Pelni boat from hell

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Jul 15, 2008

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jan. 24, 2007 Wednesday
First thing on our agenda today is to find the Pelni Ship Lines office to find out when they leave for the island of Flores. We want to take the first boat out. Then we need to get to a bank to exchange dollars for rupiahs. Finally, we want to check our e-mail. The Pelni ticket office is too far away to walk so we took a taxi. We had wanted to take the boat to Ende on Flores for the expedient reason that on the map it looked to be the closest port. But the Pelni people tell us that there are no boats to Ende. We later are told by locals that the port is closed because two Pelni boats sunk in the harbor. We heard various versions of this so there might be some truth to it. The Pelni office tells us that there is, however, a boat to Maumere on the northeast coast of Flores. It is leaving this evening at 8 PM. Or, we can wait two weeks for the next boat. We've only just glimpsed the city but we're sure we don't want to spend two weeks here in Kupang. The place is hot, noisy and congested. We wanted to get first class tickets but the agent tells us, "no first class, only ekonomic, ask at dock." Considering we're getting tickets on the day of departure we weren't surprise that there weren't any first class tickets left. We had heard and read about the ekonomic class conditions, but we're willing to face them rather than wait for the next boat. We figured we may have to sleep on the wind swept deck or something, but we can take it because the clerk says we will be in Maumere by 9 in the morning.

To meet the 8 PM boat we are supposed to be at the dock by 6 PM, which we do. We sat in the large station for two hours, and then moved out to the sheltered area towards the dock where people were gathering. Still there's no ferry in sight. We had no idea what the program was and being our first day in Indonesia we only knew a couple words of the language. We remember someone telling us to get to the front of the crowd to get a good spot on ekonomic class. Finally, the Pelni boat, Awu, arrives. It is way bigger than we had imagined. It was about 9:30 when the gates to the dock were unlocked. The crowd surged through the narrow gate carrying us with them. When we got to the top of the gang plank we could see we were not going to be sleeping on the deck as there was little of that. Our tickets seemed to say we were assigned to the third deck and we followed the signs down into the bowels of the boat.

Ekonomic class on the Awu is about 2 or three decks deep. The deeper you go the more stifling and hot it gets. The third deck is not far above the engines. When we stepped out from the stairwell we saw a large open room which seemed to run nearly the length of the ship. In this space were rows of low wooden platforms about 16 inches off the floor maybe 7 feet wide and 16 feet long. There were six numbered spaces for people to lay down on each platform. There are roaches crawling everywhere you look. We were warned about the roaches so Irina had sprayed our bags with insecticide, inside and out, before leaving the hotel. We dragged our bags to an empty platform in the back of the boat, which turned out to be a good choice, if there are good choices in hell, because the engines are under the platforms in the center of the boat making that area even hotter.

Irina sprayed our area of the platform which had the effect of marking our territory from the roaches, but little else. We don't even want to tell you about the bathroom because the very memory still makes us queasy. Vendors were passing among the passengers selling food, water, and thin woven mats. We bought two mats and spray them also. Then we lay down to sweat and flick roaches. We waited to feel the boat moving. There were announcements over the PA which we can't understand. The vendors leave. We wait and wait. Still the boat doesn't seem to be moving. Either this is a very smooth ride or we're still at the dock. The sooner we leave the sooner this night in hell will be over.
The AWU, which we had to be at the pier by 6 PM to board, doesn't move until after midnight. We have two neighbors on our platform. Irina is at the isle end of the platform. The guy next to Arvid, we suspect, has recently been released from the Indonesian Institute for the Criminally Insane. He has no luggage and no mat to sleep on. Even though he and his friend have the remaining four spaces to sleep on he insists on crowding up onto Arvid's mat. Whenever Irina opens a pack to get something out he tries to peer inside, even standing up in front of her to watch how she opens the lock. We brought lots of those pre-moistened sanitary hand wipes and we're using them now; a small luxury from home. When someone near us starts a long series of tuberculin coughs into the stagnant air we lay them over our faces. We barely sleep at all. But we have to say that, with the exception of the guy next to Arvid, the Indonesians are very polite.
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