A lot of time travelling is actual travelling, and as the bus is often a cheap and simple solution, a lot of time is spent in the bus. Some are very comfy and large, others small and dirty. Then there is the third category where I don’t really know the name for, but the experience goes something like this:
You start negotiating the price for the trip and get completely ripped off. You pay at least 5 times what locals pay, but as you are in the middle of nowhere with only 1 bus, you don’t really have a choice, and they know that. You get into an empty car which was probably a minivan about 25 years ago, and you can just squeeze in the back, only because there is nobody else sitting in there. The first 20 or 30 minutes are fine, as the bus slowly starts to fill up the places in the front. People start lighting sigarettes, luckily atleast 10% of the smoke goes out throught the tiny windows the driver opened. Then, there is the old lady with the massive bags who needs to sit in the back, and the fun begins. You have to squeeze, turn, twist and finally get stuck in some arobatic posture (my feed often can’t even touch the floor, even though that’s only 20cm under the couch), which lasts the next 3 hours. So there is that.
However, it often is a way to meet locals, which can make for some pretty funny stories. A couple of the highlights:
Georgetown, Malaysia, back into town from a temple
As the bus is quite full, I’m leaning with my back towards the driver, 2 older Indian ladies face me, looking the other way. At one point the bus brakes pretty hard, and the lady in front uses my body as a temporary wall to not fall over. In the Netherlands (or Europe) that would be fine, a short apology and nothing to it. Apparently, here it’s a bit of a thing; the whole bus scattered in laughs, and the woman couldn’t stop explaining how the bus braked, and she really couldn’t help it, and it really were the breaks, and sorry etc.
Bergastagi, Sumatra, back to town from the vulcano
We took a “agar” or “mara”, which is like a very little pickup-bus with seatings along the edges in the back, where you can squeeze in. People smoke in there, eat food and throw the trash on the ground, and the van is usually decorated colorfully with god knows what, you see the strangest stuff.
Anyways, we were sitting in this van, and 4 old ladies come in. With them speaking 3 words of English and we 3 words of Bahasa (indonesian), we quickly start of a heavy discussion: repeating names, a lot of pointing, laughing and smiling. At some point, the ladies request us to make pictures of them, which we did. Then there usually comes this point where you think you connected, and they want to get money. They ask if we can pay for their trip, passively aggressive. We can’t. Some semi-angry faces. 4 minutes later, the cheerful mood is back up and they show the scarfs they made, handwork batik, very nice and time consuming stuff. They ask if we have some cloths for them. We only have a bottle of water. One of the ladies suggests I can take of my shirt and give it to them. I pretend to not understand. The bus stops, and we really had to get out at that point. Such a shame.
Nihm binh, Vietnam, getting into town from a previous place
We took the local bus between two destinations. Arriving at the bus station, 5 people jump on you, “where you go”, “cheap bus” and the likes. After some back and forth and haggling, we find a guy that can take us for an okay price.
So we’re in the van, and as usual it starts to fill up after 20-30 minutes driving. The van is okay though, we have legroom, and the 2 side-drivers are having fun. A side-driver is an important concept here, and they have a range of important responsibilities, such as:
- hang out of the windows to replace the pinker lights. Apparently, the further you hang and wave with your hands, the easier it is to squeeze into the other traffic
- Shout to people along the road where you are going, in the hope they get in;
- Open and close the door to pull in people. Usually the bus just keeps driving;
- relocating children and old ladies in the van to squeeze in as much as possible.
In our van, we had 2 of these guys drinking some home made Wiskey-ish stuff which looked like a combination of yogurt and gasoline. Job (my brother) tried, I unfortunately am allergic to plastic bottles so I couldn’t. Such a shame.
These guys are having fun and yell and wave people down the street to get into this van, when they come up with the brilliant idea to ask Job to join in on the passenger-recruitment. So he starts hanging out of the window and shouting “ninh binh”, which apparently works pretty well, as more people from the road are pulled in and don’t protest too much, meaning they just became a passenger on this wonderful trip.
At some point we pass this scooter with 2 guys on it; so far nothing special. Job keeps shouting ninh binh, and the driver of the scooter nods his head towards one of the side-drivers, who shouts something. The driver slows down a bit (to perhaps 15/20 km an hour), opens the door and the passenger of the motorbike gets sort of thrown/pulled in, looking all confused. Some money exchanges hands, the passenger gets pushed in a seat, and the van takes off again. All of it took about 6 seconds, and we still don’t know if the passenger liked the agreement as all.