For sadomasochist travelers Indonesia has a lot to offer.
You can fly on vintage airplanes that have done enough miles in their lifetime to get to the moon and back – one of Jupiter’s moons that is – and you can travel on aging, rust-bucket inter-island ferries that seemingly defy all known scientific laws and somehow remain afloat (but not always, unfortunately for those onboard at the time).
And you can take a long distance bus ride.
And believe me, when I say long distance, I mean long distance. I’m not sure what the longest bus journey in Indonesia is (my personal record is the 30 hour torture trip from Medan to Bengkulu in Sumatra) but it is quite possible to go from Jakarta to Banda Aceh for example (1,830 KM), and even from Jakarta to Bima – a grueling three-day trip, including three ferry trips (you’d better pray the seas aren’t rough)!
To make the journey especially uncomfortable the bus company will astutely take out the seats when they first procure the bus and then refit them – but adding even more seats - so there’s basically no leg room whatsoever (unless you’re about the same height as a 4 foot 2 inch midget!)
And then there’s the bus driver: a psychotic, chain smoking Michael Schumacher wannabe. Try and tell him you’re on a windy, pot-holed road and not the autobahn and he won’t give a damn. So be prepared to have your guts tossed around a bit!
Entertainment is provided in the form of gut-thumping dangdut music and - if you’re lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) – low budget skin flicks that certainly wouldn’t get passed by the National Film Censorship Body. Cigarette smoke comes free. And for nosh, the bus will stop off at Padang restaurants on the way – but only when the bus driver feels like it. As for doing nature’s business, well, you’ll need a very strong constitution indeed – and preferably a poor sense of smell and bad eyesight as well – if you’re gonna venture into one of the Padang restaurant restrooms (remember that scene from Trainspotting? The worst toilet in Scotland?)
So, that in a nutshell, is long distance bus travel in Indonesia. And a damn good reason to make lots of shorter trips instead!