Sunday, February 15, 2009

Honeymoon Lane

We made it to Banda. Hardly the harrowing trip ancient mariners might have made to get here, but still it was the kind of journey that leaves an indelible mark on the memory.

In Ambon we’d arrived at the harbor three hours after the original scheduled departure time, which was currently an hour before the expected boarding time. Not much to our surprise the 4 pm hour ended up being 5 hours before the actual departure, giving us plenty of time to contemplate the sea voyage ahead. In the closed off heat of the waiting room I’d anticipated our passage across the Banda Sea to be aboard the reliable Rinjani we’d sailed before between Ambon and Banda. But Pelni, the Amtrak of the seas, had recruited another ship in their fleet to transport the commonwealth of Indonesia to the eastern reaches of the archipelago. And for those with a keen eye, you might notice a bit of rust at the bow of the ship. Hardly the sort of scar that instills confidence in the passenger. In fact, as she pulled into the harbor, the first thought that crossed my mind was whether or not we’d make it to Banda first, or page 3 of the world section in the New York Times. Yet Another Indonesian Ferry Lost at Sea. Does anyone really care? Apparently Pelni could not give a damn. Besides the derelict nature of the ship, Banda one out, and The New York Times will have to wait, hopefully for a very long time.

The experience of boarding this beast of the sea is one of great contact with all of your fellow passengers. The press of bodies crammed into singular passage ways with large amounts of baggage gives a person the sense that they are in fact the sausage grinding through the mill.

We were fortunate enough to have been advised by Peter to bump ourselves up to first class and Daud for the sake of economy and ease told the officials at the info desk who hand out the keys that Laura and I were married. Which is true. And happily I might add. We’re just not married to one another. We each have beautiful spouses back home that we both miss very much.

Daud, Laura and myself hoped first class might provide us with a swanky moonlight ride to Banda and offer a quiet sanctuary from the hustle of the ship around us. But once we’d run the gauntlet of boarding and been shown our cabins, swanky quickly turned to skanky.

When the lights came on in what we were now amusingly referring to as our honeymoon suite, the cockroaches did not quickly scramble. Instead they went about their usual business of climbing walls, creeping up curtains and crawling over pillows without a care for us. So much for getting any rest through the midnight crossing.

We secured our bags and quickly abandoned the cabin for the upper deck of the ship that serves snacks and drinks, and plays music at what I like to refer to as shouting volume. There we snacked and shouted at one another as the moonlight glittered on the water around us and cockroaches climbed up our legs. We quickly adopted a new policy for the ship, which was do not touch anything that isn’t your own. The film of scum and rot was ancient and thick. In the wake of the ship the plastic and filth from the deck floated off behind us like tin cans tied loosely to the bumper of a newly married couple’s Oldsmobile.

Now that we were underway, our schedule could be precisely predicted and we hoped to be in Banda by 4am. Throughout the night we wandered the ship to keep from dozing off, and to keep ourselves from entering the twilight zone honeymoon suite. But once we found we did want to enter, we discovered we were locked out, and the first class passengers were locked in, which would have presented a huge problem had this tub started to sink. After about 20 minutes of searching all the decks, we finally came upon an open door and were able to visit our cabin with its luxury accommodations.

At 4am the final arrival horn sounded, echoing throughout Banda. Down on the dock we saw our friends, Peter, Sopian, Bowo, and Nia, anticipating our arrival. They’d been there two hours waiting to help us unload our mass of wears. As the stairway and exit ramps were rolled to the ship people started climbing over one another like clowns in a Fellini film, scrambling to get on board and help passengers with their luggage. Getting off the boat was another communion with our fellow passengers, like so much sausage pressing out of the bowels of the ship. Feeling the hands of a derelict reach inside her pants pocket, Laura grabbed for her passport and took the cash out of the hands of the derelict, shaming him, not for having tried to pick her pocket, but for having been caught doing it.

As exhausted as we were the reunion with our friends was a great relief. And the beauty of the journey is that after traveling half the world around in two weeks time, and landing back in Banda with its simple beauty and charm, I felt strangely at home again.


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