Part 1: A trip to Sukadana on Christmas Day
Part 2: Sukadana Continued…
In planning our trip back to Pontianak, Novi suggested we get a longboat instead of a speedboat. The speedboat was approximately AU $20 while the longboat was approximately AU $7.00. The speedboat took 5 hours, the longboat took…. Well, I wasn’t really able to establish how long it was going to take or when it left or when it would arrive in Pontianak – the details seemed to be elusive. Given I had to be at work the day after I returned, I wasn’t committed to undertaking a voyage without really knowing the ‘finer’ details. Or, lets be honest, the details at all. The information I was privy to was:
1. It was a ‘longboat’
2. It would take longer
3. The boat would be slower
4. I would see more scenery
Pretty much all of those points could be deduced from the first point. My gut was telling me to speak up and take the speedboat. But I didn’t. And so it was decided we would take the longboat rather than the speedboat.
We’d gone down to the Sukadana harbor two days before our departure, wandered around a bit, bought some fresh mangos before finally being pointed in the direction of the man that would be taking a longboat back to Pontianak on the day we wanted. He said he’d be leaving at midday in two days time. So, on the day we were due to leave, we headed down to the harbor at 8am. The harbor was only five minutes down the road, but we needed to allow ‘time’ – this is Indonesia after all. We convinced our excitable and friendly workers at the guesthouse to take us down for free on the back of their motorbikes.
Once we were down at the harbor, we were told the boat wouldn’t be running that day. Something had ‘happened’. Again, I failed to speak up and say ‘let’s just get the speedboat’ and instead, we went back to the guesthouse where we were told we could wait for a bus that would take us to another harbor about an hour and a half away. So we waited. We were told the bus would be here soon. Then at 9. Then at 10. Then at 10.30. At 10.15, the bus came.
It was a crowded little rusty local bus, that was full of bodies and luggage. There was an expectation you could jump on the bus as it rolls up – but, in our case, they stopped. After traveling for a while, we stopped, people had a little bit of food, and then back on the bus we got. I didn’t really have much idea what was going on – I was just going with the ‘flow’, but there wasn’t much ‘flow’ happening either, so when Novi moved, I also moved.
As we pulled into our second stop, a group of men came running at the bus – many jumping up onto the steps as the bus was still moving. At first I thought they were all vying to get a seat on the bus, as there wasn’t much room left, but I soon realised they were all ojek drivers, trying to secure the customers to take them from the bus to the harbor in whatever the town was we were now in.
Despite their persistence, we chose to walk. One of the ojek drivers kept following us. He was a little scary looking – although I am sure he was really a nice guy. Some of the men here have a really long fingernail on their little finger – this guy had really long fingernails on all fingers. He said he’d take us the the harbour for free, but we both had to get on the back of the bike at the same time. Given we had our backpacks, we declined. It wasn’t a particularly long walk – perhaps just 15 minutes, but in the late morning heat, with our backpacks on, we were soon sweating.
We’d been told the boat wasn’t until 4pm. But we’d also been told that there was one at midday. And also told there was one at 2 pm. The sooner the better for me, as, I had also just discovered that it was a 14 hour boat ride. At the harbor, we booked our ticket, and were told that the boat actually left at 3pm. We had plenty of time to kill, so we headed back down the street to grab some food.
At the warung, while we were in the middle of eating, two men came and sat at our table. I didn’t know what they wanted, but soon, the man sitting next to me asked for my phone number. I get this a lot, and the easiest thing to do is for me give my number. I’m not sure what would happened if a person you just gave your number to called your phone to make sure it was correct, and it didn’t ring. I just prefer to err on the polite side over here, even if it does result in some random and sometimes a little creepy texts from someone I’ve met along the way. After a few minutes, he leant over and said in English;
‘I like you, do you understand?’
And I just said ‘yes’ like a ditz and hoped that would be enough. I wasn’t really sure what he was expecting, but we got up and left as soon as we’d finished our meal and headed back to the boat. We had hours, but we figured if we got there early, we could secure a decent spot.
We were one of the first on the boat. Novi kept moving from spot to spot, trying to find the area she thought would be the best. I wanted to steer clear of the engine and perhaps be somewhere with some fresh air so I could at least try and get some sleep, or at least some rest. We decided to sit up near the Captain’s cabin. It was on a little raised platform, but on either side were sliding doors, so we figured we’d be able to get fresh air throughout the 14 hour journey.
