The “Best” Tour Ever

For some reason, despite the fact that not a single tour we’ve done on this trip has gone well, I’ve yet to learn my lesson. You would think after the disaster that was our Great Wall Adventure we would have written off tours forever. In fact, we have signed up for several other one – three day tours without much more success. Our tiger leaping gorge tour was only marginally better and even a boat ride of Inle Lake in Myanmar that we arranged resulted in a visit to at least 5 “crafts dealers.”

These tours got so predictably bad that I stopped writing about them – it didn’t seem worth the trouble to relive them. Then, things hit a new low with our visit to Bromo Volcano in East Java.

We initially had every intention of visiting on our own until we discovered that all the accommodation at the base of the Volcano had been booked months in advance by tour agents. Our only options were to take a tour or to stay in a neighboring town and wake up at midnight to catch the sunrise.

Unsurprisingly, we picked the tour. The deal looked pretty good:

Day 01

  • Train from Yogjakarta to Probolinggo
  • Transfer to Bromo hotel
  • Overnight at Bromo

Day 02

  • Pick up from hotel at 3:30 am
  • Sunrise at view point
  • Bromo Crater hike
  • Transfer to Smpol Village
  • Overnight at local hotel

Day 03

  • Tour of village, transfer to Inje Crater
  • Guided Hiking
  • Transfer to Bali via Ferry

The only problem was we already had flights to Bali, so instead of the Ferry we wanted to be transferred to the airport. We were told it would be no problem.

The tour included all accommodation, transportation and breakfast. The rooms would be private with our own bathrooms, and hot water. Sounded perfect.

Things started off well enough – we arrived in Probolinggo and met our minibus to transfer us to our hotel. The ride was about an hour so we loaded our bags in the back and settled in. I shut my eyes and drifted into a nap, only to be awaked by the sound of the entire back row screaming. I snapped awake to see that the back hatch had flown open, unceremoniously dumping all our bags in the road. It took a while to stop the driver and by that time our bags were far enough away that we had to run down the road to grab them. Besides a few brand new holes, the bags were okay and we preceded on.

We arrived at our hotel only to be told that there weren’t any rooms for us. Instead we would be staying down the street at another hotel. The hotel itself was fine, but of course there was no hot water and only one shared bathroom. This is pretty par for the course with these things – the old bait and switch. You find out when it’s much too late and you are much too far up a volcano to do much else.

We were paired up with a Dutch couple, and the next morning at 3 am the six of us set out for our “jeep” tour of Bromo. What came to pick us up was scarcely different from the Barbie Electric Jeep’s  I so lusted after as a young child. After ruling out the possibility that my parents finally came through on that Christmas gift a mere 20 years late, I had to accept that this toy would be our ride up the mountain. On closer inspection our jeep was not so much a jeep as a Daihatsu – what I can only assume is Japan’s answer to a second hand Kia.

Five us piled into the back seats which must have been designed for four small Japanese children. It certainly wasn’t designed for three Dutch and three Americans (The tallest and fattest people in the world respectivley). The only way I could fit in the jeep for our ride up the rocky Bromo was balanced on shannon’s knee and my own ankle and clutching the drivers head rest for support.

The driver started up the car and pushed the accelerator…much to our dismay the Daihatsu began sliding DOWN the mountain rather than gaining any forward momentum. For 15 minutes, we watched as the driver tried to urge the pathetic little car up the hill until finally the little-Daihatsu-that-could made a final bold attempt and began moving in the correct direction.

Bromo itself was fantastic. The sunrise was beautiful and the crater is pretty crazy. We had a good time looking around and taking pictures before it was time to return to the rest bucket. We were all eager to get back, eat breakfast, take a quick nap and head on with the days adventures.

That’s when we were informed that the rest of the program was too far away for us if we planned go to the airport the next day. It would be a 7 hour drive today followed by a 12 hour return drive the following day. While we agreed that a drive of that length wasn’t possible we were frustrated that this wasn’t discussed a more convenient time. Such as, for example, before we found ourselves stranded on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

The issue with tours like this is that for the most part everything is contracted out. We had purchased our tour in Yogjakarta with an operator who had turned us over to another local operator in Bromo. He in turn had hired us out to a day tour company for each part of the tour. This meant that discussing our dissatisfaction with anyone nearby was fruitless. They simply told us we would have to speak with our tour operator back in Yogjakarta. They of course were far enough away (and they already had our money) that they could have cared less about our complaints.

Of course, no other options were presented for tour options that day and we were so far away from anything that our activity for the day was to nap. Fine. We did wake up at 3:30 am.

After discussed a pick up time for the airport the next day, we headed back to the hotel and settled in for a long nap.

A few hours later, at around 1 pm a woman burst into my room (no knocking and of course the locks didn’t work) and informed me that we had missed check out time. Confused, I informed her that we weren’t leaving till tomorrow. No, she insisted, it was time for us to check out – NOW. We didn’t have reservation for that night and all the rooms were full.

Fantastic. A quick walk around the area confirmed what we already suspected. All the other hotels were also full and no body at the hotel knew or cared about where we should go next. Finally we got in touch with one of our many tour operators who only said “they would be there soon.”

Who would be there? Where would be going? No answer

Finally, a driver with a crowded mini bus showed up and told us to get in. He couldn’t tell us where we were going but it seemed our best option. Luckily, after an hour of driving we arrived at another hotel in a neighboring town where we were assured that we would be picked up at noon the next day for the three hour ride to the airport.

Of course, based on this you can guess that there was no ride at noon the next day. The tour ended with us running down a street frantically trying to catch a bus to the town where the airport was located.

All and all just another day in the life.


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2 Responses to The “Best” Tour Ever

  1. Rob says:

    There’s a reason it’s called the 3rd world, I suppose. I have a friend who worked in Guatemala for peace corps, and has traveled a lot in asia, and she summed it up with “assume they are lying to you, and don’t pay until you’ve received what you have ordered.” – something that’s not always possible (the pay later part – the lying is par for the course).

    I’m sure the stories are going to be more amusing in the retelling in a year or so. :)

  2. Wez says:

    Wow thats terrible!
    I guess it gives us all a fair warning of what to expect when booking tours over in that part of the world though.
    Hope things start looking up for you soon.

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