November 30th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

The “Tobelo”

We postponed breakfast, thinking first to checkout boats + airlines to Java or Bali.  And we were struck by our first piece of luck for quite some time.  The Pelni ship “Tobelo”, we learned from one of the shipping agents, had been due to sail yesterday but was running a day late, + would be leaving today at 12 for Surubaya, Java’s main port.  We went down to the harbour to see if we could grab a look, once again, hoping for some magic private deal.  It wasn’t, tho’ tied up at the wharf, so this proved impossible.  Instead, there was a Panama-registered ship (not that one expected to find it full of Panamanians.)  We got talking to a guy on the wharf who told us he was a member of the crew, + when he told us it was going to Singapore, + when we expressed some interest in this, he invited us aboard, saying he would ask the captain if we could come along.

So we went aboard, + the 3 of us sat together in the crew lounge + chatted, tho’ in rather stilted Indonesian.  The Captain was asleep, he said, but after a time he disappeared, presumably to make some enquiries on our behalf.  Shortly, we were joined by the ship’s engineer.  He was Singaporean, + hence spoke excellent English, + after some initial chit-chat, he gave us some interesting news: a) nobody knew just yet where the ship was headed, b) it was highly unlikely we would be taken on, c) our first friend was not a member of the crew.  So it came to naught, but it had been an interesting blind alley, + we had been given teas + a fine sort of jelly cake.  Normally it’s the sort of thing I detest, but this one was delicious.

So we returned to our plan of travelling to Surubaya, via the Tobelo.  Win some, lose some – only lose more than win at the moment.  We now had not a great deal of time left to buy our ticket, rushing rapidly from one office to another, as each in turn told us they weren’t qualified to sell tickets.  It wasn’t an easy or pleasant experience, as the rain was simply bucketing down, but eventually it was done.  I groaned inwardly at the ticket-office when we were given forms to fill in (could you imagine such a thing at a railway station back home?) but in fact it was reasonably simple, then all we had to do was pay to receive our tickets.  Cheap too – Rp 16,000 each.  This was for deck class, which didn’t promise to be too wonderful in the rain, but we had no choice as there was nothing else available.

Time was a little short now, + we still had to return to the Nusantara to collect our belongings.  We were considerably hampered by the conditions – the rain had flooded many of the streets, + the one our losmen was on was about the worst – we had to wade thro’ water that lapped over our boots.  On the way back to the harbour, we loaded ourselves with provisions – bread, margarine, cheese, eggs, fruit juices, biscuits, sweets, + a large bunch of bananas – we’d been warned about the quality of the food. 

Climbing the narrow gangplank was a problem, laden down as we were, + it was even trickier to move around the ship, so we made for the main deck area, + dumped our bags.  I looked after them while Val, our resident linguist, set off to search for the best spot.  If she was unsuccessful, we would have to remain there, or somewhere like it, + the prospect was not pleasing.  There was a vast tarpaulin hung to furnish a roof, but there were gaping tears in it thro’ which the rain poured.  Thus the deck was soaking, as well as filthy – even with the sea so close, the Indonesians dropped their cigarette packets, their banana + mango skins, where they stood.  It was already squalid + depressing, + the journey had not yet begun.  Fortunately, Val returned with good news –she had met the radio officer aboard ship, + he said it was fine for us to sleep in one of the corridors inside, so we carried our bags there straight away – at least it was clean + dry.

Even better news came 30 mins or so later, when we met the 3rd officer – he gave us the key to a small store cupboard, in which we could safely stow our bags.  (Not quite safely, we soon discovered – there were mice there.  But it was fine once we’d hung the food up.)  This meant we could relax a lot more, + go out onto deck to watch us cast off, + at last leave UP behind.  This didn’t happen for a long time tho’ – the official departure time was noon, but it was around 3 before we were at last on our way.

There was quite a lot of natural theatre on the quayside to entertain us while we waited.  The lady selling mangoes hurling them up to the people on deck, one very ugly incident when a black guy was taunted by the whole ship, a crowd of strutting + unpleasant youths – we hoped these would not be coming with us, but regrettably, they did.

Soon after we finally set sail, we received our first taste of ship food – a large bowl of white rice, some cabbage (really not too bad this) + a fish head.  I picked at the cabbage + left the rest.  Thank God we’d brought the other food.

We sat for a while in the 3rd officer’s cabin, which was pleasant, since this way we were able to escape the attentions of the young men.  They weren’t exactly hostile, but they weren’t friendly either, demanding cigarettes.  When the time came for us to sleep, they were even more unpleasant, asking for bread, which they’d obviously seen hanging in our cupboard.  Val tried to ignore them, unrolled her mat, + laid down, but they showed no signs of going away.  The 3rd officer came to our rescue, saying we could sleep next to the wheelhouse, where our friends were not permitted.  On reflection, we shouldn’t have gone – it was giving in to the yobs, + we also surrendered a reasonably comfortable sleeping space for an exposed, tho’ private, one, but as with so many other things, it seemed a good idea at the time.  It was windy up there, but we laid out our mats, climbed into our sheets, wrapped the blanket tight around us, + huddled together, warm + relatively cosy.

And so we are on the move again. Having to pay for it, and not all that pleasant, but at least we would be getting away from Ujung Pandang at last. Throughout Indonesia, from time to time we encountered problems with local youths, and here, being in a place where it was impossible to escape their attentions, it was even worse. And in attempting to do so, we seemed to be making things worse.

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