Our ship, carrying 80 passengers and crew from Selayar to Bonerate


Photography: Our ship, carrying 80 passengers and crew from Selayar to Bonerate

In the port of Poetere there are a great many Pinisis laden with all manner of goods bound for and from all over the archipelago. One ship is carrying an enormous load of Ovaltine. Samsjul, the ship owner’s son, comes ambling down the pier with his girlfriend. He tells me his family have been maritime traders for generations: they run a mini-fleet, shipping merchandise from Makassar to Bonerate, a small island south of Sulawesi in the Sunda Sea, as well as to Labuanbajo in Westflores and back. When I tell him Ovaltine originally comes from Switzerland, Samsjul spontaneously suggests paying him a visit him on Bonerate, he’ll be there in 10 days. I’d take the ferry from Bira to Selayar, then any smaller vessel available to Bonerate. The idea isn’t too far-fetched. As John Cage once put it so well: if you want to set about doing something, just start somewhere!

*So that’s precisely what I did.* On the ferry to Selayar I make the acquaintance of Faizal, who teaches agronomy at a college in Beneng, the capital of the small elongated island. The crossing turns out to be a short but rough ride that makes most of the passengers seasick. A few hours later, after sunset, I’m sitting on a sofa with his family relishing some excellent Indonesian cuisine. Late in the evening, Faizal’s father drives us to the port. In no time we find a small passenger ship that will be putting to sea the very next day after Friday prayers.

The boat, 14m long and 3m wide, is already full to bursting a few hours before departure, carrying 80 passengers and 14 motorcycles crammed onto the lower and upper decks. The small space assigned to me becomes increasingly poky by the time we weigh anchor in the stifling heat. At night, on the other hand, it’s bitter cold, but a fantastically starry sky makes up for all the discomforts – including the absence of toilets on board and the omnipresent exhaust from the diesel engine. 18 hours later we’ve reached Bonerate. My back is killing me, my skull is throbbing, my bags drenched with sea spray, splashing water and the damp of night. But I’m in Bonerate, an island whose very existence I had no inkling of ten days ago!