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Published: December 2nd 2006
That's buy one, get one free. Two ferries in Ambon harbour on the same day - double the chaos. Made for some nifty reverse parallel parking by our captain !
Our boat back to Ambon is "only" two hours late in leaving port, which can be considered "early" by PELNI standards. During our short stay in the Spice Islands, the Bukit Siguntang
has been all the way to Sorong in West Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) and back. No surprises as to the reason behind the delay - have a guess...it begins with a "K" and ends with "ARGO". I'm not quite sure what's being transported (not nutmeg) from a place like this to the bright lights of Ambon, but there sure is a lot of it...And since the boat is far too long for the jetty, it's having to be loaded first onto a small wooden canoe using nothing but elbow grease - the canoe is then punted twenty metres or so away to the bows of the ship, where the ferry's on-board crane takes over. It looks like shambolic, takes ages but as always it works. Eventually.
The trip back is relatively uneventful. It's a daytime sailing so we don't need to worry about sleeping to an audience, which is what would have happened on the way there if we hadn't taken refuge in the off-limits bows.
Where's Wally ?
Disembarkation of the Bukit Siguntang at Ambon. Note the red-shirted porters going against the flow to get theirs hands on people's luggage. Can you count the cardboard noodle boxes ?
The downside, though, is that you have to make a tough decision: do you avoid drinking for the whole journey (obviously not very good for your kidneys) or do you risk having to use the ekonomi
toilets (not very good if you tend to get nightmares) ?
A welcome distraction from the journey was provided when the crew invited us on to the bridge. The modern electronic equipment on the bridge was in complete contrast to the squalor of the rest of the ship ! The navigator-person was plotting our course by hand on a large map of the Banda Sea. He was tracing the lines on strips of sticky tape so he could re-use the chart every time - clever...The captain also pointed out a spout of water in the distance from a surfacing whale. The crew were very friendly and keen to answer questions (although my Indonesian vocabulary is somewhat limited in scope when it comes to discussing bearings and GPS coordinates). We were obviously quite a novelty !
As well as the Bukit Siguntang
, the PELNI liner Lambelu
has arrived in Ambon, at exactly the same time. Wow ! You wait all month for a
Boarding through the plane's backside on our flight from Makassar to Surabaya. We made a record connection from our Ambon flight by simply sprinting across the tarmac...
PELNI liner and two come along at once. It's Christmas for the shopkeepers of Ambon, and as can be expected the disembarkation is particularly vaudevillian, even by local standards. Teams of porters congregate at the docks as the ferries moor, ready to rush aboard the minute the steps touch the ground, then sprinting out carrying anything from boxes of dried noodles (some things never
change) to fridges on their heads. It has to be seen to be believed. And you though cross-Channel ferries were bad. After a buffer-night in Ambon - a precaution against PELNI's flexi-approach to timetabling, we fly back to Surabaya, this time with a stop and change of plane in Makassar in Southern Sulawesi (an airport I know well and spent several hours hanging around in in 2000...), the second leg on a distinctly dodgy-looking aircraft which we boarded, interestingly (it was an unexciting day, you see), through the rear-end. Fascinating stuff, eh ?
The original intention had been to spend the afternoon exploring Surabaya before our evening flight out, but the city is some 25km away from the airport and is apparently a miniature version of Jakarta (not
a city close to many travellers' hearts),
An urban forest
Of skyscrapers ! Singapore's central business district. Smoke from forest fires in Sumatra (caused by illegal burning-off of cleared land) has wafted over the Straits of Melaka. The haze is terrible, and while we were there reached unhealthy levels.
so we decide we can't bothered. On top of this, many East Javan highways are clogged with traffic as a consequence of the disastrous mud spill in Sidoarjo. It would seem that Fate has decided that we are to spend yet more
time waiting about in Surabaya's vermin-invested (of the furry and
six-legged varieties, two species for the price of one) airport terminal. We managed to find some dinner there - only it made Alex violently ill for days afterwards. We should have known.
Our flight out of Surabaya takes us direct to Singapore - for the second time. On this occasion we are spending five days here as guests in the home of Mr and Mrs Kah, parents of a good Singaporean friend of ours from College days. For a few days, it seems we are at home again, complete with substitute parents. Bliss ! One of the highlights of our stay in the Lion City came when our generous hosts took us out to an outdoor restaurant by the Straits to sample Singapore's most famous dish - black pepper crab. The dish, consisting of a gargantuan arthropod (think small dog) cooked whole with pepper and spring onions,
A drink by the river ?
By the river in Singapore. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants, most of which specialise in seafood. A lovely spot to enjoy a Tiger Beer, despite the smog !
is as delicious as it is simple. Especially when your hosts insist you eat the whole thing yourself ! Now that
is a national dish. Beats jellied eels.
Much of our time in Singapore is spent moseying down Orchard Road - a wider, cleaner and generally infinitely more pleasant take on Oxford Street (if you ignore the 35 degree heat and the humidity !). The number of shops and malls is bewildering - Singaporeans have whole-heartedly embraced consumerism. Shopping is the national sport. Best of all are the food courts in the department stores' basements, true Aladdin's Caves stuffed full of tasty morsels.
Another highlight was the astonishing Museum of Asian Civilizations, with an amazingly beautiful - and beautifully presented - collection of exhibits from all over Asia, with a particularly beautiful collection of Arabic calligraphy, something I particularly enjoy looking at. Alex and I also visited a wonderful (and free, which added to the wonderfulness) exhibition of Cartier jewellery, where we both spent a pleasant hour gawping at the priceless gems.
It seems like Singapore manages to do most things effortlessly, and much better than anywhere else. Indeed Singapore is so zuper-efizient that it can at
Close encounters of the crustacean kind
No, it's not an alien life form, simply a very, very, very large crab. And a delicious one, let me tell you !
times seem a little square. You're never more than two metres from a sign, wherever you go, telling to do something, not to do something. Big Brother is very much in evidence here. But then again, they say that in London you're never more than two metres from a rat. I know which I'd choose !
Relaxed, full of tasty Singaporean fare and eternally grateful to our wonderful hosts for their warm hospitality, we head to Bali (again) on the second leg of our round the world ticket (some four months after then first). We're not yet sure of how long we are going to spend in Indonesia on this second visit. It's a toss-up between visiting the Lesser Sunda Islands (which stretch eastwards from Bali - Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba, Flores and West Timor) and moving on to Australia earlier than originally planned. After a few days in Ubud deliberating and cogitating, we came to our conclusions and decided to head Down Under. Flights from Bali to Australia are pretty busy this time of year but we managed to get two seats on a Denpasar-Melbourne flight three weeks before we had initially intended to fly the route. This gave
The straits south of Singapore must be some of the busiest in the world. Dozens upon dozens of tankers, container ships and cargo boats clog the horizon.
us a week or so in Bali which, I am proud to say, we spent on our backsides doing absolutely nothing. Except sipping mojitos by the rice terraces, swimming in the hotel pool and eating a great deal of cake. I do
like a bit of cake.
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