Here I’ll summarise my experiences of the 9 last days of my life hitchhiking of a cargo ship crossing the dream seas of the north east of the Indonesian archipelago :D. For reference to anybody wants the info to have an amazing unique experience.
The hitchhiking itself was really easy (and lucky) one in Bitung multiple harbours. Unlike previous ports here all the harbours are open to the public. The only restriction that i found was in the big cargo container where they didn’t allow me to take pictures. Although apparently i was allowed to walk around, the security guy was not enthusiastic…
I started with the generic cargo harbour and the third boat I asked, Alken Prima, told me that they where going to Maluku on that night (10pm) and that they had no problem in getting me in. Jackpot!
Just in case I asked ALL the harbours in Bitung. I got a couple more that told me that where going in 2, 3 days, and probably could take me, and a small one, of the likes of my first boat hitch, was going next day. But they where unsure if I would be allowed by the police. I guess with a bit of patience and trying I would have gotten into one of these, so my advice is that Bitung is a great spot to hitchhike boats!
On the Alken Prima easy ride. As I later discovered the boat is a cargo ship that circles from Bitung in North Maluku, to Sorong, in west Papua, doing a more or less scheduled 2-3-4 weeks route. The ends I guess are fixed but it changes slightly in each iteration, as I saw in their nautical charts the old itineraries.
So if you happen to hit on Alken they can bring you all the way on direction or the other, it took me 9 days to cross from Bitung to Sorong :D, you can wait for it!
The first thing I discovered is that it is not a normal cargo ship, but one that also carries people that go to really remote small islands. That probably explains why it was so easy to carry me.
When I went at night they had build a tent over the deck where all the passengers would stay. Well I was not passenger and I went to the commanding cabin to take pictures of the departure. Then I slept on the open section of the deck, the stars where amazing in the moonless night. Big Milkyway crossing the celestial cover.
I was concerned that they might think I’m another passenger, some crew asked me where I was going to sell me the ticket. But I said “numpang” and that was the end of it, nobody ever asked me for money in the following days.
I can positively say that they where happy to have me there, I don’t know to which point because of the exotism of the “orang buleh” (white man) or because my child like behavior made them happy.
On the fist cargo unloading occasion (anchored in a bay, far from land), I jumped to the sea, joined some locals ashore, ate coconuts, went back swimming, boarded the ship by climbing the crane net, helped load and unload the rice and cement (“semen”) into the small boats that took the cargo, and swam again. That seemed to amaze the crew and locals quite a bit 🙂
Anyway play your cards and see how the game goes.
I never asked for food, but this being Indonesia they kept insisting in feeding me. It was simple fish and rice but nutritious and I was always thankful of being feed. Still when we could land I usually ate there or bought supplies. I also shared what little snacks I had.
My plan was to work helping load and unload cargo to help the crew, but soon I realized that non of the crew roles involved loading cargo, that was left for the people at the harbours to do. So after they telling me that I shall not help and since I’m not helping them, then I never did a long term work helping on the cargo. Only small jobs when going or coming back from my excursions, allowed because of being free from the cargo work that I self imposed 😛
Anyway I did help peeling hundreds of mini onions and garlic, from what i gained the use of a motorbike for me in one of the stops 😀
One of the things that set me apart from other passengers was sleeping. I slept for the first days on the floor of the commanding cabin.
Unfortunately that involved sleeping next to the speakers during European Champions league, which in Asia is transmitted live at 4am…
Finally I moved with my hammock on top of the cargo next to the passengers. Although not always there where passengers, sometimes the deck was empty.
One nice thing if life on board is that you have everything that you need, that involves also a bucket shower and a place to wash your clothes and dry them, quite convenient 😀
For me one of the most enjoyable experiences on board is simply living the cargo flow. It’s logistics in front of your nose! Seeing cargo being loaded, transported, and unloaded 3 islands away… Imagining the way that ware had to do to get there, how and when it was made, the way it will go, it’s use, and the links of people that are needed to get it to do what it has to do where it has to be, well it amazes me!
That amazement was for beng onboard and landing, but obviously one of the best opportunities is island jumping! To be so fortunate to land on remote, out of the path, islands and villages, well that is a priceless experience.
Seeing how people can live in 1km long islands, how the culture and societies change stop to stop. Stopping in a 200 meter deserted islands, in stray cat islands, stray dog islands, talking about cannibals and seeing their weapons, the mixture of curly haired, blond Papuans and smooth haired dark Indonesians, with their own huge range of diversity …
Then the camaraderie of the crew, the atmosphere of feeling welcomed and happy to see you that is common in Indonesia, gets a boost if you add the feeling of being part of a crew.
Playing games, helping on small task that you can, eating with them, swimming, discussing the nautical charts, talking about everyday life. Wondering why there is a chicken tied to a hole under the commanding cabin…
Finally the sea life. Sea, waves, the scenery and islands coming and going, dolphins, whales, sunrises, sunsets, stars, milkyway…
All in all, if you have the time try to hitchhike a boat! even if you are not successful just wandering on the harbours and sea front is a photography wander! Boats, old and rusty and shipwrecks, to new and shiny. From small and colorful to huge and black and white. Frenetic activity or ghost harbour. Colours, goods, cranes, cables, fish, water, sea… On addition on many cases feeling that you shall not be there yet you are (until they detain you :). Finally the odd chance of being accepted in one of that monsters, and the adventures that await!