2016
07.24
FERRY

FERRY

SYNOPSIS:  About ferries, ports, and people.

Anywhere else in the world, bus stations and ports are places where, as individual traveler in particular you have to be on red alert.  Shady characters roam around, pickpocketing is a pastime and most certainly you will be ripped off one way or another.  Not so in Indonesia. 

Waikelo (Sumba) was a crazy site but there was nothing shady about it.   Starting around 4 AM, people were gathering to get onto the ferry, just in case…  The ferry had not taken off in over a week because of high winds.  People with sacks and packs, motorbikes, overloaded trucks, stacks and stacks of bananas, animals and who knows what else were shoved into the bowel of this huge ferry leaving inches between all the vehicles at the bottom.

People on the top scrambled for seats only to end up on the floor anyhow — the place where the natives seemed most comfortable.  I had come relatively early and put luggage on a seat of my choice only to return from the bathroom a minute later, seeing it taken over by an extended family who were hoarding two rows of seats.  Fine, I moved.  There was always a seat for just a single person.

Once a family had marked its territory, mats were rolled out, hijabs were removed, people got comfortable.  Meals were prepared — full scale rice, meat, vegetable dishes miraculously emerged out of inconspicuous containers — and before long, most of humanity was in a deep slumber to make the 8-hour ride go faster.  Some people in the back of the ferry had started some sort of a gambling game with lively betting going on. I watched for a while but could not make heads or tails of it.  I wrote my diary for as long as my battery lasted.   An 8-hour ferry ride was just what I needed to catch up.  I felt good about the progress and time passed faster than I thought it would.

I had no clue how to proceed after landing in Sape.  Ferry schedules are one thing, but actual departure times are another.  Luck would have it that I could wait for a night ferry from Sape to Labuan Baje.

It was remarkable, but even in the dark, the atmosphere in Sape (Sumbawa Island) at night was relaxed and family oriented.  Vendors were roasting corn for the needy travelers who had to wait up to 5 hours between ferries.  Mini-trains were carting kids around for joyrides, and the adults were chatting and engaging with strangers. 

I had walked down the road for a block and found a hotel.  Not that I needed a room, but I could use a shower and a computer charge.  I negotiated just that with the young hotel clerk for a $2 tip.  He even threw a towel into the deal.  He was happy and so was I.  Of course you start sweating the minute you leave the shower, but it still felt good.

Center of the attention back at the port were my new friends from Spain, a family of four with two absolutely adorable strawberry-blond curly-haired children ages 3 and 4 who looked like twins and the spitting image of their mother.  I think these people are absolutely crazy to travel abroad with children this young, but they have my highest admiration.  I had seen them before cruising through Sumba on two motorbikes; each parent with one child in front of them.  And these kids behaved like little angels watching the luggage, goofing with one another, and running around playing soccer with plastic cans occasionally to get rid of their spare energy.  The locals marveled at them and were thoroughly entertained. The kids were completely oblivious to the commotion and admiration they caused. 

We adults hooked up watching each others’ luggage chatting and passing time.  We were heading the same way.  In the morning we were the only foreigners who had boarded the ferry that left from Waikelo to Sape.  Many fewer people were on the night ferry to Flores and all of us could stretch out on about 3 seats and get some sort of sleep.  For the kids we had snatched two of about ten mats the boat was renting so they could sleep on the floor.  Seeing them curled up in twin-fashion and going to sleep in no time was amazing. 

The thought of arriving in the pitch dark at 4 AM in Labuan Baje (Flores), a major port, without any idea of were to go, made me a bit nervous.  By the time I had carted my heavy suitcase out of the bumpy port area, the morning call to prayer sounded from three mosques simultaneously.  A guy on a motorbike offered his services, but with all my luggage I was way beyond his capacity.  So I bumped along the dark and empty road looking for a hotel that made a decent enough impression to stay in.  Port areas have hotels galore but often enough coupled with a good dose of prostitution and other shady dealings — not so here.  There were the rundown ones and the fancy once, but I could not discern anything that would have made me worry.

By 5 AM I had found a hotel garden with a seating area where I spread out and kept writing.  By the time the first sign of life at the reception I inquired about a room, but none was available.  Next I found a beautiful terrace cafe overlooking the harbor.  For a cup of very expensive tea I got the internet password and was rolling.  The attached hotel was also booked up…  This is a popular town on a popular island.  But I know something will be available.  For now, I am enjoying the rising dawn, the pastel tinge on the clouds hanging over the harbor.  I am in a safe place with all of my luggage and the next step will fall into place. 

Will I take a boat, stay a day or two, fly on, do some sightseeing?  In a few hours I will know more.

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When by 7 AM all hotel receptions in the area opened up, I found a hotel within minutes.  Bottom of the line, but no worse than anything else.  With no time to waste I was off hitting the first few tourist offices which seemed to be as numerous as boats on the horizon.  Tours are the bread and butter of this town.  Dozens of islands around are snorkeling and diving heavens.  People travel from afar for this experience.  And two of the islands within reach sport the Komodo “dragons”.  That’s what I came for.  I gave up the Orang Utans in Kalimantan, after all, there are some of them in our zoos. But these dragons are nowhere else.

It became clear that tour boats typically were booked at least a day in advance.  I did not want to wait a day and I was in no mood for wading through the plethora of reputable and not so reputable providers comparing prices and safety issues.  I just wanted to go or forget about it all.  I sprinted down to the harbor and went on the lookout for groups of foreigners arriving who would head toward a boat.  After two failed attempts (one boat was full, one boat was going out on a two-day diving excursion) I came upon a group of four heading with their light backpacks towards the pier.  That looked promising!

They were off to Rinca Island, not the more famous Komodo Island for a day of dragon watching and two snorkeling stops.  And they did not mind at all me joining. 

Thanks, Ganesh!  Let’s go.