Thursday, 9 December 2010

Sailing to North Sulawesi

Saturday 27 November: Walking up the gangplank of Pelni's KM Tilongkabila at Lembar, Lombok's main harbour, I'm aware that she's already four-hours late, and she has only come from from nearby Bali. As darkness falls we head east, along Sambawn island, towards the port of Bima. This will be a long seven-day cruise, a voyage I do hope to enjoy.
The Tilongkabila (1994) is a German-built, 6,400 ton, 327 foot, vessel with capacity for 970 passengers: 14 first-class, 40 second-class and 916 in economy. First-class cabins are two-berth, second-class four-berth and economy has communal dorms - bench-like wooden platforms for beds, mattresses are extra. Initially there are only a few passengers and I have a two-berth cabin all to myself, this won't last.

Sunday 28: Pods of dolphins and small flying-fish are an entertaining diversion as the Tilongkabila sails past the Komodo and Rinca islands where their world-famous inhabitants, Komodo Dragons, attract tour groups and travellers alike. We reach Lubuan Bajo on Flores at dusk. This is where I originally intended leaving the ship in search of dragons. But, I stay on deck watching as sacks of red onions and throngs of heavily laden passengers bustle their way aboard. The Tilongkabila is now vastly overcrowded - this monthly crossing of the Flores Sea to Makassar on Sulawesi is popular. I've changed to second-class and now even this four-berth cabin is full.
Monday 29: It's a smooth overnight and sunny-day crossing with good food and a band playing at lunch-time, but I'm irritated. Despite signs to the contrary and litter bins every few yards the locals just chuck their rubbish anywhere, mostly non-biodegradable plastic and polystyrene, mostly overboard.
At dusk we tie-up at Makassar - the ship empties and, once again, the cabin is my own. I'm the only
westerner and the only cabin-class passenger aboard.
Tuesday 30: I start reading Paul Theroux's
Ghost Train To The Eastern Star (2008) which I've been saving for a long journey. It's a rerun of his earlier Great Railway Bazaar (1975) book journey, so he must be running out of ideas. I'm hoping it will help me plan my route back to Europe next year, but he makes most places sound so awful.
Patches of plastic rubbish litter the sparkling blue sea and at dusk we dock at
Bau Bau, a small port on Sulawesi's southeastern leg.
Wednesday 1 December:
Slowly port-hopping up the east coast of Sulawesi we reach Raka in the early hours and Kendari early in the bright morning. To my astonishment a crew-hand slings six large plastic bin-liners full of emptied litter-bins into the sea. They slowly disappear to small black dots in the ship's wake.
Thursday 2:
We dock at Kolondale during the night. Next morning more patches of plastic flotsam appear depressingly frequently but in the afternoon a large pod of about 40 dolphins follow the ship for a while. These cheer me up and in the early evening we dock at Luwuk.
Friday 3: We arrive at Gorontalo early in the morning and in the evening I disembark at Bitung. At 11:00pm it's a dark sprawling industrial port complex with no onward public transport. Ripped-off by an ojek motorcycle driver, who I'm too tired to argue with, I spend the night in an expensive hotel.
The cost of this full-board but alcohol-free, six-night, seven-day Pelni voyage is just over two-million Rupiahs (£142), it's above my daily budget, but only slightly.
Saturday 5: A very inexpensive local bus takes me to Manado, a comfortable everyday town with shopping malls, beer shops, restaurants, reasonable hotels and small vessels of differing shapes and sizes, many heading east to far-flung islands in the Maluku Sea.
Photos: Lombok to Manado

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