Heart to Beat #37 Batam (Indonesia 1)

Published on July 12, 2019 at 11:00 AM

After the almost un-Asian city-state of Singapore, with all its luxury, amazing urban design and regulated public life, we are ready for our last “stage” in SE Asia: Indonesia.  We started Eight months ago in Kathmandu to cycle through this wonderful part of the world. We kind of are ready for something else; to less (over) population, to more “outback”, to more opportunities for (wild) camping. Australia beckons, but we are also very curious about Indonesia. We are going to follow a route on Java and Bali that will take us to so-called “roads less traveled”.

Well, our first experiences with Indonesia are not so good. The customs officers and security officers routinely work us out of the arrivals hall without our bicycles and luggage. Once outside we are told that we have to hire a porter to get the luggage that is still inside. First it costs S$ 20, then S$ 10, then US$5 and when we resisted this stupidity (and indicate that we no longer have dollars), it costs 50,000 Indonesian rupees. We don’t know the currency rate yet, but the whole situation feels wrong. However, we no longer are aloud to enter the arrivals hall. Not even cycled for a second in Indonesia and we were already experience a first scam.

But that experience is nothing compared to happens fifteen minutes later at the office of Pelni, the ferry company of Indonesia. It is Tuesday July 2 as we enter the Pelni office in Batam and the July 3 boat is full… there will be another boat in a week or 10 days. We suspect that the man is just another member of the fraud club and is working his way towards receiving bribes. Fortunately there appears to be something of wifi and we check the website of Pelni and to our great dismay it appears indeed that the boat is now fully booked: “Seat tidak tersedia” means no seat available. A man who speaks better English walks in and confirms that we can get to Jakarta next week, not any sooner. Something like a waiting list in case of cancellations does not seem to exist. No possibility to get on the boat tomorrow. The ferry to Jakarta that departs from the neighboring island of Bintam is also fully booked. According to the man, there is one alternative and that is to go by plane, but it would be an expensive option to arrive in Jakarta earlier.

What do we do? Return to Singapore? Check in to a hotel close by the Pelni office to check again on a ticket tomorrow morning? Or buy a ticket for the next boat on July 10, which means we are stuck for a long week on this not so beautiful island? We don’t know what to do.

This just isn’t our favorite day on this trip. Just before departing Singapore Roelie wasn’t able to stop in time while Harry brake for a inserting bus. The collision was hard enough to break the panniers’ suspension on Roelie’s front and Harry’s back. The collision was also hard enough for Roelie to end up with a bruised toe and some shin scratches. That will heel, but we cannot repair the panniers and instead tiewraps hold the panniers now. That happened earlier today.

We end up cycling 16 kilometers to a hotel in Batam Center to explore the options, which actually comes down to find out more about the one alternative: flying. Flying is quite expensive and a hassle with the bicycles. In addition, we waited two weeks in Singapore for the departure of the boat and it feels wrong to take a flight now. Okay, then we stay a week on Batam island. We try to book the boat of July 10 via internet. According to a hotel employee, that should work now that we are in Indonesia, but without an Indonesian ID number, we unfortunately are not able to complete the entire form. We send an email to the service desk and we get the answer that we have to go back to the Pelni office instead.

That’s why we are back at the Pelni office in the morning of July 4. Not in the hall where we were last time, but at a real counter that is flooded with people trying to get hold of a ticket for 10 July. At the counter we are told that there are no more tickets available for July 10! WTF!?!? Very strange, because tickets can still be purchased via the internet, but not by foreigners. We decide not leave until we have tickets. Long story short: three hours later (of which an hour and a half in a car), after a lot of hassle, good luck and the great help of two treasures of people named Gisti and Didid, who also stood in line, we have the tickets for 10 July!