Other passengers started arriving and boarding with their luggage. And the passengers just kept on coming and coming and coming. Soon, the boat was completely full, but people still kept getting on. Eventually, the boat was so full that it just couldn’t take any more people, and the latecomers which arrived simply couldn’t fit on. The top of the boat was loaded up with motorcycles, gas canisters and oil drums. We were low in the water.
Getting too full…
Just before we were due to leave, Novi leapt up and said she couldn’t take it – she wanted to get a different boat – she wanted to get a speedboat! She got off the boat, wandered around a bit, then came back. The other boat – a big ferry due to leave soon was also full and there were no more speedboats for the day. We were stuck on this one.
At 2.30pm, the boat left. I think it left early to prevent more people squeezing on board. We were nestled amongst a woman with her three children, and another couple with their nine month old baby who was clearly unwell. We were pretty squished, and I definitely didn’t look forward to 14 hours of this, but at least I could stretch my legs out in front of me or cross them if I wished. There wasn’t any room to lie down, so I figured I wouldn’t be getting much sleep.
The Captain and the crew were super friendly to us, and let us come and sit out on the bow with them during the daytime to watch the scenery as we chugged down the river. I think he probably changed his mind when he had to yell at me to get out of the way when I stood up blocking his view, not once but twice – but he seemed to be a pretty relaxed kind of guy and just laughed it off. I asked permission to take a photo of this really cool looking guy – very Muslim looking, with a long wispy beard and a little crochet cap on his head, and he said yes, but then the Captain shouted out from his cabin ‘No!’ – then laughed and said ‘Bin Laden’. I have no idea what that was all about – the Captain had no problem with me taking photo’s of the other crew members… but this one guy he just didn’t want photographed. This guy later sailed the boat… perhaps it had something to do with that?
Top of the boat, laden with bikes, gas canisters and drums
The crew even let us sit up on the very top of the boat (and pulled the horn while we were up there scaring the living daylights out of the two of us!). I sat up there on my own as dusk settled, and watched the changing of the light over the river and the forest. I even saw some large birds soaring high up in the sky at one point. It was incredibly peaceful up there. Eventually I decided to go back into my cramped little quarters.
Just after dark, we stopped at a place on the rivers edge to get some food. I was busting for the toilet, and Novi wanted to get something to eat. She checked with the women around us, and they confirmed they would look after our bags for us.
Some of the lovely crew
We got off and I headed to the toilet. There was a myriad of little food places, but I was pointed to the toilet towards the back of all these places. Hidden at the back of these food places, in the dim light was a women lying in a hammock, yelling out to me in great amounts of pain – or perhaps it wasn’t pain – perhaps she had lost her mind a little bit – but whatever it was – her face was screwed up in pain, she had no teeth and whatever the words where she was saying, she was howling them out. I felt like I was in some sort of horror film. I quickly went to the toilet and headed back to the boat.
At the boat, there were people pushing and shoving to get back on. I patiently waited, while people pushed in front of me. I figured if I was standing there, the boat wouldn’t leave without me. What I didn’t realise, was they were actually accepting MORE passengers and everyone was pushing to get on to secure a cramped little space on the boat. I figured it would be ok, as we already had our small little turf and our bags were there.
As I finally boarded the boat, I saw an old man sitting in my spot. He sat there, with his legs crossed, clutching his bag, and he looked grumpy. Really grumpy. I could tell, without hearing or understanding that he was defending his decision to sit where we were sitting. The woman with the young baby was beckoning to me, but I just couldn’t get back to my ‘seat’. It wouldn’t have mattered, he wasn’t going to move. The grumpy man’s daughter and grand-daughter had also sat in the space previously occupied by Novi and myself, the mother and her three children, and the young couple with the baby. That meant an extra three bodies in our already squashed space.
The older man refused to move. His argument being that he’d paid the same price as us to be a passenger on the boat, and therefore he deserved to sit wherever he wanted. I guess that was true. It just felt unfair. So, unhappily so, we crumpled our bodies up into the space we had left. After a few minutes I was incredibly uncomfortable. One of the younger children was stretched out lengthways fast asleep in front of me – which meant I couldn’t stretch my legs out at all, and I didn’t have enough space to cross them, so I had to sit with my knees pulled up to my chest. I had pains in my knees and cramps in my legs and at least another 7 hours left on board this boat.
I recently watched some of the Australian Open, where some of the players had to play in 40+ degree heat. The commentators kept talking about how the players would be suffering cramps, but they just had to stay mentally tough and push on through, knowing that the end would eventually come (Once, about 4 years ago, I kicked a soccer ball while jogging, and since that day, I equate myself to being an elite athlete – warranted I think). While watching that match, I understood their pain – I just had to keep pushing on through. But, the closer we came to the end of the trip, the more I just wanted it to be over….
