There is an AK-47 assault rifle shooting off never-ending rounds  just underneath the floorboards.

I am lying on a 1inch thick crusty, dirty piece of foam wedged in-between my Canadian friends and my 14yr old son.

The seas are huge and the front of the boat crashes down heavily into the trough of the wave, Some of the other passengers on this ‘cruise’ are vomiting over the side but not me. Deciding to wear this stoically I go with the flow of the tumultuous ocean, embracing the possibility of being washed overboard by the waves crashing over the side of the boat. Holding my 14yr old son’s hand.

My one clear thought during this time was “If I’m going to die out here, I want to see that wave first”.  The thought of just lying there on the top deck and accepting my fate was NOT an option for me

How did this happen? A question I’ve asked myself several times since being in Indonesia.

I thought I’d sorted it, spoken to the right people, got the right advice and booked a reputable boat with people who are known to be trustworthy. 

I’ll start at the beginning of this saga – My marriage is over, my house sold, my business cast aside, most of my belongings are sold and I’m free to have an adventure.

I’m almost 50 and ready to tackle the rest of my life head on.

I’m now 3 months into travelling through Canada and Indonesia, I know the people and their unique way of dealing with us ‘bule’s’ or foreigners by now and also have several good connections on different islands earned by making several bad decisions previously.

We are in Lombok and are going on a 4 day cruise to Flores. I have this booked through a friend of mine and it sounds like a wonderful adventure.

Then I discover the people I would like to travel with have decided to book though another company. It’s not someone I know of but hey “what the heck” I thought ” Life is all about taking a chance” so I go with them – they are fun, honest and friendly Canadians and I feel safe with them.

The Journey Begins


uh-oh – our cruise ship

We embark the hot, red bus at Sengiggi, Lombok with 11 other people from all over the world. The thick air is fetid with no air con and the windows are stuck shut.

Along the way we stop off to pick up 2 live chickens which are put into hessian bags and hung from the front of the bus. Then to an ice factory where blocks of ice are put into what look like fertiliser bags and also strapped to the bus.

These items were to be food and refrigeration for the next few days.

Arriving in the dock we see our boat, everyone is craning their neck to see the vehicle for our next adventure on the open seas! It’s a beautiful brown boat, looks clean and has a deck all around with a big sail. … the bus keeps moving but our eyes keep focussed not the beautiful boat hoping beyond hope that we have actually got a great deal……..we pull up beside what could only be called a refugee boat with a blue tarp strung across the top.

Our hearts sink.


a very worried looking captain of the boat. Above him is the ‘bedroom’

We clamber on with our luggage. I’m feeling a little numb by this time realising there’s no turning back, the driver has got his cut of my payment and it’s his job to ensure I continue on the rest of the journey that’s been mapped out for us.

God help me. I take a big sigh and think “crap, I’ve screwed up again” and pulled myself over the side of the deck.

There’s 1 broken chair, no beds, no rooms, no tables just a deck up the top with a tarp roof which is only high enough to allow sitting and below is the galley, the squat toilet and another small deck at the front. I’ve been in Indo now for while now so can roll with the punches but this is something I had never thought I’d experience.

What was promised on the brochure was pure comedy. I can imagine the creators of it laughing as they write it.

This is what was promised:

The snorkelling gear provided

  • Snorkelling in pristine clear waters: snorkel gear was unusable and no fish to see anyway.
  • Fresh food provided daily: 4 days: 2 chooks, killed on the floor at the toilet door and shared between 14 people, lots of ramen noodles and small rubbery pancakes for breakfast. Not enough fresh drinking water to go around, lots of hot Bintang (local beer), no veggies or fruit.
  • Spearfishing: – not a fan of fishing in any way, but there was only one speargun and no one was allowed to use it except the owner of it. He jumped into the water, speared a fish but hadn’t attached the spear to the gun in any way – so the poor speared fish took off and the gun owner had a useless gun left in his hand. End of story.
  • Fishing equipment provided for daily fishing: fishing REELS provided with no bait. One Indo guy caught an illegal fish, ate it anyway…we were all pretty hungry by then. It was the only fish caught the whole time. It was also prepared on the galley floor outside the door of the squat toilet.
  • One entire day of sailing using only the sail and no motor: I was so looking forward to this – a whole day of silent cruising through the ocean with the sun beating down and the gentle ocean breeze.  Never happened. We woke every morning with the sound of the engine starting at 6am – thus the AK-47 analogy above because

