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Friday, 16 January 2015

A Sea Cruise with Few Amenities but Plenty of Personality

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

In an era before cruising meant champagne, yoga and shopping ports-of-call, most travelers hopped on vessels to get from point to point. In the late 1970s, my wife and I were traveling the Indonesian islands and we were the last to board a large, crowded ferry at the port in Jakarta.

Since we had not booked one of the few small rooms for the two-day trip, we walked onto the huge single deck lined with small mats and skinny kids.

Indonesian families had staked out an orderly Woodstock crowd plan and we were left standing at the railing as the wooden cargo ships of Jakarta faded behind us in the haze.

Eventually we camped out on a small bench that was hooked to the wall outside the kitchen. Occasionally the cook would come out to smoke clove-filled cigarettes and aside from a few futile attempts at communication, we quietly shared the space until he went back to work.

He must have been the Iron Chef of the Malacca Straits as he chopped up boiled fish and produced caldrons of steamed rice.

Our two on-board meals came in the form of Dickens-like gruel lines. Servers set the pots filled with rice and fish bits at the front deck area and the passengers would file by, bowls in hand and all-purpose spoons at the ready.

We didn’t get the memo about meal procedures so we found plastic coffee can lids and joined in.

While standing in line, we met an Australian couple who had a small mat area staked out on the deck. The shaggy brown-haired young man mentioned that some Indonesian passengers camped next to them had asked why he and his wife didn’t use the wad of money he had in his shirt pocket to book a ship with furnished rooms.

They all had a good laugh when he unbuttoned his pocket and pulled out a bar of Ivory soap. Like us, they were on a tight budget, traveling “on the local economy.” But also like us, they were a lot wealthier than the families that were shoehorned on the deck — at least monetarily.

For entertainment we squinted at the site of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption and tried to imagine tidal waves that could kill 40,000 coastal dwellers in minutes. A few decades later, we would read about an earthquake under the sea nearby and a death toll more than five times that number.

By the time we rounded South Sumatra and turned north toward Padang, the sun was setting and we were planted on the bench. The cook, thin and stark in the twilight, appeared with a large steamed fish head on a tin plate.

The fish’s mouth seemed to form a soggy smile and the puffy gray face had a smug look, almost like it was saying, “Ha, I’m dead and this man is being kind to you by sharing the best part of me, but you’re about ready to puke.”

Of course we thanked the cook and used the bent fork to pick at the cheek pouch and jowl areas. A cold beer would have helped, but the only drink we had found on board was Coca Cola that came in those classic, eight-ounce bottles. It was warm.

In one respect, we were happy to have limited food and drink options. We wanted to shut down our digestive systems as much as possible because the toilets on board had become unusable after only hours at sea. Both the men and women facilities were at the bottom of a flight of stairs and even during our first visit, water had started seeping across the floors.

Later in the day, my wife reported that the ladies room had a foot of water sloshing back and forth in it and some mothers in the facility held toddlers that peed straight into the water.

The men’s room was no better off and if the smell was any indication, the crude flushing system was not working either. We practiced a form of mind-over-matter body control, a bit of Zen irregularity.

During the second day, we basked in sunshine and walked the narrow gangways to people watch — laughing kids, sleeping grandpas and a young man sporting a James Dean hair style and a tight black leather outfit.

At noon folks lined up in an orderly procession for rice and fish and within a few hours we chugged into the port at Padang. As we shuffled down the gang plank, we spoke with a few Indonesians and they informed us that the ship was arriving in Sumatra with the same number of live passengers it had left with.

During the night, an old man died and a baby was born.

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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


"Zen irregularity." Priceless. Thank you.

"During the night, an old man died and a baby was born."

It's the old saying:
"When God closes a door, He opens a window."

Good story, and it really makes me appreciate Royal Caribbean!

I never traveled that rough, but, writing today from Kandy, Sri Lanka, I'm well aware of the possibilities. Thanks for the story.

I tried the same fasting routine on a Greek ship going to Alexandria, for the same reason you did, in 1959. It worked very well. As a bonus(?) I got an invitation to sleep in the Captain's cabin which I politely declined. There was no chef on this ship and everyone seemed to have brought their own food.

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