Day 1 – August 22, 2007, Was sound asleep in the midst of a dream when tne alarm screamed at me at 5.45 am. Called Sunlight Taxi and got picked up by a taximan called Bob Mengong who works as a part time photographer. Bob studied photography in Jakarta in 1992 for 3 1/2 years. Must be a good omen to be picked by someone associated with Indonesia since I was leaving for Surabaya.
The Air Asia flight was delayed again. It is my second time on Air Asia and it is the second delay, speaking of a 100% record. After an hour, there was an announcement for the passengers to queue and our joy was short-lived when we found out that they were handing out packed food with mineral water. We finally took off at noon after a 3 hour delay.
Landed in Juanda, Surabaya where clearing the Immigration and Customs was prompt. The tourist counter was fabulous. They were very friendly, gave us 3 free maps and pointed us to the Damri shuttle bus which cost us only Rp 10,000 pax to the Purabaya bus terminal at Bungurasih. The bus was very comfortable, clean and air-conditioned. Everything looked so perfect and we were beginning to love East Java.
We were immediately brought down to earth at the Purabaya bus terminal at Bungurasih where there is a Rp 200 fee for entering the terminal area. There were hundreds of touts everywhere. When we asked for buses to Bondowoso, we were lead to several buses heading anywhere else but Bondowoso. Finally, we decided to get on a bus to Situbondo on the advice of a lady who advised that we could catch a bus from there to Bondowoso when the Bondowoso bus did not appear after a 45 minutes wait and Mei got agitated by the minute with the continuous pestering by touts who were hovering around us like flies.
The seats were extremely cramped and the journey got worse as time crawls. Smoking on public buses seemed to be a national hobby as each passenger would light up after paying for their karcis. The bus stopped almost every 2 kilometers and I began to wonder whether will I ever reach Situbondo which is 194 km away. More people seemed to get up at each stop than getting down. After the tenth stop, we were all packed like tuna in a can and the smokers continued their race to kill their lungs.
It got dark early and the slow progress of the bus got me worried. I called the hotel to reconfirm my booking and to check on the availability of buses from Situbondo. I was informed that the last bus from Situbondo and that I am unlikely to make it. I was advised to get down in Besuki and catch a bus from there. That got us to near panic. Imagine being stranded in the night in an unknown little town in Indonesia. We were cursing Air Asia with all the superlatives we could think of. Our Angel of the night must have heard our curses because she, the bus conductor offered to help us to intercept any Bondowoso bound bus along the way.
Our Angel managed to get us a bus in Probolingo where we promptly thanked her and switched buses. The new bus took turn off from the main highway up into the hills. After negotiating an hour of a long winding road, we finally reached Bondowoso. We took two becaks which took us to our final destination, Palm Hotel (the locals called it Palam Hotel) at 9.30 pm ending our 15 hours journey where we finally get to eat our first meal since the grub Air Asia served us in LCCT.
(Palm Hotel – Tel +62 332 428530)