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Lost! on a tiny island, 1,000 kilometers away!

LOST! ON A TINY ISLAND, 1,000 KILOMETERS AWAY...
                                                                By Diana McLeod                                                        1993

      We could have done it the easy way. We could have flown from Bangkok to Jakarta (Indonesia) or from Singapore to Jakarta. But Dave noticed these cheap flights from Tanjung Pinang to Jakarta, advertised on Garuda airlines (the Indonesian National carrier). Dave consulted the map. The island was a short ferry ride from Singapore. The price of the tickets was considerably cheaper. We went to the Garuda office in Bangkok, and Dave showed the young ticket seller, on the wall map, where we wanted to go. "Tanjung Pinang to Jakarta" he repeated, speaking slowly and carefully. We got the tickets, and then booked a three day train trip down from Thailand, through Malaysia, and into Singapore.

      When we got to Singapore, we were feeling a bit disappointed by the trip. Malaysia was pleasant, but a bit ho-hum. We did all the usual tourist things, and we saw the big cities, but we did nothing exciting or truly memorable. We were experiencing a bit of travel fatigue. It was not challenging enough. That was all about to change...

      The ferry ride to the island was quite pleasant. We landed on the island, stepping off of the boat onto the docks of a decrepit fishing village. Buildings in the tiny village were almost entirely built on stilts, perched over the water. A perky young man approached us and asked us what we were doing in his village. We explained that we were there to catch the Garuda flight.

      "There is no Garuda flight from this island," he said gravely.

      We did not agree. He looked alarmed. "Come and meet my friend," he said. "He's a travel agent. He can help you. His English is very good."

      We decided to go with him to check on our tickets. The travel agent puzzled over them for a minute, then he shook his head. "There is a mistake," he explained. "I'm very sorry. These tickets are from Tanjung Pandang, not Tanjung Pinang. Tanjung Pandang is over 1,000 kilometers away from here. This flight is for tomorrow morning. You would have to get to a Garuda office before the flight, in order to fix these.

      "There is a Garuda office on the next island, but it's a long way from here. You would have to go by boat. It is already 2:15. The office closes at 4:30. You'll never get there in time. I'm afraid you will lose these tickets. You'll have to find another way to get to Jakarta."

      Our hearts sank. This was early in our career, and we did not have the financial resources to cover big mistakes. Besides, we were clearly deep in the boondocks of Indonesia. We would have to return to expensive Singapore, and spend a fortune booking a flight at the last minute...

      Our young friend suddenly got a flash of inspiration. "I have an idea!" he cried. "You may be lucky after all! I'll need about twenty U.S. dollars in order to try. Do you trust me?"

      Here it was - the age old question. If it had been a big city, we would have said no. But out here... We were about to throw away $200 worth of airline tickets, and a big chunk of lost time out of our trip. For $20 more, we might possibly save them. We took the gamble and gave the kid the cash. He flashed us a brilliant grin and disappeared.

      We waited for about ten anxious minutes. The kid came trotting triumphantly back. 'It's arranged!" he crowed. He grabbed most of our luggage and took off running. We followed, jumping gingerly across the raised bamboo platforms. He made for a pier. There, at the end of it, was a swanky new 16 foot speedboat, with a gigantic rack of engines. At the wheel was a young man whose face was covered by a black wool mask with holes only for his eyes and mouth. He looked like a terrorist. Our luggage was thrown in.

      Our friend spoke very quickly. "He'll take you to the next island. There will be a taxi waiting for you. Tell them to take you to the Garuda office as fast as they can. Promise them good baaksheesh (tips) for fast driving. I paid this boat driver. Goodbye!"

      The boat cast off as he was speaking. We waved our thanks to our smiling friend. We were now in the hands of "the terrorist." We crouched in the back, holding on to the luggage and to the rail. The boat took off with the speed and Gs of an amusement park ride. Soon, we were out of the harbor and into the high surf. The boat crashed through the waves, leaping and pounding like a caught fish. The hull shuddered under the pressure as the power of the ocean met the thrust of the throttle head on.

      Dave and I were terrified. The young man at the wheel gave it all he had. He didn't turn to look at us. If we had yelled at him to slow down, he never would have heard us. I think that he was enjoying his chance to prove his new boat's worth. His mask made sense to me now, because the sea spray, at 40 miles an hour, stung quite a bit.

      It got worse. The waves died down, but that was because we were now inside the reef. Most of the bay was only a few feet deep. All around us, jagged corals pierced the surface. Other dangers lurked just below. Our guide never slowed down. He threw the wheel violently from side to side as he threaded the reef. We hung on for dear life as he executed hairpin turns through the coral minefield with all the reckless abandon of a man with an active death wish. If we had ever hit, it would have been all over.

      But we didn't crash. The reef was his world, and he knew every twist and turn. We made it out alive, and we entered the deep channel between the islands. A squall was brewing up, and the sky was darkening around us as we neared the big island. Lightning was forking across the sky on both sides of us, and the wind was picking up.

      The island loomed closer. I noticed, with alarm, that he was heading for an island where there was absolutely no sign of civilization. There was not a house, not a boat, nothing but mangroves as far as the eye could see. All I could see was jungle and snake infested swamp. Where were we being taken? It didn't get any better as we got closer. He was going to leave us here! He pulled up to a mud flat and began to dump our luggage out.

      I looked around. There was nothing but jungle. Nothing! Were we going to be abandoned in the wilderness? What should we do? The young man pointed and gestured for us to get out. He pointed to something that might be a footpath...

      With hand signals, we made signs for him to wait, while we looked around. He didn't. As soon as we were out, he gunned the engine and drove away, leaving us with the snakes and the mangroves. We picked up our bags and headed for the spot he had pointed to. Yes, it looked like it might be a path...

      We anxiously rounded the corner. I must confess that I was busily thinking about jungle survival techniques. The little path continued. And then, tire tracks! And then, the taxi! It really was here, out in the jungle, waiting! I have never been so relieved in all my life!

      The driver was half asleep. We woke him up, and told him to get to the Garuda office as fast as he could. He saw the color of our money, and took off like the proverbial bat out of hell.

      It was now nearly 4:00 PM, and we were still in the depths of the jungle. The dirt track went for a long way before we hit a real road. Sure enough, all of the development was on the other side of the island. We encountered a decent sized city. It was developing rapidly as a shipping center, handling overflow of containers and other shipping from the Singapore harbor.

      The taxi screamed through the town, ignoring traffic rules. Our driver was anxious to make his tip. He was an excellent driver. He pushed it as hard as he could, but he never put us into real danger. We checked our watches every few minutes. Four ten, four fifteen, four twenty... We were rapidly losing hope.

      At four twenty five, he screeched to a halt. There it was! The Garuda office! But some of the workers were already leaving! We ran in. The lady inside spoke decent English. We got out our map and explained the confusion. She understood. "No problem!" she said. She spent a moment at the computer. "This island has a flight to Jakarta. 7:30 AM tomorrow. I have seats. We can switch these tickets. Not necessary to pay extra. You're lucky you got here today!"

      That was an understatement! Dave and I left the office in triumph. We knew it could have gone badly for us, but it didn't. Our instinct to be suspicious of strangers had been overruled by the sincerity of one young man, and it had been the right decision.

      Dave looked at me and grinned. "You know, I was feeling a bit bored by travel," he confessed. "I think I had Malaysian Malaise."

      "Me too," I agreed.

      "Well, I'm over it. I'm psyched to travel again."

      "Me too!"

      Does that make us a bit crazy? You be the judge...

      Thanks for reading! Diana


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