Tag Archives: Situbondo

Day 3: The Golden Ticket – Situbondo Police Station


We walked to the police station, took a deep breath and walked inside. We had no idea what we were hoping to achieve. I guess we were just bored of being cooked in the sun.

“Do you speak English?” I asked one of the officers.

“No,” was the expressionless response. He guided us into another office using the peculiar South-East Asia hand gesture that means ‘go away’ in the western world: a kind of, dismissive flap of the hand that, conversely, means ‘come here’ in parts of Asia.

Once we worked out he was beckoning us to go with him and not telling us to bog off, we followed him into another room and sat down in front of another officer.


We tried to explain to the man what we were trying to do but, inevitably, he didn’t understand. Why would he? He asked for our passports and seemed to think, like we presumed he might, we’d come to the station because we’d run out of money.

“No, no, no,” I said, “We have money”. And then, for the first time, and certainly not the last, we performed what became ‘The Routine’.

“We travel,” I said, pointing at Michael and myself, “from Bali” “Bali!” he repeated in excitement at recognising a word.

“To England”

“Ahhhh England,” he said, nodding, as if I’d said something wise. “England home. No bus, no plane, no train, no taxi” He seemed to understand and took us upstairs to another office where he asked if he could have his photograph taken with us. We then sat down and were brought a couple of room temperature colas, which, for the record, I despise with a passion, but I managed to gulp it down nonetheless because I’m a hero.

Another man came in and we had to perform our routine again. When the officers asked why we were doing this, we pointed to a word that Saroo had written in my diary, ‘PETUALANGAM,’ which means ‘adventure’.

“Aaahhhh…” they would say, smiling, “bus station?”

“No! No bus. No plane. No train. No taxi,” we would repeat, drawing pictures of each, with a line through them. Using a combination of bad drawing, bad acting and broken English, we described to each officer our mission, in turn. After much effort, an understanding would be reached; the officer would then have a photo taken with us and would leave the room, to be replaced by another, apparently more senior, officer, and we would repeat the process.

This must have happened six or seven times over a period of several hours before we met Ibnu, a young police officer. Ibnu was short and a bit chubby, with happy eyes and a friendly face, a bit like Kenan, from Kenan and Kel. Due to his superior English, we eventually made Ibnu understand our intentions and he translated for the others. The police chief thought for a few moments and said something in Indonesian to Ibnu.

Ibnu turned to us and asked, “So… why have you come to the police station?” It was a bit of a soul crushing question. We had hoped that once they understood what we wanted to achieve, they would magically be able to solve our problems.

I think we’d just hoped they’d be able to come up with a suggestion to help us. The realisation suddenly dawned on me that, instead of wasting all this energy entertaining the Situbondo police force all day, we could have used this time trying to hitchhike.

“We want you to help us,” I said to Ibnu. Ibnu translated to the chief and they both left the room. After five minutes, Ibnu returned.

“Ok, we will help you,” he said, “We will give you a police letter, in Indonesian, for people to know your adventure and we will get a truck for you. Follow me”

“Huh?” I said, retching down the last of my coke (because I’m a hero).

“They’re going to set up a road block for us!” said Michael, laughing, as we bounded down the stairs after the officers. We were led outside and they drove us to a tiny police shack on the same road as the petrol station.

They wrote a letter in Indonesian that had our names, addresses, occupations and a brief summary of our intentions. They then set up a road block and asked every passing truck or lorry, firstly, their destination, and, secondly, if we could join them.


It wasn’t very long before two nervous looking lads, no older then teenagers, were brought into the station. The police took their details and instructed them to let us ride in the back of their empty cattle truck. We were ecstatic. It was a risky play, going to the police, and it seemed especially so when they requested to see our passports and started processing our details. Because of the language barrier we were never quite sure if they were arresting us, interrogating us, or just curious and eager to help.


We soon realised that when it comes to Indonesians, it is, more often than not, the latter. As a couple of westerners in the back of an open top paddy wagon, usually reserved for cows on their way to be slaughtered, we got a lot of attention as we passed through the endless stream of villages.

