Saturday, September 21, 2013

INDONESIA - KALIMANTAN - 30 july to 6 august 2013

I arrived at Balikpapan airport. Always a strange feeling when one arrives at a new destination! The airport was well organised and a taxi from airport to the hotel was 55 000R.
I settled into the Ibis Hotel then had I walked around the local area.

The next morning, I was up early (Ramadan breakfast 4am) and later when the sun appeared I went for a walk along the board walk about 1 km away. The wind was onshore and strong and the boardwalk itself was rustic and looked ready to cave into the ocean. I was about the only person there. I found a bakery “Holland Bakery’ and pick up a small supply of cakes. Back at the Ibis, I had to get a security guard to take me to the rooftop for photos. It was a great view, especially, looking straight over the edge of the building.

I organised transport with an ojek to go north to see the crocodile farm and Manggar Beach. The croc farm (15 000R) was very run down looking but it was heaps of fun… the wild large crocs were in a large penned area with a big wall and viewing holes between them and me… a girl was petting a small baby croc… and the commercial crocs were kept in pens according to their size. It cost 10 000R to throw a dead chicken to the crocs. Not much to share around but it sure caused a lot of action. Just outside the croc area there were elephants, monkeys (caged) and a Dayak house. A worthwhile trip!

Manggar Beach was okay. I sat, lied and half dozed under the shade of the Casuarina trees drinking kelapa muda. The unshaded sand was hot, hot, hot to walk on but I did manage a little wade in the brown water. In retrospect, swimmers would have been good.

Back at the hotel and I busied myself organising transport to Kota Bangun, for eventually, 800 000R for the start of the Sungai Mahakam (river) trek. The price of a car to Samarinda was 350 000R.

After all the hard work, I walked the short distance to the Novotel Hotel and used the pool. It was in a great position on the 2nd floor overlooking the Balikpapan coastline. I chatted with an Indian merchant sailor, who asked me what I thought of Balikpapan… I said ‘I liked it and was having a good time’ … he said ‘he liked it also and the women were a little short for his tastes but still a good quality fXXk.’ Ways of looking at the world… no point talking about the croc farm.

After dinner (after sunset), I walked down to Balikpapan plaza for a new strong day bag (699 000R) and a coffee and waffles with ice cream. It was a very busy shopping complex but the people were friendly and helpful. I was the only bule (white person) that I saw in there.
Back at the hotel, a quick call and the car was arranged to pick up at 7am.
The next morning, I was off to Muara Muntai. The car ride was nice drive of about 5 hours. I lunched a Kota Bangun then caught a ces (motorised small boat) 200 000R to Muara Muntai. It was an awesome boat ride… river villages and houses, toilets over the river on pontoons, coal barges and tugs, log floats, fishermen and monkeys.


On arrival at the ‘dock’, I settled into a room at the first hotel (guesthouse) I came to. The hotel was painted internally with bright clashing colours. Loved it. The old man showed me the rooms. I settled with a simple room for 50 000R.

I walked around the village. This place is amazing. The streets and the houses are all made of timber. All the houses are on stilts. Obviously, the water table can get a bit high. The sounds of motorbikes on wooden streets are like a rattling mantra. The people were friendly and I had a few conversations. Once I reached the far end of the village, it started to rain. I darted in and out of shelter on my return having more conversations along the way.


Disaster… I found out that the boats stop operating in two to five days at the end of Ramadan, which was in a few days. The boats wouldn’t be such a problem but food might be… due to Ramadan I was fasting as food was available only in the early morning and evening but the celebrations due to Eid-al-fitr might mean that restaurants/warungs would be closed as well. A change of plan was necessary!
The noise that night was amazing! In the early hours of the morning, music and drumming started at ear piercing decibels and it just went on and on. Then it stopped and faded into the distance then an hour later it was back again. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep as I was up early for breakfast.

After breakfast, I went back to sleep then woke and organised a day trip by ces to Tanjung Isuy, which is a Dayak village. The ces was 400 000r return.
The trip was awesome. Once again, the boat passed villages, farms, wetlands, forests and various people fishing, washing and hanging around as it followed the river and its tributaries.

At Tanjung Isuy, I was a bit nervous not knowing what greeting to expect from the locals. At first people stared and said nothing… that got a bit boring so I started my hellos and smiles and before long I was sitting on verandas having conversations about village life and my life in Australia.

I sat for quite a while with a group of local ladies, who wanted to know if I (as a westerner) thought they were pretty.  They were all married so I spoke the truth and told them ‘semua anda panas’… you are all ‘hot’. I then had to explain ‘hot’ and in the end they were very happy with my answer. As usual in Indo, they were surprised/concerned I was travelling on my own… saya sendiri. In some parts of Indo, being older, alone, having money and being a bule (white person) makes me a target but in other parts it seems to be a genuine concern for my welfare, especially, the part on being alone. Funny thing is that I don’t feel ‘alone’ as there are always people to talk to and things to do that are heaps fun. Besides, being alone gives one a chance to talk/meet people whenever I am in a social mood. That’s enough thinking for one day!

