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22 November 2011 / leggypeggy

On the road again—in a different bus

A view from the front of the bus—one of the many lakes in southern Sumatra.

Within 24 hours of completing the hot and steamy bus ride from Batam Island to Padang, Lu hustled us on to another bus. This time for a 25-hour ride from Padang to Bandar Lampung. Never heard of Bandar Lampung? Neither had we. But it was a more-than-halfway point between us and Jakarta, and a night’s stay there would give us a break in what was supposed to be a 35-hour trip overall.

This leg would take us across the southern two-thirds of Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest and the world’s sixth largest island, and put us within striking distance of the volcanic island of Krakatoa. Poor John and I were keen to take a side trip to see this historic and temperamental volcano that blew its stack in 1883 and again in the 1920s. The earlier blast, which is considered to have produced the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, actually created the island of Krakatoa. It also altered world weather patterns for many decades and caused a tsunami that travelled around the world three times. Impressive stuff. Whatever happened, our bus ride was going to be tame by comparison.

The new bus was Super Executive Class—the hot and steamy bus was merely Executive Class—and promised a toilet, air conditioning and reclining seats. The seats were permanently reclined and the air conditioning worked overtime. We were thankful that blankets were an Executive Class perk. The pillows were a nice touch too. A few used the on-board toilet, but we stopped every four hours or so at over-priced roadhouses, so the on-board toilet was for back-up only in my mind.

While not advertised, Full Music was thrown in, along with a DVD player. Most of our truck travelling companions have bought bundles of pirated DVDs in southeast Asia, so we had plenty of options for entertainment and watched three English-language movies and a selection of driver’s Indonesian music clips and slapstick comedies. We may not have understood the dialogue from any of the latter, but there were countless corny visual gags and a few hilarious moments.

But no matter how comfy things are, 25 hours is a long time. We set out at 8:35 on Thursday morning, so were expecting to reach Bandar Lampung about 9:30 on Friday. Expecting! Did you hear me say Expecting? By 11:30 Friday, the road-distance signs made it clear that Bandar Lampung was still a long, long, long way off. There really was no explaining the ‘delay’. The driver had been making good time—actually we had two drivers who spelled one another about every nine hours. Traffic wasn’t horrendous, we’d had only one 45-minute breakdown (a fanbelt that broke)

In the end, Lu told the driver we’d stay on the bus until Jakarta. He merely nodded his agreement and I rather thought he’d been expecting us to do exactly that. In fact, he never even asked Lu for any additional payment.

Lu had bought our tickets at the bus company and it was the woman there who said it was 25 hours to Bandarlampung. Lonely Planet seemed to confirm this. But now, we had no idea how long we had to go. We reached the port—for a crossing to Java—about 10:45 p.m. and were on the ferry soon afterwards. We heard the ferry took anywhere from 90 minutes to four hours, but we were pulling out of the port on the other side by 1:15 a.m.

So how much longer to Jakarta? Who knew. I’m convinced that Indonesian timetables are based on guesses and rumours. Or perhaps they have a timetable dartboard, and each throw dictates the number of hours that will be told to prospective travellers. And by travellers, I don’t mean just foreigners. The locals had no better idea than we did. One alcohol-soaked Indonesian on the ferry swore that the bus from Padang to Jakarta always takes no more than 18 hours, including the ferry. He wouldn’t believe that I had already spent almost 40 hours on said route. Another Indonesian (not booze-soaked) said it always took 35 hours. Lonely Planet says it takes 35 hours from a place two hours north of where we started. Another fellow, a foreigner, told Lu he had never known how long the trip was. Later he told me the ticket seller had told him it would take two days and two nights.

Will anyone get their story straight? Oh heck. You’re all right. You all win. Just wake me when we get there.

We finally got to Jakarta just after 3 on Saturday morning—making the bus trip a total of 42.5 hours. We never really figured out exactly where Bandar Lampung is, but I’m sure it’s not that far from Jakarta. Everyone agrees they would have super-dreaded the prospect of the entire trip had they known beforehand, but that the reality of the 40-plus hour journey wasn’t all that bad. As they say, ignorance is bliss, but next time I might fly.*

On the ferry between Sumatra and Java -- a few fellows sleeping on the top of their truck down in the vheicle area.

* Poor John and I had talked about flying from Padang to Jakarta or even on to Yogyakarta, but I said I wanted to see Jakarta (which we missed last year when we were in Indonesia) and Krakatoa, too, if possible. He dithered for a few hours—you don’t get a lot of time to decide these things—and suddenly announced he thought we should take the bus with the group. How come?, I asked, because I had been almost positive that he was going to hold his ground for flying.

Those of you who know Poor John should be able to envision the sheepish look on his face as he confessed. He said he had just remembered that one of his plans for our retirement was to travel around a lot of Indonesia by public transport. Oh really, thanks for letting me know. Guess we can tick that box. Any other plans I should know? Hmm, no. Yeah right.

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