Posted by: Tom Lancaster | October 31, 2010

A Javanese Roo-turn

Episode 30: Solo/Surabaya/Probolinggo/Sanur/Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia

Skin colour (Tom): Des O’Connor
Skin colour (Jane): Tom O’Connor
Location: Nusa Lembongan, off Bali (Indonesia)

Date: 31st October 2010.

You know how in my last post I was singing the praises of the Indonesian people in a somewhat uncharacteristic display of nicety? I’m excepting natives of Probolinggo, as they’re all arses.

After nine months of travelling the globe, the journey to Probolinggo and our treatment whilst there made us seriously discuss just jacking it in and heading home to Blighty.

Instead, we’ve regrouped and headed for Bali, where the last few days have been almost wholly pleasant.

I won’t drone on about the hard slog of three full days on really uncomfortable, hot local buses, which took far longer than they should have, to get to Probolinggo from Solo. Suffice it to say that Indonesian roads are entirely inadequate for the traffic upon them: convoys of heavy goods vehicles and coaches moving at the breakneck speed of about 30mph, if you’re lucky.

Islamic hotel policy (!)

Instead I’ll tell you about the straw that broke our travelling back in Probolinggo, which we’d read was the best base from which to get to Mount Bromo (an incredibly picturesque volcano) and the surrounding National Park.

We’d wanted something interesting on the itinerary after the disappointments of Yogyakarta and Solo: perhaps I glossed over it in my last post because of my enthusiasm about the people, but both were utterly crap.

The instructions were clear – head out of the main Probolinggo bus station, ignore the hundred touts shouting at you (and my God, isn’t the end of every bus journey like stepping into a media scrum), get on a green minibus, which when mostly full will leave and get you to Bromo in about 2 hours. The reality was not quite so straightforward.

Drink this - you'll never die

After a bite to eat in the bus station, we duly headed out onto the main road and found the minibuses lined up. We were the first people waiting, but no matter, within five minutes or so a friendly Indonesian student sat next to us and engaged us in conversation – she was also heading to Bromo.

Another half hour and there were a mini-bus load of people waiting (all Indonesians apart from us), at which point one of the many, many people doing literally nothing started going round the group talking quietly to all the locals.

(As an aside, we can’t believe how little some people do here. At Probolinggo mini-bus rank, there must have been 30 or 40 people just sat around – it goes back to the taxi drivers not wanting to use their meters and not negotiating – Indonesians (to be fair, it’s only ever men) would rather do nothing than something which could earn them a bit of cash).

The default position of Indonesian men whilst at work

After the Indonesian lad had done his rounds, a strange thing happened:  they all started moving slowly away, along the row of mini-buses. We asked our super-friendly student what was going on (we already knew if truth be told) and she smiled sweetly, said that they actually weren’t going to Bromo (why in the name of Zeus they’d been waiting right by the Bromo bus I don’t know), and that we should stay where we were and keep waiting. Then she added 30 seconds later that her father was now picking her up, it had been lovely to meet us, and headed off after them.

Obviously, before we could do anything about it (the bus boys were all now very keen not to look in our direction or answer our questions), the group of locals were on a different mini-bus and off down the road to Bromo. I’m sure you can imagine our ire.

To be fair, one group had pointed at us when the bus boy was skulking around, but he shook his head: we were not destined to be the only gringos on his bus.

Happier after Probolinggo

For the next hour, as people started arriving again, we fumed quietly in that best of British fashion. Now, bear in mind how mild-mannered I am, but in my mind what happened was nothing other than rank racism. There, I said it.

If it happened in the UK, there’d be uproar (actually, if someone tried to make it happen in the UK, the Brits waiting for the bus would say “No, they were here first, they should go”, or perhaps they wouldn’t, but I’d like to think that I would).

Also bear in mind that this is a country desperately trying to rebuild its tourist industry after the bombings a few years back in Bali. And then let me tell you that as we sat there, frustrated and dejected, we were laughed at openly, people grinningly shouted “Bromo, Bromo” at us and, memorably, a teenage lounger, with a mullet and an attitude, made a horse noise at me (I don’t know what that was about, but he’s obviously never been in a communal shower with me).

We talked about what we would do to the helpful, friendly student if we saw her in Bromo, and much of that chat involved the phrases “violently slapping” and “her innocent-looking,  bespectacled little face”. We were annoyed.

Travelling has given us a little more patience than we may previously have had, though, so we waited as the bus numbers grew again, and gave a small cry of joy, when after two hours in the stifling heat, we were told to board the bus because we were finally leaving.

Sanur beach

On the sauna-like bus we waited, and waited. After 10 minutes we disembarked for some air, to find that the latest arrivals had been told that they could sit down to dinner before we left. I’m afraid this was the said straw and I was immediately up on the roof of the mini-bus, disentangling our baggage.

There was talk in the immediate aftermath, as we got a bemo (small van with benches either side) into Probolinggo, of flying back to the UK forthwith, tails between our legs. We actually know someone who had similar feelings, when she and her American companion were spat at in Indonesia.

