A train ride through Java

Jul 7th, 2015, 07:28 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I'm glad to hear that you were able to enjoy Bromo in spite of the crowds and that Ijen was better.

Sorry to hear that the travel agency (as well as the guide) were not up to snuff.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 8th, 2015, 03:44 AM
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Sorry to hear about your guide problems, but glad that all wasn't lost with your Bromo visit.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jul 10th, 2015, 08:10 PM
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I don't know if may people are aware but Indonesia introduced a system of "Foreigner Pricing" for its attractions in April this year. Effectively this means that foreigners now pay 10 times the rate for Indonesian citizens. This increase to 15 times at weekends. Most attractions now cost 217k rupiah ($17, $24 at weekends). It is of course entirely up to the Indonesian authorities how they run their tourism industry, but at a time when they are actively seeking more tourists, this hardly seems the way to go about it.

We asked Albert for the tickets from Bromo so we could take a photo for our blog. Imagine our surprise when we were reluctantly handed Indonesian tickets costing a tenth of what we had been charged! Querying this, Albert tells us that they didn't have any foreigner tickets at the entrance gate we used. It explains why, he told us to stay in the car when we entered and looked very concerned when I actually got out anyway!

Effectively we were being conned out of approx. 1 million Rupiah ($75). Not so much the money, I just hate being conned!

We arrive at Bondowoso and were expecting to stay, as agreed, at the Arabika guesthouse, the best place available. We had sat there in Malang whilst the tour rep "apparently" made the reservation. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up at the Catimore Homestay. Not a Homestay but a coffee factory. We are shown to our "room" basically a run down hovel, no hot water, no sheets on the bed, absolutely filthy, holes in the ceiling and a 1/4 mile walk from the main area behind a factory building and reight next door to a noisy generator.

By this time, my wife is livid and she asks to speak to the manager that we set the trip up with. She uses Alberts phone and explains that we don't like being conned out of the entrance fees ( she doesn't seem surprised in the least!) and that there is no way at we will be staying in that room.

Cut along story short the company agrees to refund the cost of our entrance fees, pay for dinner but there is nothing they will do about the switch in accommodation. We take the matter up with reception who first tell us that they are fully booked and, after some insistence, manage to find us another room ( still awful but better than the previous one). Albert seems quite relieved that we have got it sorted, although he had no part in the solution. He then says to me "don't worry about me, I will sleep in the car tonight". Astonished I replied "Albert I don't give a *!?x where you sleep".
Not entirely sure np it I think we may have got the room allocated to our guide and driver.

We agree a time of 5.30am to leave for Ijen in the morning, half expecting him and the driver to do a runner and leave us stranded!

Probably our worst nights sleep since arriving in Java. All the guests were early to bed as many were starting out at 01.30 to see the "blue flames". First the usual prayers over the loudspeakers for a couple of hours then, about 10.00pm the fireworks started. It was Friday and must have been some sort of special ramadan day. Kids were throwing firecrackers, rockets were being fired and most seemed to be landing on the corrugated iron roof of our room! A couple of hours later it finishes. Two hours more and then the jeeps start leaving for the crater. All hope of any sleep is gone.

At 5.30 on the dot, I open the door and there is Albert, waiting like a sentry. We jump into the car and set off. The previously cheerful friendly driver is sulking, presumably, angry at the loss of his additional revenue from the entrance fees? Albert, he just drops off to sleep, yet again.

Oh, I do feel better for getting that off my chest!
crellston is offline  
Jul 10th, 2015, 08:18 PM
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You clearly have reason to rant -- what a nightmare!
kja is offline  
Jul 10th, 2015, 08:55 PM
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Heavens! What a nightmare!
Kathie is offline  
Jul 10th, 2015, 11:49 PM
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It's always discouraging to deal with dishonest vendors, but particularly in Java where, as you say, the objective is to increase the number of tourists, not scare them away.
marmot is offline  
Jul 11th, 2015, 08:05 AM
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In Indonesia you have to accept corruption and add it to your travel expenses. 50,000 rupiah ($5) is the usual amount to smooth things along.

