Monday, March 28, 2005

Ferries are finished

"Ferries are finished." The phrase kept coming to mind as I bobbed along for three hours on a fishing trawler somewhere in the 'Sea of Bastard Currents' between Sabang and Banda Aceh. ("Remember," Arief, our logistician had laughed the day before when dropping us off, "If the boat sinks then just try to float and you will wash up in Thailand or India eventually. Don't swim. The currents are bad.")

The Indonesians use the phrase 'finished' to describe whatever you want that they aren't going to provide. "Chicken tonight?" "No. Chicken is finished." In our case the ferry back from the island where we'd gone snorkeling was 'finished.' Well, not finished exactly, just not coming back. It had decided - ferries have a mind of their own here apparently - not to come back for the rest of the day and to go to Meulaboh instead. Pequito problemo...our boss and the VP of the NGO was flying in from Jakarta to meet with us that afternoon. We were already pushing it by going on the trip at all. Now we were stuck until the following morning.

But wait! The local fisherman standing around were curiously well-informed of our predicament and volunteered to ferry us across in one hour for a mere $50. We trooped off in the blazing heat to look at the boat. It was beached, lurching precariously to one side and without engine. We looked at each other and tried not to laugh. "So, who's going to be rowing?" someone asked.

The next fisherman insisted that his boat was in better condition so we trooped back to the beach where he and one of our group sped off on a motorbike to see it. The crossing home was supposed to be a 45 minute journey, or 10, if you had a helicopter - which is when I remembered the Russians. The Russians had a helicopter and they spoke very little English. All of which bodes well for our group who have no helicopter but can speak Russian. They were based at the airport and ferrying in relief supplies for the UN. So, off I go to the airport.

"No Russians," the Indonesian army guy tells me after I wave my badge around and pretend to be someone with some semblance of authority. "Russians are finished."

"Do you mean they aren't coming back or that they're all dead?" I asked and the driver thankfully didn't translate.

"Russians come back tonight. Fly to Banda tomorrow."

"So basically there's no way we're getting off this island tonight?" I asked.

I stare at the army guys. They stare at me. The driver makes motions to indicate that our only way off would be by swimming.

Back to the beach where the rest of our group has consulted with the head of program who has forbidden us to get on a small fishing boat and cross the sea. (I suspect he was more worried about having to explain why and how we were drowned when the fishing boat went down than about our safety, but I digress.) We resigned ourselves to being stuck in paradise for another day and potentially being fired. An hours drive later we're back where we began at the dive shop where three Germans sit smoking. I tell them our story and they stare at me in the matter-of-fact, slightly patronizing way that only Germans can.

"We have a boat," they say. "It's leaving in 15 minutes. Right there." They wave to the pier where a large fishing trawler is docked.

And that, my friends, began my three-hour tour.

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