The Maiden Voyage of the S.S. Pukebucket

Bali grew small in the water behind us. We were jetting to Gili Meno, a tiny island with more donkeys than humans, and more beautiful, sun-dappled beaches than either. We had seen the pictures: sunsets over crystal blue waters; quiet, mosquitoless evenings in surprisingly luxurious thatched huts; seafood by the ton. It was paradise! We just needed to take a painless sea voyage to reach our hidden island getaway.

One of our group had grown ill the night before. His stomach was hardened like a carapace, he was pale as china. We weren’t sure if the nature of his disease was from food or water or insects, but despite his condition, he maintained the sea air would do him some good, and all of the seats inside the boat were taken anyways, so we climbed up top. We pictured a singular sunbeam lighting our path to this mystical isle, possibly mermaids frolicking alongside in the surf. Maybe each of us would stand up at the bow, stretch our arms wide, and scream “I’m the king of the world!”

As it turned out, floating on the rough, equatorial waters was not as tranquil or serene as we anticipated. Scorching in seconds, the sun pummelled us every instant that we spent out on the deck. We began to stretch sarongs about ourselves, attempting to cover our searing flesh from the sun. Every application of sunblock slid off of our skin in a torrent of sweat and chemically-banana scented white gloop. The boat slammed into every oncoming wave head-on, as though the captain was playing chicken with the ocean. I imagined he had an eye-patch, a cigar, and a deathwish.

Spray from the ocean began to sprinkle us lightly, a delightful relief from the harsh sun. And then it began to spray us some more. And then, once or twice or dozens of times, a heavy vault of water, an angry aquatic fist thrown by a vengeful Poseidon, flew from the sea and pummelled us. Salt water dripped down my back, coated both sides of my sunglasses, and attempted to invade my mouth every time I took a desperate gulp of fresh water. I was freezing cold, and also boiling hot, and very very wet, and also kind of dry.

It was a hellish ride. A hellish ride surpassed only by the ride back.

Two days later we boarded a similar ferry back to Bali, but figured that indoor seating would provide more comfort and safety from the elements. As it turned out, it provided more violent shaking as the boat was hammered by every wave. The windows sealed to keep the ocean from seeping in, and afternoon sun mingled with body heat and acrid armpit stench. We rocked along for hours in a boiling sardine can, and my skin seemed to melt off of my body.

At some point, a quivering French woman launched herself towards the back of the boat and yakked her guts out, joined shortly later by my unlucky friend. Everywhere around us, complexions began to turn green and sour. Crewmembers even began to feel the sway of the sea, looks of horror sweeping over their usually stern and calm faces. Single-serve vomit bags were doled out to every weary passenger, and I began to feel like maybe we were sailing along the River Styx.

I imagined that if anyone inside the cabin took advantage of the barf bag, if they couldn’t make it to the stern, that we would all be done for. An intestinal domino effect would occur, as the sounds and sights of strangers retching would elicit similar reactions in other, already-queasy sailors. It would be a charnel house of vomit if even one of us broke, a chain reaction beyond all of our worst nightmares. The windows would not open far enough to fit this many emetic sprays, and all of the good pukin’ spots at the back of the boat were occupied.

Sweat gushed down my forehead. I imagined The Exorcist-style green pea puke, dancing and spraying artfully in the air, like the fountains at the Bellagio in Vegas. Our boat would fill up and eventually sink. I had never been so hot or queasy or sick in my life.

At long last, we reached shore. Several people flung themselves onto hard land, caressing pavement and sand and grass, letting the stillness of the earth hug them like a warm blanket. I joined them.

M Milne

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