The zen of riding a bus
I’ve been diligently reading up on how to use public transport from Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport to Ubud. In cities like Beijing and Jakarta, I’ve always used pre-paid taxis, which is the easiest, yet most expensive mode of transport. It’s an easier decision to make when it’s not my money to spend!
But this time, I decided to be more aware of my surroundings and to be a little more adventurous. The best investment so far for my trip is my Rough Guide to Bali & Lombok. The book provides detailed instructions on how to use public transport, or what they’re called in Bali, bemos. A trip by bemo to Ubud would involve three different bemos and cost around Rp11, 000 in total (about RM4.50).
The good thing is that I am used to long bus rides. For about a year, I had to commute by bus from Kuching to Sematan, a beach town on the western tip of Sarawak. If you took the express bus, you’d only have to make one stop to Lundu, where you would change buses. Otherwise, it’d be at least three buses all the way to Sematan, where the first stop is Bau. I usually took the express because it was the quickest and I didn’t want to keep my boatman from waiting too long (as well, there was the sea conditions to think about). But sometimes, whenever I had the time to spare on my way back to Kuching, I’d skip the express and its relatively comfy (yet dried puked-on) seats, and take the ordinary bus. The bus rides from Sematan – Lundu, and Lundu – Bau were fascinating. Sometimes, I’d be sitting almost all by myself in the bus, with an old man a few seats ahead, with a hen firmly tucked beneath his arm. Other times, I’d have to fight for space with over twenty schoolchildren and their bags, squealing and giggling throughout the ride. Unlike the express, the ordinary bus would huff and puff along its way, stopping at every inconceivable bus stop. I remember one time when my bus stopped at apparently no reason on this long empty stretch of road. On either side of the road, there was no hint of civilization whatsoever, only palm trees amongst thick bushes, waving quietly in the cool breeze. Puzzled, I peered through the window and almost jumped out of my skin when a woman carrying a native rattan backpack, filled with jungle produce, popped out of nowhere from the bushes and calmly boarded the bus.
Each house along the bus route, had its own bus stop. They were ingenious little wooden huts, with long benches. Depending on the fruit season, it wasn’t uncommon to see a gaggle of women (always the women!) gossiping in the huts, with an array of fruits displayed on the dirt floor. I’ve always wondered how the bus driver was able to discern the fruit sellers or loungers from the would-be passengers. He wouldn’t just stop at every single hut with an occupant in it. I’ve always enjoyed watching the little chats the bus driver would have with each departing passenger as well.
The ordinary bus is not air-conditioned like the express. And I preferred it that way. Coming from Sematan, you would get the sea breeze floating through the open windows and sometimes, passing through the villages dotted along the road, you’d be able to smell the sights. Good, bad – it didn’t quite matter for you were part of the scenery for the briefest while, and not in your own isolated bubble of an air-conditioned vehicle rushing past.
As much as I wax lyrical about my time on buses (besides Sematan, I used to take public transportation all the way to Lubok Antu), I’m fully aware that you have to be in a certain frame of mind to enjoy your bus ride. You should be relaxed, not in a hurry, and open to the uncertainties of what constitutes a bus ride (flat tire, no available seats, smelly man breathing down your neck for two hours). The destination ceases to be your priority, instead the journey becomes omnipresent. How you get to your destination is not important, but rather how you face your journey, despite the bad – with humour? Tears? Melancholia? Stalwartness?
Believe me, I’ve had my share of worst moments on the bus. For the first couple of years living in British Columbia, bus transportation was the only way to go for me. I’ve been felt up, rubbed up on the bus. It was all very traumatizing but I couldn’t stop taking the bus – I had no other alternative to get to school. And so despite all that, I still continued taking the bus. I couldn’t change what happened but I could change the way I view my surroundings. I became more aware of who was around me. Other women are always the safest bet to sit next to. Always sit in the front, if possible.
I don’t know whether I’m going to have more bad moments on the bus but I do know that my past bad moments won’t – haven’t – stopped me from doing what I want to do.
So! No. 57* of Things To Do in Bali: Ride a bemo!
*just a random number - actually, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with fifty-six things to do in Bali, so don’t bother asking!
**as much as I love bus rides along scenic routes, bus stations are a wholly different matter, no matter how Zen I may be. Puduraya added ten years to my life, I swear. The toxic levels of that place is inhuman!