On a normal voyage on a Pelni Ship, you could be going from one to any other Indonesian island, on a giant ferry that takes at least some hundreds of people. Each route is about two weeks long, arriving surprisingly punctually at each port.
Sean and I took a ship from South Kalimantan (the south-most bit of Borneo) to Java – a three day trip, which we thought was two days long because, well, that’s what everyone told us. Well, except for a guy sitting next to us who noticed that we were baffled. When Sean and I were pretty sure that we were meant to arrive in just a few hours, but couldn’t help but notice that there was still thousands of kilometres to go, this guy next to us leaned over and introduced himself. Turns out he’s also going to Java, and it turns out that we still have 18 hours of sea-time left.
srsly?! Eighteen?! I mean, that’s a pretty significant miscalculation that mister ticket-selling man made. And the guys at the port. And the others who we’d talked to.
Well, we couldn’t deny the logic that this guy possessed, seeing as we had just left
Sulawesi, which was
nowhere near halfway between our departure and destination. Well, thanks helpful bad-news guy. Damn good he told us, cause otherwise we
would have been direly confused when our arrival time came and went and we
still happened to be, well, in the middle of the sea. And how super convenient that we had bags and
bags of food, so much that even with an extra 18 hours and four meals, we still somehow had food left.
|The famous Pelni ship|
I’ll backtrack a bit here. Let me tell you a bit about these Pelni ships. Before we went to
Indonesia, we’d heard of such ships
as ply the vast waters between Indonesian islands. Byron had been in Indonesia, and these ships were,
according to him, and I quote, “awesome.”
He had stories of meeting people, enjoying the free rice-and-fish
head-packed-in-Styrofoam meals, playing endless games of cards, and generally
being happy basking in an incredibly unique cultural experience. Byron was also, helpfully, honest about the
downsides of the ships: They’re hot, stinky, loud, sleepless, and everyone
smokes all the time.
|Tugboat tugging us away from the port|
Sean thought to himself, “Well, I’d rather take an aeroplane above all the hot stinky mess and arrive at my destination within hours of comfort in the sky, instead of days of boat.”
And I thought to myself, “OMGzorz that sounds so cool we have to do it!!!!”
Sean’s opinion did not change much as we travelled further and met more and more people who had taken Pelni ships and had seriously not had a good time at all. It seems that most people have a love-hate relationship with these ships. Mostly hate, and a little bit of love.
Ultimately we ended up taking the ship because the three day trip was only like $35 for a "nonseat" ticket, and because my desire to travel on a ship was undeniable.
So lo and behold, we are boarding a Pelni ship with our backpacks and our bags of food, and there are three decks that have some second class rooms, a cafeteria, bathrooms, offices, and like 20 million people. Our departure port was not the starting point for the ship, so there were people everywhere: in the staircases, outside, in the hallways. Pretty much every surface that could be slept on was being slept on.
Did I mention that it’s Ramadan, and that every Indonesian person uses this holiday as a perfectly legitimate reason to go visit their family, who invariably lives ridiculously far from them?
|Ramadan = Full ship|
Well, it’s Ramadan, and the ship is packed, but Sean and I luck into a little spot outside on the deck. Our logic is thus: it’s fucking hot inside the ship; all the good spots are taken and guarded; the outdoors cool, sunny, and windy, and when everyone out here smokes it’s not in a small confined area; and if it rains we’re screwed.
Three yays, one nay: the outdoors wins.
|I don't know why, but this upside down pictures of Sean waiting is here.|
|Trying to not let the wind drive our hair into our eyes, therefore driving us mad|
|What will they do next?|
So we found our little spot on the deck and lay down our bags. Soon thereafter a man walked by with pieces of paper like brown paper-bags that have white plastic on one side. About one by one metres. I don’t know what this is, or why I would want a huge piece of plastic-paper, but Sean has a quick survey of our surroundings and decides that, since everyone else has one of these under their bums, that this piece of paper is a thing on which to sit and sleep. So Sean and I procure two of these bum-papers and lay them down while the dozens of people around us nod their approval and continue to stare to see what we’ll do next.
Well, what shall we do next? We have (so we thought at the time) two days on this boat, and not much to do but sit around. Well, so that’s what we did. 24 hours went by surprisingly quickly, doing nothing but sitting around, reading our books, not playing cards because it’s way too windy to be possible, layering up to sleep, using the bathrooms which are totally not gender separated (the ship was like 3 percent female, so the males helped themselves to our bathroom), and generally watching people and being watched, preparing our food, and thrice daily going to the cafeteria to get rice-and-fish head-Styrofoam.
The first 24 hours, and then the next. And then we have the conversation with helpful-guy who tells us that we're not arriving in three, but in 18 hours... and there you go. three days on a Pelni ship!