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Published: September 22nd 2009
1/2 the Huge Pelni
I couldn't even fit the entire ferry in the shot, despite having a wide-angle lens!
The Pelni ship is an amazing mode of transport. German-made and the biggest ship I have ever been on in my life (I've never been on a cruise, but if some of you have, you can then imagine the size of this monstrosity), these beasts haul thousands of passengers every day of the year from island to island, from Sumatra and Java, Kalimantan and all the way east to Maluku and Papua, and many smaller islands in between. There are often six or seven floors for passengers, plus lots and lots of cargo. Passengers can opt for 1st, 2nd and sometimes 3rd class, or, as most people's budget allows, economy. Economy, to put it bluntly, sucks, but its all I can afford, so it's what I take. There are actual spaces to sleep in economy, raised "beds" or platforms. Renting a mattress to sleep on costs extra and only the first people on board have access. People crowd around spaces made for other things. Such as the stairs. There is no sacred place on a Pelni liner. People sleep in the doorways making the opening of the door very difficult. People sleep on the steps, the landings between floors, the narrow
Massive Pelni Liner
I'm somewhere in the midst of a scant few people
hallways reserved for 1st-3rd class, near the opening of the restrooms, on the outside decks and crammed into any nook and cranny available. Bags, boxes, blankets, fruits and vegetables, people, chickens (!?!), arms, legs, you name it, they're everywhere. It's most difficult to get anywhere on that ship without stepping on some extremity.
My second Pelni adventure, from Kupang, West Timor to Makassar, Sulawesi (a 37-hour voyage), I was in a very tight economy class quarters. I found myself taking up residence on a slab of metal made for 5 people; there were 14 of us crammed on it by the time it was time to go to sleep for the night. But not to forget, in addition to the passengers in the area made for five, were my rucksack, their luggage, fruits, vegetables, boxes, remnants of food crumbs and "to go" papers and containers, various articles of clothing, used cigarettes...I think you get the picture. The chain-smoking men on the other side of the open partition were loud and obnoxious the entire night, playing cards and talking at full volume until first light. I spent my second night on a bench outside. Once I found that bench two
People camp out wherever they can
floors up and under the hanging lifeboats, I never left, except to use the facilities. It was pure bliss. I finally found fresh air, well, sort of, except all the smoking that went on around me. Fortunately the wind was usually in my favor, more so than in the smoke-filled NO SMOKING ZONE of the indoors. Ha. My first morning after sleeping outside I woke up to the Muslim Call of Prayer about 4:30 or 5am to find six 20-something males crowding around, smoking, and watching me sleep. These guys weren't quiet either. Subsequent Pelni journeys never gotten easier.
To get onto a Pelni ship one can forget about any sort of line. A line, ha ha ha...just the thought of that word makes me laugh. Anybody out there ever been to India or Bangladesh? Yeah, then you can understood the word or the meaning behind "line" or "to stand in line" simply doesn't exist in these countries. When the ship arrives in port, the second the metal stairs are released to the port landing below, no the departing passengers can't get off first. First, the porters charge up the steps all grabbing at boxes, bags, anything they can
Options get more and more limited the later on board you clamber
get their hands on so they can make their daily wages. At the same time these men are charging through the massive crowd, the impatient departing passengers are trying to make their exit. And so it goes; men clambering up the rickety and narrow steps and men, women, children, boxes, bags and chickens all trying to simultaneously get down the same steps. It can literally take hours for a Pelni to empty of its passengers. Within maybe 10 minutes of the first passengers being let off the ship, the flood gates open so the passengers ready to board the ship now flock to the stairs, scurrying up as fast as their legs and the crowds around them will allow. Needless to say, this is absolute utter chaos. Maybe the first time it can be amusing, but it lost it's novelty really quickly. After seven Pelni journeys I was ready to shoot everyone that got in my way. One must push, shove, fight and claw his or her way onto or off the ship or risk getting pushed backwards as far away from those sacred stairs as possible. I have even seen people fall off the pier into the waters below,
As I said, people sleep anywhere and everywhere
and believe me, the waters in most port towns aren't the most pleasant to look at, let alone swim in! Of course, when someone falls in the water, it becomes the spectacle of the moment and everyone, all so very curious, must watch, sneer, point and laugh. How humiliating. Glad that never happened to me.
Once I found that wooden bench, I never left. This became "my spot." The next five Pelni journeys I found myself not even bothering with the smoke-infested, overcrowded and stuffy indoors, I just clambered up a few decks to this same spot underneath the lifeboats. Sometimes the weather was agreeable, other times, not so. I had to endure some pretty chilly nights, some very windy nights and one night it started pouring on me, forcing me indoors for the remainder of the night. I sleepily gathered up my rucksack and laptop bag, my pillow and water bottle and took up residence in a carpeted hallway where fortunately it wasn't too smoke-filled.
One journey I had every intention of staying the night outside in "my spot," only this ship was lacking benches so I would have had to sleep directly on the wooden deck
This is the crowded economy class, and it's only 1/3 full
outside. It started raining shortly after I made myself a home so I packed up and went to the open air canteen in the back of the boat, one floor up. Naturally it was smokey (there aren't many places to go in Indonesia where there isn't someone with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth), so I settled in one far corner away from the majority of the smoke. Within moments I had struck up a conversation with a college kid from Makassar. He and I were heading to the same island chain (he was heading home to visit with his family), became fast friends and he ended up inviting me down to his 3rd class cabin to talk with some of his friends. The 3rd class cabin on this ship had three bunk beds and all the roommates and I turned out to get along very well. After hours of talking together they collectively decided they wouldn't think of me sleeping outdoors (heavens no, not a single female traveler such as yourself....ha! If they only knew some of the places I have slept!) and invited me to take one of the beds. It was a lovely gesture and very
I slept on this narrow hallway floor one time when it was raining outside...at least I only got stepped on a handful of times
kind of everyone to invite me to stay, and I took them up on it -- hey, a free bed for the night, great! Somehow we ended up with 11 people in the room, everyone doubled up in the beds except me. Sometimes it's nice to be the foreigner. Unfortunately it turned out to be one of the most miserable nights I ever had on a Pelni journey.The A/C in the room didn't work and there were no windows to the outside. No fan, either, so it got hot and stuffy really fast. I developed a splitting headache and kept getting up in the night to go the bathroom down the hall to wet down my face, neck, arms and back. I was sweating profusely and couldn't stop.
This was the beginning of a terrible sickness, but that must be saved for a future blast. Don't worry, it wasn't fatal; I wouldn't leave this world without explaining what had happened to me.
Tot: 1.065s; Tpl: 0.087s; cc: 12; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0178s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb