PHOTOS: A Tranquil Ferry Between Indonesian Islands : Parallels The public ferry system is a key link for a diverse nation spanning some 17,000 islands. "We serve all the people," says the captain of a ferry linking majority-Hindu Bali with majority-Muslim Lombok.
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PHOTOS: A Tranquil Ferry Between Indonesian Islands

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PHOTOS: A Tranquil Ferry Between Indonesian Islands

PHOTOS: A Tranquil Ferry Between Indonesian Islands

PHOTOS: A Tranquil Ferry Between Indonesian Islands

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/558367028/561246268" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A man gazes out at the water during a four-hour journey from Bali to Lombok. The public ferries are a key link for a nation spanning some 17,000 islands. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

A man gazes out at the water during a four-hour journey from Bali to Lombok. The public ferries are a key link for a nation spanning some 17,000 islands.

Claire Harbage/NPR

The slow ferry churns over the waves between Bali and Lombok, two islands of the 17,000 or so that make up Indonesia. The public ferries of Indonesia are part of the connective tissue that keeps this diverse country together. Religious and ethnic tensions have no place here.

Cargo is unloaded from a state-run ferry in Padang Bai, Bali. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

The ferry between Bali and Lombok transfers people and goods from one island to the next. Most tourists prefer taking faster boats. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

The ferry between Bali and Lombok transfers people and goods from one island to the next. Most tourists prefer taking faster boats.

Claire Harbage/NPR

"I serve all the people. It doesn't matter if they come from another religion or another tribe, we serve all the people. It's equal," says ferry Capt. Mulyono, steering the Jemla ferry from majority-Hindu Bali to majority-Muslim Lombok.

A ferry crew member walks from the truck level to where the passengers sit. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

A ferry crew member walks from the truck level to where the passengers sit.

Claire Harbage/NPR

The journey of almost 50 miles costs $3.40 and takes about four hours, sometimes longer. Tourists favor the more expensive fast boat that takes less than half the time, but the passengers on this vessel are almost all local — doing business, visiting relatives, going on vacation.

Inside the hold of the ferry, passengers rest while a movie blares on the screen. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Inside the hold of the ferry, passengers rest while a movie blares on the screen.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Between the islands, with little to no cellphone reception, people put aside their regular lives and spend the ride at ease, dozing or gazing into the deep blue water of the Bali Sea. Conversation is minimal.

The island of Lombok can be seen in the distance as the ferry continues the four-hour journey from Bali. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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The island of Lombok can be seen in the distance as the ferry continues the four-hour journey from Bali.

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Songbirds chirp in their cages as a storm moves toward the ferry. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Songbirds chirp in their cages as a storm moves toward the ferry.

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At the front of the boat, next to the captain's quarters, hang a slew of ornate bird cages. Gentle chirps weave their way into the web of sounds. Waves slap the hull rhythmically, and the engine drones, loudly.

Ferry Capt. Mulyono (left) and a colleague look out the front of the ferry on its way to Lombok. "We serve all the people," Mulyono says. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Ferry Capt. Mulyono (left) and a colleague look out the front of the ferry on its way to Lombok. "We serve all the people," Mulyono says.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Rambo the rooster is tethered on the top deck, on his way home from Bangkok. Arif Rahman, who works for a delivery agency, transported Rambo and another cockfighting rooster for breeding purposes. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Rambo the rooster is tethered on the top deck, on his way home from Bangkok. Arif Rahman, who works for a delivery agency, transported Rambo and another cockfighting rooster for breeding purposes.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Juraidah, 27, works in Taiwan to support her family and hasn't been home in three years. Her father died while she was gone and she is returning for two weeks to visit her mother and other family members. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Juraidah, 27, works in Taiwan to support her family and hasn't been home in three years. Her father died while she was gone and she is returning for two weeks to visit her mother and other family members.

Claire Harbage/NPR

(Clockwise from top) A man looks out across the water; the captain's hat; a control panel inside the ferry, which was built in Japan in 1984. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Rahmat, 53, is transporting a truck full of chips to Lombok. He travels by ferry about once a month from East Java, where he lives. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Rahmat, 53, is transporting a truck full of chips to Lombok. He travels by ferry about once a month from East Java, where he lives.

Claire Harbage/NPR

The repetition of noise dulls the senses and some passengers drift toward sleep, arranged in a jumble of limbs, napping on the boat's hard plastic benches. Others drink heavily sugared coffee, slurp cups of instant noodles, and smoke through packs of clove cigarettes.

The hum of motors and rocking of the ferry lull passengers to sleep, despite the plastic benches. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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The hum of motors and rocking of the ferry lull passengers to sleep, despite the plastic benches.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Hendi Wahyu, 33, is a member of the boat's crew. His job is parking the trucks when the ferry is in port. Between stops, he fishes off the side. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Ferry employees guide trucks off the ferry in Lembar, a port on Lombok. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Ferry employees guide trucks off the ferry in Lembar, a port on Lombok.

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A man stares out at the water as the ferry traverses the nearly 50 miles between stops. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

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Claire Harbage/NPR

A man stares out at the water as the ferry traverses the nearly 50 miles between stops.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Juraidah, a 27-year-old migrant worker from Lombok who lives in Taiwan, is on her way to visit her family. "My father passed away," she says. "It's only my mother, and that's why I have to earn money for my big family." Taking this ferry for the last leg of her journey helps her save money. She hasn't been home in three years. Her father died while she was gone.

As the ferry pulls in to dock in the south of the island of Lombok, Juraidah and the other passengers gather their belongings, and prepare to go their separate ways.