Are you an overland traveller?

| 2nd December 2009
Ewan Kinsgton on the ferry
There is still a lot of uncertainty around the carbon emissions of a ferry journey
Ewan discovers that 'overland traveller' has become something of a category, but one into which he's happy to fit

I'm nursing a mee goreng at the Bali Marina. The captain of the Placebo, a yacht that hopefully take me to Australia, looks at me thoughtfully.
'You're not one of these "overland travellers" are you? I've had three others contact me, they're coming too,' he says.

When I began this trip, I thought I was doing something pretty unique. Sure, I knew about Ed and Fiona Gillespie's trip, and Babs and her voyage from Wales to Brisbane. Some people must also have followed the Man in Seat 61's excellent advice on long-haul overland travel. But I didn't imagine to meet three others who are travelling England to Australia without flying. Soon I'll actually get to meet them - and their stories will intertwine with mine.

This trip has opened my eyes to the adventurous spirit and courage of other travellers. The Trans-siberian and my stay in Mongolia introduced  me to several other travellers committed to exploring the world but reducing their carbon footprint. Even more impressive have been the little signs I've seen, messages in visitors books and grafitti on hostel walls, of a range of people cycling to East Asia from Europe, a truly low-impact method of seeing the world. Similarily Ben Dale made a modern day pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem, literally step by step.

By contrast my own trip here from Penang in Malaysia seemed tame. I wanted it that way. After five days in Penang. I was ready to make some distance. I had waited over a weekend for my special 60 day Indonesian visa and unsuccessfully tried to rendezvous with the cycle rally planned as part of the global phenomenon that occurred on October 24th.

Rather than face a gruelling bus trip along Sumatra's 'highways' (it would take more than a week to do it and remain sane, I was warned) I took a bus south from Penang, spent 2.5 hours in the polished metropolis of Singapore, and took a short hop to Batam, an industrial island which is most definitely part of Indonesia.  I was greeted by a suspicious look at my 60 day visa, a row of roadside thatched stalls, a chorus of 'hello mister!' and 'where are you going?'. Here I boarded the remarkable weekly Pelni ferry to Jakarta, which was carrying around a thousand passengers, most of whom seem to be karaoke stars carrying several times their weight in luggage.

Crossing an island as fascinating as Java in just a few days was one of the bittersweet experiences of my trip. I console myself that I'm getting close to home now, and visiting Indonesia again within a few years is not out of the question. Maybe I might even find another of these 'overland travellers' to come with me. We're pretty common now, you know.

CO2 Emissions - Penang to Bali

Mode Journey Emissions calcs Total emissions
Coach Penang - Singapore 698km x 29g CO2 per passenger kilometre 20 kg CO2
Passenger ferry Singapore - Batam 50km x 150g CO2/pkm 8 kg CO2
Passenger ferry Batam - Jakarta 900km x 78g CO2/pkm 70 kg CO2
Diesel train Jakarta - Yogyakarta 545km x 75g CO2/pkm 41 kg CO2
Coach Yogyakarta - Denpasar 695km x 29g CO2/pkm 20 kg CO2
  TOTAL 2888 km 159 kg CO2

Equivalent emissions if I had flown direct: 2278km + 9% routing addition x 98g ppkm (short haul) x 2.5 ?(RFI) =  608 kg CO2

Note on the data: Trying to get fuel efficiency figures for the Pelni ship out of the Indonesian crew garnered smiles but little data. Instead I did some really rough calculations scaling up from other marine engines, and found 78gms ppkm, remarkably close to the 75gm ppkm I figured using a completely different method for the Xin Jia Zhen back in China.
For other transport I used Defra's Emission Factors.

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