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The two of you … get out of my bus!
Ijen Plateau (Indonesia), August 16th 2008

We are prepared for the worst. We are on the train station of Surabaya and will travel today to the village of Cemoro Lawang, to see the fabulous Bromo Volcano. We will travel via the town of Probolinggo where we have to change from the train to a local bus. The bus station of Probolinggo is notorious. It is not an unsafe place to go, but the people over there are ‘specialised’ in ripping you off foreigners. We will see.

We will travel the first part from Surabaya to Probolinggo by train. The trains on Java are fast and comfortable. Especially if you leave from one of the big cities, it is the most efficient way out of town. Most of the bus stations are quite far from the city centre, which means that you already lose a lot of time by travelling to the bus terminal. The trains do not have that disadvantage. They leave on time most of the time and are not hindered by the chaotic traffic. We arrive within two hours at the train station of Probolinggo. The bus station is located five kilometres from the train station, so we have to take an ‘angkot’ to go there. An angkot is a small minibus that is used as public transport within cities and towns, and to the neighbouring villages. They can take between 10-12 passengers and are not very comfortable, especially for tall foreigners. We first have to negotiate about the price with the driver. As taxi drivers, most angkot drivers are also bandits, especially when they see white people. In that case they see dollar signs in their eyes and ask ridiculous prices. But this angkot driver is not that bad. He starts asking 5,000 Rupiahs per person, but at the end we agree a price of 3,000 Rp, while the going price is 2,000 Rp. We jump in the angkot and start driving towards the worst bus station in Java. At least that is what they say.

Just before we arrive at the bus station, the first ‘touts’ are already running next to our car, in the hope that they can ‘serve’ us. A tout is often an annoying, dishonest and young man who earns his money in the form of a commission, by guiding tourists to specific hotels or bus companies. They always have the same kind of tactics. They welcome you in their town or city and ask where you want to go. After you told them the destination, they will guide you to the bus you have to take, and that is of course the bus where they earn the most commission. The result is that you will be overcharged for the ticket, and that the tout and the bus company share the profit. After we left the angkot and got rid of the touts, we ask around ourselves about the bus we have to take. Eventually we arrive at a minibus with the name “the Bromo Express”. The bus is still empty, so we are not sure if the people informed us well. We decide not to buy the ticket immediately, but to position ourselves near the exit of the bus station. In that case we will be sure to get the first bus that is heading for Cemoro Lawang. But at the end it appears that the people were right. The Bromo Express is the first bus to leave and after two hours of waiting, all seats are sold. We are ready to go.

We did not discuss the price yet with the bus driver. We always try to ask other (local) passengers about the price they pay, and pay subsequently the same. People tell us that 15,000 Rp is the correct price for the 2-hour ride to Cemoro Lawang. Just before the bus leaves, two other foreigners arrive at the bus station. Two local passengers are forced to take a ‘seat’ on the roof, so that the French tourists can take a seat in the minibus. Still before we really left, the French tourists ask us about the price we agreed. We tell them that we didn’t discuss the price yet, but that we heard that 15,000 Rp is the correct price and that we intend to pay that amount. The French people tell us that they agreed a price of 20,000 Rp per person, after the driver initially asked 25,000 Rp. We will see what happens, but it definitely will lead to a discussion.

After one and a half hour driving, the bus assistant starts collecting the money for the bus ride. He starts in the back of the bus, so we can easily observe the amount paid by the other passengers. And as they told us before, they pay 15,000 Rp per person. When the bus assistant asks us to pay, we give him 30,000 Rp for two persons. But as expected, he does not agree with the price. He says that 20,000 is the going price and that we have to pay the same. Of course we tell him that we saw that all other passengers paid only 15,000 Rp and that we want to pay the same. At that moment, also the French people start to interfere in the discussion, because they also feel themselves ripped off. The driver notices the discussion and yells from his driver’s seat that we have to pay the 20,000 Rp per person. However, we do not want to be easy rip off targets and refuse to pay the asked amount, keeping in mind that if things are really escalating, we can always pay the additional 5,000 Rp per person (= € 0,35).

But unexpectedly, we do not get a second chance. When the driver notices that we are not paying the demanded amount, he stops the bus, turns around and yells: “The two of you … get out of my bus!”. We put the 30,000 Rp back in our pocket and decide to leave the bus in the middle of nowhere on principle that we refuse to pay the inflated rip off price. When we are out of the bus and after our luggage is taken from the bus, we tell the driver that we pay nothing because he kicked us out of the bus. The bus driver gets furious and starts pulling our backpacks. When we tell him to keep his hands from our luggage, he provokes Edwin by pointing his forefinger to his cheek, as sign of “hit me if you dare”. In the meantime the bus assistant went back to the bus to get an iron bar. The situation becomes more and more flammable, so that we decide to pay a part of the bus fee. We give the driver 20,000 Rp for two persons after which he cools down. He puts the money in his pocket and yells ‘fuck you’ while walking back to his minibus. The bus hits the road again and we start walking in the same direction. But after fifteen minutes we have good fortune again. A motor driver stops and offers himself as ‘ojek’ (= motor taxi). He asks 25,000 Rp per person for the ride to Cemoro Lawang, but after some negotiations we agreed a price of 15,000 Rp, with the condition that he has to find a second ojek. Within ten minutes we are also on the road again, on our way to the fabulous Bromo volcano.

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