The Bukit Lewang bus cartel.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Bukit Lewang, North Sumatra, Indonesia
It was nice to wake up and feel totally back to normal again after our bout of random sickness. It was also good to be hopping on a local bus for a change and not spending money on the crazy inflated prices they charge for other transport around here.

The lady at our digs said she would grab the next bus heading to Medan for us and that it would only cost 10,000 rp each, around 60p to get to Medan bus station then from there we catch another bus for a similar amount on to Bukit Lewang. About 6-7 hours in total but nice and cheap.

The local buses here come about every 10-15 minutes even for longer journeys such as this which is good and you can also get on or off at any point along the route. So within 5 minutes she had waved a bus down for us. Our bags were thrown on the roof and we crammed ourselves in along with the locals.

The ride down to Medan was fairly nice and easy really. I think the fact we got on quite early in the route and had a seat helped as they cram as many people on as needed. People sitting on each others knees. four other people crammed in next to the driver. Young lads who end up sitting on the roof next to a dozen sacks full of oranges. That kind of thing really. But it makes for an interesting trip.

A few hours later and we had descended from the cool highlands down winding roads with stunning views all around and were pulling in to the hot sweaty still air of Medan bus station.

As we got off and grabbed our bags we were greeted by a sea of blokes asking where we were headed. We were soon taken to the stand where the Bukit Lawang buses pull in and grabbed a quick bite to eat before being called over to get on our next bus headed out. About 5 of the guys followed us closely and before we had a chance to get on one had a quick chat with the bus driver before turning to us and asking for 200,000 rp for the fare. What? 200,000! Thats only 80,000 less than it would have cost for a shared car to take us directly from Berastagi to Bukit Lewang. What had this guy been smoking? So obiously we said no and he then proceeded to ask how much we wanted to pay. "It's a public bus mate how much does it cost?" didn't really seem to have any effect on the guy. "Give me 150,000?" ....... "No" ....... "100,000?" .... "No...just tell me how much the fare is and we will pay that?". That approach didn't work and we refused to pay anymore than we should so the bus drove off along with what appeared to be a very confused driver.

So I went for a quick tour of the bus station to see if I could find out any more info or maybe another bus somewhere headed to Bukit Lewang but every person I spoke with pointed us back towards the same stand and the same group of guys. This should be fun. Two more buses came and went and each time they pulled in the guys spoke with the driver before we could get on and demanded that we pay the money they asked. They got down to 40,000 each, which isn't a huge amount back home, maybe £2.50. But that's not the point. I don't mind paying a little extra tourist tax, I expect to do that. But we just caught the bus down no problem for the local rate and I didn't want to give these idiots hanging around the bus station a penny. It's a bit like having some bully standing at your bus stop in Park Lane bus station and demanding that you pay double to get past him and on to the bus, crazy.

After another bus came and went we decided to take a walk away from these clowns to the street at the front of the bus station and try to stop one there as it leaves station. A few minutes later and sure enough we turned round to see one of the lads sat right behind us keeping an eye on what we were doing. Grief, just go away you fool. At this point a few more of the blokes came over and also two lads that they must have phoned wandered in from the street and straight over to us.

We now felt a bit surrounded and away from the other normal folks back up at the station. The two lads who had just arrived looked like pretty bad sorts as well and we felt a bit lost. We couldn't sit around here all day for the sake of £2.50 each and there were no other options for transport to where we were headed. So, considering we were now starting to worry a little about our bags and possesions thanks to the two new fools who had turned up and the rapidly increasing crowd around us we gave in and decided paying our 40,000 each and getting the hell out of there was the best option.

As the next bus pulled in again the driver was a bit confused by these guys cornering him and as we handed over our money and threw our bags on we watched the cash being split up with the driver just being given his usual fare. I hate this kind of thing when traveling, but you just have to get on with it and do your best. I have since read up about these guys and it's been happening for a while there now. It doesn't show up at all if you search about the buses for that particular route, only if you pop in the words scam or mafia etc along side it. So be warned if you ever take this route. apparently the best thing to do is completely ignore them from the begining. Throw your bags on and climb aboard and pay the driver when you get off. At least we know now!

So after around 8 hours, one normal bus, an hour wasted at Medan station and 3 hours of bumpy roads past God knows how many palm oil plantations we eventually arrived in the small town of Bukit Lawang. Not sure where we were staying exactly but knowing that all the guesthouses were together in a group we looked around for which way to head only to be greeted by a rickshaw driver saying he could take us the last couple of miles for 15,000rp ................... "No thanks mate, I think we will just walk this last bit"
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