A Bemo transport van in Labuan Bajo can be heard long before it arrives. A pounding mega base sub woofer reverberates through the tropical verges as the vans wind their way through the hills above the Labuan Bajo harbour. Here comes another Bemo Boy in his decorated van. The wait is never very long. Climb on board and watch your head as you duck in the open doorway.
I suspect the bemo boys are local heroes here in Labuan Bajo. They travel the four kilometre circuit around town all day, finishing at 6pm in the evening. After that time, it’s a long walk in the dark or a ride on the back of a motorbike. The passengers pile into the side bench seats in the rear of the van: local women with shopping from the market, slight young teenage schoolgirls, heads covered in snow white hijab and dressed in full length navy blue tunics neatly pressed, and then of course, us, the tourists.
Sometimes the volume is turned down when a middle-aged Muslim matron travels the route. It is quickly cranked up again as soon as she disembarks, to impress the teenagers hanging about on the corner or to serve as an announcement for potential passengers.
These young men have a wonderful time and decorate their vans with youthful kitsch. Stuffed multi coloured felt caterpillars line the dashboards, the rear window usually sports a large modern transfer, and lots of strange mirrors and other paraphernalia dangle from the rear vision mirror. The names of each bemo soon become familiar “Casanova“, “Playboy” and “Pleace be my baby“, to name a few. One bemo specialised in country music, complete with a little DVD screen, but we only scored this driver on one occasion.
For 5000 rupiah (under 50 cents) one way, we travel in style, down to the restaurant belt near the harbour and back to our guesthouse, located on the side of a steep hill. Beats walking in the heat!