The Art of Riding the Bemo

Hi, all. Feeling reminiscent and there are still a million billion things I wanted to blog about in the past but excuses ranging from long-lost stolen cameras to inane enthralling graduate student life has set me back. However, I have learned a lot from my experiences and know what it is like to be a lone traveller asking themselves, “how the flying EFF did I get myself into this situation?” One of those many occurrences was in Bali, Indonesia. Being a traveler on a budget, I was getting tired of taking the “hired drivers” from point A to point B throughout Bali. The bargaining was exhausting and I knew I was getting ripped off regardless at how well I thought I had handled the situation. I knew there had to be something better. I knew that the public transportation existed and in Bali, it is known as the mysterious “bemo”. Lonely Planet mentions taking it and tries their darndest to get their point across, but in my honest opinion I still had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do to catch the bemo. So I am just going to share with y’all what I did and give you some suggestions. NOTE: I had already arrived from Ubud to Denpasar by hired car so therefore I know nothing about bemo-ing in Ubud. Looking back on what I had learned in Denpasar, I think I could have definitely figured it out and it would have saved me a lot more money. But, c’est la vie.

Okay. So I spent the day in Denpasar and had one more full day remaining in Bali before returning back to Vietnam. There were three things that I really, really wanted to do, and thought if I could accomplish 2/3 I would be be satisfied. I wanted to see Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Taman Ayun, and to visit a balian(a traditional Balinese healer (I know, I had to at least get in one Eat, Pray, Love moment)(and for future note in this post–the Balian I wanted to go see was allegedly in Tabanan)). I actually managed to do all three–and all three were DEFINITELY their own adventures. All completely absurd Laurelbury Tales that will hopefully appear in posts to come.  I chose those three things because it seemed like they were all relatively close to Denpasar and could be done in a day. I knew that I could visit the two temples (Pura Taman Ayun and Pura Tanah Lot) via some booked tour that goes to both places. I also know that Pura Tanah Lot is supposed to be immaculate at sunset so that is when all of the buses time going there. Well, if you are like me and like to try to do your own thing (whether it is the most intelligent thing to do is another question, but still my style nonetheless), I wanted nothing to do with the overpriced, obnoxious tour groups. So I challenged myself with conquering the bemo.

Leaving bright and early in the morning, I headed to the the Ubung bus terminal in Denpasar–allegedly where all bemos leave from. I knew you could flag them down off the street but since I really had no idea where I was going, I decided to leave from the hub. Since I was staying on the SE side of the city, it was definitely more convenient to try to find a taxi (Blue Bird only!) to take me there since the station (if you really want to call it that) is on the NW side. Okay, step one complete. I was following this guide that I found online that listed the different colors going to which different direction. The LP also kinda sorta gave me a general direction to head in so I knew which town each sight was supposedly found. The first item I wanted to check off the list was Pura Tanah Lot because I wanted to avoid crowds at all costs. I cannot stress this enough–yeah, I am sure the temple is great at sunset, but I really had the place to myself for a while since I got there right about when it opened. And considering it is the most beautiful place on Earth, I tend to prefer to enjoy those places in peace.

I arrive at Ubung bus terminal. Everyone is looking at me like I have ten heads because I am a white, red-headed girl who obviously looks like she has no idea what she is doing or where she is going. No other foreigners around–it was quite stressful. To get to Pura Tanah Lot, you have to take a bemo to Kediri and then transfer to another bemo to take to Tanah Lot. Each one is about 20-30 minutes. Basically, what I ended up doing was asking a bunch of people to point to a bus that was going to Kediri. My recommendation is to just have the word written neatly and point to it so maybe someone nice will point you in the right direction. What ended up happening to me was that a million people were offering me to drive there privately for a hefty fee. Just be persistant and hopefully someone will point you in the right direction. It sounds like a nightmare, and it kind of is, but if you don’t completely lose hope, there is a bus leaving for there. I promise! I ended up just going up to different buses with lots of people on them and asking them if they were going to Kediri. Finally one pointed to another that was driving away. So therefore I go running after it, quite a sight I am sure. The guy (kind of slows down) and I am jogging in a long skirt next to it asking if it goes to Kediri. He says yes and I basically have to hop on without it stopping. “Love the journey,” right? Phew. Now that I am hot and sweaty and it is 7:30AM, let’s see if I am actually going to where the driver says I am. Luckily (?), being a young, white girl, people tend to be very intrigued about the person who chose to ride in this crammed, overheated bus than do what all the other white people are doing. I made friends easily and that is really what makes all of the hassle worth it. I had confirmed that I actually was going in the right direction. The bemo was destined to go to wherever the ferry takes off from to go to Jakarta and Kediri was just on the way. Now, I cannot confirm 100% that was where the bus was headed, but it seemed to be where everyone was going. Looking back, I think I was on the blue bemo labeled “Gilimanuk”.

