14 June 2010

CYCLING KALIMANTAN, BORNEO - Banjarmasin - Balikpapan

4 June 2010
Surabaya - Banjarmasin

Twenty-two hours after sailing out of Surabaya we docked at the river port of Banjarmasin. We only had to cycle a few k’s into the city, and although it was dark we had no trouble finding our way and booked into one of the budget hotels. It was immediately apparent that it was going to be even hotter and more humid in Borneo than in Java. The last part of the ferry trip to Banjarmasin was up a large river, and from the ship one could see many wooden stilted houses over the water along the riverbanks.

5 June 2020

I felt absolutely awful and spent the best part of the day lying in the room under the (not so effective) fan. It was boiling hot and the humidity was extremely high, just what one can expect being so close to the equator. Ernest found some tablets for my nausea which seemed to work quite well and by the evening I felt a whole lot better. We decided to stay another day, and I arranged an early morning river trip with Ahmed, a local guide.

6 June 2010

We were woken by our guide at 5 am (we hadn’t adjusted our watches to Borneo time – an hour earlier than Java). After cruising up rivers and canals in an open slow-boat we arrived at the very colorful floating market. We bought some fruit from the boat vendors, and on the return trip we stopped at the riverside “old market” for vege’s and made a nice potato salad that evening. (I still could not stomach any fried stuff). The markets are fascinating and a quick glimpse into the daily life of the local people.

Banjarmasin is a city with a maze of rivers and canals, and much of the population spend life in the stilted houses lining the banks. The waterways are not just for transport, but also serve as a toilet and a bath (swimming, laundry, and dishes are all done in the same water). Then they still fish in the river, gosh, I hope they don’t drink that water as well!! That sure will be enough to kill a person. The people are incredibly friendly and shout, scream and point us out to their kids, as we pass by. At times I felt as out of place here as an urang-utang would be on the streets of Cape Town.

7 June 2010
Banjarmasin – Margasarihilir

We decided not to take the main road, and left Banjarmasin along a narrow paved road following a canal with plenty of local life. In contrast to our suspect map, the road abruptly turned into a small gravel road which ran along rivers and canals and rice paddies. We could tell that there have definitely not been many tourists in this part of the world, as people seemed rather apprehensive of us.

The mother of all storms was building up around us, and our road had deteriorated to a footpath with no shelter in sight. Fortunately, just as the storm broke we reached the entrance road to a coal mine and sheltered in the security hut, with coal dust from the overhead conveyer belt showering down together with the driving rain. Later, in light rain, we proceeded along the unpaved mining road which soon ended. Before we knew it we were back amongst the rice paddies, and the rain had turned the track into an impossible clay pit. Slipping from side to side, my bike and feet were soon jammed up with the thick sticky clay. Pushing the bike was also impossible, and I ended up dragging the bike along, falling and slipping around in the process.

It seemed like an eternity before we reached a canal where a ferry took us across, and we were hopeful that conditions would be better on the far side. The locals helped us slide the bikes onto the ferry, and then helped us clean off the worst of the clay. As it was getting rather late we considered camping right there, but it was still raining and there was no shelter or dry land around (besides that, the mosquito’s were eating us alive. By the time we’d made up our minds to move on it was dark, and the friendly locals helped push us off through the clay for the first km or so (bikes caked with clay again!). By then the path had improved to simple mud, stones, and potholes, so we could cycle to some extent. It was tricky cycling in the dark and the rain I was lucky to have only one serious fall (luckily I didn’t break my arm again!).

A lifetime later 2 rather soaked and muddy foreigners slunk into the small town of Margasarihillir – much to the surprise of the locals. After looking around for a while we went to seek shelter in the (deserted!) police station. After a long while the police returned from their patrol (or dinner?), and allowed us to camp in their derelict back rooms. In fact, it took a while to explain to the police that all we wanted was a place to sleep (not a lift to the bus sation, or a meal, etc.). Ernest worked until well after midnight to wash the worst of the muck off the bikes.

8 June 2010
Margasaribilir – Kandangan

At last we were on a tarred road again, and I have never been happier. We cycled along the scenic narrow road, past villages and along a river to reach the small city of Rantau. What a fascinating country this is. We carried on past Rantau until we reached Kandangan were we found a hotel. I was in desperate need of a bath, and we spent the afternoon doing laundry, and cleaning equipment.

Now the skin is coming of the palms of my hands, gosh what’s next? It looks to awful, like athletes foot on one’s hands, this is so gross!!

9 June 2010
Kandangan – Tanjung

Breakfast seems to be included in the room rate – often something like fried rice and a boiled egg. Taking the weather into account it’s no surprise that duck eggs are the order of the day here.

In a constant drizzle we cycled along, and I was happy that we were on a hard topped road. Anything is better than that mud!

10 June 2010
Tanjung – Muarakomam

Holy Mackerel, those hills were steep. It just went straight up and straight down, what happened to good old zig zags? On top of every hill I first had to stop and get my breath back, then it was straight down and up again. Along the way we were offered coffee by locals at a roadside stall where we stopped for a rest – coffee was obviously being grown in this hilly area, and locals were drying the beans at the roadside.

We reached Muarakomam at around 16h30. It was a tiny village with just a few houses on either side of the road, a mosque and a market. We could not believe it when we spotted a penginapan (small local hotel). They sure knew that they had a monopoly as the price was rather steep for such basic accommodation.

