Where everybody smokes and nobody walks: Welcome to Indonesia!

Since we already got our visa for Indonesia, we can simply join the que at the Malaysian-Indonesian border in Entikong. And we are glad we can, because we are immediately confronted with the Indonesian chaos. A boy who travels at the same bus and speaks a few words English comes to the rescue and eventually we get our stamps. The differences between Malaysia and Indonesia are immediately visible, sometimes we seem back in Nepal.

After a bumpy ride we are dropped off at the bus station somewhere outside of Pontianak in the middle of nowhere. The same boy offers his help again and proposes to join him and his family for a ride to Pontianak. This to the great displeasure of a group of taxi drivers who clearly show their frustration of losing two potential customers. In the car we are introduced to the parents and two sisters of Fahmi. They insist on showing us the city first, bringing us to an ATM machine and dropping us off at a hotel. A warm welcome to Indonesia!

Pontianak is a busy, overcrowded city and far away from the tourist paths. Perfect to get acquainted with Indonesia, but after three days we have had enough of Pontianak. During our stay we visit the equator monument and we officially walk from the northern to the southern hemisphere. A museum visit is short-lived if the power goes out and we have to go outside again after a few minutes. In the meantime we have acquired two boat tickets for the crossing to Semarang, Java.

We book economy class tickets, also called deck class. When taking a look at the port the night before, we prepare for a chaotic scene when boarding the ship with quite some shoving and shouting to be done. With tightly secured backpacks we arrive at the harbour two hours in advance and we try to contact a few experienced locals to get on board unharmed. At ten o’clock the fences open and three thousand men, women and children start racing towards the boat. On board there are about eight hundred beds and after a short search below deck it becomes clear that we will not get one, let alone two of them. Quickly head back outside to find a place on the deck. Happy to have found a spot we crawl in a corner away from the passageways. We follow the example of the locals and buy two fifty cent cut rice bags to mark our territory on deck. Everyone around us nods happily and around 11 o’clock in the evening we are sitting on the deck of the KM Leuser with our backpacks. Another 44 hours to go …

At one o’clock the boat leaves the port of Pontianak and after almost six weeks we leave Borneo. In the meantime it has become very crowded around us and all decks are full. Families with children, groups of men and friends, all on their way to their town or village to celebrate Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan. We nestle against our backpacks and enjoy our bed of wooden decking and two cut rice bags. Actually, we are not even that uncomfortable and we would have slept an hour longer, but the call to prayer turns the whole boat into a mosque within seconds and the ‘Allahu akbars’ ring through the speaker system. At half past five in the morning!

We have stocked up on supplies for the crossing and have breakfast with white bread and jam. The rest of the day we stand, hang, sit and lie on our spot and sometimes walk around to get hot water for a bowl of noodles or to pick up our trays of rice with fish in the galley. The included meals are consumed by most as a snack and pleasant distraction, but basically it is not more than a portion of dry prison ration. After a day at sea we got the impression that we are the only ‘white people’ on board. A moment later our suspicion is confirmed when – in addition to a large number of passengers – the crew members also drop by to have a chat and accompanying selfies. The rice bags turn out to lose their value over time and in the course of the evening everybody is sitting and crawling everywhere. Nobody is surprised to get a neighbour’s foot in his tummy and everyone moves a little to make room when someone wants to have a chat or smoke a cigarette somewhere. Because everyone smokes, every-one! The men at least. And boys. From about ten years of age! In the meantime we are happy with our spot on deck, since the rooms with beds are full of smoke and are incredibly hot and damp. On deck it just the regular visits of some cockroaches.

After about forty hours it gets noisy on board the KM Leuser. Java is in sight; we are approaching Semarang. People start to pack their stuff and throw their mess overboard. Our rice bags are collected and by 7 am we sail into the port of Semarang. An hour later we spot a decent hotel and we enjoy a long, hot and well-deserved shower. The crossing to Java was not always comfortable and hygienic, not always hot and dry and certainly not a luxury, but definitely a great experience!