Tuesday was my day to do my monthly visa run to Singapore and would be the second time using the now-free visa on arrival to re-enter the country. Since the Harbour Bay ferry terminal has been included in the free VOA list, I was now able to walk to and from the terminal and only needed to pay the roughly $40 ferry fee.
I chose every-fourth Tuesdays thinking that ferry traffic would be light on Tuesdays and, therefore, the lines going through immigration on either side of the Malacca Strait would be shorter. Last month, that was certainly true, but this week the crowds were heavier, but not really a problem in Singapore, where I got through immigration in less than 10 minutes.
As we crossed the strait, the smoke from the Sumatran fires, which have been going on for weeks and seriously polluting Singapore’s air, was thick, with limited visibility. Most Singaporeans are walking around with surgical masks on.
I decided to first get my return ticket before heading off to the mall grocery store for some shopping. I had almost hourly return trips to choose from and ended up back from my shopping in time to take the 1:15 ferry but booked the 2:15 so as not to be in a hurry. That choice would prove important.
After restocking my bacon and Parmesan cheese, as well as buying a smoked duck breast from the deli for lunch, I made it back to the terminal in plenty of time for the 1:15 but had to wait for the 2:15.
All this time, I was also stressing about whether I would even be allowed back into Indonesia. I had even packed my backpack with some extra clothes, my laptop and camera, just in case I would be deported to Singapore with the clothes on my back. At the last minute, I ditched the paranoid route and took an empty backpack to carry groceries back.
My Plan B if I was not allowed into Harbour Bay was to return to Singapore and book another ferry to Batam Centre. Typically, one immigration office doesn’t know what another has done, and the immigration officers often react differently to the same circumstance. So, while one officer might be a dictator another might not care. Batam Island has four different ferry terminals connected to Singapore, so this plan could make for a long day of back and forth.
As I waited for my 2:15 ferry, I snacked on the roasted duck and watched the ferry schedule on the wall. Suddenly, my ferry disappeared, as did several others. This was odd, so I went up one floor to the Horizon ferry counter and was greeted by a woman who couldn’t tell me anything except that my ferry might or might not be available and that I should hurry and try to get on the 1:15. I tried but they would not let me board.
Turns out the 1:15 was the last ferry to run for the next three hours. The Batam harbormaster had cancelled all trips due to the haze.
Back at the ticket counter, I was advised to exchange my ticket for the next ferry, which also might not run. If that one was also cancelled, then I needed to exchange for the next ferry. Etc. I did do this twice, and was holding a 4:30 ticket and worrying if I would even make it to Batam that day. I figured once it got dark, about 6 pm, there certainly wouldn’t be any ferries running, what with the haze and the darkness. I would be able to exchange just once more before finding someplace to curl up in the terminal, which they lock up at night and probably would have put me out on the street looking for a cheap hotel (not many of those in Singapore).
Then, suddenly, they were letting people stream into the departure area. There was no announcement that I could hear; they just opened the gates. There were about 10-12 ferries cancelled all told, so there were a lot of people queuing for a ride, all of us with our necks straining, looking for a ferry to arrive, and breathing with some relief when they started showing up.
I was still unsure what my reception would be on the Batam side, but of immediate concern was whether my 4:30 ticket would get me on what they were calling the 2:15 ferry. I asked someone and her answer was not clear, but apparently they allowed ticket holders for the three scheduled and delayed trips to Harbour Bay to board the 4:30 ferry. A full boat.
And the waiting is the hardest part. First there was the 45-minute ride and then a short line for immigration. The female officer asked how long I planned to stay and what the purpose of my visit was. “Holiday,” I said, “maybe for the whole 30 days (the limit allowed).”
“You’re not here for business?” she asked. “Oh, no,” was my reply. She stamped my passport and I was allowed into Indonesia for another four weeks.
Next time, I think I will bring a packed backpack, just in case.