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August 27th, 2011 | Asia

Ferry to Kupang…

The last part of my ride through Asia began with a sixteen hour ferry trip from Larantuka on Flores Island, to Kupang in West Timor…

I was actually on the ferry for a total of twenty hours, as despite boarding at 10.00am, the vessel only left the harbour at 2.00pm… Those four hours alone were enough to have me clenching my jaw and muttering under my breath…!! The next sixteen hours would test my patience to breaking point…!!

The ferry to Kupang... I could think of better places to spend 20 hours at a stretch...!!

After paying Rp 172 500 (R145.00) for my ticket, I rode down the concrete jetty and onto the ferry, squeezing through a small gap left by the last truck that was reversing into position on the car deck… Once he was in, a swarm of scooters was then allowed to take up any available space left… I watched as they jostled each other to find a spot, some riders almost coming to blows as they argued over the last few spaces available…

Parked next to the Big Fella was a dark Landcruiser that bore British number plates… The driver, Martin McGowan, came over to chat, and asked if I was heading to Dili…

“If you’re shipping from there to Darwin, maybe we could share a container…!!” he suggested…

“Great, then you’re also taking the vessel sailing on the 2nd…??” I replied…

His eyes widened… “The 2nd…?? No, we won’t make the 2nd…!! That’s only five days away…!! We will try and catch the next one…” his voice trailed off…

“Well Mate, come hell or high water, I need to get this bike onto the “Thor Libra” sailing on the 2nd…!!”

The Big Fella was jammed in between a fleet of trucks...

He looked a little doubtful as he shook hands with me and wished me well… He and his partner would be spending the voyage onside their vehicle, and did not have to scramble for seating up on the passenger deck… Grabbing my Helmet and Tank Bag, I hoofed it up the metal staircase to find a spot I could call my own for the next 20 hours…!!

I blocked off four of the bucket seats using my jacket, helmet and bag, but this was later reduced to two seats as the ferry took on more and more passengers… By the time we sailed, four hours later, the number of people on board far outnumbered the number of seats and sleeping places on the double-decker platforms that most people set up camp on…!!

I chose to take up a few of the plastic bucket seats rather than be trapped up on the sleeping platforms...

When I wandered down to the car deck a few hours after we had sailed, I was alarmed to see that almost every available space between the vehicles had been taken up by people stretched out on woven mats, or their luggage, which consisted of boxes and large bags; suitcases; bunches of bananas and bowls of fruit; and quite a number of chickens whose legs were tied together to stop them from roaming about…

While I was there, a large black hen was being chased about by her owner… After a prolonged chase, the unfortunate bird flew over the railing and into the Sawu Sea… And that was the end of that…!!

Later, I stood at the railing, watching a large pod of dolphins cart-wheeling through the water close to the ferry… They followed us for another hour, before disappearing under the surface just as the sun was setting… People had lined the railing, cheering each time one of the dolphins came spinning out of the water…

None of the passengers around me spoke any English, so I began reading a book I had found at Rulies Hotel, “A Painted House” by John Grisham, and read all 486 pages by the time we docked in Kupang…!! Had it not been for that book, I would have gone off my rocker and perhaps followed the hen into the sea…!!

I wondered how much he was paying for his trip to Kupang...!!

Sometime after midnight, a rooster that had also managed to escape its bonds, came pacing carefully into the passenger section… It hoped over the bodies sprawled in the aisles, pecked around at the crumbs from countless meals that were strewn on the floor, and then after a good shake of its feathers, began crowing loudly… By its third crow, sandals and empty juice bottles began raining down on the bird… Most of the missiles missed their intended target and hit sleeping passengers…

This, as you can imagine, caused a grumble or two, and it wasn’t long before threats of violence were being bandied about…!! The rooster was then chased around for the best part of twenty minutes by a group of eager young men, egged on by some, and heckled by others…

Scooters and people alike, all bedded down on the deck...

The hapless bird, minus a few feathers, was eventually caught, a cloth was wrapped around it’s head, and then the rooster was shoved into a dustbin near to where I was sitting… Sandals were returned to their rightful owners, apologies made to those who had been hit by flying footwear, and the passengers settled down to sleep again…

At 3.00am, the captain’s booming voice issued forth from the speakers, conveying a message in Indonesian, which for all I know might have been to advice us that we were in the middle of the Savu Sea, miles away from any land…!! Although it woke everybody up, nobody seemed to pay the message any mind…!!

An hour later, music began blaring from the speakers, and those folk who were camped out in the aisles, rose and headed for the little canteen which began dispensing cups of coffee and two-minute noodles in Styrofoam containers…

The canvas awning that had kept the cold night air out, (and the smell of hundreds of unwashed bodies in…!!) were lifted, and out on our port bow, the lights of Kupang began blinking on…

People lined up at the railing to brush their teeth, using bottled water to get the job done, and spitting fluoride-flavoured saliva into the sea…!!

I watched the going’s 0n around me in fascination… Modesty and privacy were clearly not an option on board… One guy literally had a bath right in front of me, splashing water over his head, and using cupped hands to convey water to his armpits…!! Fortunately, his hands never wandered as far as his nether regions, otherwise I might have had a few comments to make…!!

At 6.00am, we came alongside the jetty in the harbour of Tenau, which lies about ten kilometres southwest of Kupang itself…

After a night spent huddled in a plastic chair, I took a few minutes to stretch my aching back muscles to prepare myself for the ride to Atambua, which I was told would take me about seven hours…

“Not if I can help it…!!” I said to myself as I roared up the steel ramp and onto the road leading to Kupang…

©GBWT 2011

1 comment to Ferry to Kupang…

  • Mark Behr

    We are so spoilt with our personal space and plenty of room. It is always difficult being in close proximity for so long. Great that you had a good book to read.

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