I’ve done quite a lot travelling like the locals do through the years; especially during my early travels, because back then I was as cheap as they come. My travel buddy Pernilla didn’t even allow me to buy a Twix, because the price for only one of those goodies was the same as 2 servings of fried rice and vegetables. I had to understand that!
Even though you have to stand native music at the worst possible volume and constant staring, it certainly has its charm to be so close to the natives.
That’s really why you travel anyway. It’s rather amusing to be the only foreigners/whities onboard, because that means they take excellent care of you. Mostly. They enjoy having you around. When we need to visit the toilet, they make a stop, and then they wait until we’re done, even though it might take 1 hour (it usually doesn’t, though). No problem! And no one on the bus is even the slightest annoyed for this stop, at least they don’t show it.
Here are some experiences which stayed in my memory particularly well.
City bus ride: Xi’an, China:
On our way back home to the guest house, from somewhere, the bus quickly got completely full. Asians being Asians (and this I say with love, so you know…), so they kept squeezing themselves into the bus, and just when you thought: “Well, now it has to be completely full! Not even one single person would fit!” – 20 or so small Chinese people kept squeezing in.
Pernilla and I were pretty fortunate, both standing by a window. Of course, there were no glass in the windows, so we were more or less half outside, because we didn’t really fit inside. I felt sorry for the poor souls sitting down on the seats where I stood. Could they even breathe with their heads in someone’s crotch?
It got harder and harder for the bus to even move, due to the overload.
Finally when the bus came to a halt and even more laughing Chinese people kept squeezing in through the doors I freaked – panic attack hell yeah! – so we simply climbed out of the windows. Then we walked the rest of the way home, but after about 50 metres or so, we turned around; the bus was still standing there – not moving, due to heavy load.
We understood this was probably some kind of evening entertainment for the Chinese, which we did not get at all.
Today, this bus journey is the most amusing and weirdest experiences I have of local traffic anywhere in the world.
Random train in China:
Travelling by train in China is also pretty amusing.
There are different classes, of course, and back then we usually chose the “2nd class hard sleeper”. Of course my travelling buddy “cheapy cheap cheap Pernilla” wanted the “2nd class hard sitter”, which basically was just simple hard wooden benches, but hell no, I put my foot down then and there, to end the craziness! Even though I was young, I was smart enough to realise that 36 hours on a wooden bench crowded by Chinese people, would not be my definition of fun, not even in hindsight, so I made sure I won the fight.
A hard sleeper is kind of a compartment, without doors, with 6 beds “inside”, kind of like the indian version below.
Pernilla’s snoozing in the heat, on a train in India.
I/we had not yet learnt anything about the trains in China, the one-week long Trans-Siberian did not really teach us anything more than to battle boredom and how to unfreeze frozen toilets, so the first time I was thrilled to have the bottom bunk. During the night while sleeping, it was quite alright, but at 6 a.m. this Chinese song blasted the speakers. Funny how it was always the same song, no matter which train we were on. BTW, it took me 20 years to find this song, after leaving China.
The song meant it was time to rise and shine.
Rise meant everyone regarded themselves as welcome to my bunk, so they simply pushed my legs and my feet to the side and sat down next to whatever body part, where they could fit, and if they didn’t fit, they simply pushed me further to the wall. Then they set the table with chicken feet and other delicacies.
One positive thing about trains in China was they had always hot water for tea or noodles, or whatever.
Next train journey I got the middle bunk, oh happy days, or so I thought! It then turned out I had a complete psycho under me, who was constantly spitting, like a normal Chinese, really. He actually managed to hit me one time with a gob – straight in the face! Rather unpleasant, really. How did he even manage? He was under me, so he must have aimed pretty well – spit on the white girl, gives you extra points. When he wasn’t spitting, he enjoyed himself by beating and kicking my bunk.
I kind of missed the uninvited guests on my bunk that journey…
Bus ride: Hampi – Goa, India:
In India (and Nepal for that matter) – if you’re a backpacker you prefer to travel on the roof while travelling with bus. At least that’s what we did during the 90-s… You get an amazing view; the country is incredibly beautiful, PLUS you don’t have to feel crowded with random people who all stare and touch your most private parts with no shame at all.