We realised we were being hasty, so after being laughed at some more in Probolinggo (I urge you never to go there with your tourist dollars – whilst most Indonesian folk we’ve met have been charming and friendly, the sub-human scum in this little cess-pit of a town were awful to a man), we repaired to a bar to drink ourselves into a better frame of mind and make a new plan.

That plan turned out to be leaving Java (which had been pretty terrible all-told) and head the next day to Bali.

Boat from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan - the least packed transportation in Asia

Now, I’m well aware that what I’ve described here is not too bad, and usually we’d have turned the other cheek (we’ve had enough transport disappointments and delays on our way round the world), but we’d been travelling uncomfortably for days, had only seen one decent sight in Indonesia (Borobudur) and were probably just a bit over-tired. it’s not all milk and honey on a gap year!

Unfortunately, the following day’s travelling was perhaps our worst yet. Without going into details, we set off at 10 in the morning and arrived at our lodgings at 9.15pm.

This was in part due to one bus journey, on a local bus which was taped together in some quite critical areas (doors, engine, steering wheel and axles), and held a real risk of septicaemia from any surface, which took the best part of four hours to cover 126km.

We also met that old friend, the attempted rip-off merchant, en route, but our permanent scowls soon showed him and we ended up paying the right amount. The whole day travelling was just what we didn’t need!

A friendly welcome certainly wasn’t awaiting us in the resort of Sanur, the receptionist more interested in his guitar than in us, distractedly mumbling that we’d be paying more than almost anything we’d paid on Java for a room with no hot water, TV, air-con or WiFi (all having been pretty standard to date).

When I enquired if I could watch the football on the big-screen TV behind reception, he said he didn’t like football, and became involved in a conversation with a monumentally drunk middle-aged Aussie about his guitar.

In case you’re ever in Sanur and want a tip for somewhere to avoid, the place is called “The Watering Hole”, but it’d be more descriptive to replace “Watering” with “Hell”.

Nusa Lembongan

There must have been some good things since last I corresponded…. let me think. Of course there have. The majority of people continue to be pleasance personified, the sun has been out for most of the time.

We saw a man get off a bus for a leak in heavy traffic, only to find the traffic moving and the bus disappearing as he was “shaking off”. He never got back on, but his travel-sick girlfriend didn’t seem too bothered, so I’m sure he was fine, and we laughed along with the rest of the bus.

After we’d moved hotels in Sanur, we enjoyed a few days there. The beach wasn’t great, but the food was mostly good. We enjoyed a night out with an English-Canadian couple and watched some middle-aged, overweight Australian women dancing, which is always good for a chuckle.

(Actually Sanur was full of fat Aussies in vests, we could barely get along any pavement without at least one of them waddling into us.)

What we'll see at 6.15pm tonight on Lembongan

We’ve worked hard on our tans, drunk a fair amount of Bintang (the local brew) and just relaxed. Hey, nobody said that travelling has to be all about adventure!

We got a boat (to ourselves) over to Nusa Lembongan yesterday, a small and altogether quieter place than Sanur. It’s very nice, although all the seaweed drying for use in various foodstuffs gives the place a funky smell and the power/water/internet access is sketchy at best. The sunset makes up for any down-sides, even the fact that the wall of our room only goes 2/3ds of the way to the roof.

We had a long walk around the headland today and we’re going to spend a few days here, before heading for the Gili Islands and some diving (we hope).

Clear waters on Lembongan

Of course the best thing about the last week is having avoided the multitude of natural disasters being rained down on Indonesia currently.

We’ve narrowly missed a fair few of these incidents on our travels (off the top of my head: Santiago earthquake; Rio mudslides; Ecuador attempted-coup; Machu Picchu floods; Thailand riots; NZ earthquake; British election; and the numerous Indonesian happenings of late).

And for all we know, that bus to Bromo broke down in middle of nowhere and the passengers had to turn to cannibalism, targeting the tender student first.

Makes you realise how lucky we are really.

P.S. To the person who has started rating every single one of my posts 1 star out of 5 on the “Rate This” area at the top of every post – you’re not big and you’re not clever: some of them are worth at least 2 stars.

Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!


  1. Is that the hypo hair? I think it’s alright (says the girl with hair several shades to dark for her complexion!)

    • It is indeed – Jane was a bit perturbed at first, but it has toned down with a couple of washes. For those reading these comments in bafflement, Jane dyed her hair with a £1 dye kit (golden brown) and ended up with hair darker than Cher.

  2. This is just the sort of leavening your normally serene and hilarious posts will benefit from (“never use a preposition to end a sentence with”), giving as it does a necessary glimpse of the dark side of world travel before emerging once more into the sunshine to which it is so easy to become addicted. Now, is that lyrical or what??

    • Nice to have you back commenting Gramps, even if you’re effectively chastening Jane, my editor.

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