On our 60th and last day in Indonesia I am thinking about how easy it was to cross the country from the very north (Banda Aceh) down to Bali. Apart from a couple of plane, private car, motorbike and train rides our main means of transportation in Indonesia was the public bus.
Public buses are older models of minivans or bigger buses, have a basic interior, are mostly colorful from the outside. There are no schedules, the bus leaves from the terminal when it is full. “Full” is a relative term, there is always room for more people (if not there is always the roof). Once the bus is on its way the driver and the helper (in charge of collecting the money and helping people to get on and off) keep looking for more passengers and pick them up as they go along. There are no official stops (apart from the terminals in the cities), you just tell the helper you want to get off and the bus stops for a second and you quickly hop off in front of your house.
The passengers are respectfully making room for more people and are not too worried about their own comfort even though it gets very crowded. It never gets boring on a public bus, you smile at the fellow passengers, look out of the window, … In many cities some guys with guitar hop on, sing some songs, collect their money and hop on the next bus. Vendors with rice dishes wrapped in banana leaves, water, snacks do the same.
People pay their fare before they get off. We normally tried to wait until a local person paid to see the price so we would not be charged “tourist price”.
When you get off, there is a next bus waiting for you and plenty of eager people will show you to it.
We have enjoyed the lack of schedules, there is no such thing as missing a bus. You just show up at A and surprisingly efficiently X time later you get dropped at B. It just works.
We were breaking up our travels into many short trips, but our one long distance experience is worth remembering, a 16 hour bus ride on the Sumatran “highway” (a dirt road with potholes). We went for the “eksekutif” bus, featuring an air conditioning that turned us into ice cubes, leg room for midgets and an onboard toilet with a stench that made me welcome all the smokers on board for the first time in my life. The bus stopped at 2am for dinner and 4am for the morning prayers, the music was on full power all night.
I can assure you we and our sore bums were thrilled when we finally arrived at point B (Bukittinggi).