I jump out of my skin when I see what I’ve just trodden on outside my door on the terrace. I thought it was an enormous cockroach, but it turns out to be some kind of grasshopper thing. It’s huge and it’s not moving. Have I killed it?
I go and order breakfast and when I come back it is still there. I see some signs of life. I sit on the bench and wonder whether to flip it over the side of the terrace and into the ravine. It inches forwards a little bit. it’s clearly been hobbled in some way but I don’t think it was by me.
As I eat I hear weird buzzing sounds and I jump out my skin again. It has made its way over to a corner of the terrace and I can see it out of the corner of my eye. It is attempting to fly and it’s the sounds of its wings against the tiled floor that is making the noise. I figure I will leave it alone and go and finish packing.
I leave at 10.30 and the bus is picking me up at 11.00. I use the loo, since I know that when I’m on transport and can’t use it I always feel the need. I get to the pickup point at 10.45. It’s right next to the palace. I wonder if there’s a public loo as I feel the need again, but I’m told by tourist information there isn’t one nearby. I just pray that I don’t have a repeat of last night.
The bus comes at 11.05. It’s a 16-seater minivan and two girls are on it in the first row of seats behind the driver. I go for the seat at the back – two of the seats have been flipped up to allow for luggage, so there’s just a small bench that fits twowith no others in front of it so I can get the legroom.
We pick up other passengers along the way. We head out of Ubud and it seems like we’ve got all the passengers we are going to have. The three rows of benches have two people in them (they can take three people) and I’ve got the back seat.
In the middle of nowhere we stop. There’s another minivan ahead of us. Five people get off. It looks like they’re transferring to our bus. A French couple with a small child come in. Two girls get into the front seats next to the driver. There are three seats in the three rows, but I can already guess that I’ll have to give up the back seat so that the mother can sit with the kid. I am told to move forward. The two girls are English and one is twittering on about something she read in the Daily Mail about a plane crash in Portugal. I get as comfortable as I can. The French couple’s suitcases are jammed into the aisle as they won’t fit in the back.
I put my headphones on. It’s funny how things change with some music on. I’ve barely listened to any while I’ve been here. Suddenly everything feels so cinematic. The scooter riders and the people walking in the streets and the faces in the shops we pass by all become interesting characters and the rest of the journey passes quite quickly.
We get to the port of Padang Bai just before 12.30. It’s a bit scummy. I’ve read online to keep my bags close and avoid letting any “porters” take them for you as they will demand money for doing so. There’s no one around but I can see the public ferry in the dock. I had decided all along to take this instead of a fast boat as it is much cheaper and it would be an interesting way to see local life.
The driver asks if I have a ticket. I say not yet. He shepherds me into a booking office. The English girls are in there getting argumentative. They’ve booked a fast boat for Gili Trawangan and are demanding to know why they were allowed to book a ticket if the boats have been cancelled. Someone quotes me 75,000 for a ferry ticket. I say no, it’s 43,000 at the port (I read the price online), so I walk off and head there.
I get my ticket (it’s 46,000 now). I try to use the loo but it is padlocked shut. There are lines of people selling crips, biscuits, snacks, cup noodles and bananas from baskets on their heads sitting along the side of the road that leads to the gangway onto the boat. They yell out and beckon to me and try to call me over but I keep walking. There’s a line of people outside the gangway that leads to the ferry that is in dock, and the gangway is jammed with people. I join the end of the line. A lorry has to come through and honks its horn. People begin to move, but not enough. Someone directs us out of the way. I find myself in a small gaggle of people as they bottleneck out of the gangway. Guys roam around trying to sell Bintang beers out of wicker baskets. Everyone is a backpacker type. Several are drinking beers. A girl has climbed the railings and is dancing to shitty dance music she’s pumping out of a portable speaker. I begin to find myself disliking these people.
The ferry pulls out of the dock and steams away. The sky is cloudy and grey and it looks like there could be rain. The fast boats are moored in the port, and the sea looks calm enough, but over by the rocks at the end of the bay there are big waves crashing.
Twenty minutes go by. Another ferry pulls into the dock. Cars and scooters and lorries and people stream off the gangway. The basket women scramble to catch their prey. It looks like a small ferry – more like something that would cruise down a river. An American kid asks “How are this many people gonna fit onto that small boat?” The line shuffles forwards. Several local people appear and start pushing in and onto the gangway. A guide directs a French family of seven up onto the gangway right in front of me and they squeeze by with their suitcases, which kind of pisses me off, though to be fair I have also jumped quite far ahead in the queue.
