My kingdom for a place to sleep

From Bau Bau to Ambon

ON THE SEA, 16 JUNE 2014

The Sinabung. The ship, beautifully illuminated, docks in the port. Hundreds of people, loaded up with their stuff, surrounded by even more heavily laden porters, evacuate the belly of the ship. And yet, when we finally board along with the passengers who’ve been waiting beside us, there’s no space left: the sleeping quarters, the passageways, the stairs are all jam-packed with passengers. People everywhere you look, going from one island to another to visit family and relatives or to ply their various trades. But on deck we manage to find a little room between the women sitting there peddling their wares. From coffee and biscuits to electronic equipment, you can find just about everything conceivable there. We put to sea just as the imam summons the congregation to morning prayer.

By the time day breaks, all we can see of Sulawesi is its silhouette in the mist. Meanwhile the heavy swell is taking its toll on some of the passengers. 4–5-metre waves, wind force 5–6 and a bow wave rearing up to 10 metres over the ship’s side cause even a big vessel like the Sinabung to pitch and toss.

The ticket inspection is announced over the loudspeakers. All the doors are locked. Those inside the ship stay there, all the rest remain outside. The whole ship is locked down, then a fastidious inspection begins. Even the lifeboats are searched. They’re probably looking for the six stowaways who climbed the rope onto the side of the ship the night before. After the fruitless inspection and search, the board loudspeaker sounds again. An invitation to the on-board cinema for a very special treat: an action film with Arnold Schwarzenegger….