Hell Bus to paradise (Pangandaran Indonesia)

Have you ever been on a trip thinking, I could die here, only to look back years later and realize everything was alright? Well, this trip was not one of those. I’m still convinced that my bus ride to Pangandaran might have been the death of me.


I decided to take a week long surf vacation to Indonesia. I decided on a small town that had once been a major tourist destination, but had been hit by a Tsunami a few years previous. Since then the number of tourists fell down into a gravity well. I might as well go there then.


I landed in Jakarta at 8PM. Grabbed a local bus to Jalan Jaksa, a common backpacker’s destination. I found a room and dropped a few USD on a single bed room. No air-con. Thin mattress.  Enough mosquitos to make malaria seem like a real possibility. All standard stuff.


After a quick rinse, I headed out to grab a beer, met a few nice locals, and spent the night drinking a BIT too much. 7AM my alarm went off. I can’t tell you what time I got home, but false dawn was starting to show, so I estimate I’m on about an hour of sleep. I’m still a bit drunk, to be honest. I toss on my backpack, chug some water in a vain attempt to reduce my incoming hangover, and head out the door.


A bus comes, doesn’t really stop, just slows down a bit. I hop on the side. Now you may be thinking that being tired and drunk whilst clinging on to the side of a bus driving through a major city sounds like a really dumb idea… and you would be correct. However, nothing of note happened except I missed to the stop for the bus station. After the station stop, the bus hit a minor highway, so by the time I got to the next stop I was about 15 minutes away. So, I jump in a minibus headed towards the station and arrive in one piece. Not a great start, but easy enough.


Now, this is where things start to turn down crap highway. The bus ride should be 8 hours… with a bit of flex time, I figured 10 hours total. So, I bought two bottles of water at a little shop in the bus station. In my still quasi-drunk state, I forgot food… but only 10 hours, no problem.


7:50AM now. I find my bus and hop on, with 5 minutes to spare. The bus however, remains in the station for 2 more hours. Without A/C, I start to drink my water. I stumble through some communication with the driver asking if there is time for me to run to the shop and grab more water. No, we leave now, was the refrain… Perhaps even the mantra of this driver. In hindsight, I should have just gone. But, I really didn’t want to miss my bus.


Shortly after 10AM the bus departs… into a traffic jam. Another two hours later, we are cruising on the Indonesia highway headed south. It’s around noon and we are finally making progress. That is until our tire blew. The driver makes everyone shuffle off the bus onto the side of the highway. The driver and his co-pilot light a fire and start heating tire patches. It’s hot. Noon, no shade. I’m starting to get heat exhaustion. I cover myself in what few clothing items I bring with me when I travel. Now, I need to make a decision. I need to drink water, because I’m on the verge of passing out, but my logical side demands I ration it. I decide it’s better to drink it. Over the next hour I finish my water out of necessity. I start to feel dizzy, black dots in my vision. I ask around for more water by pointing at my bottle. Everyone else is out too. Nothing to do but endure it. Finally, the driver motions us back onto the bus.


It’s around 4PM at this point and we haven’t made it very far. I’m quite sick, both from dehydration and hunger. Oh well, nothing for it. Another hour goes by and we get into another traffic jam in a small town. A shop sits next to the bus… filled with skinned dogs hanging in the heat… surrounded by flies. You might say, would any idiot eat that? The answer would be a delirious and hungry idiot might. I bought some water from her and deep fried dog. It tasted okay. More importantly, I managed to wrangle two bottles of water out of her. The water was one of the best things I’ve ever had.


Happy ending? Nope. I started to get sick again about 5 hours later on the bus. I know it’s unlikely to be the dog due to the limited time window, but I haven’t eaten anything else in the last while… so, I’m blaming the dog.


Around midnight we pull into a rest stop. We are about half way. I’ve run out of water again, but there is a proper store. I fill half my backpack with water, quite confident Indonesia won’t make a fool of me again. I also decide to buy some food from the buffet. Again, not a smart move, but I want to keep my energy up since my food poisoning is only going to make me feel worse later. Either way, it was a mistake. It comes up a couple minutes later in the parking lot. Wasted water. No mind, I’ve got a couple gallons now!


