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Four Modes of Transit, One Destination

We awoke to the soothing melodies of the Sim City 2000 theme in the utter darkness of our squalid and windowless room in Surabaya. Scott flipped on the steely and flickering compact florescent bulb which hung from the ceiling and we quickly consolidated our belongings. Something about the lack of windows and the crack house lighting made me feel like it was raining outside, but of course it was sunny and gorgeous.

The breakfast provided by this place was perhaps the best we had experienced yet, with a nice pile of fried rice, an over-easy egg, a piece of Kentucky fried chicken (quite literally), and a mound of very mildly fishy wafers. The coffee was excellent, and made with just the right amount of sweetened condensed milk. Wifi was plentiful and lightning fast, which always puts us in a good mood. It seemed that the departure from Surabaya would be much nicer than the entry.

With our entire inventory strapped to our bodies, we took to the streets and made short work of the kilometer or so to the train station, cat calls and “hello misters” aside. When we got there, we yet again attracted an unprecedented crowd of observers as we packed up the cycles.

Inside the train station, we loaded up on water and Indonesian snack cakes from the “Holland Bakery” and other little bodegas.

And in no time we were settling into the ride.

Our seats were the very last on the train, allowing us to get up whenever we pleased and take in the retreating view from the back of the car.

We snacked contentedly and worked on correspondence for you, dear reader. I made sure to take breaks to go play my ukulele in the caboose area where Indianian business men were lounging and smoking clove cigarettes. For obvious reasons, the songs “City of New Orleans,” “Hobo’s Lulluby,” and “Long Train Running” were on heavy rotation. The Indonesians proved very forgiving, and tolerated my playing in a most hearty way, at times humming along in an interesting and dissonant fashion.

Meanwhile, we were witnessing a change in the terrain which whipped by outside the squeaking and leaning train car. For the first time, we began to see crops other than rice: what looked like sugar cane, fruit trees, palms, and even a type of tropical coniferous forest flying by our periphery. Anyone who knows about tropical coniferous forests, by all means, please share with us in the comments.

Slowly but surely the train was emptying out. We struggled to explain why, as most of the stops appeared to be little more than jungle road crossings. Despite this, huge numbers of well dressed people with laptop bags would depart the train. Finally, still somewhat puzzled, and after some seven hours of travel, the train arrived at Banyuwangi, another small station, where we were to find a bus waiting to take us to the ferry and on to Java.

The air was sticky and the scent of the sea was strong, as we lugged our Speed TRs down the platform, and around a corner toward the road. Two fellows seemed to be officiating the loading of the only bus, and generally orchestrating the human traffic. Neither of the two was uniformed, and neither appeared to be the driver. But both came over to us and requested our tickets. Scott found cause for pause, at the demand from such a dubious officiate, but eventually, as it seemed they held the keys to this kingdom, we relented and turned over our tickets, loading our belongings into the belly of the bus.

Onboard we careened maybe 500 yards before the bus stopped in order to be boarded by some five or six peddlers, selling everything from snacks to fake Ray-Bans. Knowing full well there was a pair of devastatingly handsome Maui Jims waiting for us in Singapore, we opted to continue on with our current eyewear.

After the sales sweep, the bus yawed its way onto the ferry. and everyone was encouraged to get off. The ferry was quite interesting, and may have been held together primarily by white and green paint.

After inspection of some heavily painted over characters, and some of the framed signage, we determined the ship to be an old Japanese ferry later purchased and relentlessly painted over by an Indonesian ferry company.

The engines sounded labored and seemed to be burning a fair bit of oil, but nonetheless propelled the ship forward, which I guess should be enough for anyone.

With Bali looming ever closer in the misty distance, we wandered the ship. Of particular interest was the on-board prayer room, or Musholla, and the instant noodles stand, the owner of which proclaimed his wares by clanking a spoon against a bowl, an amazingly loud and surprisingly nautical sound.

Eventually, the same fellows who had been running the show (one of whom was wearing a tee-shirt proclaiming him the cast iron specialist) called for everyone to return to the bus.

We climbed in and soon we were lumbering toward a kind of customs station. The cast iron fellow approached Scott, and motioning to a woman, suggested that she should sit next to him. In the only half full bus, I was puzzled by this, but Scott assured me that everything has a purpose. So he shared his seat with the woman, and soon all the Indonesians were asked to exit the bus. You see, dear reader, all Indonesians are required to carry their KTP cards, as part of a national identification system. We, as foreigners stayed on board, having no KTP card and being cash cows not worth hassling, and so its was with this woman.

