I've always wanted to go on a cruise. In high school my best friend Trudy and I planned to go when we finished year 12. For a couple of years we pored over the brochures and chose islands, ships, cabins, decks... but when the time came neither of us were 18 and they wouldn't let us travel alone. Ten years later I was very excited at the prospect of travelling to Singapore by boat.
I had heard of another boat (not Pelni) that went to Batam on a Saturday, but unable to find any info online we decided to just go to the terminal and test our luck. As Sam outlined in the previous entry, we were able to get a Pelni out of Jakarta that day. I tried to buy first class tickets - everything I had read in other people's blogs suggested it was the best way to travel. But they wouldn't sell me first class tickets - I got the impression this ship only had economy class from what they said. But as Sam and I wheeled our bikes up to the ramp the crew asked if we were traveling in first class. When we said no, they offered to upgrade us on board.
The price was relatively cheap. We'd already paid AU$70 for both of us to travel in economy and they wanted another AU$180. We figured $250 for both of us to travel in our own room with ensuite for the 30 hour journey was good! But it was more than we were carrying in Indonesian money. We did have US dollars though. It took some haggling over price and exchange rates, but eventually we got the upgrade for about US$170. The whole experience with the ticket availability and first class upgrade makes me think that we probably could have got on the Friday Pelni to Batam if we just turned up and paid. And for other travelers, if they tell you first class is not available, push it. Because it probably is available.
The first night we were happy to simply eat a meal of two minute noodles purchased from a fellow passenger (there was no meal provided on board that night and we'd not had time to eat in the rush to leave) and go to sleep. Sam waited until the ship left and took some photos, but that didn't happen until after 10.30 and I was asleep by then.
We were woken at 4.30am by the Muslim call to prayer broadcast to everyone over the PA system. But exhaustion allowed us to fall back to sleep. The next awakening came at 6.30am, when the crew woke us for breakfast. We were escorted to the first class dining room and seated at a table in the middle of the room. It was just us. We weren't sure up until this point if there were other first class passengers, but there had been no footsteps going past our cabin door so we suspected we were it. Breakfast was a cold rice, egg and beans. Not great, but we were hungry so ate it anyway. We were told lunch would be at 11.30.
After breakfast I suggested a walk around the deck, but we didn't last long. Just long enough to buy a drink from the shop at the top of the ship, but the constant, curious stares of the fellow passengers drove us below deck where we watched a DVD.
After the DVD we were laying in bed talking when there was a knock at the door at 10.30. Lunch was being served. As we ate our rice, fish and beans a band played a mixture of Indonesian and English songs for our benefit. 'Only You' was a particular favourite, and it was very amusing to sit in a big dining hall and have a band play when you are the only passengers. The Indonesians were looking at us strangely through the window from the deck. We noticed another place set at our table, and shortly we were joined by an Indonesian lady, the only other first class passenger. I tried to make eye contact, and sat there smiling. But she didn't look at us at all. We finished eating (not that hungry since we just had breakfast), were told to be ready for dinner at 5.30, and went up the top to buy a drink and chocolate, before returning to our room.
Our afternoon sleep was disturbed at 4.30 - dinner was ready. Our fellow first class passenger had finished eating already so at least there would be no more awkward silence while we ate our rice, chicken, fish and spinach.
The sun was getting ready to set when we were finished so we went out to watch. It seems everyone had the same idea, but once we arrived the landscape wasn't watched as closely as we were. I suggested we go to one of the lower decks, where there weren't as many people. This worked out well, and we were able to find ourselves a quiet spot to watch a spectacular sunset.
One of the crew told us that the ship was probably going to arrive at 5am. This worked out well for us, as it meant we could sleep and not worry about finding a hotel in the middle of the night. The journey had been very restful and comfortable, although the voyage was 30 hours and the three meals were served in a ten hour block. Luckily we'd bought our own bananas, apples and milo with us!
The boat arrived amid a spectacular sunrise, and our cruise was over. We still didn't know where Kijang was, but we were one step closer to mainland SE Asia.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia