“Will we have time for lunch?” Baz asked the harbour master. He looked at our tickets and pointed to the one o’clock departure time on it then to his watch and shook his head.
The ferry we were taking was a huge, Titanic-like boat but it was nowhere to be seen along the port. The only boat docked was a small cargo vessel.
We carried our gear to the vessel and asked around for the ferry.
“Two o’clock,” said one guy.
“Three o’clock,” said a uniformed officer.
“Four o’clock,” said Willy, a Bali resident.
“Let’s put our bags back at the Port Authority office and head off for lunch,” I suggested.
After a rough morning riding to Ende in the back of a converted dump truck, it was good to be hopping islands again, this time to one that had waves.
“Ende?” Baz asked the driver who stopped by the side of the road. He nodded. “How much?”
“$3,” said the driver.
“We give you $2,” Baz haggled. The locals were paying $2 for the ride. Besides, that extra dollar was lunch. The driver agreed and the kids on the back of the truck jumped down and piled our gear on.
We parted ways with James and climbed through the open side of the truck, squeezing into the tiny wooden benches.
“Get more leg room on a plane,” I muttered, somehow holding onto my guitar and daypack.
We trucked on stopping due to road works every few kilometers for almost half an hour at every stop. It seemed the driver had it in his head that he was the owner of the single-lane road, almost knocking over motorbike riders and forcing other cars to give way, practically pushing them off the edge of the cliff.
Then again, maybe he did own the road.
We climbed up through the astounding scenery of green jungles and remote villages, the road having been built right up to the cliff edge, an intense rocky drop to the low-level river flowing below.
“Probably floods here during the wet season,” Baz reckoned.
We held on tight for every corner and almost four hours after leaving Moni, we reached the bus terminal of Ende at the bottom of the mountain where the sun mercilessly cooked us.
O-jeks and bus drivers jumped on the truck, calling out, “Where you going, Mister?”
We did our best to explain that we were staying with the truck. We assumed he was going further into town.
But when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.
The driver jumped out and told us kindly to get off of his truck and that if we wanted to head further into town, we would need to take a separate bus.
We watched as he drove off, taking a left into Ende.
“Sonofabitch,” I muttered, heading for the shade.
All the bus drivers that latched onto us were charging a dollar each to take us into Ende. The only thing we knew about the town was that it was by the water. We were hoping there would be a ferry that went to Lombok, our next island.
If not, our next best option was to take a 13-hour bus ride to the touristic town at the far end of the island and wing it from there.
Baz, the gifted haggler, managed to convince one driver that knew a bit of English to take us both for a dollar. But when the driver saw my surfboard he began to back off. Baz convinced him that it would hold on the roof with our backpacks.
“I can’t wait for you to get rid of that surfboard,” he said.
As soon as we had left Tropicbird I had decided that once I catch my first wave on it, I’ll give it to a local and rid myself of the hassle.
“Is there a ferry to Lombok from Ende?” I asked the driver from the empty back seat. He was taking us all around town, picking up rides.
“At 19:00, today,” he replied.
Baz looked at me as I at him. “Can you take us to the seaport?” he asked.
We thanked him and shook hands as we hopped off at the busy port, packed with bikes, pedestrians and every shop owner trying to sell us something. We headed to a white building which turned out to be the Port Authority and had English-speaking locals.
André, an Indonesian as tall as Baz, directed us to the ticketing office up the road. He was kind enough to allow us to leave our bags in the lobby while we walked up.
The small office was packed with locals buying tickets using the 8-Step method. Baz hit the ATM while Alexander, a local man, helped me fill out the paperwork.
Our names had yet to be called out when Baz returned. I waited for almost an hour until the ticket collector announced mine.
“Yo,” I grinned.
“To Lombok is $21,” he said. “For two is $42.”
“Is there any food on the ferry?” I asked as I paid the man.
“Food is included,” he replied.
“Sweet!” I grinned.
Since the first stop was Sumba, where I knew I would find waves, I asked, “Is it possible to hop off at Sumba and take the next ferry a few days later on the same ticket?”
“The ferry only stops for one hour, maybe two,” explained the collector. “If you hop off, next ferry is in two weeks.”
I raised my eyebrows. “The ferry only goes every two weeks?”
“Yes,” he said calling out other names.
“What time is the ferry?” I asked the collector as I picked up our tickets.
“One o’clock,” he said.
I looked at the clock on the wall.
“Baz, we gotta go.”
After our survey to find out what time the ferry would arrive, we figured we had until 15:00 so we ate a Padanag lunch of rice, a fried egg and beef slices that were amazing. We thanked the mama and took photos with her and her kids before heading back to the port.
