34 - Very Merry Ferry From Maumere (Flores to Java, Indonesia)
Dutch delight squashed. Mr. Winky quashed. Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship… Shit squat or get off the pot.
by The Nostomaniac
AN UNSCARY FERRY from Maumere. That was my quest. The small town is a fine representative of the quintessentially unremarkable forlorn port. I sought refuge seven kilometers on the outskirts at a supremely adequate beachside haunt peopled with attractive Dutch women (two, to be precise). A few days at the beach whilst waiting for my chariot to arrive? Not too shabby.
But no. I discovered, much to my dismay, the ferry left that very night. There wouldn’t be another for five or six days. Fiddlesticks. I was forced to bid adieu to Dutch possibility before a thorough investigation. Double dammit. I nearly took the hit but caught myself. Set yourself back eight days or so based on the prospect of getting laid? Grip thyself heathen, I thought. Sex? Good. Fetching Dutch women? Good. Still, that’s too much power for Mr. Winky to yield. Getting a grip wasn’t so easy when I sensed palpable disappointment from Team Amsterdam. Double fucking fiddlestick toejam! Ahhh, but such is life…
Three days. That was the estimate on time travel to Surabaya (Java) from Maumere (Flores). Three days on an Indonesian ferry? Um… kay. A single boat was responsible for all traffic. This explained the lag between departures. The ship was scheduled to leave at nine o’clock. I showed up at eight. Departure time? 11:30 pm. This provided ample opportunity to survey my kingdom and adjust accordingly.
“Economy” was the only game in town. No class warfare on that boat. A ticket set me back eighty-five dollars, including the motorcycle. Meals were provided gratis, so la ti dah, ooh la la, eh? Passenger-only fares were about half that. I was told in Maumere I might be able to strike a deal with the crew for a cabin. I considered flashing a little green to cultivate prospects but relented in the end. If nobody pegs whitestuff as a business opportunity from the outset, I’m guessing it’s a no-go.
An upgrade would’ve been a shameful waste of capital. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the accommodations more than sufficient. The Queen Mary departed far short of capacity, so there was plenty of room to wander and stretch. Upon boarding, I conducted an inspection. Communal sleeping quarters, cafeteria, health clinic, musholla (small prayer room for Muslims), TV viewing room with small stage area for a band or semi-professional karaoke stars, separate bathrooms/washrooms, and a viewing deck were all included for a paltry eighty-five shells. Not exactly Carnival cruise line, but exceed my expectations it did…mmmm, yesss.
The sleeping area comprised bunk beds pushed together in long rows a la prison camp decor. Unlike prison, however, the bunks included surprisingly comfortable foam sleeping mats. The bathrooms did leave a tad to be desired, but only by my posh, overblown First World standard. Drop toilets were the only pooping accoutrement, which meant honing my squat technique along with my aim. It’s easy to see squat toilets as backward contrivances of the poor and uneducated. I will shit on nothing less than a throne!
Oh, how the temptations of modernity have led us astray. Squatting is the way nature intended, and the superior approach for health and well-being. Don’t kink your fucking colon, ‘kay? Kinked colons are the worst. And guess what method is more likely to kink your goddamn colon?
We are designed to squat. This explains why we’ve been squat-shitting as long as we’ve been humanoid, and why most earthlings still partake. Sitting prohibits our thighs from dropping below parallel, a maneuver aligning colon’s end with poopus shootus (formal Latin for “asshole”). An open corridor to the rectum and beyond promotes smoother bowel movements and all the mental serenity that attaches therein.
But wait, there’s more. Not all about shitting. It’s also a default rest stop for much of the world. No chair? Pop a squat in Camelot. Prolonged squatting fosters healthy hips by forcing us to exploit a full range of motion. Do this consistently and you’re much less likely to suffer hip pathology over a lifetime. Every bit helps. In our modern bubbles, it’s possible to go weeks or years without ever dropping below parallel. And your body knows. Use it or lose it. Not gonna take advantage? Well then, I’ll tighten here and restrict there to conserve energy. Years pass and we become like the Tin Man sans oil can. This is why we of Developed Earth find it so difficult to sit the “native” way. We simply don’t have the range or the strength. We are pathetic pooplings of a higher order.
I pondered none of this then. It wasn’t until years later when personal enlightenment revealed the folly in our digestive conveniences. Too bad, it would’ve altered my perspective. The drop toilet as a lifestyle modification to embrace? Surely. Not ready to rip thy poopshack asunder and install drop toilets? Have no fear, Squatty Potty is here. I, myself, have been a loyal subject for years now.
And what of toilet paper? Not a chance. Large water drums and a plastic ladle served as a flush mechanism while the water had double duty as liquid “paper.” I had a personal stash of white gold for just such a contingency. Otherwise, my left hand would’ve had to step up. Again, there’s a lesson here. In many parts of the world (though not on the boat), a sprayer (much like a small removable shower head) takes the place of toilet paper or a water bucket in the excrement removal hierarchy. My introduction was in Thailand years earlier. There are drawbacks. For one, it requires you to strip naked before executing a number two, and paper is still required to dry things up in the end though not nearly as much for a dry wipe. This system is not only more sanitary (less hand-to-poop contact), it also prevents inferior plumbing from clogging up with gobs of paper.
