January 12th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Bedu and Chris

I slept the sleep of the dead – a combination of my own exhaustion after several greatly disturbed  nights, + the lack of motion aboard in the much calmer waters of the estuary.  We must have anchored somewhere late at night – I was aware of the engine being switched off at some stage, + then firing again early.  Shortly thereafter, it was the owner’s turn to come rapping on our window, to let us know we were arriving in Pontianak.  I could easily have ignored him + slept on, but I did want to see the place, so crawled out.  Val had less determination, so stayed where she was.

I was pleased to have made the effort tho’.  There was enough light to see (tho’ not to take photos), + particularly as we came into the town itself, the river flowing right thro’ the heart, the scene was more Dickensian London than equatorial Borneo.  There was a dawn mist hanging over the river, the wooden houses jostled shoulder to shoulder all the way down to the banks, and the river itself, even at this hour, was busy – heavily-laden sampans, their owners paddling hard with a curiously-shaped paddle, but making slow progress; a few others with outboards zipping terrifyingly under our bows, larger boats of various descriptions steaming along sedately in both directions.

Pontianak waterfront

Soon enough, we reached the wharf  obviously reserved for Makassar schooners – there were 3 others already tied up there – not a huge fleet.  And there was some space for us to manoeuvre ourselves into, but that was the usual tortuous business of pulling ourselves in on ropes, + using the other ships for leverage.  Harry, of course, hurled himself into the water to swim across to the next ship with a line, but, by the standards we’ve seen so far, it was a normal, even smooth, operation.  Once we were finally made secure to everyone’s satisfaction, there was sudden frantic activity, dipping the coffee-coloured but fresh water from the river by the tens of bucketloads, + using it to wash clothes, bodies, decks.  In the midst of this pandemonium, we too managed to wash ourselves, + were at last ready to head into town.

Tying up

We even had a guard of honour to accompany us (tho’ conceivably there was some ulterior motive involved) of Harry, Dick, LBM + d’Artagnan, all dressed up in their best clothes.  Business before pleasure, we put a film in for developing; we made enquiries, + finally bought our air tickets (to our immense relief, there was a flight for tomorrow, it wasn’t booked up, + it wasn’t much more than we expected: about $53 each.)  We visited the Post Office + mailed our accumulated letters, + visited the bank, where we obtained $20 worth of Malaysian currency.

An early morning drizzle had turned into heavy rain, but we were able to sit out the worst of it.  And then were free to reward ourselves + our patient attendants, with a meal.  I don’t know id some such gesture on our part was anticipated, expected, or merely hoped for, but we were attended into the restaurant without a murmur, + as far as we know, none of them had any money.  It doesn’t matter tho’ – they had been marvellous to us, + we were happy to have the chance to show our gratitude.  Harry chose the restaurant, but it was a very happy choice, for Val especially – ever since we arrived, she has been longing to try a Padang meal, + this, with a larger party, provided the perfect opportunity.

With a Padang meal, a great quantity of different dishes are placed on the table, everyone is given a plate + implements, finger-bowl, towel, + white rice, + thereafter it’s every man for himself.  The particular advantage is that one only pays for what one eats.  I was very conservative, eating almost exclusively the plain fried chicken, + barely touching even my rice, but everybody tucked in well, + Val in particular had a field day: king prawn, curried chicken, liver beans.  At the end we both felt very full, + the others professed themselves well-satisfied.  The price, $15, was initially a bit of a shock, but that’s not so much really for a hearty meal for 6 (+ I’d indulged myself too – Coke + copi susu.)  It did, however, knock on the head any idea of buying the crew a present – I’d considered a new chess set.

We returned to the ship, which was already a hive of activity.  Val + I then slipped out again to do some shopping on our own, + bought a whole stock of goodies: fruit, vegetables, + eggs for tonight, chocolate, drinks.  The weather had cleared now, + we enjoyed walking thro’ the market, even if it was next to a smelly canal.  I also bought a T-shirt, enabling me at long last to send home my too-thick rugby shirt.  And then, once again, to the boat.

Val cooked banana + honey pancakes for anyone who wanted them, +they went down very well indeed.  We had to collect our photos at 7, but Val + I refused to be bossed about by Harry, trying to hurry us along there.  We also refused to believe him when he told us the clock had advanced an hour – we had, after all, only gone slightly north-east.  He was, however, as we were soon assured by the captain + later discovered from other sources, entirely correct.  I apologised to him, + we trotted olver to the studio – him, me, Val + most of the rest of the crew.  When we received our photos, we refused to allow them to be passed round, but insisted they be put into the small album the developers provide.  This proved a sensible move.  We quite intended to give them away – we could always get reprints later – but wanted them as one collection at least for a little while.

We returned + presented the album to the captain, + were doubly pleased we had kept them together for his sake.  We then left everybody to look at them beneath the dock floodlight, + retired to the ship to cook our meal – egg, green beans, + boiled potatoes!  There had been a good atmosphere, tho’ sad, this evening.  I had returned from the studio with one arm round LBM, another round d’Artagnan – such behaviour is  not considered odd.  We must have looked odd tho’ – they both only came up to my shoulder.  I felt warm, liked + loved…

The photos, by the way, were superb.

And you have seen many of them.  But this was the close of our remarkable journey with the Jiwa Sabar III and its crew, ending in splendid fashion with an excellent meal.  It really had been an extraordinary experience, but I think it took us some time to realise mjust how special it had been.  What puzzles us even now was why we were allowed to go with them.  There was nothing in ot for them, and even involved both expense (though relatively minimal in terms of ther cost of food) but more specifically considerable inconvenience, with us getting one of the two cabins, and presumably potentially huge problems were we to have any sort of accident.  And as I think \i said before, we never even thought about any potential danger to ourselves.  But it had been a wonderful experience, and had also solved a serious problem for us, as we were now on Borneo, and just a tiny flight away from Malaysia.  I was not at all sorry to be leaving Indonesia, for I had not enjoyed the food in particular, and you will have seen from some of the photos that I had become very thin.

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