We can divide the bus ride into two. The Malaysian part was very comfortable and simple. We slept, read, wrote, and took it easy. After a few hours, the boarder crossing came. Again we had little trouble, as we had already sorted the visa in Kuching and there was little waiting involved. We got off the bus and continued on foot, while our bags remained inside to be checked by security (I assume) This of course leads to the second part of the journey. The impact of crossing the border was not as traumatic as the previous time had been (Nunukan and Tawau are a world apart from each other), but the differences were still palpable. The road on one side had been smooth, and it was bumpy and full of pot holes on the other. The drivers attitude seemed to have changed as well, and was now racing through the poorly maintained roads, passing any and everything he could on the worst possible places for it. All the memories came back to us soon enough; welcome to Indonesia! I was rather excited to be back, as a part of me missed the chaos…
We exited the bus when it was already dark outside. A lady asked us which way we were heading, and told us we could get a ride with her. Outside the terminal, she introduced us to “her brother”, who promptly packed our backpackss into the trunk and set towards Pontianak city. He had another friend inside the car, and neither spoke much English at all, but they pointed at some landmarks and fancy hotels as we drove past, and laughed with us. When we arrived at the hotel we had chosen and got off the car, they tried to charge us 300.000IDR. See, if you had just arrived in Indonesia you might think 30u$s for a taxi is not ridiculous; but we knew better and simply laughed at his face. Then the arguing started; they had cheated us, as it was not a marked or legal taxi, just a private car used as such, and the lady had offered us a ride to town… We were in no great hurry, and I told Tim we could possibly sit them out. After an uncomfortable thirty minutes of arguing, they took 70.000IDR, cursed us with the money, and left. We felt a little bit bad about the situation, but the truth was, they tried to rip us off, so got what was coming for them…
The hotel was big and clean, much to our liking. Our room was hot, but there was a fan to help some. We had some dinner behind a street cart, and returned to watch a movie (TV had USB port) and sleep. The following morning, we decided to go to the port and see if we could procure a ticket for that day’s Pelni boat. We had some breakfast there, and asked around, to be told the office did not open until 10am. We decided to head back to the hotel instead of waiting, which turned out to be a great idea in the end… When we got there, I realized the clock said it was 9am. This was strange, as I though we had left at 8am and it had surely been more than an hour… And then figured out we had inadvertently come into a new time zone, so it was an hour earlier than we thought it was.
This was great news, as it meant we had some time to explore before having to check out of the hotel. With that in mind, we set out to find a money changer to get some IDR and visit the local cathedral, which was quite awesome. We came back to the hotel with just enough time to pack up and leave the room.
We then strolled towards the port, and I left Tim with the bags and set out to find us tickets. People pointed me in various directions, until I decided to just go see the agents on the other side of the road, as I had scouted them during our morning trip. The first one I entered told me the system was down and was unable to help me. The second one also said system offline, and that I could not get tickets for that day. Annoyed, I went back to the port, and the security guy stopped me. ‘Can you help me?’ He said. I told him, ‘Sure’ and looked puzzled. Soon I realized he was asking if I needed assistance, so I explained the situation in my best broken English for him to understand. He looked worried and told me to go speak to the people in the offices, pointing to IPC, the Indonesia Port Corp. I was not convinced, but was also getting desperate at this point. So I put my best sad puppy face on, and told my story to the receptionist. She said she would try to help, and asked me to fetch Tim. We gave them our passports, and the craziness started. Half the building stopped working and instead devoted to helping us. The ones that could speak English kept us company. We met quite a few interesting and lovely people. Others ran around, made phone calls, and gave us different versions of the story. In some, the boat was full and there were no more tickets. In others, the boat was broken, and would not come at all. A third one claimed the boat might go to Surabaya (our destination) or another random island off the coast of Sumatra instead, depending how many tickets they sold to either. The contradictory information was maddening, but we made it pretty clear we wanted to get on the boat, no matter where or what.
Eventually they managed to get tickets for us, even if we had to pay a little bit extra for them. We also got preferential boarding status, as they let us go through the adjacent door to the loading area, and first into the boat, so we got first pick for beds. This was rather convenient, as everything filled up quickly once the doors opened for the general public.
We spent more than 48 hours on Economy class, sharing a big open space with more than a hundred other people. We were again the only white ones on board, but no one bothered us at all. I spent most of the time reading ‘The Name of the Wind’, a wonderful fantasy novel I dearly recommend, though I must warn you, the last book of the series is not out and it will leave you wanting for more….