I hadn't wanted to go in the first place. I knew we were backpacking and on a budget but there were some things it was worth paying for. The flights from Borneo to Java on the local airline was $68 and took just over an hour. The voyage on the cargo boat took 2 nights and cost $35. Ok, that's $33 saved + 2 nights' accommodation. But I argued we could use those nights to sightsee somewhere else and I hated boats, getting see-sick on a lilo. I was outvoted and tickets were bought.
We packed our rucksacks and left the hostel we were staying in, squeezing into a rickshaw for the short journey to the port. The guards at the docks lazily glanced at the tickets being waved at him and he casually nodded us through. It seemed as if he must have been keeping people in rather than out as we entered a bustling mass of people, packages, boxes and containers. Cargoes were being loaded, newly docked boats unloaded by a constant stream of men who weaved unconcerned between the teetering piles of goods and swinging arms of cranes.
The rickshaw came to a halt and as I clambered out to shake some feeling back into my numb legs I got my first glimpse of our boat. It was the smallest in the harbour and the brightest. It didn't take long to realise that the vivid orange colour was due to a layer of rust that covered most of it, contrasting nicely with the green slime that peeped up from below the waterline.
Then I noticed the smell, a reek that cut into my nose and made my eyes water.
"What the hell is that smell?" I gasped in between coughs to the crew man who had appeared to take us aboard. He looked around as if he couldn't smell anything unusual. Another crewman went past pushing a trolley laden with a large barrel, its top covered by a thick gauze tied on by cord. Its smell made me gag. Our guide looked from the barrel to me and smiled, realisation dawning on him. "Oh, that must be the cargo we are carrying," he said. "30 barrels of mud eels. Don't worry, the smell doesn't get any worse so long as it doesn't get too hot."
I glanced up at the tropical sun beating down onto the metal deck and sighed. This was going to be a long voyage.
Copyright © 2013 PureTravel. All rights reserved. Departures 2013 and 2014.