Friday, 11 November 2016

Surbaya: Assaulted by Cabbies

Surabaya: 10th Nov 2016 - 11 Nov 2016

My original plan to travel from Denpasar in Bali to Jakarta in Java overland was immediatey thwarted when we discovered the total lack of public transport available in Bali. From what I found the route was possible but the public bus went once a day from Denpasar to the ferry port on the western tip of the island but it neither seemingly had a specific route or timetable. The other option was an expensive organised tour which we didn't fancy so we flew instead, which turned out to be the cheaper option, like 20quid or something.
Not a bad view for a short flight

Welcome to Java. The flight was just a quick hop to Surbaya, we landed safely, collected our bags and headed out the doors. We had arranged our second Couchsurfer here, Rendy, who told us to take an Uber to his house because it would be far cheaper than any of the airport taxis. Taking his advice we arranged for a pick, all the while trying our best to ignore the increasing loud and agressive "taxi! taxi! Where you going?" calls from the nearby by cabbies - standard practice in Asia. On the third attempt the Uber driver found us and saying 'hi' he helped us put the bags in the back. But this is where things got messy:
As our driver began to pull away three men came sprinting down the road and stopped dead in front of the car fully blocking its path. Our driver suddenly became visibly nervous. These guys then proceeded to walk round the car opening all the doors, including the boot where they began unloading our bags onto the tarmac, shouting aggressively in Indonesian. We stood our ground and refused to move but seeing the way our bags had gone we decided it best to leave the car of our own volition rather than being dragged out too. - which seemed like a genuine possibility. As soon as our feet were on the ground, the others hopped in behind us, slammed the doors and demanded the drivers to leave. The car then disappeared off around the corner and off the Uber app. To make matters worse as we were picking up our bags from the middle of the road a gang of cabbies behind us laughed and offered us a ride into town for literally 10 times the price. We replied with a swift personal insult and left.
At first we had no idea who these arseholes were. They were wearing plain clothes so perhaps they were just very angry people, in a massive rush to leave the airport. No. Obviously not. They were cabbies themselves too who didn´t like Uber. Because of course assaulting people whilst offering them overinflated prices in the best way to gain and maintain a loyal customer base.....
In Bali there had been lots of warnings, signs and pleads not to use Uber which is technically banned on the island. As such we didn´t. In Java however this was not the case; the app is allowed, there are no signs and we were advised to take it by a local.
Shaking with anger we were definitely not going to be getting an airport taxi now so we took a breath and ordered another Uber. This time we were ready. We moved way down the carpark away from the taxi rank and kept the bags on our backs ready to jump in as soon as it arrived. The plan went perfectly. We were in and safe with the doors closed before the car had barely stopped. We had just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief before we spotted the same men come running at full speed down the tarmac with a bloody aiport trolley to blockade the car. This time round they left the other doors closed but dragged the driver out of the car who shaken, with signs of tears in his eyes, begged us to get out. It was terrifying. These guys weren't messing around. It was clear that no matter how long we stayed in the vehicle they weren't going to let the driver back in and so eventually we reliquinshed our seats and got out. Once again we saw our Uber disappear around the corner without us.
We had encountered taxi mafias before in India but the extent of the issue there had been the price: all agreeing to charge ridiculous amounts and refusing to lower them. This was a whole other story. People have since told us that we should have threatened them with going to the police. We toyed with this idea at the time but after only being in a country for all of 5 minutes we knew little about it. The police may have sided with the cabbies or not been any help at all, or the threat may have even made them violent towards us for all we knew.
Stranded at the airport, defeated and utterly enraged we tried to leave on foot. As with all airports it was in the middle of nowhere with one road in and out. It was also almost 40 degrees C and it was the middle of the day. We got all of 10 metres before we had to return to the incessant noise of "TAXI! TAXI! WHERE YOU GOING?". I had to use all my power to restrain Sarah. We headed back inside the airport to cool off.
This infuriating Saga ended with us taking an airport taxi - our only option - but an official metered one, where the drivers wore uniforms and one where we were only charged 3 times the Uber prices rather than 10. .....Welcome to Java.

Damn tasty!
Perhaps good things have bad beginnings because everything we experienced in Java from that point on was great. The Indonesian island definitely helped us fall in love in Couchsurfing too, where we encountered excellent host after excellent host, including of course Rendy and his sister.

We didn´t have much time in Surbaya as we had our flights booked out of Jakarta (on the 22nd of November) and we had a lot of ground to cover in between but what we did have was good. Rendy gave us a tour around the city explaining the way of things. We got our introduction to Java's love of malls which seem to be on every corner of every city centre - how else are you meant to go shopping when it's too hot to be outside. We had a nice dinner of chicken, red pork and noodles at his favourite warung before heading back to his for the evening to chill out and talk about travelling and work. After a crazy week of tourists in Bali and the morning we had had at the airport we slept so well that night! We originally planned to stay two days but on Rendy´s advice that we had seen on his tour everything Surabaya had to offer, we got the bus the next morning to Probolingo after breakfast with our two excellent hosts.

Until then.


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