We had been looking at the cheapest options to move through the different islands for quite a while. And we found it: a government subsidized enormous ferry called Pelni. Their website is in Bahasa Indonesia only, so we were only sble to go so far as to figuring out when it left from a certain port to another, but not really what possible routes it followed or how far the boats could potentially go. So we settled on Benoa – Bima, knowing very little about our destination, and having a vague idea on where to go from there. The first challenge was buying the ticket. We took a taksi to the port and, after driving around for a while, found the Pelni office. By office, imagine a smallish room without a front wall, with a desk that goes across it and about 30 people piled up against the desk trying to talk to the lady behind it all at the same time. Tim stayed with the packs, and it was my job to get us some tickets. Luckily all these agitated people were about one head shorter than me, so I dedicated the first 10 minutes to looking around and trying to figure out how this purchasing of the tickets worked: how they ‘queued’, paid, got the proof of purchase. I realized people were writing their name and destination on a piece of paper, and putting it onto a little pile. Later, the lady would go through them, ask for the money and write that person’s name onto another piece of paper. However, no one seemed to be getting anything in return, but hanged around after giving her the money. So my little paper went and joined the rest, and after about 15 minutes she called my name, I paid and after exchanging some words (her English was close to non existent), she asked for our ages. I also understood I had to stay put and my ticket would eventually come. “How long?” I ask. She looked at me, clueless. I pointed to the clock on the wall, and this time she got what I was asking and said “Don’t know”. I found this rather odd but then again, no one else had their tickets either so I just hung out by the wall and kept looking around. About 5 minutes later another girl turned up, obviously in a rush, and got off a motorbike, with her helmet still on. She brought a pile of tickets, called out some people and handed them out. Then she took the pieces of paper where the other clerk had been writing down people’s names and destinations after they paid, and left on her bike again. Then it struck me, their computers/printers in that “office” must have been broken, so the other girl was driving back and forth between another place where she could actually print the tickets! This theory was later on confirmed by an Indonesian that could speak English ok, so all there was left to do was wait… About an hour later our tickets finally arrived! Joyfully on we go, onto the ferry. Lots of people were waiting by the boat, but we easily pushed our way through and onto the ship. Again, we were much bigger than most people here, so doing that was rather easy. We started scanning the place to find a good place to spend the next 23 hours and we found an empty bench out in the open, in front of the life boat and life jackets (mum had asked specifically that I wore one, so this is the closest I could get :P). Upon exploring the boat one at a time, we realized we were indeed the only white people on board.. among around 3 to 5 thousand Indonesians.. We quickly made our first friend. His English was very limited, but he had a beautiful smile that made me like him straight away. Tim was not so sure. He had a cut on the side of his mouth so Tim proceeded to give me a graphic explanation on how that was a typical scar that results from a common Mafia torture Technic, in which they cut the side of your mouth with a razor, and then make you scream, causing the flesh to tear. This seemed exaggerated to me, so later on I asked him about the scar, and he told us it was just motorbike accident and showed us a few more he had due to the same reason… So Tim was just being over-sceptical..
Unfortunately after about an hour on the trip it started raining quite hard so we had to look for cover.. and of course, all the best spots were already taken. We tried to get a bed inside (there were 3 decks with beds), but they all seemed occupied, so we just unrolled one of our sleeping mats and took a space outside but under cover, which happened to be right in front of the mosque. I did not know at that stage their speakers would wake me up at 5am calling people to pray, but you learn things every day! I was having a nap when the sound of voices woke me up. I found our friend and two new guys sitting in a circle around us, talking to Tim. The new guys were English students in Bali, returning home to Flores for the holidays. Their English was very good, so we enjoyed their conversation and got to ask all the questions that had been in my mind about their culture for quite some time. One of the things they clarified was the whole offerings business, that I spoke about in the previous posts. In Hindu households, every day, at least three times a day, they put three offerings out. This is ritual of giving back what has been given to them by their Gods, and it comprehends at least three baskets: One for nature, one for the spirits, and one for the People. These guys were not Hindu nor Muslim, but Catholics. It seemed as if the missionaries had quite a big impact, according to them, as a good portion of the population was, indeed, devout Catholic. They told us quite a bit about their lifestyle and the place they came from, and were also kind enough to teach us some words in Indonesian.
Every time I felt like stretching my legs I walked around the ferry. Avoiding to step on people and/or their stuff, I made my way through the corridors, gazed into the horizon and explored this crazy ferry. All the time people stared at me with wide open eyes.. I can’t tell if it was the colour of my skin, the clothes I was wearing (though I made a point to wear long pants and a t-shirt), my hair (no Indonesian woman has short hair like me), my height (I am very tall for their standards) or what… It made me feel rather uncomfortable, after being on a boat for this long I would have kinda wanted to be anonymous… but that was not going to be an option. Tim seemed to be enjoying the attention a whole deal more than me… All the girls giggling and wanting to take pictures with him… So I figured I would just need to get used to it… the deeper we go into Indonesian land and less touristy places, the worse this will get, so suck it up and learn to enjoy it! The night went by uneventfully… I am lucky to be able to sleep anywhere and in pretty much any position, so I had no problems sleeping on the deck curled up in a ball over the sleeping mat (foam camping mat type thingy we both carry) The next morning we ate some of our provisions, and I spent my time starting a new Murakami book – 1Q84. Our catholic friends came back to hang out and talk, which was welcome company and conversation. We agreed to meet them again in Ende. Around midday we started heading inland towards Bima, finally arriving there at around 3pm.