Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Private Transport Is Not Always A Good Thing

Juta, Lynsey and I all left Air the same morning. There seemed to be a mass exodus, actually...and a fellow I'd travelled to Jogja with was on the boat, too. The boats crossed a watery divide you could skim a stone across, on a perfect sunny morning; the brooding volcanoes of Lombok a stunning backdrop as we headed for her shoreline.

We were taken for a ride, literally, as soon as we reached the sandy beach of the harbour. Cart drivers urged us along, alarmingly shouting that the buses left in 5 minutes. My arse. We paid well over the odds to ride two hundred metres to a tiny terminal, only to be told we'd be waiting an hour. You have to hand it to these cheeky bastards.

There were around thirty tourists waiting around for their transportation, and Lynsey and Juta left for theirs early. I was taken off on my own to one minibus and separated from the remaining passengers, who were being herded into two minibuses. Everyone books their tickets through different agents, so this didn't unduly worry me. What did perturb me, though, was the fact that I was driven off on my own. "Private transport, mate...lucky bastard" chirped one fella as I passed the group alone. I didn't feel so lucky as the other two buses headed along the main road, and mine took a left up into the hills; I felt a prickle of suspicion, the driver eyeing me warily in the mirror. The mind started working overtime. Robbery? Possible. Buggery? Shit. Multiple buggery? No, no, no...get a grip, mate...there's a logical reason for heading away from the sea when you're due to get a ferry from a port...surely? Lombok. Muslim. Bali bombings. Fuck. Islamic fundamentalists? Kidnap? Beheading on Al Jazeera? Nooooo...

The cold sweat was beginning to dry as I picked up road signs indicating we were heading the right way, and I nervously glimpsed the sea on a few occassions. Lembar was soon reached, and I was deposited at a cafe near the port's main entrance, the driver passing me over to a travel rep. No other Westerners in sight yet, so maybe the driver had foreseen traffic trouble. I need to curb this paranoia, that's for sure.

The rep sat me down, and proceeded to get right on my tits. He wanted my phone, a battered Nokia, in return for a brand-new Sony Ericsson. I told him I wasn't interested, and had all my contacts stored in this one. He wouldn't let up, coming back every few minutes and sitting down at the table, telling me he had to have my phone. An old man came in selling foot-long knives; I considered buying one for self-defence as this guy's mates started asking to look at my phone. You tend to start feeling more than a little exposed and vulnerable in these situations. It was then the other buses turned up and they were distracted.
We were stuck in that cafe for an hour; the wait punctuated only by the constant hawkers and thieves waiting for you to drop your guard. An American girl started arguing with a local tour rep, who responded by throwing his food in her face. Her male companion was visibly (but not literally) shitting himself as the row escalated. She stormed through the cafe with another rep following her...in one door and out of the other twice with him in pursuit. "Tom and Jerry" quipped one of the locals, and laughter eased the tension.
At last, we were shepherded to the ticket office...the familiar routine of getting the ticket at the last minute when it's too late to argue about the rip-off. C'est la vie. The hawkers followed us onto the ferries, as well as the thieves. One lad in a Perugia football shirt came up on the top deck, constantly swapping places every minute or two, hovering near unattended rucksacks. I gave him a long look to let him know I knew what he was up to. I mentioned his activity to an Englishman nearby, who nodded in confirmation "Definitely up to something." I told him I'd keep an eye on his gear when he got up to go to the bar with his girlfriend. Sure enough, as soon as they headed for the stairs, this guy was over and sitting amongst their stuff...innocently looking out to sea. I mused that he needs a lot more practice at this as the girl came storming back over and moved him.
The ship's horns sounded, smoke belched from the funnels, and the thieving rats scuttled from the decks. Luckily no-one had left a bag unattended; I wouldn't like to be faced with the dilemma of writing off my valuables or fighting a local for them, with all possible help departing the port as the sun goes down...

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