Day 208: Cutting It Close

Sat. 9th March 2013

A long overdue trim - not sure I wanted it quite that short though!After the success of yesterday’s public transport experiment, we were much more confident about today’s leg. Our mix of bemos and buses isn’t as comfy or as quick as a private car but it is so much more of an adventure and we feel that we are seeing a bit of the real Java. Jember was always intended to be an overnight stop to get us in to a good position to explore the countryside and mountains of East Java. Today, we move on to Bondowoso which is the gateway to Mount Ijen one of the active volcanoes in this part of Java.

Typical narrow town side streetFirst though, as this is our only opportunity, we have a brief exploration of the centre of Jember.  Our walk just confirms the impressions that we formed last night. This is a busy, bustling city and it seems to be packed with food stalls and small shops selling clothes, mobile phones, toys – everything that normal people need for their daily lives. There are no tour operators, hotels (other than the one we stayed in) or even restaurants. This really is not a tourist city at all. We see no other westerners in all of our time in Jember.

Want a ride?We do, however, spot the place where the bemos start from. The good news is that its not far from our hotel. The bad news, though, is that it is on the other side of a 4-lane road (well, 12-lane as most of the traffic comprises scooters). There are no breaks in the constant stream of traffic and we don’t fancy having to dodge and weave our way through it when we’re laden down with backpacks. Fortunately, we then spot the footbridge a little further down the road.

On the bus from Jember to BondowosoOur successful reconnoitre done, we decide to beat the rain that looks imminent from the gathering dark clouds and head back to the hotel, grab our bags and head off. Once again, Janet has written out the name of the bus terminal which is on the other side of town from the one we used when we arrived. When the driver starts repeating the name back to us, we are reasonably convinced he knows where we want to go and so we climb aboard, pushing our backpacks ahead of us. School must finish early on a Saturday because alongside 4 or 5 locals  a couple of school kids clamber in and the bemo is full to bursting. We struggle to keep our backpacks out of everyone’s way – especially when the chap whom we have wedged in to the back corner of the bemo wants to get out.

Entrance to the Palm Hotel, Bondowoso - less glamorous than it looksWe arrive at the bus station just as a bus is about to pull out. We’ve barely emerged through the door, let alone got our bags out and settled with the bemo driver when we are pounced on by people shouting Bondowoso and pointing at the bus. Taking this as a hint (and double checking with other passengers) we climb aboard only to find that the bus is full. Not only are we standing but we also need to wedge our backpacks (and daypacks) between us. Chaos ensues as the bus rocks and bounces its way down the road – and the conductor wants to get past to sell tickets to people! Still, it was only R10,000 (£0.70) for the two of us. In a little while, we get seats and the locals find our backpacks to be useful as armrests and so things settle down for the hour and a half or so it takes to get to Bondowoso.

War memorial monument in BondowosoAgain, the maps app on our phones is invaluable as we spot that the bus is passing just a block away from our hotel and so we ask to be let out. The bus shoots away before we have a chance to take a photo – a shame as it was rainbow coloured. Bondowoso seems a little more tourist oriented than Jember – but that really isn’t saying much. No sooner have we arrived in the hotel than we are asked if we want to book the tour to Mount Ijen tomorrow. The porter cum concierge explains that you need to leave the hotel at 4am for the two and a half hour drive to Mount Ijen, not to catch the sunrise but in order to see the mountain whilst the sky is clear. It sounds reasonable and when he provides a discount on a bundle with our transfer to Mount Bromo the following day (again hard to do by public transport) we sign up for the deal.

Not tempted!After lunch, we have a wander around town but there is little to see and few restaurants – especially when you discount the one selling crispy-fried chicken feet! There is, however, a barber shop! I am desperately in need of a hair cut – the last time was in Santiago, Chile nearly three months ago. Somehow, I never got to one in Aus or NZ – this is partly because they all looked too posh and one of my ambitions for this trip is to only use the local barber shops. This one fits the bill admirably. There is just room for two barber’s chairs but the waiting area is on a bench outside the shop.

Waiting for my turn outside be barber'sOur friend Nick always describes haircuts as having his ears lowered – though it seems necessary for him to go to Manchester for this operation. All I had to do was stroll across the road from the hotel. As ever, we cause much amusement at the barber’s and two locals who try queue barging are put in their place. After a bit of pointing at my hair (duh!) and at the pot of notes used as a till, I think he has an approximate idea as to how short I want my hair and we have agreed a cost of R10,000 (£0.70 again!). I’m a bit taken aback when he gets the electric clippers on my hair and at one point Janet steps in to say “that’s short enough” – and I hold very still when uses a handheld razor blade on my neck. Despite all of that, the end result is much better than the starting point. Like so many things on our trip this has been a memorable experience.

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