Anyways, I made some nice friends that taught me some words in Javanese and taught them some English words–jolly good fun. However, be careful not to get too distracted (one, due to pickpocketers), and also because you don’t want to miss your stop like I almost did! So after paying next to nothing to get to Kediri, I am looking for this alleged transfer bemo that was going to Tanah Lot. The Kediri bemo drops you off at some random intersection and what you want to do is if you are facing the direction that the bemo dropped you off, turn to the left and keep walking. You will see a bunch of little markets just beginning to open up (if it is morning) and there are a bunch of bemos parked all around. I asked somebody if this is where I could get one to go to Tanah Lot. He said it was too early for them to be running but he would start going in that direction if I paid him. We bargained an extremely agreeable price, only a little more of what I paid to get to Kediri, which was basically nothing. So off we went (putting faith in humanity). We picked a bunch of other people flagging down the bus along the way so I felt pretty comfortable that we were going in the right direction. After about 20 minutes, he drops me off at the parking lot entrance.

shotgun!

shotgun!

bemo AC

bemo AC

Tanah Lot is another blog entry in and of itself, so stay tuned….after finishing up at the temple, I basically just started walking down the street that I was driven down (mostly just rice paddy after rice paddy) and as the LP suggested, “somebody will pick you up”. I didn’t want to wait for a bus because I had no idea what time the next bus was coming, especially since it was still pretty early. So once again, putting all my faith in the goodness of humanity, I start walking for about 10 minutes and some guy on a motorbike asks where I am going. I told him I needed a ride to Kediri and we bargained a price and basically he just drove me back to where I was dropped off by the first bus. He ended up saying a different price that we didn’t agree on and there was a brief tiff, but basically I ended up getting a tad ripped off, but whatever…nothing horrible–just annoyed it wasn’t what he had said before.

Now to find the bemo towards Tabanan to try to hunt down my balian. I basically just hopped back on the bus in the same direction towards Gilimanuk. I waited on the side of the road and finally waved at a blue bus that said “Gilimanuk” and it stopped. I asked if they were going to Tabanan and they said yes. So I got on. Similar experience again and I was relieved to seem to know where I was going this time. Literally the only information I had about the balian was what I had gotten from this website — I was planning to go here: “I Gusti Ngurah Rai,   Puri Aseman, Kerambitan, Tabanan”. I literally had no idea what any of those words were referring to. I showed the ticket guy after I got on the “address” and he said okay. Later, he asks to see it again and then starts to send it around to everyone else on the bus and everyone else on the bus had no idea where this is referring to. As I start to get a bit nervous, they say they know where to take me. THEY TAKE ME TO THE TABANAN POLICE STATION. I am literally just dumped off at the police station, the ticket master explains something to the police officers who have no idea WTF is going on and then the ticket guy just runs back on the bemo–I never even paid anything. I am just left stranded. Well, by the stroke of God, everything ends up working out through a series of very ridiculous events and I end up finding my balian and everything is swell. My balian ends up being in the most outskirt of an outskirt of an outskirt. Like—there is no roads where my balian lives. And my ride left ages ago. So now I am stuck in the tiniest village known to mankind.

How did I manage to get to Pura Taman Ayun? I didn’t catch a bemo–I kind of cheated and made really good friends with the balian’s family who ended up driving me all the way to Pura Taman Ayun so I could make it there before it closed. Once again, a breathtaking place that I would surely urge you to not pass up. It was about a 30 minute drive from Tabanan town center and I am sure if I had gotten back to the town center I would have been able to find the bemo that ran there. As I was waiting for the bemo back to Denpasar, which you can apparently pick up just up the road, there were a million drivers heckling me to take me back to the Ubung bus station. I finally gave in because I was so exhausted and virtually had paid nothing the entire day for transport. It wasn’t a bad price, especially after two other people joined us. I was brought back to Ubung and cabbed it back to my hotel. It was definitely a day to put down in the books.

Hopefully there will be more posts regarding this day–however, I am sure I’ve already maxed out much of your attention spans. I guess I halfway conquered the bemo. I do truly understand why it is so hard to guide books and websites to clearly explain how to get places. All I can say is that you should do your research ahead of time and just embrace the journey. In a nutshell, it is definitely doable and you save SO MUCH MONEY. So if you are up for the adventure, I’d say go for it. I wish I had been braver earlier on and tried it out in Ubud, but now I know what to expect. Be smart, but be flexible…because I am convinced every person’s bemo story is one-of-a-kind.

I can only hope this was some sort of help to someone. At least to clarify that the bemo is a bit…complicated.

fellow bemo drivers

bemo drivers

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