Gisti helps us with tickets for the boat to Jakarta

Many days to go on this tropical island off the coast of Singapore. We explore the attractions that Batam has to offer and find very few. The Barelang bridge in the south and a cycling route in the north are highest noted, 70 and 60 kilometers respectively. On a Saturday morning we venture on the road in the direction of the bridge. It is already busy with scooters, cars, buses and trucks. After an hour of cycling it is fortunately a bit quieter on the road. We see (and smell) a lot of durian stalls along the side of the road, but the oh-so-delicious rambutan is also being sold. We buy a bag to eat when we arrive at the bridge. A viewpoint is made for the bridge and quite a lot of tourists have come to it. After the recent architectural mecca of Singapore, the Barelang bridge is not that impressive. We cycle further to the bridges that connect more southern islands to Batam. Finally it is quiet on the road. After bridge four we turn around and see dark clouds hanging above Batam Center. A little later we undergo the heavy tropical shower and we look forward to a warm shower since a long, long time.

Barelang bridge

Also during the round in the north of the island the clouds increase so much that a dark sky is created and when it starts to thunder we find shelter at a beach bar. We have finally found a beach, but one in the pouring rain. The beach is partly owned by posh golf resorts and partly a day recreation company. We only hide and stay under a sail in front of the entrance. A little further on we see that despite the heavy rainfall, men are still playing football on the recreational terrain. We meet a nice man who normally is a taxi driver on Batam and initially wonders how long the flight is from the Netherlands to Batam. Grinning, we answer that it took us a year.

After the rain we arrive at a nice path along the coast. Authentic cottages, children playing in the sea and palm trees along a sandy path. Beautiful! The question is how long it will take before a developer will catch their eye on this. The rain has been very local. It is dry here and we are finally enjoying ourselves again. Just for a moment, because the path is a dead end and we can cycle back the same way. Mentally just a little less beautiful …

Nice stretch along the northeast coast of Batam (and back)

There is a check mark in front of the sightseeing of Batam and the real waiting begins. Luckily only two days until the boat leaves. That is manageable. Sleep well, have big breakfasts and then a small workout. Harry chooses to sit on a very safe bike: one without traffic in the gym of the hotel and with a rock-hard, stirring hardstyle beat in his ears. Roelie finishes a program on a yoga mat and then pulls an infinite number of laps in the 10 meter pool. And of course we watch TV. The hotel rooms all have a DVD player and the hotel has a large closet full of DVDs in the lobby. However, the films offered generally do not really suit our taste and the one we take to the room, turns out to be scratched and refuses to play. Instead we watch Wimbledon for an infinite length of time and of course we have mourned live with the Dutch women’s soccer team that lost in the final battle against world champion USA.

A bit of safe cycling at the gym

Two hours before the boat leaves, we cycle to a modern harbor building where an official looks utterly suspicious when he sees our tickets. All sorts of inconvenience come to our minds: the boat left yesterday, the boat departs from a completely different place where we can never get to in time, but luckily the only “problem” is that we have to be somewhere else a little further away. Where exactly seems to be difficult when people we ask all point in different directions. A taxi driver offers to follow him and that is how we arrive at the right destination. All the shady spots on a large parking lot are packed with people waiting. In front of a gate there is a large group singing in for the rat race for an economy class beds. On our tickets there is a cabin number that makes us believe that we don’t have to compete and prefer to wait in the blistering sun next to a ice cream stand with a cheerful tune of 20 seconds that is constantly repeated.

We see a tall blond boy queuing up at the end of the group in front of the gate. He is probably a Dutchman, we say and we are right. When he sees us, he leaves the ratrace group and comes over to us to talk. Marijn has been traveling through Southeast Asia for months. His father arrives in Jakarta in 3 days and they’ll travel together through Indonesia. With Marijn and his cheerful stories and the tune from the ice cream car time flies. It does take a little longer than scheduled, which means we are delayed by 2.5 hours.