The trip back was great. The clouds had built up and it looked like it was about to pour. As the boat approached one village town the skies opened and it must have been at about the same time as prayers finished in the mosque as the river became a washing machine of ces’s racing for home. It was so cool!
We passed through the wetlands and this time the monkeys and a variety of birds were out and about. There was one bird that looked like a rare type of bird with bright feathers and a long sharp beak.
Back at Muara Muntai, I went for a walk in the early evening and brought some fruit and had dinner.
Back at the hotel a Greek couple arrived with three kids (under 6 I’d guess). And I thought I was doing it hard!!!

That night the music and drums once again pounded and blared and various times. Nothing like consistency.
Another bad sleep and the prospect of no boats helped me decided to go to Samarinda and maybe Putai National Park.

I caught a ces to Ayung, which was 100 000R and closer to Muara Muntai than Kota Bangun and then a shared car to Samarinda 200 000R. The road was terrible at the beginning. Later, there was a river crossing in a car barge.

At Samarinda, I checked into the Grand Jamrud2 Hotel 365 000R. I went for a walk to the Islamic Centre. Along the way, I seemed to meet a lot of ‘blockheads’ who had difficulty coming to terms with a ‘bule’ walking down the waterfront street. They carried on a bit silly showing off to their friends but I smiled, said ‘Selamat Siang’ and thought what a pack of ‘dickheads’. I gave up the walk after a while and took an ojek (motorcycle) 5 000R the rest of the way to the Samarinda Islamic Centre.

The Islamic Centre is an amazing mosque (mesjid). It is an a pretty location and is huge. The people were friendly and I was explained what I needed to do on entry. It was such a peaceful place to walk around. The architecture was intricate and it was so cool inside temperature wise. A great people watching place.

On return, an ojek rider Yuri, offered me a free ride to the hotel. We got a bit lost but we had a good conversation along the way.

Later in the evening, I wandered down the road to a small mall which ends up having a great café. I wandered back saying hellos and small conversations then crashed out. No drums that night!

The next morning, I investigated getting transport to Kutai National Park and Balikpapan. The Kutai was 600 000R for a 4 hour journey but transport back was going to be impossible or very expensive due to the end of Ramadan. I decided on returning to Balikpapan but I had missed the earlier shared cars and so I had to charter a whole car for 500 000R for a 2 hour ride. Apparently, it is cheaper to organise transport the night before.
Back at Balikpapan, I checked into the Ibis hotel once again.

The next day, I organised a car/driver 460 000R to take me to the sun bears and a jungle walk venue.

The sun bears (50 000) with guide were great. They were in a large enclosure. The guide didn’t speak much English but we did our best to communicate.

Next was the walk but upon a arrival it was closed. We found a guide but he wanted 2 000 000R for an hour’s walk. No thanks. We drove up the road and I found another entry and did a self guiding jungle walk with the driver. He wasn’t too happy but ‘whatever…apa pun’. The walk was hot and humid and we saw a skink.

Back at the Ibis and I had decided to give up on Kalimantan for this trip. The end of Ramadan meant the most things were going to be closed for the next 5 to 6 days. After a brief conversation with myself I decided to head back to Bali and do this trip again on another occasion. I organised a Lion flight to Bali for 1 946 000R for the following morning as the ticket price and seat availability gave me little choice.
I went down to the waterfront. pulled into a bar, met the only person there ‘Alex’ and had a number of beers. I went back to the hotel, picked up my ticket and went to the Novotel for a swim.

I was up early for my flight. The taxi was 60 000R. At the airport it was chaos as it was closed. It opened after a short time and people were pouring into the terminal. There was only a small gate to get through to the security check, then another small gate for domestic airport tax then long queues for the check in.

My flight went via Jakarta. My plane landed at terminal 1 (I didn’t know there were other terminals as nothing was indicated on my ticket). I couldn’t see my flight on the board. Eventually, I was told to go to terminal 3 by the yellow shuttle bus. Easier said than done. I found the shuttle bus. A kind information girl led me personally to the bus stop. I asked who was going to terminal 3 and a man said he was. He became my best friend at that moment. At terminal 3, there were no problems and after a ½ hour delay I was on my way to Bali.

Thoughts on Kalimantan

1.       Like all of Indo, a new island is like a new country to some degree.

2.       The end of Ramadan is not the time for a tourist to visit a strong Muslim area – transport and food are a problem.

3.       The people are friendly and helpful.

4.       The countryside was nice and I was impressed with the locals.

5.       I had a lot of fun but was very tired.

6.       I want to go back at a better time – the place is an adventure.

7.       I learned a lot about Islam.


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