Not quite the Channel Crossing...

Trip Start Apr 21, 2010
Trip End Jul 07, 2010

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Where I stayed
Winai Rai II

Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sulawesi is a hard place to get to. Air Asia offers only one flight to it, peculiarly from Malaysia, whilst at best I would have to connect via Bali or Jakarta to get to Makassar. With taking to the skies not an option, I decided to return to my British roots and travel on the high seas. Upon visited the local Pelni office, national shipping service and transporter of the masses, I was informed it would cost a mere 130,000, a tenner, for the trip. Ecstatic to the point of tears, I signed up straight away.Proudly printed on my ticket was Departure time - 12pm. Please arrive at least one hour in advance, and so, there I was at 11 on the dot, bags packed, ready for a pleasant cruise, perhaps with some ball room dancing, black tie dinners, and hopefully no ice bergs.

Now, Indonesians joke about "rubber time" with regards to budget transport schedules in their country. Buses almost always leave at least an hour late, often more, and if one were actually to leave on time outrage would inevitably ensue. It was therefore not overwhelmingly surprising when a mere 5 hours later, at 4 in the morning, there was still no sign of said ship. About 500 people were laid out on the pier half asleep with not one person appearing to have the faintest idea quite what was happening. Passengers stretched out on their luggage, whilst the odd official would swagger over from time to time, scream away at some poor soul for nothing in particular, and then strut back to the other side of the dock, happy with his days work. Relieving me from suicidal boredom, was a young man by the name of Handy. Many young Indonesian men approach you in order to practice their English, often students, and attempt to ensnare unwilling tourists a horribly choreographed conversation. Handy though was different. His English was comparatively bad, but rather than feel embarrassed he laughed openly, often at his self, and offered an intriguing insight into the lives of young Indonesians. When I asked what his job was, Handy looked decidedly embarrassed before mumbling 'ojek'. Despite my fun experiences at the hands of ojek drivers, in Indonesian it's basically a bi word for 'unemployed with a motorbike'. Handy explained it had been a 'bad day 'and he was waiting out here at the port in the hope of winning a big fare from the arriving passengers. A normal fare was 'maybe 3000 (30cents) for in the town, sometime more if its longer' and after money on petrol he was taking home about 30,000 rupiah, about $3. This would be enough for his own sustenance and more, but Handy explained how he was a Muslim and his parents had 'persuaded' him to get married when he was 17. He now had a wife and child to care for at 19 years of age, with no real education. He wistfully spoke how he planned to become a guide for the local area one day, but for this he needed a liscence, only available from the regional office in Kupang, West Timor. He was hoping to save about 500,000 in order to make the journey there and take the course. In the mean time he was going to practice his English with foreigners. He spoke confidentially as if it would happen soon, but i failed to see how it would ever really be possible with his current state of affairs. It was all quite sobering to see how someone my own age has to scrape a living, whilst I worry about quite which University will be of  my choosing, and how I'll be able to preserve some of my student loan to actually spend on food. We were however interupted by another budding English speaker, this time a girl called Kuki. Handy took quite the shine to her, and after quickly getting bored of me, they switched to Indonesian and giggling at each other. When Kuki went off to get a drink Handy grabbed my arm laughing, 'She ask if i have a girlfirend, and I say no. She give me her mobile number. She very beautiful'  I was about to explain how Allah would not be best pleased but, at around 6 in the morning, light was seen on the horizon. The Titanic had arrived.

Only two classes were on offer, Ekonomi, or 2nd Klass, and despite reading some pretty daunting stories about it, I'd opted for the former. Whilst there are some bunks and seats on board  they account for only around a third of ships capacity. No reservations allowed. A fair race for places it would therefore appear, every man for himself!  Or not, as the case turned out. It's not by fluke that Indonesia ranks a healthy 4th in the world for corruption, and even this one had been sussed out. As the ship moored onto the dock, the baggage porters, previously displaying the enthusiasm of a pack of dying sloths, sprung to life. They poured down on the prospective passengers and in a confusing blur, money and single parcels changed hands. As the doors of the ship opened, it was announced the porters were allowed on first. On they poured, diving down into the depths of the ship, finding any free seat and plonking the parcel they'd collected down. With the seat 'reserved' they'd return to the waiting customer, and kindly escort them to their place. No arguments please. These are dock officials after all.

Unsurprisingly I was unwise to this, and by the time I got onto the vessel, not a seat remained. In fact, barely a space remained. Every corridor, stairwell and doorway was covered in people, stretched out on matts already looking half asleep. Feeling pretty forlorn at the thought of spending the next day curled up on a metal floor, I wandered hopelessly deeper into the bowels of the ship. Giving up hope, I plonked my bag on a space near an air vent, lay down on it, and promptly fell asleep. An hour or so later I was woken by a man nudging. "mister, mister, please,please.' A man of around 60 was poking me in the chest, whilst gesticulating to the other side of the room. Pretty sure I'd crashed his spot and was being kicked out, I hoisted my bag onto my back and stumbled along behind him, offering a reasonable impression of a drunk hobo to the crowd onlookers. He was however offering me a spare bunk, one he'd obviously saved in defiance of the porters actions. I'm really not quite sure why he chose me. All over the boat were older women and young children with only steel to sleep on, and had it not been 7 in the morning, and having barely slept for 2 days, I would probably have been racked with serious guilt. As it was I collapsed onto the slim black foam mattress and effectively passed out for the next few hours.

To say the journey drew on would be an understatement. My ticket said an approximate journey time of 21 hours. A mere 27 later, at 8 the next morning I ventured out on deck to see if land was in sight. It wasn't. There was nothing to do aboard. Despite Lonely Planet warning me to wrap up warm, as even Economy had 'bitterly fierce air con', this was simply not the case. There was one room with this luxury, and temperature soared undisturbed everywhere else. I spent most of the time stretched out on my bunk in the stifling heat. Still feeling the effects of glandular fever, and with migraines from Eustachian tube dysfunction, it wasn't one of the greatest periods of my life. Wearing just a vest and rolled up pj's i sweated away, with no battery in my music player, generally feeling very sorry for myself. It was undoubtedly discomfort that nobody in the world had ever had to endure before. Three times a day an announcement would come over the telecom in Indonesian, cuing a sudden surge towards the 2nd deck. It was feeding time. I'd been surprised to hear that included in the price of the ticket was all my meals for the trip, yet The Fat Duck it was not. For breakfast we were treated to plain rice, a square of tofu, and a piece of yellow rubber making a bad attempt at pretending to be omelette. Lunch was plain rice, this time with 2 squares of tofu. Supper was plain rice, with.. whats this? Something deep-fried?! Could it be meat?! O no, tofu again... I offer no prizes for what accompanied the rice for the next days breakfast.

As the hours ticked by land was finally seen. We had arrived in Makassar. It was a great relief to finally get off the boat, yet i spared a thought for the passengers waiting to take my place. Rather than the 24 printed on the ticket, we'd taken 31 hours to arrive, mooring in Sulawesi at 11 in the morning. Their tickets had asked them to be ready to depart at 11 the previous evening...

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