A guest post from the lovely Sarah of "Where's My Toothbrush" fame.
After reading about her misadventurous travels I knew I had to get her to share one of her stories with you guys.
After all, those times when you are taken advantage of as a tourist make the best stories. Hopefully by sharing a few tales like Sarah's, you will be more aware of some of the tourist traps out there. I know I've fallen for a few, ranging from $3 to $600.
Take it away Sarah..
Nothing Good Happens After 3am
A member of my favourite band once preached to me, “Sarah, nothing good happens after 3 AM.”
Okay, you got me. He didn’t use my name. And yes, you’re right. He was actually talking to a crowd of about 200 or so sweaty Vancouverites instead of a personal conversation.
But, whatever. I totally believed him.
So much so that when I checked the time on my ATM receipt and it read 02:45, I began to anticipate the feeling of being absolutely and completely doomed.
Maybe it was this internal clock which I had superstitiously programmed to only start ticking once I had arrived at a lonely bus station on an even lonelier road in East Java, Indonesia.
Or maybe it was my gut.
I can never tell those two apart.
Looking back, I really wished that the bearded guitarist was a bit more specific about the whole “nothing good” part of 3 AM.
For starters, what were the exact hours of operation for this not-good part? Did I have to wait until sunrise for the good stuff to start happening again? Was the “nothing” bit sort of open to interpretation?
I am quite confident that had I pried a little further, I would not have been scammed some three years later outside the town of Probolinggo on the Southern side of Indonesia.
I just wanted to see an active volcano.
And maybe a little lava, too. You know, if it wasn’t too much to ask.
Independent Volcano Tours
Mt. Bromo is an active volcano (which I just found out, isn’t synonymous with molten lava), having just recently erupted in January 2011. For those wanting to watch the sunrise from Mt. Penanjakan, climb the ridge of the volcanic crater, drink thick-as-clay Indonesian coffee, and stay in the transient town of Cemoro Lawang, there are loads of tours to help you do this.
But you can also orchestrate the whole thing completely on your own.
And when you’ve been travelling for 6 months straight, spent the prior night wandering around Denpasar, Bali while pleading with hotel owners to reconsider their “NO VACANCY” signs, and feeling the general debilitating limits of exhaustion, well then, you know that self-orchestrated tour to Mt. Bromo?
It obviously seems like a really, really good idea.
I could say that I wasn’t on my game. I could say that I was sleep-deprived, bed-deprived, or even just general awareness-deprived. But that’s probably not the case.
The only plausible explanation I can think of for the series of scams I fell naively victim to, was that they all happened after 3 AM.
Getting the Wrong Overnight Bus
As most good stories do, this one starts with catching a shady (not in the good way) sleeper bus in Denpasar, Bali; attempting an independent tour to Probolinggo to save travel dollars.
Asking questions at the bus station in the middle of the night about which bus services Probolingo, and having seating charts shoved in my face with the promise of a “free snack” is really an ineffective customer-service angle. I finally found the bus on my own, with decals on the front window reading “DENPASAR →PR B L NG O”, it looked very promising.
With what I hoped would be some fast-paced molten lava in my near future, I wasn’t about to judge on a few missing vowels.
After confirming, reconfirming, and rephrasing the questions to just you know, confirm again, it seemed highly likely that we were headed for Probolinggo.
Nine hours later, we were dropped off somewhere in East Java. Everyone on the bus remained either fast asleep, preoccupied by clipping their incredibly long fingernails, or chain-smoking their way through a pack of Malboro Lights. The bus driver told us harshly to get off. We listened. The bus backed out and went in the other direction. It was headed nowhere near Probolinggo.
That ATM receipt
Conveniently (by which I really mean, inconveniently), we were dropped off in front of a tour-booking office.
I put in the minimal effort to try to haggle for a price in which I had no understanding of baseline or average costs. I wasn’t getting anywhere. That is until the shady (again, not in the good way) tour operator told us that we only had about an hour to get to Mt. Bromo before the sun would start to rise. With the trip usually taking well over an hour and half, we had some serious time constrictions.
He told us it would be a good day for visibility. He even drew a smiling sun wearing sunglasses on the receipt to prove it. He charged us each the equivalent of $35 USD for a “private jeep” (I hope you see where this is going with my use of quotation marks) to the volcano, and a pick-up two days later.
Agreeing to this price, we were shuffled to an ATM.
This is where I noticed the time.
This is where the “nothing good” part of the story starts.
Yep, We’ve Been Had
We would realize about 30 minutes later that “private jeep” was referred to in this relatively speaking sort of way. And well, relatively speaking, “private jeep” meant arriving at the entrance to the National Park and watching our driver plead with actual organized tours to let us join. Ourselves, and a small wad of rupiahs, were handed off onto an actual organized tour.
We would make minor small talk with the human-knot of travelers. We would abruptly halt the small talk when we found out that everyone else paid about half as much as we did for their tour, which just to rub it in, included a free night’s stay for most of them. We would bite our tongues when everyone talked warmly about their tour operator, their prior night’s sleep, or even all the legroom they had prior to us arriving.
We would realize a day later that the tour operator had actually taken $50 USD from my travel partner while we were standing outside that ATM/clock of doom.
We would sit bitterly in silence as we weaved up the adjacent Mt. Penanjakan to watch the sunrise.
We would hike our way up the mountain, panting, heaving, and cursing our naivety for blindly getting off that failed Wheel-of-Fortune bus, just because the driver told us to do so.
Catching the Sun
We would catch the sunrise in perfect time. We would find a hidden spot on a concrete ledge which was somehow missed by the packets of tourists arriving before us. We would watch in slow-time as the mix of cloud and volcanic smoke rose above us to project a clear day and an even clearer image of Mt. Bromo.
To my favourite bearded guitarist with a penchant for treating each and every concert-goer like they are the only person in the room, you are a little misguided…
Sometimes, even after getting scammed in East Java, Indonesia, something good does happen after 3 AM.