If anyone saw us, and many did, it was pretty much guaranteed that they would either wave, shout “Hello mister!” or even, as a group of girls did, dance around in their headscarves blowing us kisses. With all this attention we were receiving, it was easy to forget our humble transport.

After a couple of hours I think it’s fair to say the “fame” had gone to our heads. We seemed to have taken on the demeanour of medieval kings cavorting around on a white stallion through the streets of Camelot, chests puffed out, eyebrows raised, bestowing royal waves and knightly nods to the locals.


That moment, stood in the back of an open-top truck, admiring the Madura Straight, a body of water that separates Java from the Madura Island, with the wind cooling our hair and the afternoon sun on our shoulders, was definitely the high point of our journey thus far.

“I can’t believe we’re really doing it!” we kept saying to each other against the wind, all smiles. Sure, it’s possible that we were merely feeling an intense sugar rush because our blood had been turned to syrup by the equivalent of coke-a-cola water-boarding treatment at the police station. But I don’t think so.

I think we were jacked up on a pure unadulterated travel high. The moment was euphoric. The feeling was addictive. We wanted more.


Day 2: The Defacement of Fatty’s House – Situbondo, Indonesia

As time whittled away, and the evening turned into night, Fatty arose from his chair. He went inside and brought out a thick black permanent marker pen. He placed it in Michael’s hand and solemnly gestured to the outside wall of his house next to his front door.

“He wants me to write on his wall?!” Michael said, confused

“I guess so,” I shrugged.

Michael placed the pen near the wall, and looked back over his shoulder to check with Fatty for reassurance that this was in fact what he wanted. Fatty nodded his encouragement.

“A message,” said Saroo, Fatty’s 13 year old son. “To remember”

I could see that Michael’s mind was racing; his eyes were like the dials of a slot machine as his imagination searched in vain for the appropriate course of action. Knowing that he’s useless at thinking of things to write in a birthday card, never mind a commemorative message on the side of someone’s house that will last forever, I held my breath.

He proceeded to draw what can only be described as a crude self-portrait, with his name scribbled, in his unsightly chicken scratch handwriting, underneath.

“This is my hair,” he announced, proudly, as he drew it on, with his tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration.

If someone had walked to the front door at that very moment they would probably have assumed that Michael had farted into his hand then held it over Fatty’s mouth, such was the expression on Fatty´s face.

I was trembling and snorting with repressed laughter, biting my lip with the full force of my jaw to stop myself from blurting out.

I knew as I watched him dot the ‘i’ of his name, with an artistic swish of his hand as if he were a gourmet chef putting the finishing pinch of salt on his signature dish, that this would be a classic memory of our friendship.

Michael looked back over his shoulder to Fatty for some approval for his creation but, of course, nothing came.

Saroo backed away into the house as if a firework had just been lit. The crickets chirped. I still hadn’t breathed.

Michael cleared his throat and sat back down. Fatty went back into the house and closed the sliding door behind him.

“Tough crowd,” Michael signed, wiping some sweat from his brow. And that was it. We both exploded into helpless laughter, as silent as we could manage. Just when we had regained composure, one of us would glance at his ridiculous picture and we’d be off again, gasping and hooting into our cushions unable to breathe.

Thankfully, it was some minutes before Fatty returned, and, to be fair, if he was angry or even disappointed with Michael’s defacement of his house, he didn’t show it. He gestured for us to follow him back to his car and this time we both jumped into the back.

“Where next?” we asked each other.

“How many more relatives are there to see?!”

We were somewhat surprised when we got out of the patrol car outside his government office. He motioned us into a tiny room, with a couple of prayer mats on the floor, and he said,

“Now you sleep, sleep for free”

The room was a place for the Muslim officials to pray at the various times throughout the day, as is the Islamic custom. Fatty opened the door and like a couple of ignorant idiots we stepped inside without removing our shoes.

