and plenty of vehicles each. We buy a ticket for the economy class because the trip only takes two hours. This is the class where the floor is too dirty to put your backpack on, where the men are smoking one cigarette after one other, and where people are amused by TV-broadcasts that are impossible to follow because of the bad quality of the telly. We found our seat close to the exit, which means that once in a while we can enjoy a fresh sea breeze that ousts the heavy cigarette smoke for some seconds.

View on the spectacular Krakatau volcano

The journey that should take only two hours, eventually takes three hours. A long time before we arrive, local people are already starting to prepare themselves for the arrival. The result is that the hundreds of passengers gather at the two exits. People are massively pushing and jumping the queue, just to be sure to exit the ferry as one of the first. The smaller and older the Indonesians are, the more they push in. We try to understand why this is happening, and the only thing that we can think of is that it is probably difficult to get a seat on one of the busses that transport the passengers to their final destinations on Java. We decide to defend our place in the ‘queue’ more actively, to increase our chances on a seat in the bus. After the exits are opened, we follow the horde to the bus station of the terminal. Halfway, we are caught by so-called touts (people that earn commission by recruiting passengers for bus companies) that lead us to the right bus. We want to go to the Kalideres bus station of Jakarta, because it is the bus terminal that is nearest to the area where we want to stay in the capital. When we arrive at the bus platform, we notice that most buses are just about the leave. The engines are running and every second, the bus moves a couple of metres to show that it is really ready to leave. We throw our backpacks in the hold of the bus, buy a ticket and jump in the nearly empty bus. But after all the other ferry passengers found a place in one of the buses, only a couple of them leave. Most buses drive backwards to their initial position and turn off their engines. And even worse, the driver leaves the bus and sits down at one of the many tea stalls. We look at each other and say: “they must be joking”. Our departure looks much farther away than two minutes ago. But it would be very non-Indonesian if the bus would leave the bus terminal with empty seats. We decide to wait till the next ferry arrives and hope that the bus will fill up then. We can wait these extra 30 minutes.

While we are waiting in the very hot bus, we are constantly ‘bothered’ by sales guy. You probably know them, young and smoothly guys that sell items/food that you do not want or that definitely will lead to acute diarrhoea. Of course, we always tell them politely that we are not interested in their merchandise. But probably because of the fact that there aren’t enough customers elsewhere on the bus terminal, they keep on hanging around our bus, and especially around us. They have great fun, especially when they laugh at our big noses and Edwin’s shiny ‘coiffure’. We can understand that it is funny to see two white faces, but they must treat us with respect. But at the moment that they start provoking us and even worse, start touching Ivonne, it is time to ‘get angry’ and scare them off. Fortunately, within a few minutes the next ferry is arrives. The drivers jump behind their steering wheels again, start the engines and move the bus once in a while to show the arriving passengers that this is the first bus to leave. After the touts did their job and directed all the ferry passengers to the different buses, we look over our shoulder to see how many more passengers took place in our bus. The result is depressing: zero! As expected, the story repeated again. Some buses leave, but most of them drive backwards to their initial position, turn off their engines, and again, the drivers and touts sit down at one of the tea stalls to wait for the next ferry to arrive.

An arriving ferry in the harbour of Bakauheni on Sumatra
But because we definitely want to arrive in Jakarta today, it is time for a different strategy. We jump off the bus and start unloading our backpacks from the bus. The driver is curious about what is happening, and comes to us to ask what this is all about. Ivonne says: “We want our money back, and you are going to arrange it!”. As expected, he tells us that he does not have the money and thinks that we will accept it. But Ivonne sticks to him as a fly on shit and follows him wherever he goes. Edwin is putting additional pressure on him by confiscating the key of the bus that was still on the bus. The driver is not used to these assertive white people and sees no other option that giving the money back to us. After we received our 30.000 Rupiah’s (€ 2,-) we decided to walk to the exit of the bus terminal and to wait there for the first departing bus to our destination. Within ten minutes we are on a moving bus and say to each other: “Welcome to Java”. We probably dozed off last six weeks in sleepy Sumatra, but we are definitely awake again.

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