Kapal Besar (Big Boat)

511 Sumatra - 25 nov 212

It was two dodgy looking canoes with a couple of planks strapped over them. The queue of motorcyclists waiting to be ferried across the estuary were giving us bemused looks and slowly shaking their heads. It was blatantly obvious our two tonne Landcruiser wasn’t going anywhere on this boat. The boatman kindly motioned further down the road… ‘Kapal besar’ he repeated.

The bigger boat he was referring to was in fact six canoes lashed together and unbelievably carried six cars at time. They were loaded via wobbly planks straight off the river bank. The queue was pretty long and the daylight was fading, so we elected to camp close by for the night and return early to beat the rush.

Morning at the river bank looked decidedly unhurried. A couple of cars and a few locals stood around scratching their heads. Turned out the outboard engine on the back of the raft had fallen off in the night and no one knew how long the man sent to get another one was going to be. Meanwhile, a young lad with a rope tied around him was diving in the middle of the river trying to locate the missing motor. Time to get the kettle on.

With a whoop from the river everyone turned to see the young lad hauling the lost engine aboard his boat. A few hours underwater had comprehensively drowned it and seeing the extent of the mechanics’ tools (a rusty screwdriver, seized pliers and a hammer) I dug in the back of the truck and pulled out my own. They were ecstatic. Every time a spanner was used it was handed back down a small line of men who took turns in cleaning it fastidiously before putting it back in its place. The unveiling of the WD40 almost ensured a public holiday. Without further ado the engine was stripped, pumped out, lubricated and gradually rebuilt; but not before the young fella holding the spark lead got a hit when his mate yanked on the starter cord, this delayed proceeding for a while until everyone else had finished rolling around on the floor laughing at him.

Leads in the right places the cord was pulled once more and she fired into life. Much backslapping ensued and we were given the honour of loading first. Negotiating the planks was a doddle with a man stood between them guiding me before ducking under the vehicle and away, the next fella on the raft was motioning me forward and as I inched towards him so the raft started lifting precariously behind me, reverse seemed to take an age to engage and I didn’t breath out until we were once again level. Four more vehicles were loaded as kind of stabilisers I guess. Everyone stood still as we set sail for the far bank. Only four hundred metres but a lifetime away.

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