Fatty ushered us back outside and politely gestured for us to respect the traditions of his faith. We were delighted to get a free night’s stay, especially somewhere as random as a prayer room.

This is what we’d come for, this was one of the main purposes of our journey. We wanted to collect interesting travel tales that we’d remember forever: random days, with random people, followed by random nights, in random places.

The unpredictability of hitchhiking, for now at least, was proving to be a real rush.

We went to sleep happy men in our prayer room that night.


Day 2: Fatty and one for the shudder bank – Situbondo, Indonesia

Anyone that could speak some English told us that people do not hitchhike in Indonesia. Everyone uses the taxi busses because they are so cheap and plentiful.

Eventually, though, someone did stop. I was on my way to the toilet when Mike called me back. In retrospect, I realise it would have saved me a lot of grief if I’d have just gone to the toilet when I had the chance, but we’d been waiting for a while and there was no way I could risk missing the ride.

A rather serious looking man, in a beige uniform, driving a patrol car, had pulled up next to us. He peered out of his open window through a pair of small dark sunglasses.

“Surabaya?” we asked, pointing at our sign. He thought about it, nodded and I hopped into the cab, at the front, and Michael the back. His name was something along the lines of Fatarama, but we referred to him as ‘Fatty,’ because we’re not clever enough to remember names that we haven’t heard of before.

He had a classic government-official-type moustache and whenever he struggled to find the right English word, which was often, he closed his eyes and seemed to meditate for a few seconds, wobbling his head, even while he was driving.


Fatty told us, with the little English he had, after a few bouts of meditation, he’d take us to Surabaya. He stopped at a shop to get some water and Michael and I changed places. It was when I jumped in the back that I realised that my bladder was screaming at me.

You can hold it, Rich, I assured myself; but after a few more bumps down the road I really started to struggle. I think what made it especially bad was that I didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Surabaya. I knocked on the cab to get Fatty’s attention. No reply. I knocked again. Nothing. I looked at my half empty bottle of water. I had to do it, I had to go.

In a risky move, I downed the remainder of my water. I looked out from the open paddy wagon. The streets were busy and everyone seemed interested in me. I felt another surge of pain in my bladder, but still I tried to hold it. I knocked again on the cab, a little bit more frantically this time. No reply. We turned down a slightly quieter street. “This is my chance”, I announced to myself, with a steely determination that surprised me. I unscrewed the lid and arranged the bottle. Nothing happened.

I closed my eyes to relax, trying to ignore the pedestrians milling about, going about their errands around me. I thought of running water, I thought of waterfalls. As my eyes were closed, I felt the car come to a stop and, success! The sound of liquid hitting plastic was met with the sheer relief that anyone who’s really, really, really had to go can relate to.

I heard the doors of the cab open and shut and I snapped open my eyes. We had pulled up outside a grand looking house with elegant white pillars set against smooth, pale pink walls as if the place had come straight out of The Great Gatsby.

Before I had time to react, I realised that Fatty must have phoned ahead because a family had rushed out of the house with beaming smiles and were seconds away from greeting me. Mike and Fatty circled around from the cab to the back, where I was still sitting. Panic stricken, I moved the bottle away from my crotch and tried to covertly tuck everything back into my shorts without looking like I was molesting myself.


Of course, I dropped the bottle and spilled the contents over the floor and myself. For the record, having my clothes freshly damp with urine, with my penis hanging pathetically out of my shorts, is not my favoured method of introducing myself to a new group of people. But this was what happened.

Once inside, I retreated into the bathroom with my tail as much between my legs as I could manage. I stood in front of a pristine mirror and gave myself a hard look. I sighed as I remembered the mother’s face when she pretended not to notice that my hand was wet when she shook it. I shuddered at the image of Fatty, having picked up the bottle from the floor of his wagon, had to empty the last few drops of what was clearly urine onto the grass.

I closed my eyes and repressed the memory deep into my vast bank of embarrassing episodes. I then shook my head and tried to get on with my life.