    our bedroom

    that’s exactly what it sounded like and didn’t stop all day or night.

  • Bonfire on a desert island: We hassled about this and finally the skipper gave in and we stopped off at a small sand island with one tree and a goat. Built a bonfire, sat around it with a bottle of Arak (local fire water)  and one of the women who said she was 25 but was clearly 45 did a dance with a flouro hula hoop (I have no idea where it came from). After 2 shots from the Arak bottle that was passed around the group I could see double. Literally thought my eyes must be pointing in different directions like a chameleons. We left the next morning at 6am with no warning, luckily no one was left behind but all the clothes we had hanging over the side of the boat were blown away – never to be seen again.
  • Sleep on the deck under the stars: The deck was a ….deck, the beds were 1″ thick, salt and dirt encrusted foam sheets, no sheets or pillows. We all slept lined up like sardines, occasionally inadvertently spooning each other just to get
    our "life" boat

    our “life” boat

    comfortable (except the 2 up the back who were doing MUCH more than spooning – but that’s another story entirely)

  • Go and see the Komodo Dragons: That did happen, but by that time we had virtually no clothes, since they’d blown over the side of the boat and were so hungover from a night of Arak we could barely walk in the blaring sun. That island is a whole other story of survival with the trickiest people on earth set amongst dangerous reptiles.

To top this off there were NO life-jackets, no onboard radio, no mobile reception and a lifeboat that fits 3 people and only just stays afloat.

IMG_1744.JPGNot to mention the HUGE seas mentioned above where at times (due to the feeling of total helplessness) I was sitting at the bow of the boat with waves crashing over the side of the boat – which lasted a full day and night. The crew (who didn’t speak any English) were also worried, apparently the skipper had a boat sink not long before! To be honest this is my best memory of the entire 4 night cruise….sitting alone at the bow, holding onto a pole, watching the beautiful clear star filled sky amongst huge, battering waves and flying fish soaring above the ocean was simply spectacular.

I felt as if I was ‘at one’ with the earth, ocean and sky. 

We arrived at Flores, battered, shattered and numb. I can’t speak for the others but I was different. I was angry, ripped off, stepped on, lied to and had acknowledged my mortality while having to take responsibility for my son’s as well. 

We had now arrived in a very Muslim town where we were denied a room to sleep in. We were frowned upon.

This didn’t go down well with me and it also gives me an inkling of how people who arrive from other countries with other customs feel because this is how I felt. Angry, bemused, determined, doing it my way with no idea where to turn for calm guidance that makes sense.

Even though the “cruise” was terrible the experience was simply unforgettable in the best way.

  • I had days to do nothing (there was NOTHING to do)
  • I survived living on a refugee boat – luckily with lovely people and not having to escape a dangerous situation.
  • I have great empathy for the people who DO have to live under these conditions for weeks and packed like sardines.
  • The ocean and night sky is simply unbelievably beautiful and I’ve never forgotten it.
  • We made lifelong friends.
  • The scenery, the islands, the people were beautiful.
  • This was a milestone in moving on in my life. Teaching me my strengths and showing my weaknesses.
  • I realise that even though I think I know what to expect the unexpected is always lurking in the background – just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting confident and people.

THIS trip was a real turning point in my journey through MidLife and it was just before my 50th birthday.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Even though several of these boats sink pretty regularly – ours didn’t.

We survived and have an awesome story to tell.