The Pelni Experience

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…