Edit Blog Post
Published: November 23rd 2018
Rows of pods
Travelling offers all kinds of interesting experiences, like sleeping in a pod hotel at Jakarta Airport for instance. I have never slept in a pod hotel, and since my flight to Ambon had inexplicably been rescheduled to the morning after my arrival in Jakarta, I decided this was the opportunity to try one out. It was a futuristic looking contraption, a square hole in a long row of square holes, dimly lit with blue lighting to give it even more of a science fiction appearance. It reminded me of a morgue, where they slide the bodies into refrigerated lockers. The only difference was that these refrigerated lockers were full of living people, creeping in and out of them, and equipped with screens and mirrors, and mood lighting (I presume the dead have no need of such contrivances). I slid into my little cubby-hole and locked myself in for the night. For a morgue it was noisy, the dead were restless, arriving and leaving at odd hours. A fit-full sleep later, full of dreams of cold corpses slithering in and out of their coffins, and I was on my morning flight to Ambon.
I had three days to kill before my
Pelni ship to the Kei Islands. I used some of the time, all of 15 minutes of it to be exact, to buy my ticket on said Pelni ship. It was the same ship I had been on a year earlier, the ‘Leuser’. At that time I had boarded in Banda, and sailed in one night to Saumlaki. This time I was getting on in Ambon and would be sailing three night to Kei, stopping at my old haunts, Bandaneira and Saumlaki along the way. In Banda, last year, the Pelni office was able to sell me a cabin on the ship, in Ambon they wouldn’t… or couldn’t. Only economy class, which consists of a huge dorm on deck three: rows and rows of bunkbeds fitting hundreds and cooled by a shady and intermittent airconditioning unit, leaving people to sweat in their beds. Many chose not to. They moved to the deck, preferring the breeze and the hard metal deck to the comforts of the sweaty leather mattresses down below. I opted for a cabin. But since I had to buy it from the crew they were able to ask a hefty fee for it. I was at a disadvantage
Self portrait in blue
here. I wanted, they didn’t care. The result was a cabin for a bit over twice as much as what I had bought it for in the Pelni office in Banda the year before. Perhaps you think I did it for creature comforts, but my main aim with acquiring a cabin was so I could stow away my luggage safely. Three days with hundreds of unknown people would have meant three days of continually worrying about my possessions. There only needs to be one. And on the Pelni boats there are plenty of thieves and opportunists, just like in any other busy place anywhere on the world. I rather pay too much for a few days, with the knowledge I can roam around at will without worrying about my stuff. I bargained of course, and got them to knock of one third of the price. It came with extra service though, being upper class I didn’t have to queue up with the common folk to pick up my complimentary meals at the kitchen, a rather time consuming occupation I know out of experience. Instead somebody brought me my meals to my room three times a day, and they were more
Martha Chirstina Taihahu statue overlooking Ambon City
lavish meals too. Yes, I was living the high life on the high seas!
And so I spend my days reading and roaming, and talking to Indonesians of various pedigrees. As the only white guy on the boat I was somewhat a celebrity. I had ample opportunity to brush up my Indonesian, and a few Indonesians used the occasion to brush up their English. It was a thoroughly enjoyable journey full of interesting characters. Take Franz, for example, an Indonesian Instagram celebrity of sorts, they call them Celegrams here, he explained. A young man from Harakua Island (near Ambon), modest and cheerful. A backpacker like myself. Discovering Indonesia, like myself. And sharing it with others on Instagram, not unlike me and my blog. But with 50000 followers, compared to my feeble 100 odd followers (and I am being generous here). I think the difference is not in his experiences, but in the fact that Indonesian backpackers are still a rare breed in Indonesia, and many a young Indonesian would like to be like Franz. There are very few Indonesian blogs about Indonesians travelling their archipelago, however clearly there is an appetite out there for such things and Franz has
tapped into that. He gets sponsored to travel around. But not enough to travel around in luxury. He slept on deck, like the true backpacker does. I am really a flashpacker these days, with a few odd remnants of the backpacker still lingering on in me.
And so I arrived in style to Kei, and bid Franz adieu. I found myself a motorcycle taxi to Pasir Panjang, a slice of tropical white paradise about 20 minutes from the capital Tual. I have seen many a beautiful beach in my life, but Pasir Panjang truly is one of those rare gems you don’t come across very often, except in Photoshopped travel magazines. But Pasir Panjang doesn’t need Photoshopping, it is gorgeous as it is. In all my travels I have seen none like it, and that is saying something. In all my travels I also haven’t had the rather unexpected experience I had on my ride to Pasir Panjang.
About half way to Pasir Panjang my driver turned to me and suddenly asked: ‘suka gay?’
Suka means, ‘like’ in Indonesian, so he was asking if I ‘liked gay’. I was somewhat taken aback, and I wasn’t sure I
Gunung Api as we leave
had understood him correctly. Perhaps he had said, girl instead of gay, or perhaps he had said something completely different. I couldn’t imagine he was actually asking if I liked gay people, as in Indonesia to bring up such a subject comes with risks, unless you are talking about gay as in happy. So I said, I didn’t understand him.
Again he asked, this time in English, ‘do you like gay?’
And once more I retorted, ‘what do you mean?’
Being more explicit he said, ‘Homo. Do you like homo?’
Aha, I thought, he is really asking me if I like gay people.
Now I don’t care if somebody is gay or heterosexual or asexual or whatever, so I answered, ‘I have no problem with gay people, but I am not gay myself. I have a girlfriend.’
Because I surmised what he wanted to know wasn’t if I had a problem with gay people but if I was gay myself.
This didn’t deter my little friend though as his next question was the rather more shocking, ‘Do you want to suck me?’
Really? I thought, which part of me not being gay
Selfie at the port
and having a girlfriend didn’t you understand. So I once again reiterated that I was not gay and reminded him I had a girlfriend. The man however wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The remainder of the ride was a barrage of similar sort of question, ‘Want to fuck me?’ or ‘Come on fuck me!’, and more ‘Suck me’ suggestions, with my equally consistent replies of ‘No, I’m not gay! I have a girlfriend!’
To be honest I wasn’t afraid he would try and do anything, the man was a rather frail looking sort of fellow, not the person anybody would find in the slightest way intimidating. Instead of finding it irritating I found it somewhat amusing. He did once try and put his hand on my knee, but I took them off said part and told him not to try that again, and he didn’t.
I never expected to have my very own #MeToo experience in the remoter regions of the Indonesian archipelago. I laughed heartily about the whole thing, but I did wonder at the risk he was taking. What if he had tried this with somebody who wasn’t as sanguine about it as me.
Some isles along the route
It could have ended up really bad for him. But luckily it didn’t. I don’t wish him harm, I wish him love whatever his sexual preference, but I hope he is more careful about expressing it, for his own sake, and less aggressive.
And so ends this tale, with a happy ending for me (though not for him, he didn’t get his fuck
after all), in a cottage overlooking the sea and a white sandy beach encountered only in dreams. The azure waters beckon me. Fare ye well my friends, until the next installment of my travails which will speak, no doubt, of more adventures and less #MeToo moments on Kei.
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