Updated: Jun 16
My intense experience on a 2500 km ferry ride across Indonesia, trough three timezones and as the only turists onboard the Pelni Ferry.
In the end af January 2020 I was in Sorong, West Papua. I just finished an ekspedition with a danish envirounmental organisation working with plastic pollution while sailing the north coast of West Papua. I desperately wanted to keep traveling, but because of my big concern for the climate, flying is not an option for me. I was researching all alternative routes from Papua - everything from crewpositions on sailboats and yachts to hitchhiking on containerships and more. I was in contact with multiple boats when I downloaded the app 'Rome2Rio' by coincidence and saw that it was possible to take the Pelni ferry from Papua all the way to Surabaya and eventually Bali. I convinced 3 of my friends from the expedition, that also wanted to go to Bali, to take the Pelni ferry with me.
Booking tickets for the Pelni ferry
If you are the kind of person that needs to have everything planned out before you go, maybe the Pelni ferry is not for you. But if you are like me and your favorite plan is to have no plan and navigating chaos is not a problem for you, then you will love the Pelni ferry.
When we tried to get tickets for the Pelni ferry the first challenges already presented themselves. When we tried to book our tickets online the Pelni website didn't work, so I ended up going to the local Pelni ticket office to buy the tickets in person. I brought 2.5 million rupiah (enough for 4 tickets that cost 620k rupiah) and went to the Pelni office a little less than a week before departure. The room was filled with locals standing in line, sitting and waiting or filling out papers. I found the departure that I wanted on the big board outside, Sorong to Surabaya - 24. January, and waited in line. After waiting in line for 10 minutes, having no clue what was going on, a local showed me that I had to fill out a paper with our personal information and desired departure before standing in line. I filled out the paper, put it in a bowl and waited for one of the employees to make the tickets. 15 minutes and a bit of confusion later I got the tickets for the Pelni ferry and all there was left to do now was packing.
On the ticket it said that the Pelni ferry would leave at 23.59 on the 24th and we were told to arrive an hour earlier, so we checked in at 23pm and waited for the doors to open.
While we waited we met some nice people. Making friends is easy when you are the only western turist boarding a local Pelni ferry where turists normally never come.
Onboard the Pelni ferry you normally sleep in big rooms with hundreds of people like the one you can see in the picture. Its gets really loud and the lights never turn off, so if you are a light sleeper you might have some trouble sleeping on the Pelni ferry. I can sleep almost everywhere and slept all night with no problems the first night, but the other guys didn't sleep so well. The next day we moved our mattresses up onto deck of the Pelni ferry and made our own 'camp' where we stayed for the rest of the trip.
The view from the Pelni deck. One of the days we even saw dolphins.
A picture of our 'camp' and the locals who hung around. As we were the only western turists on the Pelni ferry we where often the center of attention. We had all eyes on us when we walked around on the Pelni ferry and people would sit by our 'camp' and just stare at us for hours. Quite an odd experience.
A lot of people also came by our camp to talk and we made some nice friends. We met a guy that invited us to play table tennis one night and some other guys that took us to karaoke night.
4 days, a lot of rice and noice later we made it to Surabaya with the Pelni ferry and the next part of the trip could continue!
Blogs that where helpful to me before my trip: