Day 207: Our Experiment

Fri. 8th March 2013

We agree!Aim

To get from Bali to Jember, on Java using just public transport.

Method

  1. Bemo from the main road to ferry terminal at Gilimanuk
  2. Ferry to Ketapong, Java
  3. Bemo to Brawijaya bus terminal south of Banyuwangi.
  4. Bus to Jember bus terminal
  5. Bemo to centre of Jember close to hotel
  6. Drink a well deserved beer.

The travel time is stated in our research as 3 ½ hours but with transfers we budget twice as long.

Results

Baby turtles born last nightTo prepare for our day we packed our bags again, before taking a walk along the beach and having a European style coffee and chocolate cake at a local café. However, before that we just had to watch the little baby turtles which had hatched overnight in the turtle sanctuary at our hotel. After we checked out, we agreed that if we had not caught a bus or bemo in the next thirty minutes, i.e by 12:30 we would cop out and order a private transfer and indeed we always knew that we would get to our destination, but for what price.

And we are off - Bemo No. 1It actually took three minutes before a bemo stopped and we agreed a price of R50,000 to get us to the ferry terminal and those of you paying attention will know this is about £3, not bad for an hours drive (though distinctly more than the locals would pay). The only stop was for the driver to light some incense and pray at a shrine. We did not even pick up any other passengers. At the ferry terminal it was easy to buy a ticket but harder to find our way on to the next ferry due to leave. In the end, we walked  through the car waiting area and along a walkway before using the vehicle entrance onto the boat.

Goodbye to Bali and its distinctive pillarsWe did have to wait on the ferry for about half an hour before it left. The crossing was close to the advertised half hour but it took that long again for the ferry to find a vacant berth and dock – just like planes circling above Heathrow. We made sure to use the facilities on the boat once we had consulted Lonely Planet and worked out Dave wanted the door labelled Pria and I wanted Wanita and it was just a hole in the ground. Just as well, as it was over four hours before we had a chance to go again. As for lunch – well no time for that, so we had to make do with the few peanuts and the Oreo biscuits we had in our bags.

Boats all shapes,sizes and weights cross the narrow straitOnce we left the ferry we had to resist being hounded and keep our heads down until we found a blue bemo to the bus station. This was difficult as we were the only westerners in sight. We agreed a price of five (indicated by fingers) and off we set for about 30 minutes until we saw the sign saying terminal. It turned out five meant 5 x 10, 000 and not 5,000 but still cheap! Again we had hardly alighted the bemo before being surrounded with (mostly) helpful advice. The bus to Jember was just starting its engine as Dave rushed off to buy our tickets (my out of date book said 21k each but it turned out to be 75k each!). We know we paid more than the locals but it was still a bargain.

Our next lift, to the bus stationThe bus had three members of staff, the driver, the conductor and the money man selling the tickets. It was a slick process with the conductor opening the rear door with his foot, as the handle was at the bottom of two steps. The passengers then had to jump on before the conductor shouted at the driver to move off, sometimes even before the passenger is on!

We initially had the back seat of the bus to ourselves with plenty of room for our bags, but as the bus filled up, we were squeezed into a smaller and smaller space. We had joked about air conditioned buses, which we had in South America and I said it would be here too except it would involve open windows! It was hot and sunny as we set out and the breeze was welcome, but as the rain started all the windows had to be closed to keep us dry and it soon became stuffy and the windows steamed up. The conductor was then responsible for keeping the windscreen clear for the driver to see.

Inside one of our luxury vehiclesWhen Dave bought the tickets he was told it would take four hours and we could see why, as it kept stopping in random places to let more passengers on. Banyuwangi, is a big sprawling place and seems to go on for miles. After a while the buildings gave way to paddy fields as the bus climbed up the side of what seemed quite a steep mountain and then back down the other side. It appeared to us that the bus overtook scooters, lorries, horse and carts, anything slower that it wanted to go, without much regard for oncoming slow traffic, which was expected to give way. The roads are narrow and the traffic does not go that fast anyway.

As we get close to Jember, the maps app on my phone is very useful as it shows where we are and where the terminal is. Sadly our guidebook is out of date and the bus does not stop at the expected terminus and discussions with the conductor reveal we will be stopping at a different terminal. We begin to head past our hotel and the centre of Jember and we were not allowed to get off before the terminal. We were not worried as we thought that at least at the terminal we should stop for a leisurely dismount from the bus with our backpacks. We do take time to ensure we get all our bags off but when we turn round after doing our stock check, the bus has already left!

Our hotel with all the essentialsThere are a number of yellow bemos waiting at the terminus and we soon procure a lift back into town. I am glad I carefully wrote all the steps of our journey down neatly in a little book along with our hotel name and address, as this has been invaluable in ensuring we get to the right place. We finally at the hotel just after 6pm which, after allowing for the hour change in Java is close to our budget of seven hours.

Sweet white coffee - not even the ubiquitous NescafeAfter trying their complementary coffee, Dave heads out to find our well deserved beers and survey our surroundings. There are no obvious restaurants in the vicinity (but he does find beer at half the room service cost) and we agree this is the least touristy place we have been in our 7 months of travelling. We have not seen any other westerners and possibly no tourists of any nationality, at all on our travels today.

 

Conclusion

As the day reminded us of a chemistry experiment this layout seems to be appropriate. We got to Jember with relatively little stress and managed all the steps as set out in our plan. The total cost was R282,000 (less than £20). Our private transfer across Bali had been twice that for a three hour trip, so if you have the time and the inclination journeys can be done on public transport and add to the adventure.

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