It was then that it occurred to us. This was some kind of a person smuggling technique. The woman would be assumed to be Scott’s companion. When we had made it to the other side there was a small hurrah shared between the cast iron fellow, the woman, and the other official, and the woman resumed her seat next to the two fellows running the show. AsiaWheeling is always glad to be of service, but if anyone else would like to conjecture as to what might have actually happened here, please let us know in the comments.

Then commenced an unexpectedly long bus ride, made all the longer by my increasingly vehement need to urinate. Four hours, six naps and one endless, meandering ride over a mountain later, we arrived in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. We had determined on the train that we should not sleep in Denpasar, rather we should make our way to the nearby beach town of Sanur. So we loaded our cycles into what I am pleased to announce was the first taxi cab ride of AsiaWheeling (pilot study excluded) and arrived in Sanur 30 minutes and one closed road later.

The Illustrious Mr. Fu had taken the liberty of making us a reservation at a splendid place by the name of Prima Cottages, and though we made some puzzling wrong turns in violation of signs pointing us toward the hotel (that is until it quickly became obvious that our cab driver did not read and required our assistance in the signage department) we arrived in one piece and while somewhat frazzled from the day of travel, in good spirits.

Though it was called the Prima Cottages, we didn’t have a cottage. But what we did have was a very nice and clean room, with comfortable beds and a very clean bathroom. Right outside our room, there was a beautiful tropical garden and a very inviting pool.

It seemed a Bintang was in order. Bintang means “star” and is the local brew in Indonesia. Unsurprisingly, it is a subsidiary of Heineken (the Dutch still play a big roll commercially here), and the label design is very Heineken-esque.

It’s very expensive by local beverage standards (likely due to Islamic influence on Indonesia’s government reflected in alcohol tax) and rather seltzer-like, but we felt we had earned it. So we unfolded the cycles and rode into town, to buy a bag of meat flavored potato chips, and a couple bottles of the stuff. So we put our feet up by the pool, cracked into the ice cold Bintang, stared up into an infinity of blurry dark humidity speckled with dim stars, and relaxed into the end of a very long day.


  1. Henkes | January 25th, 2010 | 9:38 pm

    I can’t think of anything better to end a bout of traveling than a cold beer by a pool in Bali, again boys, jealousy overcomes me!

  2. CTE-students | January 26th, 2010 | 12:30 am

    These are questions from the 6th graders in section 1.

    In your pictures it looks like more people ride bikes and motorcycles than cars. Why is that? -Kiera
    how much did your bikes cost?-brendan
    How much money do you guys spend in one day?-Hannah

  3. Mark/Dad | January 26th, 2010 | 3:47 am

    More splendid photos! I really like your bus driver, and Woody out the ferry window.

  4. Kelsey | January 26th, 2010 | 9:42 am

    I agree with both comments; I love the photos and I am so jealous of your travels. Post a photo of the cottage pool! I look forward to your posts everyday because they take me to another place when I am reading them, which only intensifies my desire to hop on a plane to Asia! Keep up the good wheeling and writing.

  5. Christi Johnson | January 26th, 2010 | 12:18 pm

    Kids are interested in your pictures and are using Safari to read the posts to themselves. Makes it interesting and easier that trying to sound out some of the words. I am making good use of your very descriptive writing. Bunch more of kids questions came your way today. Ilka loved that you had the response in Chinese.

  6. CTE-students | January 26th, 2010 | 11:41 pm

    5th graders – section 1
    what kinds foods of do you eat?Taylor

  7. CTE-students | January 26th, 2010 | 11:45 pm

    How many lizards have you seen that are the size of a small dog?Also what other strange looking animals have you seen?

  8. CTE-students | January 27th, 2010 | 12:15 am

    6th graders

    Have you met any kids our age? Is their school-time/ schedule similar to ours? What kind of houses do they live in?

  9. CTE-students | January 27th, 2010 | 12:18 am

    what do u do in your spare time?

  10. CTE-students | January 27th, 2010 | 12:21 am

    6th graders

    Do you guys ever get sick of each other? Hannah

  11. david coster | January 29th, 2010 | 6:23 am

    Hey guys,

    Following along a bit on your adventures. Scott, glad to see that little surgery I did on your face did nothing to mar your handsome appearance. You guys seem to be having a lot of fun and an interesting time. Your descriptions are so fine they save me the trouble of making the arduous trip myself!

    David Coster (MD)

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