It was a big day in Bandaneira. Not only did the plane arrive in the morning, but the KM Tidar (from the Pelni passenger ship fleet) arrived in the afternoon. There are two Pelni ships that pass through Banda: the smaller, slower and cockroach-ridden KM Kelimutu, and the KM Tidar. The Tidar is the boat that we are considering taking to Kei Kecil islands in another week or so, so this was a good opportunity for us to check it all out.
It was obvious that this was an auspicious occasion. The normally quiet, sleepy town was coming to life with motorcycles zipping around, tables and food stalls being erected along the narrow street heading down to the ship arrival pier to sell grilled fish, bottles of water, and nutmeg products to the passengers who briefly disembark to stock up on food for the remainder of their journey.
We had already been given some idea what to expect when the boat comes in but the general chaos and lack of order was fascinating to watch.
People head down to the boat landing area with wooden carts full of boxes and bags of stuff to be loaded onto the boat. The area is full of prospective passengers, families coming to see them off or to welcome new arrivals. It’s crowded, people are pushing and there is no concept of crowd control.
As the ship is tied up, and while the mobile stair ramps are pushed out to meet the boat, the dozens of red-shirted porters are already clambering to be the first up the stairs. There is money to be made to help people unload their dozens of parcels. After the porters squeeze on to the boat, the passengers rush on to the ramps – just as the disembarking passengers start to come down the ramp. It looks like pure chaos.
We watched as people unloaded large bundles of bananas and crates of eggs; only to see other people loading bananas and eggs. What is surprising is that we would have thought that bananas are abundant on ALL islands in the area, and there can’t possibly be an egg shortage with the number of chickens and roosters running around. So what are these items being transported? It’s still a mystery….
We have heard stories about travelling on the Pelni boats. I think the only way that I would travel on one is to go first class- you get a private room with beds, air con, toilet and shower – and they are reasonably clean (depending on which stories you believe). In second class you will share a room with 3 others – but men and women cannot mix as I understand it. And if you’re a man sharing with other local men, they will smoke. Heavily.
Economy class is a whole other experience according to the tales that we have heard. There is no allocated spacing – it’s a free-for-all bun fight for space. This can be on the lower decks where there is no air-con and the cockroaches are in the greatest numbers. You may find space in the stairwell, or maybe on the top deck which could be OK unless it rained. In that case, you are stuck in the open with a sheet of plastic to over you and your bags until the rain stops. We met 2 couples who got caught out in this situation and by all accounts it wasn’t fun – although it made for a great story!
It was fascinating to watch the ship loading and unloading process. It also made us weary of the idea of taking the boat at all – although if you have paid for a cabin, there is no need to join the rush. You can wait until the 2nd horn sounds at which stage the worst of the crowds should have dissipated.
We are planning on taking the KM Tidar to the Kei Islands (Tual) in a week’s time when the boat returns. It’s supposed to be an 8-10 hour journey. As long as we are in first class, we should be able to endure it. If we don’t secure first class, it will no doubt make an interesting blog entry.
EDIT for concerned family: since writing this post, our plans have changed and we will not be taking the Pelni boat afterall.
EDIT 2: due to things never going to plan, we did end up taking the Pelni!