It was cracking on to 14:00 when we sat in the air con of the Port Authority’s office. I fell asleep while Baz went out exploring. He shook me to wake at 14:30.
We headed down with our gear and mixed in with the sea of locals that had gathered to board.
“This is going to be interesting,” I reckoned, as we found ourselves in the mosh pit of a rock concert without the concert.
We watched the para-military police beat the surging crowd back while the approaching ferry, the biggest floating, rusty tin can either of us had ever laid eyes on, floated up slowly to the dock.
Hundreds of people peeked from every opening and hung from every deck. It was like an Indian train, arms and legs everywhere. You couldn’t see the boat from the amount of human cargo.
As the gangway was lowered and another was placed on the side, the carnage began. Baz and I were sucked into the depths of the mob, the crowd pushing us forward. I wasn’t even sure if my feet were still on the ground anymore.
“This is going to be interesting,” I repeated before I realised that I had lost Bazza.
How a white, 6”4 Englishman with a house-sized backpack can disappear in a crowd of 5-foot Indonesians is a trick that is beyond magic.
The para-military team weren’t shy of using force, beating back the people, yelling and pushing, trying to restore what little order they seemed to think they had.
They had a better chance of negotiating peace in the Middle East.
I was crowd-surfing through the hundreds of arms and legs, my surfboard in tow, being half pushed-half directed by the crew to go down to Deck 3. I clambered down the stairs, almost tripping over the throng of families, screaming babies, people calling out to each other, waving every limb possible – some not even theirs.
I rolled down the staircase and landed on the doorstep of hell. In what appeared to be a converted holding container, air was replaced by clove-cigarette smoke. Humidity and CO2 hit me in the face and lungs like a hot oven door being opened. Through the waterfall of sweat cascading over my brow, I saw wooden beds laid out in rows with black mattresses, every single one taken up by a single local or an entire family.
“Your friend over there,” a local directed me.
Thanking her, I wormed through the crowd, trying not to step on sprawled out bodies as I easily picked out Bazza who had found a corner with two benches (one broken) blocking the lockers that supposedly held the life jackets. One corner was tailor-made to fit my board and guitar.
We were the Leonardo di Capprio of this Titanic but being the only westerners among the thousand people on board, there was no Kate Winselot in sight.
We laid out our sleeping gear to claim the benches. Baz went off to explore while I stayed to write about the last few days. He came back a half hour later, looking as though he had run a marathon.
“It’s like a concentration camp in the lower decks,” he said. “There are people everywhere.”
I rationed my water, prolonging my need to use the toilets. It didn’t smell promising. Baz mustered up the guts and went in, coming out with a horrified look on his face.
“What?” I asked him.
He sat down and looked at me, shock all ever his beak. “Have you seen Trainspotting?”
“Yeah, years ago.”
“Remember the toilet scene?” He dropped his head, trying to shake out the image.
I stared at him. “No.”
He nodded. “Yup.”
We had to get out.
Leaving our heavy bags to explore the ferry, we climbed over strewn out bodies, families that had collected together on the floor that seemed non-existent as all you came across were bodies and smiling faces that called out, “Mister! Mister!”
We bumped into a crew member who asked if we wanted to rent a cabin.
“You have cabins?” I said.
“How much?” Baz asked.
“For two people,” he smiled at us, “$80.”
“Can we see the cabin?” Baz asked.
He took us up to the top deck. On the glass door he opened it read, ‘First Class Cabins’. He lead us up another flight of stairs, opened another door and showed us the double bunk cabin with a table, a soft back bench, shower and toilet and electric outlets.
Baz and I looked at each other and, as though reading the other’s mind.
“$50 for both of us,” Baz haggled.
“Oh, no,” grinned the mate, tightening his grip around our balls. “$80 for two. $40 for you,” he pointed at Baz, “and $40 for you,” he pointed at me.
“We have no money,” I stressed. “We have $50. You can make money now, or you can make no money.”
“No, no,” he grinned, escorting us back to our deck.
“I don’t mind hanging with the locals,” I said to Baz. “It’s just fucking stuffy and hot in here.”
Back on our bench, a few locals that knew English stopped to talk with us when a middle aged, toothless man sat beside Bazza on his bench. He didn’t know a word of English and when Baz jokingly gestured if he wanted to share his bench for sleeping; the guy stripped off his jacket and sat closer to the Englishman.
I cracked up, Baz staring at me in disbelief.
“Looks like you’ve got a new bunk mate,” I said, erupting into fits of laughter.
Bunker even went as far as to place a divider with his jacket, generous enough to leave Baz with just enough room for his knees.
