2016
07.26
NAM IN THE AIR

NAM IN THE AIR

SYNOPSIS:  About making the most of a boring day.  Sitting around at the Luanbajo airport.  A note from the health and the photo department.   About luck.

I have no address, I have no phone — the clerks at the six airline offices that lined one wall of the rather sparse basement in the brand-new Luanbajo Airport (Bandar Udara Komodo) were baffled.  I pointed to the food court right across from them:  That’s where I live — at least for today.

And all day I sat there, writing my Sumba blog — so that at least something good would come of this very boring, wasted day.   

One by one I crossed them off.  the 9:25 by Garuda, the 9:35 by Wings, the 11:05 by Kalstar, the 11:50 by Wings, the 13:05 by Garuda,  Some flew West to Denpassar in Bali, some flew East to Kupang in Timur.  I didn’t care.  All I needed to accomplish was to get off Flores Island. 

I guess, that’s what you get when you don’t book ahead…

If by tonight I have not found a way to leave this airport, I will be back in town at my ramshackle Hotel Mutiara.  It is close to the port and costs a mere $8.  For the same: a fan-cooled, hot room, a traditional bathroom with a bucket and a bed with a semi-clean sheet, I have easily paid three times as much in other places. 

I will check the port and all travel agencies for anything that leaves the island.  Perhaps, a 2-day ferry will be more promising?  Perhaps some tourists are going to visit Komodo and Lombok and won’t mind another passenger.  Perhaps one of the big ferries will go on the 16-hour trip it takes to get from here to Makassar in Kalimantan?  Anything would be better at this point than waiting for four days — that’s when I could book the next officially open seat…  To reach an island with an airport such as Bali is a 36-hour bus-ferry-bus-ferry affair, that would be ahead of me. And 36 hours is calculating on the basis that each stretch arrives on time and actually connects to the next mode of transportation.  A trip I would not be looking forward to, but at least, I would be moving.  Let’s see if it can be avoided.

I had not envisioned for it to be so difficult and time-consuming to leave Flores.  The island is popular, it is high-season and still the holiday season for Eid-ul-Fitr; most likely, all of these are contributing factors.   Eid is a time when the Muslim population is on the move visiting family near and far and exchanging gifts.  Already on the ferries from Sumba and Sumbawa that was apparent.  But these huge ferries can carry hundreds of people and can easily overload; airplanes can’t.

I am not alone here.  Two Canadian women are also in for this.  Even though they arrived before me, I have the one advantage over them: being a single person.  All other parties on the waiting list are groups of 2, 3, even 4.    St. Christopher, I need a major boost here…!

At this point it is 2 PM.  6 hours are behind me 2 more hours before the last plane has left.  The basement is smoke-filled and only marginally cool.  My wooden chair seems to become harder by the minute and I am counting 15 new mosquito bites…  I can’t say this is all pleasant.

Speaking of mosquito bites.  You may remember my last major attack at the fleabag Andalus Hotel in Surabaya.  I never mentioned it again but those bites by whoever bit me there, developed into many serious bumps so bulgy, that I accidentally scraped a few.  That opened them up and they oozed for almost a week.  Sorry, for the details but I just have too much time to write right now…  No matter what I applied to these wounds, they would not close. 

To make things worse, from the heat and the humidity, I developed a major outbreak of eczema on both hands; between fingers and inside my palms.  For a few days, anything aggravated the itching; from carrying my luggage to holding my camera.  It was only the regular swimming in salt water at Oro Beach that finally got rid of both of these annoyances.  I am supposed to have stomach problems…  Not that I want any, but I have the medicine to combat them.  For these other weirdo conditions, I have nothing and pharmacies were of no help.  Oh well.  These are the joys of traveling.

Another plane came off the list:  The 14:35 by Wings soon followed by the 15:00 by Nam.

Time for some good news:  Once my big old Nikon recovered from all the wet weather in Timur and had dried out, there were signs of life.  Some buttons still froze, but I was able to initiate some of the self-cleaning operations and voila!  It worked again. 

Thanks, Ganesh!

In the meantime I made friends with David, the owner of the little food stall, and his wife who had allowed me to sit at their four-table food stall all day and who had cooked a delicious lunch for me.  David had recharged my computer and even started to make inquiries on my behalf!  Through the back channels he had secured me a seat on an 8:40 AM tomorrow which I would have to pay before the end of the office day. Thanks, Ganesh — I know you are working overtime today.  This is a light at the end of the tunnel!  But there were still three flights today.  I was holding out.

By now it was time to cross off the 16:00 by Garuda and finally the 16:05 by Wings.  No more flights today.  It’s time to go.

But wait, the 15:00 Nam was delayed. It had not taken off.  For the umptiest time I went to their window.  The girls in there were already laughing before I even reached their window.  They had seen me before.  Yes, the plane was still here, but there were 5 people ahead of me. 

That sounded very different from the previous “no, everyone showed up”.  5 minutes later:  only 3 people ahead of me.   5 minutes later:  only 2 people ahead of me.  And 5 minutes later:  Yes, you have a seat!

I don’t even know where I am going but it’s one of the two destinations this airport services:  Denpassar or Kupang.  I can’t believe I am getting out of here after all!

Now the scramble started.  I had to be fast to get my boarding my suitcase checked in.  Yeah, try to be fast with a heavy camera bag, a back pack and a suitcase.  But one of the cafeteria bus boys helped.  At the check in a big “oh no!”  My bag was 5 kg over weight but there was no time to do anything.  It had to be pushed through as fast as possible.  How lucky am I today?!

And then I end up right behind first class in the row reserved for other airline members.  A young pilot is sitting next to me and there is … one empty seat.  The Canadian girls could have made it.  They were ahead of me in the morning.  They should have been ahead of me on any list.  How did I get this seat and not they?  I will never know. 

But I know that they sat in their spot all day whereas I checked the counters frequently and made the girls laugh.  Perhaps, it is the squeaky wheel after all, that gets what it needs?  I will never know. 

See you… we shall see where. 

3 comments so far

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  1. Oh, goodness – so glad you had salt water to swim in, to help ease those reactions/infections toward being cured.

    As frustrating as it must have been, it reads as a fascinating experience.

  2. What a day! My hair would surely be turning grey going through such an ordeal. So glad your heavy luggage got pushed through as well. Luck seems to find you – your smile must help.

  3. David and his Indonesian wife have lovely smiles.