Man overboard (almost)!!

Trip Start Jul 26, 2006
Trip End Apr 01, 2008

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Monday, March 5, 2007

My adventures in Singapore were pretty much the unofficial end to my exploration of southeast Asia. The next few days were little more than a sleepless blur of perpetual motion, taking me from Singapore back to KL by train so that I could pick up my Indian visa (a whole other story!), then by bus back to Lumut to pack and clean up the apartment, then by bus again to the Kans' house. Ever the gracious hosts, and curious to see what a shipyard looks like, the Kans insisted on giving me a ride to Port Klang (just outside of KL). Mr. Kan drove while Mrs. Kan fed me large quantities of food and beverage to get me well-stocked before my vast and perilous sea journey.

I've already gotten quite a few "Huh?"s and "WTF?!?"s from people regarding this whole freighter "cruise," and given the relative expense and inconvenience of the affair, some skepticism is probably in order. So perhaps I should explain myself a little. For starters, as anyone who has been keeping up with my travel log can attest, I'm not a fan of air travel; if Jah had meant for us earthly critters to fly She would have...
I am however native to a peninsula (aka Florida), the great-grandson of a lifelong seaman, and evolutionarily descended from an extensive line of ocean critters; I have thus managed to acquire/retain not only decent swimming capabilities but also a deep fascination and connection with the sea. Prior to this trip, the most amount of time I'd spent out on the water was a few days on some short live-aboard trips in Thailand and Australia. Recently however, things had been seeming a little more serious and I felt that the time was right to take the relationship to the next level.

Like magic, along comes the "MV Kota Pertama," a 200 meter, 24,000 horsepower container ship making its way from Singapore, up the Malacca Strait past Malaysia, then right across the Indian Ocean for Colombo, Sri Lanka and Mumbai, India. Legally these container ships are allowed to bring along a few passengers, though they rarely do, and given all the logistical hurdles it's not hard to see why. For one thing, there are only a handful of travel agents in the world who can organize such a journey, and they may or may not be able to find something heading along the route that you're interested in. Then you have to be flexible about your departure and arrival time, recognizing that in the grand scheme of things one passenger is of little worth compared to hundreds or possibly even thousands of 20-40 foot containers carrying anything from fuel to VCRs, guns to Happy Meal toys. Next there are the logistical and economic difficulties; freighter travel is generally a few times more expensive than flying, and unlike flying, you have to get a doctor's approval and potentially even some additional vaccinations (I had to get a Yellow Fever jab). All this expenditure of time and money just so that you can find yourself out "in the middle of an oceanic nowhere," as one of the crew put it, with little else to do but stare at the sea.

And stare I did. For seven days and nights I rocked to the rhythm of the ocean, watching it change colors and demeanor like moods, communed with the wind, and tracked the movements of the sun, the moon, and the night sky like close friends. Sitting perched atop the ship's bow for long stretches, I watched countless flying fish glide across our path, and laughed like an excited child as entire pods of dolphins played chase with the ship-streaking ahead of us like little blue torpedoes. When I wasn't busy being enraptured, I read, wrote, and slept my fill, studied Hindi, and even watched a few movies. I also chatted a bit with Loyal, the other passenger, though he was only along for the Singapore-->Colombo leg. Loyal is an American too, an older feller from the Midwest. It was interesting talking with him; just when you think you know something about how the world works, you meet a guy who's made his fortune producing bailing wire and growing birdseed in "the shit-holes of the world," as he put it, then exporting it all to the U.S.

Loyal got off the boat in Colombo, and I nearly had to join him. When I went ashore to check in with the Fulbright office in New Delhi, I learned to my horror that the Indian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur had issued me the wrong visa. For a minute it seemed like I'd have to abandon ship there in Colombo and try to get the visa situation fixed, but after a few hours of frantic phone calls it was decided that I should continue on to India and just deal with it once I arrived in Delhi. The visa fun continues...

As we arrived at port in Mumbai, I felt reluctant to leave the ship. Not only was I leaving behind the purest air I'd breathed in months, and the most tranquil nights I'd probably enjoyed in years, I was stepping back into one of the world's most densely populated nations, and one of its more polluted cities. Needless to say, I doubt that this will be my last time out on the water...

For any other brave (or foolhardy!) souls who have a little extra time and money on their hands and are interested in giving this mode of travel a try, read this.
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