Getting around in Indonesia: trains, planes, bemos, buses, kecaks, and ferries

I posted this video online five years ago to highlight the often chaotic world of public transportation in Indonesia. As worried as I was about the large number of jet crashes and ferry sinkings there, the hazards of riding local public transportation gave me more concern. And, these concerns are well-justified.

Road injuries are ranked 10th of all contributors to the global burden of disease–more so in developing nations. In Indonesia, approximately 49,000 people die annually on the roads. Having seen in person several fatal road accidents there, usually involving small motorcycles and larger vehicles, I can say unequivocally that these are horrific ways to die. In fact, the United States Department of State offers this warning to would-be American visitors to my very much beloved Indonesia: “Air, ferry, and road accidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and significant damage are common. … While all forms of transportation are ostensibly regulated in Indonesia, oversight is spotty, equipment tends to be less well maintained than that operated in the United States, amenities do not typically meet Western standards, and rescue/emergency response is notably lacking.”

However, it is cheap to move around. Train travel was super easy, as was hopping on a bus, or the smaller bemos. I just would not advise getting in a taxi late at night during the seasonal typhoons and have the driver then tell you that his headlights are not working, in broken English, as you navigate back roads in a city you know nothing about. Ah, the memories of travel. Priceless.

By all means, please do visit Indonesia, support the local businesses there with your money, and use a bit of common sense. Or your can stay at home, thinking you are safe and cozy, and never really understand how things work in places as dynamic and important as the largest Moslem-majority country in the entire world. For that is what corporate greenwashing campaigns like the Rainforest Alliance’s Follow the Frog want us to do: never ever leave home and never ever learn about the world first-hand. The choice is truly yours. I say, be curious, be friendly, and definitely be mobile.

See my picture gallery of Indonesia photos on my web site. (Ed. Note: I legally changed my name to Rudy Owens from Rudy Brueggemann after I had produced this film, so that is why you will see that name on the video.)

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