Who do you fatten up first? - Let's take 32 people. They represent various European countries and Australian states. They range from 19 to 72 years of age. They each want to travel from the west coast of Lombok along the north coast of Sumbawa to Labuanbajo in Flores. Though they all have their different reasons, they each choose a three-day Perama boat leaving Labuhan Lombok on 31st May.
Agatha Christie would have had a field day with this lot, as the three days became "Near Murder on the Sumbawa Strait."
The crime scene?
What can only be described as a floating shanty town (or our 'flanty' as she became fondly known). Half boat, half shed and about a third of the size we were all expecting for 32 guests and 11 crew, the first choice for sleeping was 'cabin or deck'. Due to Nicola's utter hatred of snorers (as Stuart can testify), we'd chosen a cabin and were happy to find we had a triple cabin to the two of us. The cabin was 'cute' on the first day, 'small' on the second day, and 'I never want to crawl in there again' on the third day.
But it was the cabin opposite ours that hosted the first scenes of discontent before the Deck Hand even lifted the anchor. It may have been because our cabin was called Peacock and theirs was called Pigeon. But in reality it was because 'triple' actually meant that one of you slept in a rather small hole in the corner of the cabin, and the Pigeon residents were meant to be a 55 year old Aussie who'd had a nervous breakdown so had come to Indonesia to recover and two very, very grumpy blonde and blue-eyeshadowed German teenagers who - in their very direct German way - said "Ve vill nichts be sharing zat cave viz zat woman."
So one of the Germans headed up to join the 17 other people opting to sleep on the deck. What sounds like a romantic moon-lit slumber turned out to be one crowded mega-mattress, hot by day and sea-sprayed by night.
The cast list?
The captain. Whisky bottle in one pocket, transistor radio in the other
Our 'cruise director' Gary. His job was to stop us from jumping off the top deck and handing us a free t-shirt which no-one wanted
Our Cabin Boy, Roger (well no idea what his name was). In charge of filling our cabin basket with BBQ flavoured crisps (lovely), cheese cookies (so not lovely) and beer (hell yeah)
An older Russian couple. The man did not understand that the boat was not big enough for Speedos
The Mascara Twins. Two other German girls who regularly reapplied their eyeliner and mascara, much to everyone's amazement. They pushed in front of the Spanish twice, which kicked off the second almost-murder
Sicky McChucky. A lovely, lovely Dutch girl by day. A horribly sea-sick monster by night who didn't realise she vomited onto our window constantly throughout the first night
Oh Jonny Jonny Jonny (said while shaking your head slightly). An unwittingly hilarious 23 year old Norwegian who couldn't wipe the smile off his face when he realised it was him and 11 hot chicks on his part of the deck. His chat-up lines with every available girl included "I wish I had a zoom on my camera for while you sleep" and "I learned a lot during my trip to Thailand. I saw two girls in a nightclub with a strap-on"
The French, um, couple. A hunchback grandad of about 72 who spoke no English together with a French-speaking Indonesian boy of about 20. Lisa thought they were adopted father and son. Nicola thought the young boy was his translator. The rest of the boat was probably right in what their first thoughts were...
The Lovelies: those who made the trip a blast for us. Aussie water babies Lisa and Tim; half Aussie half Pommie Alana and Vikki; hunky Doctor Pierre McCabe; gorgeous Maddie from Jersey; keen photographer Jurgen; The Spanish Sisters; and The Dutch Two
Chapter 1: Sengiggi to Labuhan Lombok on bus via Mataram Mall to stock up on snacks (James buy chilli fish skins; Nicola buys Oreo Cookies), a Sasak pottery village (only those women who learn to 'potter' are allowed to get married), and the boat yard where the next Perama boat is being fixed up "in a hurry" and "with machines we don't normally use." Glad we're not on that one.
Chapter 2: We board the boat. We sort of hate the boat but we sort of love the boat. The German Youth fall out with the Older Traveller set. Set sail for Perama Island where we snorkel until sunset, enjoy BBQ-ed fish and learn a local dance called something like Hotchy-Potchy. As it's very similar to the Macarena, Nicola is all over it.
Chapter 3: A rough night at sea. Sicky McChucky is almost thrown overboard by several different people as no-one on the deck can sleep through her retching (apart from Jonny who is still happy). Everyone is awake well before the beautiful sunrise over Setonda Island. We swim in the saltwater lake, in which live dead-skin-eating fish, before snorkelling back on the coast with non-skin-eating but fabulously colourful fish and reef. As the island is very quiet, this is the point when we begin to discuss what would happen if we were stranded on the island, which of the Non-Lovelies we would fatten up first and who would be the overall leader of our Castaway tribe.
A few more hours at sea and everyone experiences Cabin Fever. No, not the name of the on-board disco, but severe boredom mixed with overcrowding, too many BBQ-flavoured crisps and the desire to chuck someone overboard just to have something to do. At bedtime, we find out that the shower cubicle next to our cabin (which we'd initially liked to call our en-suite) leaks onto our floor. Or, more accurately, James's bed. It's not too bad though as his rucksack containing his clean laundry soaked up most of it.
Chapter 4: After another meal of rice and deep-friend eggs, The Lovelies hide from the others at the front of the top deck and watch the most amazing starry sky come to life. Apparently another rough night at sea follows but we sleep like logs. Must have been the Cabin Boy's beer. At sunrise, we arrive at Komodo Island, on which live 3-metre long Komodo Dragons. After some successful hunting (by camera rather than spear), we head to Red Beach, so called as the red coral has turned the sand a pink colour. The Lovelies shun the steps and Gary's pleas and jump into the turquoise sea from the top deck. Fab stint of snorkelling and forward rolls in the water follows. The currents and surge holes around Komodo are intense and carefully avoided, although one of the Lovelies has to be held back from pushing Mrs Speedo into one as she ignorantly walks over the beautiful coral saying "It's OK, I've got reef shoes on so it doesn't hurt me..."
Chapter 5: The final few hours sailing and we Lovelies dig into our final cans of Anker to pass the time till we arrive in the port of Labuanbajo, Flores. Our delight at jumping off our 'flanty' is short-lived, as the Mascara Twins push in front of everyone to get the best hostel room. The Spanish Sisters let rip to everyone's delight. Viva Espana. Needless to say, the Lovelies attended the Farewell Boat Party for about half an hour before we sneak off to chill out with a live band, pizza and apple Shisha at The Lounge. The heroes of the story finish off with a few more Bintang at Tree Tops overlooking the sea.
Epilogue: A completely wierd three-day experience. We met some fab people, who we now keep bumping into as we all travel east through Flores. We met some complete oddballs who actually made the trip all the better. Importantly, it was great to do a chunky leg of our Indonesia journey by boat rather than bemo (local bus), shuttle car, moped or plane.
And no, Jonny didn't get any.