Urgh, I thought as my mobile blipped my alarm: not again. Today’s mission – very much like last Wednesday’s, was to make it through bloody great boring Brunei. By 7.30am I was down at the port for the ferry to Palau Labuan. By 11.30am it had arrived. The next boat to Brunei was at 12 noon, so I just had time to rush out, fill my boots with Nasi Goreng (spicy fried rice with chicken and eggs – it’s the best food around these parts).
By 1.30pm I was back in Brunei getting stamped back in. A taxi driver outside the port told me that the last bus for Miri in Sarawak, Malaysia left at 2.30pm, which gave me an hour to get from port Muara to the capital.
The bus to BSB took AGES to get there: it was 2.50pm before I arrived. But not to worry too much – the taxi driver was lying (presumably to be me into his cab). This being Brunei, the last bus to Miri left at 1pm. The fact that the corresponding bus from Miri leaves at 4pm left me completely bewildered.
So let me get this straight: if you want to leave Brunei for the neighbouring state of Sarawak on any given day (the border is TWO HOURS AWAY), and it’s after 1pm and you don’t have a car YOU HAVE TO FLY??
I mean, come on, for Christ’s sake, this is one of the richest countries in the world, and it’s got the transport infrastructure of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Actually: I’m beginning to see a pattern emerge here. It would explain why public transport in America and the UK is so lousy. Chart the per capita GDP against the quality of public transportation and something funny happens: you get a bell curve. That makes sense: Liechtenstein’s public transport sucks. So does Andorra’s. And San Marino’s.
I staggered into the Tourist Information bureau to ask about buses. As Brunei was a British Protectorate until it (reluctantly) gained independence in 1984, I kinda expected a) the girl behind the counter to speak English and b) know something about the one or two public transport buses that leave the city each day.
Both assumptions were hopelessly over-optimistic and I was left badgering the surly public bus centre staff to help me out. There was a bus leaving for Seria in the west of Brunei at 3.05pm: it was going in the right direction, so I go on it.
After another ponderous journey filled with U-turns, diversions, ‘scenic routes’ past the oil refineries etc, I arrived at Seria and changed for a even-more bus to the next town along Kuala Belait (known as KB to its friends). I just had time to grab a Coke and have a quick chat with the shop keeper (from Kollam in Kerala, as it happens) before the bus pulled out of the station. It was now 5pm.
I arrived in KB and it was getting dark, the journey had again taken me all around the houses. Even though the border was just a few miles away, there was no public transport whatsoever. In a mirror of last weeks shenanigans from Miri to the border, the taxi driver wanted twenty-five quid. I managed to haggle him down to fifteen, but still, fifteen bloody quid to go less than ten miles in a country where petrol costs 20 pence a litre??
Daylight robbery. But as the cheapest hotel in KB was fifty quid a night, I didn’t have much of a choice. We raced towards the setting sun and about fifteen minutes later I was at the border.
And so was a coach.
“Where’s that going?”
“Pontianak. It leaves Bandar every day at 4pm.”
“There’s a direct bus to Pontianak, the place I need to get to on the Indonesian side of the island, from BSB?”
This is exactly the moment where, if I had the power, I would rip my Lonely Planet in two and feed it to the dogs.
WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?????????????????
I asked the bus driver how much it would be to climb aboard. Forty quid. WHY I JUST PAID FIFTEEN TO GO A COUPLE OF MILES DOWN THE ROAD I’LL NEVER KNOW.
I paid my dues in mixture of Brunei dollars, Malaysian Ringgit and Indonesian Rupiah.
“Get me the hell out of here.”