While I did a lot of grumbling about transport in Indonesia in the end of it all, I enjoyed the realness of it, if that makes sense. It always gave me small heart palpitations when ever I started a journey on my own, got slightly stuck somewhere and of course dealing with the colourful locals who run it. Whether it was discussing price, side stepping a dodgy deal or just embracing the vehicle that you were travelling in. It was always a hold your breath, go with the flow and hope for the best adventure.
In Flores the buses are sometimes just large brightly coloured trucks trucks with a roof or sides put on so that the kids can take them to school or locals can get from here to there. Passengers sit on roofs, hang out of the doors for smoke breaks and more often than not dance, rap and 90’s music is blasted down the road at full volume and speed. Across Indonesia I found they have a love of the Vanga Boys.
After my first and the best banana pancake of my trip, I headed to Ende by local bus where we haggled with about 10 Bemo drivers to take us to the local bus station. You always get one or two in the ranks who seem to be arguing in your corner, while others find it amusing and some just seem angry. Our bus had a puppy on the roof who cried for most of the trip. Poor thing, I would too if I was going around those corners on the top of a little mini bus. I swore I heard a chicken when I got on the bus as well but couldn’t see it. Half way through the journey a chicken stuck his head up from below the seat next to me clucking away. The gentleman to my left, like a chicken whisperer, softly petted the chicken and it resumed its quiet stance.
From Ende I took a shared taxi to Bajawa where I spent the night. A shared taxi is a mini-van for anyone willing to pay a tiny bit more and is technically a little faster than a bus and normally there are a few more people than seats but it is still less squished than a local bus. The highlight of the ride was introducing the world of photography to a six year old girl who was travelling with her grandmother. She was captivated as I pressed the button and the view before us appeared on the screen. She quickly became an expert, deciding which pictures were good and bad. She also thought it was hilarious that I would bother taking a picture of a pig or a band of puppies. Tourists eh?
My Bajawa stop proved to be truly cultural. I took a tour on the back of a motorcycle to a local food market on the outskirts of the town. I flexed my little Indonesian and newly learned numbers with the local sellers. They thought it was extremely amusing and those who spoke English were eager to chat asking me where I was from, whether I was married and explaining to me or trying to explain, what everything was. Next it was a visit to two local Ngada villages. It was amazing to learn about their culture and their society. I had a cup of tea with a lovely village elder who was as interested in my travels as I was in his life. The Ngada people are known for their hand made sarongs and carvings. Namely the Ngadhu which is a large carved pole symbolising the man which supports a round thatched roof.
The next morning it was an early start for a 7-9 hour bus ride to Labuanbajo. Chilled out chickens, locals using you as a pillow and wishing that I could do the same, stunning scenery – coastal views, rock cliffs, waterfalls springing outside of nowhere, one road side diner with your traditional squat toilets in a shed out the back, a rain storm and some mighty windy roads were all in store for me. It was a long haul but strangely, I really enjoyed it.
In all three of the Asian countries I travelled in, transportation, despite its hassles and more often than not my love hate relationship with it, it was always one of my favourite parts of travelling. Taking local transport and not the tourist buses was a chance to meet the locals, see more of the small towns, experience a bit of their life, save a bit of money and most importantly it was always an adventure.