The day started off easily enough. We got up around 6:30AM, showered, finished getting our bags packed, ate breakfast, checked out of our hotel in Seminyak, and then hailed a cab. We told the cab driver we needed to get to the Ubung bus station. We repeated it a few times, he repeated it back to us, seeming to understand where we needed to go.
Bali doesn’t have expressways or anything even close, so the constant winding through small local streets didn’t seem out of the ordinary. When, about 20 or 30 minutes later, he pulled over into a hotel driveway, Amanda and I looked at each other confused. The cab driver turned to us, ready for us to pay and get out. “Bus station?” we said again, and this time he seemed to realize that maybe he hadn’t understood us after all.
He somehow thought we said “Best Western” which was the hotel we found ourselves in front of. We tried explaining again where we actually needed to go. Amanda even wrote down BUS STATION for him, but still no luck. He called someone on his radio and said “bus station” to them, and they must have understood and translated. We were finally on our way.
There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as booking a bus ticket ahead of time in Bali. We could barely get out of the cab when we were swarmed by men holding receipt booklets and trying to sell us tickets on whatever bus they represented. We quickly realized there was no ticket window either and would have to negotiate with the bus representatives. We wanted to get to Bromo, a volcano on the island of Java, but the town of Probolinggo would do as well.
Amanda pulled out her haggling charms and got us tickets on a bus to Probolinggo for 110,000 Rupiah (about US$12) each, and we were told the bus left at 10AM. It was just a few minutes before 10:00, so we boarded the bus and waited. Every few minutes someone else got on and took a seat, and still we waited. It turned out the bus wasn’t actually leaving until 11AM. Either the people who sold us the tickets didn’t speak English well enough to tell us the right time or they were afraid we’d find another bus if we knew that one didn’t leave for another hour.
The bus took us through Bali’s capital Denpasar and then along the southwestern coast for about four hours until we reached the port. During that time, Amanda needed to use the bathroom on the bus. Since this was a local bus in Southeast Asia, there was no western sit-down toilet. She had to use a very basic squat toilet on a bus that was navigating windy, mountainous roads and often driving faster than one might think reasonable for such roads. In addition to just having to use the toilet in these conditions, there were two giant buckets of water sloshing around in front of/next to her. One was for “flushing” and we guessed the other was for washing your hands, although I can only imagine your hands getting more dirty by using it.
We finally arrived at the port, and much to our surprise, the bus waited for a few minutes and then pulled onto a ferry. We were very happy to not have to get our stuff off the bus, find the right ferry, and then find the right bus on the other side. The ferry took about an hour to get from Bali to Java. And just for the record, I decided to wait until we were on the ferry to use their awful squat toilet instead of the one on the bus, since I feared that could only end in a concussion or broken limb for me.
Before embarking on this journey, Amanda and I stocked up on bread, water, chocolate peanut butter spread, nuts, and some other snacks since we knew it was a long trip and didn’t want to count on anything such as stops for meals. But late in the afternoon, the non-driving employee on the bus walked down the aisle distributing meal tickets. Surprised again, we soon stopped at a restaurant that clearly catered to these long-haul buses, and we had a pretty good dinner with a wide variety of choices. We had no idea how long the bus was stopping for, but we managed to not get left behind.
The same guy who gave us our meal tickets came back to us later in the night to tell us they were going to drop us off at his friend’s tourist office in Probolinggo. The bus was constantly stopping at places that didn’t appear to be actual bus stops, so it didn’t seem too odd that they were going to stop somewhere for us too, and it was definitely helpful. At 10PM the bus finally stopped on the side of the road where we jumped off. After a 13 hour journey from hotel to hotel, quite a bit of confusion and surprise, lots of stares for being the only non-Indonesian people on the bus, and plenty of laughs, we finally made it in one piece and got our Bromo volcano trip set up.
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