Marijn > 2 m

On the bike to the boat

Once on board we also understand that embarking takes even more time. There are mattresses in all staircases and corridors so that many more people can get on the boat. Marijn has a ticket with “no seat”. We hear that there are also people without ticket who bribe the officials to get through. After we see that chaos, we are very curious about our 1st class cabin. A key leads to a room in the only corridor on the ship where no people are lying on mattresses, blankets or cardboard. The cabin appears to be spacious and clean with two good beds, a kettle, TV and a private toilet. Especially the latter is the greatest asset since the horror stories on the internet about the ferry are mainly about sanitary. There is even a warm shower. We are delighted and return to the information office where we got the key to ask where to find drinking water and food. A ship’s officer who happens to be standing next to the office answers our questions and tells us that he has worked on many cruise ships, including the Holland-America Line. He offers to take us to the top deck. On the way up we come across Marijn who has found himself a mattress in the stairwell. The officer immediately calls out that Marijn should join in to go to the top deck. Marijn sits next to a French couple and of course they can come too. To our surprise, the route to the top deck runs through the bridge and we are greeted warmly by the crew. With the five of us we enjoy the 360 degree view at the top deck above the bridge and and are grateful to have the privilege to be here. We stay for at least an hour and during that time unfortunately Marijn, Imane and Lucas loose their conquered mattresses.

Bad imitation of the iconic Titanic scene

All five of us go to our hut to have a drink and snack. Imane and Lucas, the Moroccan-French couple, live in Paris and are halfway their 8-month journey. They traveled to the Far East with the Trans Siberian Express. Like us they hiked the Annapurna Circuit but they did it at the end of April and were almost the only ones. We experienced the opposite when we did it in November.

We thought dinner would be brought to our cabin half an hour after we left the top deck, but after an hour and a half we are not that sure anymore and start to ask around. There appears to be a restaurant where people from the 1st and 2nd class are aloud to eat. We are just in time for the buffet. After we scooped our plates, the buffet is immediately removed. Our new friends have economy tickets and have to pick up their takeaway meal somewhere else. After dinner we take aa nice hot shower and watch a movie in the cabin and then fall asleep on a lightly heaving boat. We have passed the equator unnoticed and we entered the southern hemisphere.

At half past four the call to prayer awakens us because it blows rather loudly through a speaker in the cabin. Roelie falls asleep again. Harry can’t catch sleep anymore and gets up to watch the sunrise. Later in the morning we meet Emma. She lives in Amsterdam and has been traveling through Asia for months and Indonesia is her last destination before flying back home and starting a new study.

Roelie and Emma

Harry and Emma with a better imitation of the Titanic

Harry. Lucas, Imane, Marijn, de scheepsofficier, Emma, Roelie & Mohammed

Sunset from the top deck

We spend the day chatting. The officer invited us to return to the top deck for the sunset. Originally that could have coincided with the moment of arrival in Jakarta. We are still more than 120 kilometers north of Jakarta and that means at least 4 hours of sailing. It will be late and we hear that there might be a possibility to stay a second night on the ship. The information from different sources is contradictory. We verify at the highest level and return to the bridge. It’s agreed it is possible to stay an extra night and a crew member will come to our cabin to sort things out and move our bikes to a safe place. The bicycles are attached to city bikes that will be unloaded. We are grateful for this possibility despite the small cockroaches in the hut every now and then. Everything is better than cycling in the dark in the dangerous traffic of Jakarta, we think.

The ship docks at the port of Jakarta half past ten. The thousands of passengers disembark at one of the the three walkways and struggle along the quay. We watch for an hour. All the cabins around us have been abandoned and we are repeatedly asked to hand in our keys, apparently not everyone is aware of us staying. At some point we see the city bikes being lifted outside and start to worry about our bikes. The crew member who would meet us is nowhere to be seen. All of a sudden we get the feeling that it is not really pleasant to stay on board tonight on a ship that will soon be completely abandoned. At first we thought that several people would choose to stay on board for another night, but it now seems that the last passengers are leaving the boat. Are we the only ones staying? Would the walkways be still there in the morning? We take the plunge and decide to look for a hotel in the city. We quickly pack our things and leave the ship pretty much as last. Outside the terminal it is still pleasantly busy: a complete chaos of hundreds of passengers trying to arrange a taxi or are still looking for the family member who would come to pick them up. We are on Javanese soil. Wonder what Java will bring us!