Home is where I want to be
The presence of hundreds of thousands of dedicated Javanese workers — seasonal migrant laborers, skilled workers, right up to professionals — in Bali undoubtedly boosts the economy and keeps things running smoothly on this island of a thousand ceremonies.
So when Lebaran, the Indonesian term for the Idul Fitri holidays at the end of Ramadhan, looms close, the island braces itself for a mass exodus of a large portion of the workforce.
Construction and production come screeching to a halt. For the majority who cannot afford air travel, the main artery from Denpasar to the harbor at Gilimanuk becomes an asphalt gauntlet for the brave and desperate.
Once the travelers get to Gilimanuk long lines await — the line of backed up cars and buses reaches 4 kilometers back. It can take a long few hours before they even get to the ticket booth, let alone get on one of the 30 ferries provided this year that will log 450 trips across the straits daily. Last year more than 200,000 passengers went across to Java. At the time this story is being filed, around 90,000 passengers had already left.
While the port authorities and the police have done their best to provide assistance by erecting canopies, installing fans, putting in rows of portable toilets and other facilities, it is still a test of the travelers’ patience, particularly young children and infants, many of whom ride cramped with their parents on small motor-scooters for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers. Even before getting on the ferry, there are extensive checks run by squads of police.
Besides police who check each individual’s license and ID, as well as their vehicle registration, finance companies try to check every vehicle’s license plate against a computerized list. Teams of contracted spotters ring through the license plate information to a temporary nerve center where it gets checked. When asked, one of the spotters admitted that some might get away, then added with a grin, “But not many.”
And, of course, with numbers like this there are bound to be some mishaps: While covering the story I heard an announcement come over the port’s PA system with an appeal from a distraught mother on the other side in Ketapang for help in locating her child who had managed to get left behind in Bali at the last moment. But despite the chaos, for most, the rare opportunity to meet up with loved ones is too valuable to forgo.
A typical case is “N” who is travelling to Jember with her 1-year-old daughter, her husband and a pile of luggage — tote bags, plastic bags, you name it — on their 125cc automatic scooter. She and her husband work in Sanur six days a week through the year. They take one holiday a year during Lebaran, two days plus of which are taken up with the road trip there and back. In all they will be lucky to spend eight days with their family before making their way back. “But that’s just the way it is, mas,” she said with a smile.