Me with a horde Nepalese guys on a really enjoyable bus journey in Nepal.
However, on this particular journey to Goa, we had to get down from the roof, when we reached the border to Goa, because it wasn’t allowed to ride on the roof there. I have quite a claustrophobic mind, so I wasn’t amused at all, when I climbed down and peeked inside the bus. Of course, there weren’t even the smallest space where we could sit, because the bus was already packed, and we were several backpackers who needed to get a seat inside.
The bus driver shoved aside some poor women in the back of the bus and showed me a spot, about 10 cm wide. That was my seat, apparently. I pointed towards the seat and then pointed towards my bum, while nodding/wiggling my head. “Nooooo, I’m too wide!” The indians laughed.
Finally we had to surrender, and a little later I found myself pressed against the door in the back of the bus. Some indian men sat just behind me, and another man stood in front of me. The one sitting behind me thought it appropriate to push his foot up between my legs, and the one in front of me, saw a great opportunity to grope a slutty white woman – probably his dream came true.
I screamed at both of them – repeatedly – to leave me alone, but they only repeated the phrase: NO PROBLEM. I wondered if they even knew the meaning of “No problem”.
Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t move, so all I could do was scream and just watch them and feel their hands (and feet) all over me. I couldn’t even push them away or fight my way out of it. When the man in front of me started to rub and squeeze my nipples the dutch guy who travelled in our company tried to save me by trying to hit him, but since he also was stuck in the crowd, it didn’t help at all.
My only salvation was when the bus came to a stop. Quick as a weasel I ran out, and up on the roof, and then simply refused to come down again. My travelling companions had joined me and we just sat there, on the roof, until finally the bus driver gave up and let us stay there the rest of the journey.
This is probably the worst experience of my life. I’ve never before (nor after) felt so helpless. To not be able to protect myself while two men had their way with me. Unfortunately, this is just one of the many disgusting experiences I’ve had with indian men, so I can’t say they’re on my favourite list, even though in my mind I know (also of experience) they’re not all the same…
The bus between Pushkar and Jaipur, India.
Helena and I were on our way to Flores, on a local bus, with hard seats, of course.
The only air con was the absence of windows, so the wind could blow right through the bus.
Helena and I were the only foreigners, of course.
It was about 1 hour of idling before we actually drove anywhere. In Asia idling isn’t really a big deal, not like back home in Sweden where we have laws for maximum 1 minute of idling.
Meanwhile, 1 hour later, we’re off. Or so we thought. It turned out, the bus only drove half around the station, to pick up some random guy standing at the back of the building. Then we returned to our original place, for some more idling. Ok.
Train ride in Indonesia (Jakarta-Surabaya if I’m not mistaken).
This should’ve been the first sign this journey would be everything but normal!
Finally we’re off; it was an all-nighter – a very long journey. The driver wanted some coziness so he put on his tape (yes, tape!) with native pop/rock music. Maximum volume! We finally realised this would be a very long night.
We soon noticed one of the songs playing more than the others. Why? Because it was recorded 4 times on this tape (this I discovered later, when I actually bought the tape to bring back home because of being brainwashed to actually enjoy the song!). When I asked the driver who the singer was the simple answer was:
“OOH, THE MAN FROM TIMOR.” Oh, yeah, right, him!
We tried to sleep for a while, like sleeping in the middle of a disco. After a while we started to have nervous breakdowns, laughed so hard until we cried, and then finally we fell asleep of pure exhaustion.
Suddenly we woke up – everything was so quiet. The bus was completely still, and it was empty. What? Had we already arrived, and nobody told us? We looked out the glassless windows. It was pitch dark. We slowly and cautiously stepped outside to look around. We were standing in the middle of nowhere – in the jungle, parked almost in the ditch.
Soon we heard sounds from a nearby mosque, and we understood.
It was time for prayer. Oh Lord! Allahu Akbar!
In the end we arrived, although pretty tired and worn out.
On the trip back to Bali we took the flight instead, which was actually nice, because we got so see Kelimutu from above.