There are two fail-safe sensory overloads for the traveller who wants to learn about a new place: going to the local supermarket, replete with its adventurous, exciting foods and people watching, and taking public transportation, with all of the delays, break-downs and random farm animals that comes with it. A perfect example? My cargo ferry ride in the Philippines, starring 41 water buffalo, several chickens and over 2 days of delays. Moving on from the Philippines, there was plenty of public transportation in Indonesia, meaning no shortage of misadventures for the taking. This included a 30-hour trip back from Flores after the disastrous boat ride from Lombok, through the centre of Sumbawa. Following in the footsteps of that epic journey, other public transportation routes within Indonesia piled on the hilarity.
What I Learned While Taking Public Transportation in Indonesia
1. Indonesian slow ferries are as on time as Filipino slow ferries. That is, they are never remotely on time.
2. Indonesian slow ferries have a secret weapon: a raised, square platform covered in a green, rugged carpet. Located at the back of the ferry, it provides a perfect opportunity to lie down and a much more comfortable option than the hard, plastic seats everyone else seemed to occupy.
3. If you have a ticket for a seat in a minibus, it does not mean you will sit in the minibus. Chances are, you will sit atop it.
4. The ticket collector does not see the fact that you are sitting on the roof of his minivan as a deterrent to obtaining your ticket. Laughing hysterically at him when he asks you for your ticket as you speed toward Bima in West Nusa Tenggara does not make him go away. Ignoring him does.
5. Tree branches hurt a lot more when they hit you in the head at 60km/h
6. Smashing your random, perverted Indonesian neighbour in the ribs with your elbow whilst he fondles your thigh on a night bus is an effective way of getting him to stop, fast.
7. As a tourist, using the toilet on a night bus is not acceptable. “No can!” we were told. However, if you are a local, blowing your nose on the curtains in front of the bus attendant is perfectly fine.
8. It is completely normal to stop for food at 4am on a night bus and you are a crazy tourist for not eating with the rest of the bus. AREN’T YOU HUNGRY? (No, you’re not. Just tired.)
9. Indonesians love “Sweet Child of Mine” but do not love it when you and your friends decide to sing along with the song as it blares on a ferry loudspeaker. Unimpressed Indonesian passengers are unimpressed.
10. Sitting on the roof of a public bus with your arm around a (disturbingly nonchalant) goat and a chicken in your lap will make any other public transportation seem extraordinarily boring.
Very important lessons, all of them.