by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
“Hey! We can take a bus from here to Flores to see the Komodo Dragons!” I yelled as I passed a shop with a sign in the window. We were in Lombok, an island in Indonesia next to Bali. We’d planned on visiting the Island of Flores where tours to see the giant lizards started.
So far, we had flown from Bangkok to Bali before taking a ferry to Lombok. Now we needed to go across two more islands before reaching Flores. As we were on a budget, any cheap transportation would be welcome. The photo of the bus looked nice and it was air-conditioned. Indonesia is always hot, very hot.
We found the tour office and paid for our tickets. The owner said a smaller bus would pick us up and deliver us to the big bus. He explained that it was cheaper to send small vans around to collect ticket-holders than sending the large bus. That sounded okay.
The next morning the van picked us up, then drove to several other locations on the island to collect other riders. We were the only Westerners in the van—and on the bus, we later found out. It dropped us off at the bus station and we all boarded. I get carsick and have found that sitting in the front where I can watch the road solves the problem. All the passengers found seats and the door was closed. Then men started passing cases of Coke through the driver’s open window. They piled them up in the door well, until they almost covered my view.
Our seat was old and the metal was rusty. Looking down the length of the bus, it was apparent that only the outside cover was new, or newly painted.
It was hot and we looked up to see if the air conditioner was working. Over our heads was a small opening, about an inch in diameter, and looked like it could belong to a small car. A very faint breeze came out and it wasn’t cool.
I soon found that the toilet in the back had not worked for years and hadn’t been cleaned for probably a decade.
We drove all day, getting off to use the ferry to the next island, which gave us all a chance to use the facilities on the ferry. Reaching the other island, we began to travel through the night. Sleep was impossible in the heat. We passed several other buses stopped by the side of the road with flat tires. We chuckled at them until our bus in turn developed a flat.
When the driver pulled over and got the door open, everyone on the bus piled out, some running to find a tree. The driver and a couple of men got the flat off and replaced it with another very thin tire. A shrill whistle signaled everyone to find their seats.
We drove for another couple of hours until the driver pulled over again. All I could see was a small shack. Men ran out to grab the flat, while another man rounded up a few large rocks. We stood and watched as the men set the rim on the rocks, then jumped up and down on the tire until they got it off the rim. Now they could fix the inner rubber tire. After about an hour, it was time to reassemble the tire. They placed the rim over the now partially inflated rubber and a group got back on and jumped. Somehow they were able to get it put together and finished inflating. But now everyone who had needed to use a tree was standing around watching. The heat was intense and the tire repair had taken about two hours. Our bus driver needed to meet the ferry before it took off.
He drove those roads like he was in a race while I held on for dear life. I could hear other passengers making distressed noises, and even though I couldn’t speak their language, the message came through clearly.
The bus pulled into a large parking lot with a ferry at one end and a few shacks at the other, about a long block from the ferry. He motioned us to follow him while all the other passengers ran toward the ferry. He placed our suitcases inside the shack, waved at us and drove away. My husband ran to the ferry, then back as quickly as a tired man can run. “Hurry, hurry! The ferry leaves in five minutes.”
We ran to the ferry together, each of us carrying our suitcase. It didn’t leave for an hour.
Reaching Flores, we found that we could fly back to Bali. Without a moment’s hesitation, we bought tickets. We would have sold our grandchildren to avoid another encounter with the Bus from Hell!