I get onto the gangway. We’re moving forwards. I’m just ahead of a couple of Dutch guys who are holding surfboards. Then we stop. At the head of the gangway there is no movement for a few minutes. The traffic keeps coming onto the boat. It’s 1.30 now and I still kind of need the loo even though I haven’t dared drink any of the water I’ve brought. I’m getting hungry too. Several people buy Pringles or crisps from the basket women. Someone jumps over the railings to talk to someone who seems to be an official, pointing and jabbing a ticket he’s holding. We hear the word ‘full.’ People start taking their backpacks off their bags and sitting down. Basket women roam around. Guys yell, “Bintang! Bintang! Bintang!”
The ferry is docked for another hour before it leaves. Once it leaves and I come to accept that I’ll be waiting here for a while yet I take this as a chance to go to the toilet. I have been eyeing the baskets of food but don’t want to eat shitty junk food amongst all these people. I jump over the fence and find a loo. There are local restaurants around but I don’t fancy what they’re selling. I look in a shop. She’s got bread rolls. I get some and a packet of Oreos. On the walk back to the gangway I eat a roll. It’s filled with some sugary pink powder. I think it’s supposed to be strawberry cream. I eat another two and stuff the others into my bag.
I lay my big backpack on the ground and sit down on it. Suddenly a local man is climbing down the slimy concrete banks of the port. I wonder if he’s trying to skip the line and get onto the gangway. He makes his way along the water’s edge and and steps into the water and retrieves a backpack. Someone has dropped their bag over the side of the gangway and into the water. He climbs back up and makes his way along the water’s edge again. A huge cheer goes up.
I’m getting a bit tired and frustrated now. I read online the ferry trip should take four to five hours in good sea conditions. I think about whether I would have been better off getting the earlier bus – I didn’t want the 8 am one as I didn’t want to get up too early. Would it have made a difference? I know that the boats can take longer than that if the sea is rough. I think about what time I will arrive at my hotel. I’ve still got to find a car and take about an hour’s drive to Senggigi when I get off the boat. I wonder if from where I am in the queue I will get onto the next boat when it comes.
A big ferry pulls into the port. It looks like a proper, ocean-going vessel. I’m definitely getting on this one. It unloads and after about fifteen minutes the queue begins to move forward. We walk along the car port. We’re directed to doors at the front of the boat which lead to stairs up to the deck. I get stuck behind the French family that pushed in.
On the deck there are hundreds of chairs. They’re plane-style seats arranged in sections. About thirty people are on the deck. I dive for a front row seat for the leg room. I get my backpack under the seat and put my small bag on it. The French family tell me to move as they want to sit together. Considering I was there first I feel it’s a bit much, but I move a couple of rows back and settle in.
The basket women and the Bintang men roam around the aisles. The cabin fills up. There’s a rabble of people rushing for seats, putting bags on seats to save them, calling out for friends. “Bintang! Bintang! Bintang!” There’s loud Indonesian pop music blaring from the speakers and music videos that look like something from the early 90s but feature new iPhones are on the screens at the front of the cabin. A group of young English studenty types fill the row next to me. The guy who sits two chairs from me looks at me wide-eyed and says, “This is insane.”
An English girl who is part of the group kneels on the chair in front of me yelling for someone called Max. They’ve saved him a seat. Max appears and she directs him to the empty seat between me and the other guy. He squeezes in. They’ve all stuffed their bags into a couple of chairs two rows behind. One of their friends is sitting in a seat in front of it next to a local woman. She gets up and comes to me and bleats on about wanting to sit with her friends and will I move if I’m alone. I give her a long, ‘Errrr…’, about to say no, but then I decide that actually I really don’t want to be around these annoying studenty types and then I move.
“Bintang! Bintang! Bintang!” No, I don’t want crisps, Pringles, Oreos, rice or pineapples. The woman next to me has covered her head with a scarf and gone to sleep. I get my headphones out and close my eyes to avoid all the melee. I’m in an aisle seat. There are more of the studenty group in the seats across the aisle. One of the girls negotiates the price of a tube of Pringles down from 50,000 to 25,000 and munches on them.
Half an hour goes by. One of the Bintang guys has brought out a guitar. He’s standing in front of one of the sections of seats singing loudly. He dispatches a little mate with a mullet to collect cash in a crisp packet.
They repeat this in front of my section. I close my eyes. More basket women. “Bintang! Bintang! Bintang!” Loud announcements in Indonesian. The ship rattles and shakes as heavy lorries are loaded on. When I open my eyes Gee-tar Gary is working his way along the section over from me. I’m offered crisps, Oreos, Pringles, rice, coffee, bananas and I decline them all. When the fuck are we going to leave? I figure that as long as the basket women are roaming around then there’s no chance of us setting sail.
It’s 4 pm now. We’ve been on board for around 45 minutes. We must be leaving soon. I head out to the back of the ship to see the port from the boat. There are scores of local people lying down, smoking and standing around. Gee-tar Gary is on the back deck still singing away. I walk up a ramp to the top deck. The back door of the ship is still open they are still loading cars onto it.
