A 24 Hour Ferry from Surabaya to Kumai

We have just traveled 19 hours by bus and ferry to Surabaya, Java, so we can catch a Pelni ferry to Kumai, Kalimantan. The duration of this ferry trip will be 24-26 hours. We buy two economy class tickets since they are significantly cheaper than second or first class. The gates open and the harbor suddenly comes to life. I am excited for the long journey into the distant, isolated waters that separates the islands.

The first sight of the ferry is a shock to both of us. It is much bigger and much less third world than i expected from the outside. It reminds us of the Titanic’s first appearance in the James Cameron flick, but hopefully with a different outcome. Boarding the ship, we are rushed by people selling us food and fold out paper mats. The mood has quickly changed from excitement to dread. There are 5 floors below us that we explore instantly and all of the space to occupy has already been over occupied.  What we were told our beds would be, are actually platforms in big rooms, with no personal space at all. We were told the best thing to do is sleep on the upper deck under the stars so we follow that advice and head to the upper deck. We find an area that is away from the madness and lay out some mats that we bought, marking our territory. Tara goes to see the rest of the ship and I stay guarding our bags and new piece of turf. The ground is extremely dirty and strewn with cigarette buts and garbage. Soon after Tara’s departure, the empty space around me  is spotted and families rush around me claiming theirs. I light up a cigarette and wait for Tara’s return.  My mind wanders as I observe the people around me and I begin to ask myself why all of these people are going to Kalimantan? Where are they coming from? What were their jobs? How different are their lives to mine? Where will their paths take them?

I am interrupted by Tara’s return and she is a bit giddy about something. She tells me that there is one other tourist couple on the whole ship and she met them in a private dining room. They invited us to come sit with them so we quickly grab our bags and abandon our short term “bed” for finer comforts.

Jon and D are the names of the couple sitting in a dining room to themselves with a full spread meal in front of them. The room is a huge jump in class from most of the rest of the ship. It is clean, decorated like a  fine dining establishment, and there is a TV! The economy class meal is mostly white rice and two pieces of meat or requested veggies. We get to know each other  and are invited back to their room for further conversation. It is a nice, private, 4 bedroom dorm. Tara and I realize that we have made a huge mistake and must fix it immediately. We discuss whether we should try to bribe a worker on the ship for a room, pay full price for a ticket, or offer some money to stay in Jon and D’s room. Over debate and tiredness, Jon and D invite us to stay in their room, being not only our new friends, but our new best friends.

The whole next day we talk, sleep, and I spend a majority of my time watching movies and National Geographic shows. I venture out once to see what is going on  The ferry itself was an experience to be remembered. I strongly recommend paying the extra cost to for a second class ticket on these Pelni ships if your travel time is more than 8 hours. We were lucky to meet such generous kind new friends that took us in as their stowaways.

3 Responses to “A 24 Hour Ferry from Surabaya to Kumai”
  1. Colleen says:

    Planning on doing this trip ourselves in the next couple of days – such a helpful article. Will definitely be spending extra for a second class ticket! Thanks!

  2. Emma Button says:

    Thanks for much for this feed back. I’m planning on doing this trip in a few weeks time. I’ll be going 2nd class! ;))

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