About
In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. She was on the road and the high seas for a year, covering dozens of islands in 27 provinces. This site records photos and musings from that journey and beyond. See more about the project


Contact




Indonesian Ferries: possession is nine-tenths of the law

Not trusting to the vagaries of shonky inter-island passenger ferries, I scheduled my visit to Sumba so that I could move on to Sabu, an even drier and poorer island in NTT, on the fortnightly PELNI boat. Needless to say, just for this one fortnight, PELNI is having the barnacles scrubbed off it. The shonky ferries are “lagi kosong” — “currently lacking”, a phrase that strikes horror into the traveler’s heart in much the same way that “rail replacement bus services” does to users of Britain’s creaky and overpriced trains. There was a weekly flight on an eight-seater plane for a while. But the company that ran the service had a plane “disappear” a couple of months ago, That made the aviation authorities a bit suspicious, so they pulled the company’s license.

So I found myself on a shonky ferry after all, going to a quite different island. There are three classes of transport: VIP, 1A and economy. The principal difference between them seems to be the volume of karaoke/music played.Oh, and the expensive classes have seats, which makes it harder to lie down. I usually opt for economy, and have learned that arriving early and staking out territory is nine tenths of the law.

Staking a claim between two trucks

Priority seating courtesy of SQ gold card

I opted for the space between two trucks. pissing on the proverbial patch with sarong, backpack, and Singapore Airlines frequent flier Gold Card. I wound up sharing the space with a Granny I had met a few days before while searching for a Granny I had buried 20 years before that, but mostly I held my own. As you can see, the space fills up rather quickly.

My patch, early on

My patch, circa 5 pm

My patch, later on

My patch, circa 10pm

Still, it’s a good way to travel. The price is right — about eight dollars for a 12 hour trip (though more if you want the karaoke). You can chat to (most of) the other passengers, and learn a bit about this nation on the move. The Sumba-Kupang ferry was pretty well filled with men going to work on some “proyek” (which usually means road construction) in northeast Flores, and women going to work in Malaysia. “From West Sumba, the diligent ones,” explained one lady who was herself going to burn candles over her mother, who had died in Flores. “Here in the East, we’re too lazy.”

Fellow passengers

Fellow passengers




Waiting for SBY

The most common activity for any traveller in Indonesia is, without question, waiting around. One of the next most common activities is guessing WHY we’re waiting around. Sometimes, the ferry captain forgets the waters are tidal and a ferry will get stranded on its belly for six or eight hours. Sometimes, one has to wait until the bus driver’s mother-in-law has finished her dinner. This weekend, I spent several hours waiting for The President.

Me, I just had to wait until Bali aiport opened again after President Susilo Banbang Yudhoyono’s plane had landed. But the rest of the country seems to be waiting for him to do something, anything, even vaguely presidential. Besides handing out cabinet seats to soothe all the political parties that are getting itchy ahead of elections which aren’t even due until 2014.

Even after shuffling friends and relatives into his final cabinet, Suharto topped out at 36 cabinet level posts. The ranks have since been swelled by 18 deputy ministers, each with their offical car, squads of flunkies, time at the trough. The older denizens of Jakarta roll their eyes at the bloating in an “it was ever thus” sort of way and note that SBY is only half way to the high-water mark set by Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who at one point stuffed 111 people into his cabinet.