I head back inside. I get out my laptop and begin to work on a book I’ve got to proofread. I hear the engines start up. I look out of the window and see we’ve begun to move. The English studenty type in front of me jams her seat back, right into my kneecaps. I sigh and decide to go back out to see the port as we leave. The wind is cool and fresh. There are heavy grey skies above Bali, but out in front of us it looks like it’s brightening up.
I take some snaps and head back inside to work on the book. I snack on my Oreos and bread rolls. The other three of them are coffee flavoured. There is a sudden crash and a the ship quakes as it crests a wave. I look out of the window and see just how far we are pitching but it doesn’t scare me that much, surprisingly. With working on my laptop I can only see the window vaguely from the corner of my eyes, but it is noisy every time we lift and crash back down.
I head out to the back. When we pitch I am knocked over into the side of a seat, but it’s quite fun. At the back of the boat it doesn’t seem so bad. The seating cabin is at the front of the ship, so I guess we’re getting the brunt of the waves. We’re pitching up and down but not crashing back here. A trio of tourists stand against the rail and we can see just how much we’re pitching when their heads go below the horizon line. It’s quite fun though.
I manage a good three hours or so of work. As the sun goes down I go back on deck and watch. There’s a layer of clouds so you can’t really call it a sunset.
More work. The going has smoothened out and we’re cruising along nicely. I put the laptop away. I hear someone say ‘We’re here.’ People begin their preparations for alighting. The boat slows down. It comes to a stop. People start getting their bags and lining up to leave but I can see through the window we’re still out at sea. A loud announcement goes off in Indonesian. Some other Engish tourists gather in the seats vacated by the big group who are now lined up in another aisle. One girl says ,“The locals aren’t moving, so we’re not going anywhere. When they start to move you know it’s time.”
We move a little. People start hanging around the door again. It’s 9.30 now. Another announcement. I hear the word ‘motor.’ Some locals wearing their motorcycle helmets go towards the door. I get up and get my bags. We’re moving slowly, but then stop again. A Caucasian guy who has been talking to the studenty group comes over to the girls in front of me. He tells them about the fast boats being cancelled. He lives on Gili T and has never seen such scenes as there were at the port today. He says we’re barely even in Lembar port now. By now I’m standing with my bags ready. Locals start crowding round. I’m getting fed up of it all and I just want to get to my hotel now.
Eventually we dock. The locals swarm the doors, their scooter helmets on. I get to the door and an Indonesian grandmother shoves me out of the way and gets onto the stairs in front of me, turning around and giving me a toothy grin. I think about shoving her down them.
When I get to the car deck I find I’m in the first wave of people off the boat. Awesome – I can get a car quickly and get out of here. I head up to the port. There are a gaggle of drivers hanging around but they are here to pick people up who have booked them. Out in the car park are drivers hanging around. I ignore the first two and make my way to the back of the car park. I’m approached and I walked away when 500,000 is given as the price.
Another guy approaches me. I say I won’t pay 300,000 and offer 150,000. We settle on 200,000 if he can get another passenger. He loads my bag into the boot. He comes back a few minutes later and says he can’t get another passenger and takes my bag back out.
A lot of drivers have customers now. I’m thinking, shit – I might not end up with a car after all. Perhaps I should just pay the 300,000. I mean, it will get me to my hotel after all. I head out of the car park. A guy with a car is loitering. He tells me 300,00. I ask if we can do 250,000. He says 275,000. I say okay. He shakes my hand and says but it will be 300,000 with the tip. I say okay, just go. I really just want to be getting out of here right now.
He gets out his phone and calls someone. My heart sinks. I’ve read that sometimes the drivers dump you a couple of kilometres after picking you up and put you on a bemo – a truck with seats in the back – and pocket the money. I’m wondering if he’s contacting a bemo to let the driver know he’s coming but it sounds like he’s just asking for directions, and at least I haven’t paid him anything yet.
It’s 11 pm now, so it’s been 12 hours since I got on the bus. I’m kind of worried that my hotel will think I’m a no show and cancel the booking. I’ve got no way to contact them to let them know I’m coming. It should be about an hour’s drive. We’re out in the open countryside and it is so dark. Literally only the moonlight and the car’s headlights are illuminating the road. I see the outlines of mosques against the dark night sky, for Lombok is Muslim whereas Bali is Hindu. The roads are much quieter.
We make it to Senggigi, the town I have based myself in. I’ve followed Google Maps along the ride to see where we’re going. I begin to see hotels I looked at when booking. We come to my hotel sooner than I expected.
I’m just so relieved when I get in at 11:40. It’s been a bit of a rough day, and things didn’t go as smoothly as they’re made out to online. It’s one of those days when travelling in South East Asia bites you on the ass. I happily dump my bags and head out to reception to get a quick Bintang. After a day like today, I think I deserve this one.