We headed up to the outdoor deck to get some air, chilling out on a bench in the café area. We were talking to some locals when Bunker appeared out of nowhere and sat beside Baz.
“I think he likes you,” I laughed out.
We walked all around the boat, trying to find a bit of surface to sleep on (and escape Bunker) but everything was taken. It was like trying to walk barefoot through shards of glass.
On Deck 4 food was being handed out. The cue went all the way down to the stern of the boat but when a crew member saw us approaching he grabbed two meals and handed them over, Baz failing miserably in trying to explain that we would wait in line. Not that the steamed rice and bit of fish (that was better off being used as bait) was worth the wait. We headed up to Deck 5, where Baz had found a cinema.
“It’s got air con and the guys only charging a dollar,” he said excitedly, wiping sweat off his brow. We spent the next two hours watching Fast and Furious 6, lying on black mattresses, turning into ice cubes by the air con.
Mid-way through the movie Bazza jumped in fright.
“Jesus! You scared me!” I heard him say.
I looked over and saw that Bunker had found us.
“He was stroking my arm,” he turned to me as I erupted in laughter.
Bunker sat behind Bazza, grinning his toothless grin. When the movie ended, the cinema man played The Restless but the opening scene showed a man lying in bed, his Johnson out in full bloom.
We headed back down to Deck 3 but discovered to our surprise that all the doors were locked.
“What’s going on?” Baz asked aloud, hoping someone would understand.
“Ticket checking,” said a local.
While we waited, a large contingency of crew and para-military officers walked down the stairs and checked our tickets. They were led by Boni, the crew mate that tried to hustle $80 out of us for the first class cabin. He looked like Mr Miagi from The Karate Kid only with dark hair.
When the doors opened, we headed in to find a local lying across Bazza’s bench. We sat on my bench and watched as the entourage of officials took some stowaways into custody while checking the passengers.
“I have cabin for you if you want,” Boni said, turning into Kate Winselot.
We agreed to meet at the information window on Deck 5 after he had finished his rounds.
While we waited, we met Arthur, who spoke fluent English, holding his infant child.
“Because the Ramadan holiday is over,” he explained, “everybody is going back home.”
“You mean it’s not always like this?” I asked.
“No,” he said. He placed his baby with his wife and he invited us upstairs to the outdoor café for some fresh air. “Do you smoke?” he asked us.
“No,” we said.
“Good. I wish I could stop.”
“You can,” I said, recalling how I had quit the nicotine back in 2008. “Just stop.”
“Think about your baby,” Baz added, “then you will stop.”
We conversed for half an hour and then went to find Kate… I mean, Boni. The information window was dark but music and singing was coming from a door down the hall. We walked into what appeared to be the restaurant area of the boat where a woman in a tight mini-dress was entertaining the crowd with her singing. In the darkness it was hard to see if she wasn’t a lady boy but easy to see that she was gorgeous.
Boni magically appeared with new information. “After midnight, when we stop in Wangipu (on Sumba Island) you have cabin.”
“We can’t go now?” Baz asked.
“No. People sleeping there.”
We decided to pass the time by going back to the cinema. American Pie was on at 21:00. We caught the end of The Restless which turned out to be a foreign language film. I guessed it was Portuguese while Bazza reckoned it was Estonian.
It didn’t change the fact that there was more cock in it than a chicken breeding farm. Then American Pie 6: The Naked Mile came up with more breasts than a poultry shop. The film after that was an erotic Japanese piece called Cyborg Café which looked like a failed attempt at soft porn.
Not being a fan of porn and not wanting to be in the same room with horny locals that would probably rub themselves (perhaps that’s why the mattresses were of black, easy to wipe off fake leather) we passed the last hour in Deck 3.
The lights were bright, the smoke was thick and everybody was wide awake. I had a better chance of sleeping soundly in a Turkish prison than down in here. Baz was in the same mindset. Midnight came by and we headed back up to the information window on Deck 5.
Boni was asleep according to one crew mate so we entered the now empty and dark restaurant. The air con was going full blast and we figured we’d sleep here until we were either thrown out or breakfast was served.
At about 01:00 Boni woke us up and took us to the first class cabin, the same one he had shown us before.
“No one has slept here,” Baz said as he hit the shower.
Boni came back with a case of water for us. I thanked him and shook his hand. The air con was going which was better than nothing since the sealed porthole overlooked the top deck where I could see people trying to get comfortable. I closed the blind and got ready for my shower.
The bridge of the ferry was a few doors down and the soft humming of the engine from somewhere deep in the belly of the boat sounded as though we were on a plane. The easy-rolling motions added to the fact, as though we were going through some very light turbulence.
I was out before I could I hang my towel.