We’d recently achieved our first border crossing by train… now it was time to take to the seas!! As a country of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia presents a unique challenge for our “no fly” rule in that it’s hard as fuck to get around by both land and sea.
Thankfully, getting into the country from Singapore was easy. A company called Batam Fast runs hourly ferries from the HarbourFront pier to different locations in Batam, the strip mall of an island that would be our first stop before shooting off to either Java or Sumatra. We bought the tickets online the morning of departure, snagged in a sale for SG$5 each (plus SG$26 in fees). Bargain!!
The ride itself was super smooth and fast, and the biggest challenge we had was trying to figure out how to spend our last SG$3 in the ferry terminal where hardly anything costs less than SG$3. While on the ferry we also realised we’d made a HUGE mistake and booked the wrong destination (Batam Center) for our hotel in Nagoya. But we figured Batam is a small island and it would be easy shmeasy to get there ourselves using public transport like good little adventurers.
After docking on Batam it was straight into immigration. First stop was the cashier, where we paid 70 crisp US dollars for two visas. The gleaming white office looked brand new and completely legit; the pretty young woman in a hijab definitely wouldn’t be trying to scam anyone out of a few dollars. Immigration was relatively quiet that day, and the humourless immigration officer flipped through my passport slowly, but soon gave us our stamps and sent us on our way with no problem.
Indonesia. We could tell immediately we were out of Malaysia and Singapore by the number of touts and taxi drivers that approached us as soon as we set foot outside the ferry terminal. Batam isn’t hot on anyone’s “must visit” list, but because it’s only 45 minutes away from Singapore, it’s a popular weekend shopping and beach destination for those from the Lion City. Singaporeans are incredibly wealthy compared to Indonesians (compared to anyone, really), so needless to say Batam Island residents suffer severely from the foreigner-equals-ATM delusion. For the throngs of taxi drivers, we were fresh meat.
When we rocked up to the bus station, taxi drivers and (for whatever reason) security guys swarmed. “Hey Mister, where you going?? Come in my taxi!” We told them we were headed to Nagoya, and planned to get there by mini bus. Everyone laughed. “There is no mini bus here! You must go by taxi, it’s so far!” Yes, there’s a mini bus, the guy in the ferry terminal told us so, Mook insisted, and as if to punctuate his confidence, a small green van filled with people rolled up. But it was the wrong one.
Still, they insisted, “There’s no mini bus to Nagoya from here, and mini bus is no good! You must come by taxi!” The whole swarm of them, three guards and two taxi drivers, were bad liars, and wouldn’t make eye contact despite their adamance. A group of women in hijab watched, bemused, as we continued to argue. It was our turn to lie. “We have no money, taxi are too expensive for us,” I exclaimed. Mook continued, pointing at the guys, “You have job, no? Me, I have no job. I can’t afford a taxi.”
Just then a pink mini bus rolled up with its side door open, waiting for people to hop on. This was ours. We grinned and waved at the taxi drivers as we rolled away. Mook confirmed the price with the driver: 5000 rupiah (US$0.40) per person.
The air in the mini bus was heavy with the smell of Gudan Garam clove cigarettes. There were three day labourers heading home for the evening. They immediately took interest in the two foreigners using public transport instead of the taxis. One of them spoke pretty good English, so we got to shooting the shit. They marvelled at my tattoos and gave us advice on travelling in Indonesia (three words: “Watch your wallet”). The one who spoke English offered out his pack of Marlborough reds, but I declined. “Don’t worry,” he laughed, “You’re not in Singapore anymore… you can smoke wherever you like!!”