Indonesian public transport

 

A month in Indonesia had made us lazy. With a private driver costing barely £30 per day and cross-island 3-hour transfers in comfortable air-conditioned taxis typically £20, anyone travelling on more than a shoestring budget can avoid the alternative (when it exists) of a gruelling trip on a long-distance bus.

There's no shortage of options for the 17 km journey from Yogyakarta to the 9th-century Hindu temples of Prambanan. Shuttle buses take tourists several times  a day, and a metered taxi costs around £4. But it was our final day in Indonesia and I had decided that a ride on a local bus was long overdue.

We duly found the correct bus stop, paid our 20p fare and sat down to wait for the 1A bus. We waited. And waited. Despite the platform attendant assuring us that the buses came every 15 minutes, it was half an hour before a crowded bus pulled up. The cheery conductor made a signal to tell us it was full and the bus left. "Another 10 minutes," our attendant said in a sympathetic voice. 20 minutes later another crowded bus came and left, and we came to the belated realisation that we had a choice of a visit to a 9th-century temple or an afternoon at a sweaty bus stop.

Less than 40 minutes in a taxi and £3.60 later (there was no quibble about refunding our unused bus tickets) we were passing through the special Foreigners' Entrance Gate at Prambanan. We still had three hours until sunset - long enough to negotiate the ever-present menace of selfie sticks along with the regular requests for photos with local tourists. The temple complex itself is compact, with the vast majority of visitors staying near the main building. We wandered up to the Candi Sewu temple, also part of the Prambanan site but around 10 minutes' walk away, and despite it being only marginally less impressive than the main site, it was deserted. It was here that we spent most of our time, exploring the inner chambers, admiring the intricate stone work and playing with the camera in the late afternoon light.

 While agencies in Yogyakarta make a big deal of selling sunset tours to Prambanan, by the time the sun actually goes down the crowds have mostly left and the staff are busy closing the site. Without any transport arranged we lingered until most people had left and then walked out to the road, determined once again to find that elusive 1A bus. We even waved away the offer of a motorbike ride back into town; it was our final evening and we weren't going to leave Indonesia without at least one bus ride.

With some helpful pointing from local shop owners we finally found the 1A bus stop, and this time the conductor had mercy and opened the doors to allow two very grateful foreigners to squeeze into the crowded bus. For 30 minutes we hung on as a group of young ladies (student teachers from Surabaya, it turns out) interrogated us about our experiences and impressions of Indonesia, and gave us stern warnings not to fall for the many scams aimed at foreign tourists.

On the outskirts of town we were abruptly told to leave the bus and wait for a connecting service, which we were told would stop right outside our hotel. We waited, and waited, and waited. 40 minutes later we got back onto another 1A bus, realising that the 20-minute walk from the terminus would have been by far the most sensible option. The bus soon hit the Yogyakarta traffic, and the final kilometre took over 30 minutes to negotiate. Stepping out into the warm evening, we were pleased that we could tick the Indonesian bus ride off our list. In this case at least, once is certainly enough.

You can get Bali included as a stopover on your round the world here

 

Beginner on a bike - Lombok's stunning south coast


 

"If you can ride a bike you'll be absolutely fine." I was far from convinced. If it wasn't enough that I'd reached the age of 46 without ever having ridden a motorbike, on our way into Kuta in southern Lombok just a few hours earlier we'd witnessed the sombre aftermath of a fatal crash between a motorbike and a lorry. But still, we'd come to see the fabled beaches of South Lombok and a motorbike appeared to be the only feasible way to getting to see them. After a short demo and a ride with one of the staff from the guesthouse as my passenger, who screamed "Valentino Rossi!" in my ear as gentle encouragement as I wobbled across the car park, I was ready to go.

Of course it's easy to say after a relatively uneventful day, but for a beginner's day out on a motorbike, the quiet road along southern Lombok's coast is probably one of the less dangerous options. The few people we encountered were not in any hurry, and there are no nasty drops at the sides of the road. Best of all, the bike I had could just about touch 30 mph on the flat, and up the coast's many hills I suspect it would have been just as quick to get off and walk.  

Kuta is an unremarkable village, geared mainly towards the handful of surfers who come for the legendary waves off the southern coast. There are a handful of bars, pizza restaurants and gear shops, but nothing that would tempt a disorganised new arrival to stay in town rather than make the trip to the nearby beaches.

With my nervous wife clinging tight to me at the back of the bike, we left Kuta and apart from the occasional farmer carrying far too many rice sacks on his bike, I had no hazards to worry about. Our first stop was the beach at Mawun, a short detour from the main road. After paying 10,000 rupiah (50p) at the informal checkpoint, we parked the bike and set off to explore. A handful of  hawkers called over to us, but in the intense heat they weren't tempted to leave their seats in the shade, instead clocking us for our return when they sensibly figured that we'd be thirsty.

 

 

Mawun Beach is certainly a stunner: a long curving bay of golden sand, lush vegetation on one side and turquoise water on the other. The ocean was warm, the sand underfoot was soft, the waves gentle and unthreatening for a shaky swimmer. Taking a walk around the bay we passed a fisherman getting his boat ready for a midday sail, while a group of Indonesian girls in hijabs chatted to a tall Australian girl who towered over them in her bikini. Back in the shade I behaved as expected as I bought a coconut from the girl who'd tagged us on our arrival.

If Mawun is special, Selong Belanak Beach a few kilometres further west raises the bar a notch higher. Even these two people who are normally indifferent to beaches would have been happy to linger for an afternoon. Not only does it tick the soft golden sand/warm turquoise sea boxes, but there's plenty to watch as you laze in the sun. Confident surfers ride the waves while beginners wobble and try to balance for the first time. The colourful full-length outfits of local tourists contrast with the foreigners in their budgie-smugglers and bikinis. And to cap it all, there's the Laut Biru cafe serving light snacks and not-so-light cheesecake in the precious shade.

The ride back to town was slower (we were carrying cheesecake after all), but by the time we handed the bike back I felt thoroughly pleased with our day out. We'd enjoyed some of the finest beaches we'd ever seen, and at the same time managed to come back without any alarms. Valentino Rossi may have nothing to worry about, but at least I'll be more relaxed about taking on a motorbike if the need arises again.

 

You can get Bali included as a stopover on your RTW here