November 19th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Chris in a becak

Rather a bad-tempered morning.  When I dragged myself out of bed, Val was sitting in the lounge.  She was trying to finish her book so that we could swap it for one on the losmen’s small bookshelf, so she had her nose buried for most of the morning, emerging to eat some soft-boiled eggs for breakfast, + leaving me to pack.  I was, however, slow – my heart wasn’t in it – so I hadn’t finished by the time Val had finished her book.  And then I decided we didn’t need to carry an extra book, thus negating Val’s rushed reading – that didn’t please her.  So in the end our things were thrown into the bags, + it was a mad dash for the airport.

We were booked on a flight to Ambon today, with another flight to Ujung Pandang tomorrow,  but we tried to get our flight changed to a straight-thro’ one to UP today.  It was not easy – the wheels of bureaucracy, once set in motion in a particular direction, are difficult to turn, but by repeating our requirements several times, + having them cleared by superiors, it was arranged.  The time of the flight was, however, 2.30, so we had quite a wait in the waiting-room.  It gave us, tho’, a chance to reflect on Irian Jaya, which we were about to leave.  The Melanesians, the native Irian Jayans, were wrecked, it would seem, victims of the 20th century, + of the patriation policies of the Indonesian govt.  But even the ones who were left had lost so much already, even tho’, in strictly financial + material terms, they might seem better off.  Their culture had been destroyed, + with that their spontaneity + purpose.  Now, in order to survive, they must become Asians.

The plane was a DC9, + remarkably spacious.  Even I was able to stretch my legs out, + that’s not bad.  On the minus side tho’, the catering was paltry in the extreme – just 2 small cakes (one of which I thought revolting) + a cup of coffee.  And it was really quite a long flight.  UP airport was easily the biggest we had seen since Melbourne, + we treated ourselves, on leaving it, to a ride in a becak, or bicycle rickshaw.  Because of our bags, we had to take one each,  but it was only R200 a throw, tho’ admittedly not a very long way.  We connected with a bemo, which took us into town.  It was clear that we had now entered the world of crazy Asian drivers, one hand on the wheel, the other on the horn, + overtaking at will.  Most of the time the road looked like a one-way street, with cars overtaking bemos overtaking scooters overtaking becaks overtaking bicycles, + all somehow flattening in when a vehicle came the other way.

UP was a shock tho’ – larger, busier than we had anticipated – when we got down from the bemo, we were completely disoriented, despite having a sketch map in the Yellow Guide to help us.  Our first priority was a place to stay, so we picked one out of the book, finally discovered where we were, + set off for that.  It was a nightmare walk, much further than anticipated, every road crossing a major operation, + even walking along made difficult by the absence of a footpath.  We were also in no mood to deal with the hassles – the ello meesters + a crowd of young guys messing us about.  Eventually tho. We made it, + were pleased to be there, even if the Hotel Alaska was less than the answer to a prayer.  It was cheap, but also filthy, + incredibly depressing.

We couldn’t bear to stay long, but took off once again for town, this time without bags, + this time hiring a becak.  We got our driver first to take us to the Pelni office, but that was shut so far as we could tell – it’s not marked so it was a moot point whether we had actually found the right place or not.  So we then asked to be taken to a warung.  In fact, we ended up at a small restaurant, but it seemed to be more or less within our budget, so we went in there.  We had boiled rice with 3 different dishes to go with it, a sort of vegetable in a green sauce, some meat in a red sauce, + some chicken with a very hot + spicy coating.  It was not, I need hardly say, the meal of my dreams,  but filling enough.

After which our driver, who had been patiently waiting outside, took us home.  We considered asking him to take in the scenic nightlife on the way, but the linguistic difficulties in that one were beyond us, so back to the hotel.  We couldn’t face our room yet, so sat downstairs, + watched a little TV as we also wrote + wove a bilum.  There was an English language programme on, which was interesting, if only to criticise the presenter’s pronunciation.  Eventually bed-time had to be faced,  but we had a cup of coffee to give us Dutch courage, + then listened to the Walkman.

The decision made to cut short our trip and miss out Ambon altogether; with only a day there, we could scarcely have done it justice, with the hassle of another air trip the following day. Though Ujung Pandang was closer to a real city, i was also a reral dump, and our experience of the Hotel Alaska made it all the more important that we should et away as soon as we could.

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