I find the rest room. For those unfamiliar with Indonesian bathrooms, you need to squat to relieve yourself. Not an issue. Then clean yourself with a bucket of water and your left hand. This certainly requires you to wash your hands afterwards. Now this is where we reach another questionable part to this tale. If you are squeamish, skip this paragraph. There is a communal water basin outside. Normally it has a stream of fresh water running in and dirty running out, so it is typically a rather clean affair. However, this was stagnant. After I dunked my hands in to wash, I realized the basin was full of fecal matter. I’m a pretty well travel person and it isn’t easy for me to feel disgusted… but this made me gag a little bit. I broke off a chunk of soap, went outside and washed my hands with one of my water bottles. I did get some looks for using drinking water to wash my hands, but no mind.


Aside from the occasional vomit from my aforementioned food poisoning, the next few hours went okay. I personally think the bus driver took some rough turns on already shoddy tires… but I assume he knows what he is doing. And just as I was getting comfortable, someone kicked out my chair out from under me… not literally. The bus driver pulled over and shouted for a bit. Then everyone stood up to get off. A person who hopped on at the rest stop, who spoke a bit of English, eventually got it across to me that the bus driver was tired and another bus will take us. Alright then, off the bus.


We waited on the side of a two-lane road for a while. Eventually, another bus came by. My new friend motioned me to it. I got on. He didn’t. Well… crap. I hope he pointed me in the right direction.


Again, two hours of easy riding. Until we arrive at a bus station in the middle of nowhere, and everyone gets off. End of the line. This doesn’t look like Pangadaran… so I walk over and take a look at the bus schedule. Of course, buses to Pangadaran listed. First one at 9AM. It is currently 5AM. I’m not uncomfortable most places. But this bus station made me uncomfortable. People were staring at me, not with curiosity, or interest, but with open hostility. To this day, this is the only place I’ve been to in Indonesia that regarded me as such.


My default mode when I don’t know what to do is to not look like a tourist. So, I started walking with a measure of confidence. I wandered over to a stall that was open and bought a pack of gum while I pondered what to do. Still without answer, I walked to the highway and flagged down the first motorcyclist that passed by. I offered him 50,000 rupiahs (about $5 USD at the time) to drive me to Pangandaran, having no idea how far away it is. He counter offered at 100,000 rupiahs. We eventually settled at 70,000. Why was I bothering to negotiate at this time? I don’t know. I can’t help it.


He turned out to be a nice fellow (one of the first things to go easy on this trip). We had a good chat on the ride. His English was surprisingly good. Either way, an hour later we pulled into Pangadaran. He asked me where I was staying. I told him I hadn’t booked yet, but was planning on staying at the Bamboo House. He even woke up the owner of the hotel and negotiated for me. I paid, went to my room and passed out for 6 hours.


And that concludes the insane part of this trip. Or… for some, the pretty normal part of this trip. The rest is just good fun. Let’s go over some details in case you want to go there.


I stayed at the Bamboo House (https://goo.gl/maps/KQzSqVoJsDJ2) which is one of the best values I’ve had in a long time. It is a very short walk to the beach (200 meters) and well maintained. It is certainly a budget hotel (About $10-15 a night these days)… but if you are reading this blog then you should know that is basically our style.

The Bamboo House

The local beach in Pangadaran is quite nice, if a bit littered. It was great for surfing. The waves were pretty regular and decent sized. Beer was a dollar and food was about the same. To be honest, most of my vacation was surfing and drinking.

Ocean front view

The trip back was significantly less eventful, although it still had some interesting moments. However, I’ve been droning on for a while here. Perhaps, it is best to save that for another day.

Now, onto the best advice I can give you. You can skip the bus and fly for about $60 USD. Do that. Don’t think, I want to experience this BS. Just take the flight.


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