I tried to ignore the thought of rampant feces particles flying about, but it was always in the back of my mind, especially when consuming food prepared by crew members using the traditional left-hand method. I clung to a small bottle of hand sanitizer for moral support though I was well aware it was nothing more than a convenient talisman for self-delusion.
Showers? No, sir. Only more drums with ladles. It wasn’t uncommon to enter the bathroom and see a naked Indonesian man basting himself. Although I wasn’t against it, I let laziness be my guide, content to change my skivvies (allegedly) while letting a light film of body butter envelope my skin. Delicious.
The vast majority of passengers were truck drivers hauling cargo, many of which brought along family. I reckon if they didn’t, they’d never see them. Truckers spend their days traveling back and forth constantly. Deliver cargo, reload, and back across. Rinse, repeat. They were lucky to spend a week in port waiting for rotation.
I was the lone cracka-ass cracker. Without the motorcycle, I never would’ve considered it, but I’ve come to treasure the experience—a forced exploration somewhere I wouldn’t have thought to look. They didn’t get a lot of whiteskins over six feet, so you can imagine how easy it was to blend. This would’ve been a problem if I wasn’t so vain and in constant need of external validation. I was under constant surveillance but refused to shirk the spotlight. I turned the tables, brandishing my camera often, much to their delight. Subpar language skills were an unfortunate inconvenience. I wanted to speak with everyone and fantasized about devouring their life details. Mostly, I had to be content with sitting or standing in awkward silence while being scrutinized. But I kept smiling. And they kept smiling. Keep smilin’, keep shinin’, knowing you can…
As far as I could tell, it was harmless curiosity. They found everything I did fascinating and took great pleasure in the ignoble murder of their language. Besides laziness, there was another reason I hesitated to strip down and ladle myself in the washroom. I mean seriously, what Indonesian wouldn’t jump at the chance to see a naked white schlong? Nickel a peep? That’s one way to subsidize the fare. Am I overstating it? Probably. But maybe not. I wasn’t yet prepared to have my anatomy analyzed, pondered, and discussed over cocktails in the lounge, especially if I couldn’t eavesdrop.
I’ve also come to appreciate perpetual scrutiny…at least in intervals. It can grow tiresome, and there were many moments along the path when I wished for a shield of anonymity.
But, in retrospect, this was great meditative practice for uncomfortable social situations in everyday life—a powerful strategy for shrinking the dragon of self-consciousness and excellent shortcut on the road to self-improvement. The longer you feel the heat of a thousand stares, the more inured you become to their effects.
Smiles were abundant and passengers (males especially) engaged freely. I was repeatedly invited to sit for a glass of Indonesian “rum”, known as “arak” or “arrack”. This distilled alcohol appears to have originated in the Middle East (made from grapes and aniseeds), but it ranges from there to Southeast Asia and beyond. There are various formulas that include fermentation from rice, coconut flowers, sugarcane, fruit, or a combination. Probably more accurate to call it the “Who The Fuck Knows?” libation. There are official brands sold in markets, but most of what you encounter in the ’burbs is homemade and distributed in reused water bottles. The production process is so inexact a batch could be anywhere from twenty to eighty proof. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste. Amateur hour can be lethal. Fatalities from methanol poisoning are not uncommon. Though I didn’t fear death, I did fear hangover misery, so I politely declined. I was flattered and had no wish to offend, but I thought it best to stay sharp and coherent. I was a little worried about the Phantom as it drew its share of attention. Periodic spot-checks below deck assuaged my concerns. In hindsight, I believe there was little to fear.
Penny for your thoughts, quarter for the slots?
There were invitations to friendly card games…for money. This had “terrible idea” plastered in neon all over it, so I politely declined this offer as well. Imagine flaunting tourist dough in the face of struggling, long-haul truck drivers. If I lost, I’d be their best friends…and then probably get mugged in my sleep. If I won, I’d provoke resentment and bitterness throughout…and then get mugged in my sleep right before my murder. Win, win. Still, it was tempting to press my tactical advantage. Raise until they run out of money. Buy my way out of a jam. For effect, I could’ve thrown cash wads on the pot and screamed, “Anyone here got the balls to play with the big boys? Huh? You? How about you, Bubba? Pussies! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” Mmmm…maybe not.
The Muslim call to prayer blasted over the loudspeaker every morning at five o’clock. Forgive my religious insensitivity, but I could’ve lived without it. Also, the TV in the sleeping area was set to five million decibels. Headphones and a constant rainfall track on my iPod shuffle preserved a modicum of restfulness. Can’t all be peaches and ice-cream.
My small laptop did nothing to aid anonymity. I was hesitant to produce it at first, but killing time with Lost episodes tempted me otherwise. Besides, I reasoned, between the motorcycle and my winning orthodontic smile I’m sure they’d already assumed obnoxious wealth. What’s a netbook between strangers? Folks passing my cafeteria table would often pause for a gander, some for over ten to fifteen minutes. I resurrected my journalist fantasy and manufactured some half-ass tale about it being part of my job. “The gear’s not mine, it’s on loan” and all that jazz. I think it was more about filling awkward silences and practicing Bahasa Indonesia than trying to convince anyone I wasn’t a crazy-rich asshole. Either way, a fool’s errand.