Sidenote: The Pertamini—not your average petrol station

The "Pertamini" (The shelving to the left is filled with bottles of petrol)

On my first night in Indonesia I was driven through the dark evening via minivan from the airport to my final destination of Kerinci. Dotting the side of the road were small stalls with single light bulbs flooding light on rows of containers filled with a yellowish liquid. I naively assumed the liquid to be some kind of honey or local drink. It was only after many months of living in Sumatra that I discovered it was, in fact, petrol.

The Pertamina (note the prices...in USD$ that is less than 75 cents a liter)

Petrol in Indonesia is “controlled” —allegedly. There aren’t different gas companies vying for your business. There’s only Pertamina, the state-owned government gas company. The prices do not flucuate (until recently when there was a proposed Rp. 1.000 increase) and the gas is all domestically extracted and processed. However, in spite of this regulation, the nearest Pertimina station isn’t a weary road traveller’s only option.

Along any Indonesian highway you will find plenty of roadside stands prepared to give you your petrol straight from a repurposed Aqua, Absolut Vodka or any other bottle they might have laying around.

These tiny roadside stands are called Pertaminis, a play on the name of the official gas stations of the country. I often wondered where these people received their gas and why they were allowed to be in business. I got my answer a few weeks ago when, during a teacher sharing session, one group of teachers explained how the Pertamini works. It’s simple, people go to the Pertimina with containers, fill them up and then go home and distribute the petrol into various containers for reselling—at a higher price, of course.

The hitch? It’s completely illegal.

And yet Pertiminis are literally EVERYWHERE.

Turns out that the police don’t enforce the reselling of gas rules because the necessity for the personal petrol stops is quite high. Pertaminas are often very far away from each other and it is common for motorists (most of whom ride motorbikes) to find themselves in need of petrol miles and miles from the nearest legal gas station. Additionally, it is not uncommon to ride up to a Pertamina only to discover that it has exhausted its gasoline reserves. And according to my fellow teachers, even though Pertiminis are more expensive, sometimes it’s simply worth the money to avoid long lines. Snaking cues of motorbikes at the local Pertimina are less the exception and more the rule.

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