November 29th 1983

posted in: The way back | 2

A seller of es campur, a very tasty but usually lethal soft drink

The Captain did make another appearance in the  morning, + we, or rather Val, were finally able to talk to him.  He promptly dashed all hopes of our travelling with them by telling us that no, he didn’t expect to be sailing tomorrow, or the day after, or indeed at all for the next few days at least.  It was more or less as expected in fact – knowing our fate was much better than the uncertainty we’d been contending with.  So we picked up our belongings, said goodbye to our friends, + walked out, once more, from Paotere.  Not the way we had hoped to be leaving the place, but not to be helped.

Our revised plan was to head up the coast to Pare Pare, where several people had told us there were many boats to Kalimantan.  The annoying thing was that we had passed thro’ Pare Pare on the way down from Rantepao, but had not known that information at the time.  Back to the town centre, + from there the tortuous business of finding a bemo to take us.  It is a hideous business.  Lots of people are willing to help you, when you appear at the Central bus area.  Eager hands will take your bag, lead you to a bus.  But these are no altruists, but ticket touts.  Ideally, they will get you to charter a whole bemo to yourself at an extravagant price (of which they no doubt receive their due share) but failing that you will be pushed into a bus with other people, + charged at the other end.  The problem with this is that one could then have to pay a good deal.  And asking the price beforehand is  no help at all –  as soon as one reveals ignorance of the fare, the price goes up, + no amount of bargaining will ever reduce that to a proper level.  This is not a problem of philosophy or academic interest, but survival.

We marched steadfastly past the touts, but were still left with the problem of finding a bus.  We were tired + weary, the packs were heavy, + awkward to manoeuvre along the tiniest of spaces between the trucks, + then it began to rain, + then pour.  Val slipped thro’ a gap between 2 bemos, + ran for shelter.  I was sure that with my bulky pack I wouldn’t be able to get thro’, + then all of a sudden it seemed that every bemo in the place was on the move, effectively trapping me where I was, with the rain torrenting down.  I was furious with Val, myself, the bemo drivers, the touts, God.  I finally made it to where Val was sheltering, + when the rain eased we plodded off to find a bemo, agreeing to take one at the same rate that we’d earlier rejected.  I was in a pretty sorry state, but felt better once I’d changed my shirt, + sat back to enjoy the ride, more or less.

It was growing a little tedious by now – this was the 3rd time we’d travelled the road – but it passed comfortably enough.  We chatted with a girl on the bus, + she arranged for us to be dropped off at a hotel in Pare Pare.  We weren’t at all sure we wanted to stay there – it looked a bit too pricey for us – but the young manager was very helpful, + even rang to check up on the prices of boats for us.  We were horrified at what he told us – Rp30,000 each just across to Balikpapan, the nearest port, + even more to get up to Tarakou, the town up on the border with Sabah (Malaysia.)  We couldn’t believe they could want so much for what seemed a relatively short distance.  And, not exactly disbelieving the guy, but wanting to check for ourselves, we walked down to the port.  We had a notion of perhaps getting on board, + making some advantageous deal with the Captain, but immediately we were at the dock gates we were led to the Pelni office, + all that we had heard was confirmed.  They even got so far as writing out the tickets for us, but we were sol pissed off with the whole affair that we told them to forget it.

We walked back to the hotel to collect our bags, + then walked to the bus station, determined to return to UP +, if necessary, fly to Denpasar.  We got a better deal financially for the trip down.  Tho’ there were plenty of touts there giving us a bad time, but when a bus came in Val went over to speak to the driver, + exacted a promise from him of a cheaper fare.  We then put our bags on, + when the tout/collector collected the money, we simply refused to pay more than the agreed amount.  The guy was furious, with us + the driver, but there was nothing he could do.

Despite this small victory, we both felt very down, travelling back once more to UP, a town we hated, + had thought + hoped we had seen the last of.  I cheered myself a little by a passage I read in “The Greening of America”, describing how a certain sort of person who did everything perfectly – skiing, fucking, travelling – lost, simultaneously with the possibility of failure, the possibility of success.  Our venture had most assuredly failed, but at least, in the words of McMurphy, we had tried. 

We chatted a bit with a guy on the bus, + made a casual arrangement with him to eat together tonight.  He even got out with us upon arrival at our hostel – we were dropped at the door, which was lucky as it was pouring down.  But with the weather, + the thick mud on the streets, plus the fear that he would expect us to pay for him, we told him we had changed our minds.  He was very nice, in fact, + just left, but immediately he had departed, I was plunged into a deep + dark depression, feeling that we had let him down terribly.  As indeed we had.  Our surroundings did not help my mood – we were sampling yet another UP hotel, this one the Nusantara, somewhat squalid, + with the tiniest rooms imaginable.  And not so cheap.  But it did have a reasonably pleasant balcony, so we bought eggs + bread from the shop next door, + had boiled egg sandwiches + coffee.

After the restrained optimism of the day before, rather a downer to have our hopes dashed (even though, as I said, we were never entirely convinced it wold work.) And all a bit of a wild goose chase up to Pare Pare, and ultimatyely returning to Ujung Pandang in no better state, in terms of knowing where we were going next.

2 Responses

  1. LOUIS SPITERI

    A seller of es campur, a very tasty but usually lethal soft drink…
    … usually lethal…?

    • chriswalters

      “Lethal” not being intended entirely literally (though there were occasions I felt I wanted to die.”

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