This morning at 1am while in the process of departing for a time-sensitive tour to a nighttime-only natural phenomenon, our crappy tour bus driver tried to extort a bus load of westerners into paying him double entry fees for entry to the attraction, or he would not leave. We loaded the bus anyway and banded together in refusal. After wasting about 15 -20 minutes of our time, after only 3 hours of sleep, our anger and refusal to comply finally shamed him into departing without his fake fees.

On the way up the volcano, our front driver’s side tire blew. The chauffeur had no flashlight, a bald spare and no jack. We also had no cell phone signal.

After dawdling around for another 20 min or so, he decided to just drive the rest of the way up on a completely flat tire. Jason and I unlocked our doors and took off our seat belts, set to bail out on any left-hand downhill turn that started to go sideways toward a cliff.

By the time we arrived, the tire was completely shredded, but everyone made it out alive. We then climbed into a live crater to view sulphur miners harvesting product alongside blue sulphur flames boiling out of the ground at night.

Upon our return, the shredded tire had been replaced by the bald spare.

Going down, the driver was descending at an unusually slow and cautious rate for an Indonesian bus driver, which led me to think to myself, “damn, we better not lose our brakes on the way down.” Less than a minute later, we ran into and nearly over a pair of motorcyclists on a downhill on perhaps the least deadly looking part of the road we’d been on all day. We followed that by nearly colliding with a tourist van, then swerved off into a ditch where the van rolled slightly over onto the passenger side running boards in a pit of sticks and mud.

It was a very low speed incident, and the downed motorcyclists were lifted out from under their bikes and continued on, but given the low speed at which it happened, it became very clear to us and the other passengers on board that we had no brakes. The driver had been using his emergency brake the whole way down, and it finally burnt up. Us 12 aghast tourists thanked our stars it was on this plain and relatively boring downhill that it happened, instead of on one of the many unguarded cliff-side hairpin turns we’d negotiated earlier that morning.

The driver set about fixing our dilemma by flagging down a selection of Jeeps to tow the van out with a rough little plastic rope folded over on itself 4 or 5x. Us passengers headed for the hills so as not to be hit by the various out of control vehicles trying and regularly failing to make it around the corner and up or down the mountain, and from the safety of our little jungle outpost about 15′ above the madness, shot photos, video and looked up Indonesian phrases on Google Translate to make clear to the wackos running our little program that there was no way in hell any of us was getting back on that minibus.

They successfully pulled the van from the ditch, summarily ran for boulders and jammed them under the tires to stop the bus from rolling away, and in the same breath, turned to me am insisted that the van was safe, and “Brakes no problem! No broken!” At this point, I found the only remaining working door, crawled over the seats while issuing commands to the rest of the group, and started hucking luggage out of the minibus as fast as possible for fear the rocks might give way.

The group split up, joining other vehicles with space on their way down, and made our way to the ferry under considerably safer circumstances. Jason and I joined a wonderful guide for Mt. Bromo and Ijen Crater, who worked for guide service. He was a safe, calm driver, stopped for photos along the way, and his customers reported an enjoyable and well-coordinated 3 days. If you visit Bromo and Ijen, we recommend them.

Upon arriving at the ferry docks, we rejoined our incompetent tour company Nirwana Tours, based in Probolinggo and unwittingly booked through Losari Tours in Yogyakarta, and were informed that because Jason and I did not have our receipt in hand, which we had turned over to our guide the previous night in order to acquire a room key at our very crappy hotel, Catimor Homestay, that we would have to buy ferry and bus tickets to Denpasar in Bali again.

After explaining they had already collected my receipt, and some back and forth in which they budged not at all, the Cuban Fire was unleashed, and a sh!tst*rm of curse words, combined with a thorough recounting of their staff’s offenses over the past 24 hours, including repeated attempts at extortion, woeful disregard for the safety and lives of their passengers, etc etc ad nauseum, finally jarred these previously noncomprehending nincompoops to pick up their phones, figure something the hell out, or deal with the nastiest, firiest “bule” b!tch they’d ever seen.

Suffice it to say we got on the ferry, and now we’re on the non-air conditioned locals’ bus sold to our group as the A/C tourist bus for triple the actual price at the start of our ordeal. We also received three face-to-face apologies from the staff over the next few minutes.

This is strike three on this trip. We’re completely over tour companies in Indonesia, and won’t be doing any guided anything without a personal recommendation from here on out. The only saving grace we’ve had along the way was Abd. Rapani at Kerinci Trek in Sumatra. He was very capable, and the lone bright spot in our experience of Indonesian tour operators.

In the meantime, we’ll be kicking it on a beach in Bali with our fellow traveler friends, bound by our common suffering and ready for a righteous cocktail.