Mr. Obstinate was getting grumpier – he was very loudly saying that he didn’t want to sit next to the girls with the fat arses who had stolen his spot and made him uncomfortable. Some of the men around us laughed, but when I looked over at them, they would give me an apologetic smile.
The woman with the young baby tried to make room for me to extend my legs, but I coudl only stretch them out at an angle, so it meant putting all my weight on one arse cheek, which would soon turn it numb and I wasn’t able to reposition myself to place the weight on the other one, so I’d have to draw my legs back into my chest for some relief from the twisted back pain and numb arse cheek.
The young boy asleep in front of me was in the way of Novi and myself, and his legs kept flopping onto the woman with the small child and the intruder woman and her young daughter. Needless to say, he was very much in the way of many people, and his position hindered many of us from being slightly more comfortable – but it was unfair to wake him, so he remained soundly asleep despite the fact both of the other women kept having to move his legs off them. At first they did this gently, but as the time went on, they resorted to shoving his legs – tired of him kicking them – but when one woman would shove a leg on one side, his other leg would spring out on the opposite side, hitting the other woman. It was a never-ending battle.
As the night wore on, people started drifting off to sleep. It was just a sea of bodies everywhere, limbs intertwined and overlapping. The mother with the 9 month old baby had her baby suspended from a little hammock from the roof. She sat up almost the whole time, patting and calming the baby. If and when she laid down for a few minutes sleep, she would bolt upright the second her daughter would make the slightest noise, and she would calm her again, as her eyes became drowsier and drowsier. Her husband lay next to her, sleeping for the majority of the journey.
A little further to my right was another mother with a young daughter. She sat cross-legged with her baby lying in front of her, holding onto the baby as she fell asleep sitting up. Later, when her baby was unsettled, and the only way to settle her was by standing and putting her in a sling against her body, she made her husband hold her around her waist so she didn’t fall over when she drifted off to sleep standing completely upright.
I was losing the plot. I had to get off this fucking boat, and soon. My finely tuned elite athlete mental capabilities were wearing thin. The only way I was coping by this stage, was by standing up and stretching my legs every few minutes, but the pain of folding myself back up into my position was almost unbearable. I was tired, and I was watching everyone else around me sleeping (to some extent) and I just couldn’t.
I started ducking outside every half an hour or so for a cigarette just so I could stretch my legs. While I was ‘sitting’ near the door, it was still a challenge to get there without stepping on a body part. It also meant I had to almost step over mister obstinate which just made him more cranky.
It was dark outside. There was no light on at the front of the boat. I wondered how they could see where they were going. We seemed to veer very close to the river bank, and at one point, I felt the underside of the boat scrape along the bottom of the river. I also noticed, when other boats were passing us, the crew would turn the light off inside where I was sitting on the little raised platform. I wondered if they drove with no light and turned this light off so other boats couldn’t see how overcrowded our boat was…. It all seemed a little dangerous being an unlit object, sailing down a river in the dead of the night.
Apparently the reason the boat was so crowded was because it was the holiday period. Children under a certain age could also travel for free on the longboat, which made it much more affordable for families. I imagine this may have contributed to the extreme overcrowding if the children on the boat weren’t counted in ticket sales. We looked at the tickets and there was no insurance. If anything happened, there would be no compensation. There only seemed to be a few crusty old life vest hanging from the roof. I wondered what I would do if there was an accident – there were so many children nearby that would need help….
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. I’d begun noticing a smell when I got up to go outside for a cigarette. As the night wore on, this smell started to get a little stronger. I hadn’t managed to figure out what it was – but it was stinky. When I stood up at one point, I realised my jeans and my towel which I had placed under my bum for extra padding where damp. It was this liquid which smelt. And what did it smell like? Fish. My absolute favourite smell. The box beside me was carrying some kind of fish – and over the course of 12+ hours, the cardboard box it was in could no longer contain this wet product, and the box had disintegrated and the contents had leaked – onto me. There was nothing I could do, but sit back down on my fish liquid soaked towel, and continue this fabulous journey with the increasing aromatic fish smell permeating my nostrils and pores.
Eventually, about two hours after the discovery of my new fish aroma, we arrived at the Pontianak harbor. Novi and I legged it off that boat before it had even been tied up. It was 5 am. We got a little minivan to my kost. We didn’t have small enough notes to pay the driver, so we had to wander the streets until we found someone to change the notes. Finally, I managed to crawl up the stairs to my room, take a cold shower to rid myself of the fish smell and crawl into my beautiful bed for some sleep before work….