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PHOTOS: A Tranquil Ferry Between Indonesian Islands

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
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.

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
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NPR
Cargo is unloaded from a state-run ferry in Padang Bai, Bali.
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
/
NPR
The ferry between Bali and Lombok transfers people and goods from one island to the next. Most tourists prefer taking faster boats.

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

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

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
/
NPR
The island of Lombok can be seen in the distance as the ferry continues the four-hour journey from Bali.
Songbirds chirp in their cages as a storm moves toward the ferry.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
Songbirds chirp in their cages as a storm moves toward the ferry.

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
/
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.
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
/
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.
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
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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.
(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
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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.
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
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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.

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
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NPR
The hum of motors and rocking of the ferry lull passengers to sleep, despite the plastic benches.
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
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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.
Ferry employees guide trucks off the ferry in Lembar, a port on Lombok.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Ferry employees guide trucks off the ferry in Lembar, a port on Lombok.
A man stares out at the water as the ferry traverses the nearly 50 miles between stops.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
A man stares out at the water as the ferry traverses the nearly 50 miles between stops.

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.

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Claire Harbage
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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.