We got the chance to visit an Indonesian home yesterday. The circumstances could have been better, but it did restore my slightly shaken faith in the good people of this land; I have an underlying belief that most people are nice. And it seems that most people are. But not everyone.
We should have seen the warning signs really. But after 10 hours of train travel, the offer of a private minibus from the train station all the way to our remote mountain village (rather than going to the bus station and taking a public bus) seemed like a great offer. The price was pretty cheap, and there were some French tourists heading our way also using the minibus, so we clambered on.
The first sign was that we went to their office first, where we had to disembark and pay. Not too much of a worry. Then they tried to sell us various guided tours; but not too much of a worry given that this happens a lot around here. The real warning sign was the National Park Entry Ticket they tried to sell us for 217,000 IDR each (the guide book says it costs 2,450 IDR). They had a copy of one with a date stamp, which they showed to us several times to ‘prove’ how much the price had gone up. I knew that was a scam, but we explained we would buy our National Park Entry from the park rangers, and they accepted this. We knew they were trying it on, but thought that would be the end of it.
About 4km from our destination, the minibus stopped and the driver claimed this was the park boundary (we knew from the guidebook this was not true). He tried to collect the 217,000 IDR from all of us. We all refused to pay. There was much discussion, and the Indonesian driver became very angry and insistent that we pay. He told us he wouldn’t drive us the rest of the way. He was scaring us, we didn’t like the situation at all. So, we got off the minibus and walked.
It was a grueling 4km. With a 20kg backpack each for me and Ferg, and the kids with a fair load each, we made slow progress up the seriously steep slopes in the dark. The kids did so well, no complaining, just one foot in front of the other, steadily gaining height. The Nepali training paid off. The stars were out and the mountains in shadow looked beautiful in the twilight. However, it was very hard work.
Eventually, after an hour, we stopped and sat down on our backpacks for some water and some peanuts. A family came out of a nearby house and asked us where we were heading. Neither our Bahasa Indonesia nor their English were enough for the full story, but they established that we were heading for Café Lava Hostel, it was dark and late, we had tired children and heavy bags, and they wanted to help us.
The man of the house took Ferg and a couple of bags on ahead to the hostel on his motorbike, while me and the children were shepherded inside for hot coffee, and offered some snacks. It was so lovely to be looked after by complete strangers, I found it very touching. The home was just a couple of rooms; the main front room containing a giant bed (that I suspect the whole family sleep on), a TV, a table, and stack of plastic chairs, which were laid out for us as visitors. The TV was showing what was clearly the Indonesian equivalent of the X Factor, and the family were sitting around with blankets around their shoulders (it’s cold up here in the mountains at night) drinking coffee, smoking the strange clove scented cigarettes that abound in Indonesia, and having what we would call in England a ‘Big Night In’! The house was very different to ours, the snacks and drinks completely different, but we were united by our appreciation of the X Factor and temporarily bonded over a pigeon English discussion of the merits of the various singers. What a lovely experience.
After several motorbike trips up and down the mountain, ferrying children, bags etc, we all arrived safely at our hostel. The kind man asked for no money, but we gave him some anyway. I am so glad that we met with this kindness to take away the bitter taste that the minibus driver left us with.
As we walked into the hostel, we met the French tourists from the minibus. It turns out that after a stand off, the driver eventually took them all to the destination, and the money was not paid. But hey, we had an experience on the way, and we felt safer walking. I would not have got back on his bus, who knows where he would have taken us. All’s well that ends well, and it’s public transport and meter taxis all the way for us in Indonesia from now on.