Our daughter-in-law and the other in-laws in Indo keep our costs down to local levels, but it's true there's a local price and a tourist price that are very different.
mareeS55 is offline  
Jul 11th, 2015, 08:30 AM
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Nice TR and sorry about your troubles. This reminds me of India. Entrance fees are way higher for foreigners and you seem to encounter a scammer daily. I was so happy to have used VP Singh of Legends and Palaces as his business was well run, no nonsense.
jacketwatch is offline  
Jul 11th, 2015, 09:39 PM
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I actually think scamming is relatively rare in the private sector in Indonesia. People in entrepreneurial tourism businesses -- like tour guides, restaurant owners, drivers -- genuinely want to please their customers. They are, however, reluctant communicators and are often too embarrassed to provide clear options when faced situations out of their control.

They are also victimized by greedy and unscrupulous public officials at every turn. As mareeS55 says, it's endemic to the culture and everyone, local and foreign alike, suffers.
marmot is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 02:01 AM
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Final instalment

It is a 3.2 km hike from the base station to the crater which could be tackled by anyone of moderate fitness. It takes most people around 1.5 hours to get to the crater rim as it is quite steep in parts. After around 30 mins the views become stunning, really one of the best hikes we have taken in a long time. We are up above the clouds and looking down upon the valleys and volcanoes. We did consider the 1.30 start to see the blue flames but are really quite glad we didn't. It was a nice temperature for walking, the sun was on the rise and it was the start of a beautiful day.

The big industry for the local people is sulphur mining and on the way up and down we pass, or are passed by dozens of these miners carry their loads of our yellow sulphur in two baskets on a bamboo pole across their shoulders. Each load weighs 55 kgs for which they get paid around $4! These guys look fit. Really fit! But their outward physique cannot possibly reflect what must be going on breathing all those noxious sulphur fumes day in, day out. Occasionally some will ask if you want to photograph them in return for some cigarettes. Really! Sulphur fumes AND cigarettes!!

Albert doesn't have much to say for himself so I ask him what he thinks his job as a guide actually entails - he considers for a while and replies "to show people the way". No Albert, you are supposed to tell us stuff about places, about the sulphur miners for example. Clearly this is beyond his remit so I just give up. He then gleefully points out a sign saying we are at 2300m altitude - yes Albert, I can read..

Along the way we are joined by one of the sulphur miners who, judging by his age, I assume has retired and turned to guiding for a living. He speaks some basic English only but in the two hours or so in his company we learn more about Ijen than we have learnt from Albert in the last three days.

Eventually we reach the crater rim. It is simply spectacular. By now it is around 8.00am and the sun is just peeping over the rim of the crater. Looking we can see the bright yellow of the sulphur deposits, the green and blue of the lake and massive clouds of steam coming out of the sulphur. From one minute to the next the view is constantly changing as the steam comes and goes.

It seems a long way down to the crater but as we stand and watch the miners coming up with their loads we ask "how difficult can it be?". Signs proclaim that it is dangerous and visitors should not enter, but clearly, many do. So, with our new found guide friend, we descend into what seems like the depths of Hades.

Not that bad really, even for someone like me, who hates heights, it is manageable. We stop frequently to allow the miners struggling with their loads to pass by. By now we really are in awe of these guys. They must rate amongst the toughest workers on the planet. All the way down our guide is point out the best places for photgraphs, is, like a true gentleman, assisting Carolyn every step of the way. He asks Carolyn my name and whether we have children. From then on he refers to me as "Papa Clive"! How you doing Papa Clive, watch your step Papa Clive...

After 30 mins we reach the lake and the sulphur deposit. Incredible to think we are but yards away from liquid sulphur bubbling up out of the earths crust!!

By now the fumes are choking and our guide insists we put on the gas masks he has brought (Albert could learn so much from this guy - or at least he could if he hadn't stayed at the top!)

We spend around 20 mins at the base of the crater. It is an absolutely stunning experience. We are lucky in the there is no cloud to mask the views and the steam from the crater clears regularly to afford some spectacular sights which doesnt always happen apparently.

Time for the long slog back up to the rim of the crater. Surprising my knee is holding up well despite the terrain but I fear I my have problems on the way down.

Halfway back up one of the miners stumbles and nearly falls only to be caught just in time by my wife. Much to his relief and the great amusement of our guide and his fellow miners who witnessed it. Saved by a woman - how embarrassing!

The trip back down the mountain affords yet more amazing views. The sun I now up and there is less in the shadow of Ijen so on balance, I am glad we decided not to visit the crater in the middle of the night to see the blue flames as we would have missed these spectacular sights. We spoke to a few people who did get up to see the flames but they failed to put in an appearance so rising at 01.30 was a bit of a waste of time.

Now onwards to Bali - I need a beer!

