If you’ve ever been on a Pelni boat in ekonomi class, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The toilets and showers smell and are often flooded, the food doesn’t taste of much and doesn’t look very appetizing, you sleep with 50 other people in the same room for days and just trying to get on the boat, or off it for that matter, can turn out to be a near death experience.
So why do that to myself?
- It’s cheap!
I paid just 140.000 Rp from Maumere to Makassar, a 36 hour trip, not counting the nine hours I had wait at the harbour for the bloody boat to turn up.
- It’s safe!
The ships are proper german-built cruise liners, minus the luxury, but with a distinct Titanic feel to them. Nevertheless, you might hear occasionally of a capsized ferry, but I have never heard of a sunken Pelni ship.
- It’s an experience!
You’re more than likely going to be the only foreigner, or ‘bule’, on a huge ship and you’ll be the talk of the day or however long the journey lasts. Want to feel like a celebrity? This is your chance without resorting to Big Brother and the likes.
And that’s just a few of the many reasons…
Here’s a few survival tips for you ekonomi class Pelni trip:
- Wait till the first onrush of porters and passengers has left, then get on or off the boat. You don’t want to get in the way of that stampede. But don’t leave it too long, if you plan on having a bed for the night!
- Bring a large sheet on which you can sleep and wrap yourself in. Sometimes you only get bamboo mats to crash on, sometimes thin mattresses.
- If you don’t fancy eating with your right hand, then bring your own cutlery, as sometimes this is not provided.
- Bring enough books to keep you occupied, especially on long journeys. In case you run out, there’s usually an onboard cinema somewhere and yes, they do show english movies, sometimes even soft porn. That was funny!
- Don’t eat the food provided, if you really don’t like it. On the top deck there’s always a cafeteria, that sells alright food. And lots of cookies, if you’re really fussy.
- Bring a chessboard. Indonesians love to play. It’s a great way to get to know your fellow passengers, even if hardly anybody speaks english.
Recently I have been on two Pelni boats, the Awu and the Doro Londa. In a few days I’ll be heading on yet another ship to Pulau Banda in the middle of nowhere. While the boats do have their shortcomings, I enjoy my time on them. I like going native when I travel and that includes local transport. And you can’t get any transport that’s more indonesian than Pelni. Indonesia’s an island nation after all…