A Reflection on Pre-Service Training: Part 6, Transportation
How do trainees and typical Indonesians get around on a daily basis?
Indonesian streets are packed full with sepeda motors (motor cycle, vespa, moped, etc.). Cars aren’t uncommon, but they have to travel a lot slower on the small roads, so just about everyone travels on sepeda motor. I’ve seen kids who looked as young as age 7 driving these things (though this is definitely illegal) to men aged 70. I’ve also seen women in nice dresses covered up in thick, leather safety suits (bear in mind the hot tropic temperatures here) and intimidating helmets swerve around busses on their vespa. I’ve seen as many as five people on one sepeda motor, and I’ve seen one person plus more crops than you think is possible on one sepeda motor. The children, at age three, are already well versed in the necessity of holding on to the handle bars while cruising down the road while resting on bapak’s lap. The point is, everyone drives a sepeda motor. Unfortunately, it’s still quite dangerous, and Peace Corps has a nearly ubiquitous global policy that volunteers cannot drive or ride motorcycles. This decision was made back in the 70’s after Peace Corps realized traffic accidents (usually related to motorcycles) was by far the greatest health danger to their volunteers.
Without the sepeda motor as an option, my transportation is limited to the angkot—a small minibus that can cram as many as nineteen (this is my record) people into it at a time (I’d say the comfortable capacity for people all of my size is nine. Angkot services operate almost as a hybrid between a bus and a taxi system. There are defined routes, and different colored angkots with clearly marked labels as to the vehicles destination) stick to those routes. Pick-up and drop-off points, however, are completely flexible. An angkot can be flagged down from any point on the road, and the mere utterance of ‘kiri Pak’ (lit. ‘left Sir,’ or functionally meaning, ‘Please pull over’) will get you dropped off an any other point along the road. Sometimes given the right time of day and the right driver, an angkot will actually go a little out of its way to take you directly to a destination on a side street. Most importantly, the rides are cheap even by Indonesian standards. They are frequented by the elderly, those without sepeda motors, children going to school, and individuals with too much luggage to balance on a bike.
So far, I’ve tried to give no impression of my opinion on angkots. The description of how many people can sometimes be on a single angkot may be a turn off for some, but let me tell you this: traveling to and from various places by angkot is perhaps my favorite activity in Indonesia. I feel like a little kid whenever I get in one, and it’s fun to watch the streets or hillsides fly by. When the angkot is overly crowded—which isn’t too common of a problem anyway—the amazement of the feat generally overcomes the annoyance (i.e. I am more focused on thinking “How is this physically possible” as opposed to, “This is terribly cramped”). The only bad angkot experiences are when there is either a smoker or a driver who must wait at the station for twenty minutes until the vehicle is absolutely full. In the latter case, taking an angkot can sometimes be slower than walking even if the distance is 5-6 km or farther.