The Ijen visit has been the highlight of our trip so far. Bromo was impressive and easier to visit, but Ijen is something else entirely. I would highly recommend including it in a trip to Java. It is well worth the effort. Just avoid Sunrise Holidays and a guide named Albert..
crellston is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 03:43 AM
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Ijen sounds spectacular. Glad you had an enjoyable visit in spite of the challenges you experienced with your guide. Hope the Bali portion of your trip is much smoother.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 08:25 AM
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Thanks so much for your report, Crellston. As you know, we didn't make it to Ijen, so I just get to see it through your eyes. I'm glad you found a real guide there.

I'm increasingly grateful for having a recommendation of a local agency in Yogyakarta after reading of your experience of a local agency in Malang. In a couple of places, our agency bought group rate tickets for us - but that was the amount we paid, no mark-up.

I don't mind paying more for admission to sites than locals do - I've seen this all over the world. Even here in Seattle, if you live in the county you pay less to get into the Chihuly Museum of Glass than if you live elsewhere, as our tax dollars helped pay for it. But I hear you that you were charged the foreigner rate but Albert bought you local rate tickets and someone (maybe Albert) was pocketing the rest.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 11:17 AM
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Sounds like great sights, lousy guide. Better than the other way round, but still infuriating.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 12th, 2015, 06:19 PM
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The question of dual pricing is a difficult one. Whilst it does grate, there is some equity in the approach on the basis that relative incomes in more developed countries are often way higher than in many places like Indonesia. I don't really have a problem with that as much as being charged the higher price and the guide/driver/officials pocketing the difference. On reflection, Albert was probably being led astray by the older, more savvy driver (who certainly took great exception when we rumbled what was going on!)

The change in pricing structure seems to be regarded by many as a major opportunity to make some extra cash. I seriously doubt whether much of the revenue is ending up where it should.

One day in Bandung we were guests of the Indonesian Tourism Authority who were very keen to promote Java and increase visitor numbers. I did point out to one official that suddenly increasing charges for foreigners may not be the best way to go about it but if the cash is being used to improve the infrastructure, sights then that is fair enough. Their country, their choice, I just happen to think it is not the right one.

Maree55 - just read your comment "In Indonesia you have to accept corruption and add it to your travel expenses" . I couldn't disagree more, bribery merely adds to the problems. . Accept it and corruption never goes away. I could tell tales of the endemic corruption we experienced when working in Sierra Leone, a country which is surely the most corrupt on the planet and corruption is a way of life. When working for an NGO there I was even asked for a bribe by a UN official!
crellston is offline  
Jul 13th, 2015, 07:28 PM
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Wonderful serendipitous travel story! Ijen is definitely on my to do list.

How was the drive and ferry to Bali? As you're probably aware Bali airport has been closed off and on over the past few day due to that spewing volcano in east Java. This has caused absolute havoc for those trying to leave Bali to end their holidays (visitors) or to start their holidays (locals).

We have friends visiting Bali who need to get to Hong Kong for their connecting flight back home. They are thinking of driving to Surabaya. Seems extreme, but the situation is most unpredictable.
marmot is offline  
Jul 13th, 2015, 10:18 PM
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Glad you enjoyed it marmot and thanks once again for all your help.

Just seen the news re the Bali airport closure. We seem to have the knack of always missing these events by a few days - hope our luck continues. I read that Air Asia have now recommenced flights from Bali but I guess it will be a very lucky traveller that gets on one of those flights!

I am not sure, but I think the volcano in question was one we could see from Ijen that was blowing smoke when we were there.
crellston is offline  
Jul 14th, 2015, 06:06 AM
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Wow, Crellston, great report! And you even went down into the crater. Wonderful. Now I can "see" what the crater really looks like. We too found Ijen extremely interesting - though we saw the crater in a completely different light. It was totally socked in that day.
But our guide insisted we go to the top nonetheless - where it was interesting in its own way - so foggy - like being on surface of the moon almost.
glover is offline  
Jul 15th, 2015, 12:47 AM
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Thanks glover. When I get around to it I will be posting photos on our blog so will post a link here so you will be able to get a peek at Ijen sans fog!
crellston is offline  
Jul 16th, 2015, 01:36 AM
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What a wonderful word-picture you paint of your visit to the crater! I really can visualize it -- even smell the sulphur!

Great story about your experience in dealing with your "guide" and the agency -- and kudos to Catolyn for her grand rescue!

progol is offline  

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