The enforced stillness of the long ferry ride to Sulawesi was a calming buffer between islands. I lay on my vinyl shelf as night seeped into day into night, and the second dawn brought land.
The orange lights of the port stained the greasy windows as the ferry heaved into the dock, but by the time the car decks were unloading, an overcast dawn had washed everything grey.
Even at this hour, the air in Makassar was stifling and humid, hugging you to its bosom like an embarrassing aunt. The truck drivers clustered around an open loading door, waiting for deck ramps to be raised and lowered. The air near the door was slightly more breathable so the sweaty boys and skinny men jostled closer and closer with their cigarettes.
After two nights at sea, they were restive. They started setting each other’s clothing on fire with lighters: holding the flame close to another’s cuffs or buttocks and seeing how long it took the victim to feel the burn. The responses were mixtures of laughter and aggression. A slightly mean form of stir-crazy. They were desperate to get off the ship.
My big friend from Pare Pare, my smiling bro with the tricked out 125, reappeared and suggested we should move away. There was going to be a fight, he said. Reluctantly, I abandoned the thin draught of fresh air and we moved deeper into the hold, to our bikes, to imbibe the more the peaceful violence of carbon monoxide poisoning from a dozen running engines.
Eventually, the ship had vomited us all out on to the docks. I was bleary eyed and unmotivated to repack all my disordered gear. I didn’t have far to go, so I just strapped everything down with rok straps and followed old mate off the wharf.
With the public road in sight, a port policeman stepped in front of the bike.
Oh really, come on, I thought. I gave him a big smile.
He asked me where I was from.
He asked me where the bike was from.
He looked serious and said that I wasn’t allowed to ride my Australian bike in Indonesia.
Yes, I told him, I am.
Oh no it’s not allowed, he said, shaking his head.
Oh yes it is, I said.
He insisted that I didn’t.
I groped around in my sleepy mind for the Indonesian vocabulary I needed. How to say in Indonesian that I have all the relevant paperwork, mofo?
Saya ada dokumentasi, saya ada permisi was the best I could come up with. I offered to show him my documents. It went backward and forward for a while. I smiled sweetly.
He didn’t want to see my documents. He gave up, shrugged, and waved me on.
At the next traffic lights I pulled up next to my friend from Pare Pare, who’d been watching the whole thing from a quiet distance.
‘That policeman just wanted money, didn’t he?’ I asked. My friend nodded and shook his head. We had a good laugh and carried on.
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Despite what people say, no Indonesian police officer has EVER tried to shake me down for a bribe: their conduct towards me has only ranged from professional to absolutely awesome. They and their families have offered me protection, food, accommodation, karaoke and friendship.
The port police were a little different – two of them tried to hit me up for cash. Fortunately, both were really bad at it and just gave up after a while.