Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Travel Malang, East Java, Indonesia, Wednesday, 08 June 2011 9:00pm

Instead of a night bus from Yogyakarta to Malang, I decided to take a door-to-door "Travel" minibus. The guy at the sales office tried to convince me I was making a mistake. I'd get a reclining seat on the bus, and aircon, and be able to sleep the whole way, and it would be direct, and faster. He was definitely right that the minibus was not super-comfortable, and it did take about 11 hours to cover a 9 hour route on the bus. I was the first person to be picked up and the last to be dropped off, so I spent the first hour of the trip within a mile of my starting point, and I think the last hour within a mile of my end point (though I don't know the geography of Malang well enough to be sure). But it was a good trip anyway.

One of the benefits of the Travel was that it went during daylight hours, so I got to see some of the places along the route. We also got off of the main intercity roads to make various pickups and deliveries of both people and cargo. A lot of these involved backtracking, cell phone calls, and asking passers-by for directions. The first third or so was urban, with slowly-decreasing density. Scooters far outnumbered cars, even in the city, but they started outmassing them in the aggregate as well. In the middle of the trip, we saw trucks, buses, and many, many scooters, but few cars.

Scooters are used for everything here, and it's been entertaining to see what people manage to carry on them: families of four; elaborately carved wooden benches; palm-leaf baskets that add two feet on each side to the width of the bike; strollers; haystacks taller than the rider; complete food stalls; stacks of potato sacks; dozens of pairs of boxed shoes; small flocks of live ducks, hung by their feet; whole shops, including glass and chrome cabinets filled with merchandise...

The urbanity eventually petered out into agricultural land punctuated by towns. I saw the full growth cycle of rice, from empty field waiting to be flooded, through wet planting, growth, harvest, threshing (using a scooter-towed portable threshing machine), to drying on the road. There was also abundant corn, what looked like sugarcane twice as tall as a farmer, and various fruits. I think durian must be the specialty of some of the hilly areas approaching Malang.

As we left the urban areas, speeds increased, and passing became more... exciting. There were a couple times where we had to come to a complete stop because it was clear that the oncoming traffic in our lane wasn't going to be able to complete their pass in time. The Travel driver was surprisingly good. I only felt like I was about to die once during the trip because of something he did, and he managed to avoid all of the other drivers who seemed less adept at judging the margins. Perhaps they're actually one step more adept, though, taking the Travel driver's skill in getting out of the way into account to allow maneuvers that would not be possible without active cooperation.†As dusk fell, we reached some beautiful hilly country in East Java. The straight, fast roads through the plains gave way to winding roads over hillsides. Passing became unreasonable, with restricted sight lines and scooters with no lights.

It's interesting to be in a Muslim country with a real diversity of mosques. In other places I've traveled, there has been a single dominant style, but not here. There are domes and towers, terraced roofs and flat. Conical minarets, round ones, and polygonal. Simple styles and plain colors and vibrant gaudy decorations.

I was exhausted and famished when I arrived at my hotel. A quick meal at the hotel restaurant was all I could manage before falling into a deep sleep.