11 June 2010
Muarakomam - Kuaro

Now that was a hard day! Gosh, it’s not that the hills are that long, only about 500m or so. But the gradient is insane, then straight down again, across a river and straight up again. So it went all day until we reached the top of the mountains. We basically fell straight off that mountain and flew downhill at break-neck speed. I was nearly a goner as I flew around a corner at high speed, while a truck coming up swerved out for a huge pothole and missed me by mere centimeters. I was a lot more careful after that!

We called it a day when we found a hotel in the small junction town of Kuaro - I desperately needed to rest my weary legs.

12 June 2010
Kuaro – Balikpapan
141 km

I was hoping that the road would flatten out in comparison to the previous days. Although it was not as steep, it was still hilly the whole day. We headed for the coastal city of Balikpapan on the East coast along a “good” road (according to the locals – still bumpy and potholed). As it had been on the previous day, it was hot and humid under a searing sun. I was sure that I lost half my body weight as the sweat just poured out of me!

By late afternoon we’d reached Pananjang on the Southern shore of a large estuary, with Balikpapan on the other side. We decided to take the car ferry across, but realized why many of the locals hire speed boats as the crossing took more than an hour. By the time we cycled off the ferry it was dark, and to our dismay we found that the ferry dock was some distance away from the city. So, we had some fun cycling another 20 km up and down steep hills on a tricky road in the dark, and then through chaotic traffic (every time we asked for directions it was another 5 km!).

By the time we reached town, I was exhausted, hungry, and thirsty – but that was not the end of the ordeal. It was late on Saturday night, and all the hotels in town were full! At last, after 10 pm we found a place, but had to wait for a while until the hourly customers had left and the room could be cleaned! What a long, long day it had been, and I was never happier to be horizontal – lumpy sagging mattress or not!

13 June 2010

I wonder if people in SA realize just how much they are in the eye of the world right now. With the FIFA world cup their every move is watched across the globe. Here I am in Borneo and the streets are jam packed with traffic, going to the local park where a huge big screen is showing the football. It’s festive and food stalls are lining the streets, they should have blocked the road, as it was impossible to get through. Everywhere else in the city, people are sitting on the pavement in front of caf├ęs and at local eateries, cheering on their chosen team on TV.

05 June 2010

CYCLING JAVA, INDONESIA - Kebumen to Surabaya

26 May 2010
Kebumen – Borobudur

We were up and going before 8h00 again, ghosh what’s happening? It was a rather overcast day and soon it started raining, not that it’s a big problem – it’s nice to be cooled down a bit.

As we approached Borobudur the road became more hilly as we crossed over the flanks of two volcanoes. Jeepers, those hills were steep, but I huffed and puffed and made it to the top. From the turn-off to Borobudur it was a nice downhill run into the village where we planned to visit the well-known Buddhist temple on the following day. We had to search for a room in the pouring rain, as accommodation was hard to find due to the annual Buddhist Waisak Festival. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and during this festival thousands of pilgrims and monks visit the site to celebrate the birth of Buddha and his teachings. Because the site is a popular tourist destination, it inevitably comes with all the tourist paraphernalia one can expect of such a place.

27 May 2010

We were up early to visit the temple. Borobudur is an excellent example of Java’s Buddhist heyday. Constructed in the early part of the 9th century the temple was later abandoned with the decline of Buddhism in the area, and covered in volcanic ash by an eruption in 1006. The buildings were rediscovered in 1814 by Raffels, then governor of Java. To Buddhists the temple is a symbol of awakening and of a human’s journey to enlightenment. It sits on top of a small hill and overlooks the surrounding valleys and hills. From here one can also see the two nearby volcanoes, “Sumbing” and “Gunung Merapi” which appears in a near state of eruption (smoke spewing from the top and all - I’d better just behave until I’m out of here!).

Soon, however, hordes of giggling school kids arrived, (“small students” as the gatekeeper referred to them) all wanting to have pictures taken with me, and wanting autographs in their books which they apparently brought with especially for that purpose. I did the best I could, but there were just too many of them! So with the arrival of the heat and the school kids we retread back to our room for a lazy afternoon.

28 May 2010
Borobudur to Prambanan (via Yogyakarta)

Shortly after leaving Borobudur we cycled past the nearby Mendut Temple where more Buddhist celebrations were underway. Police blocked the road off around the temple, but allowed as through on the bikes. Monks were chanting at the temple so we just viewed the scene from outside the fence.

I now realized why I thought I was stuck to the road cycling to Borobudur - it was uphill!! So it was a relatively short downhill run all the way into Yogyakarta city. Once there we discovered that there was not room for a mouse in town - everything was jam packed full, due to the celebrations. We cycled around for hours looking for room, but eventually we decided to head out in the direction of Solo, our next destination. Within about an hour we passed the temples of Prambanan, and fortunately we found a cheap room close by just before the rain came down. I decided to have a look at the temples the following morning - these seemed to be Hindu temples, hence the fact that we found accommodation so easily.

29/30 May 2010
Prambanan – Solo

First thing in the morning I went to visit the Prambanan temple site – reputedly the largest and most beautiful Hindu temples in Java, built in the 9th century and mysteriously abandoned just after completion. Although seriously damaged by the 2006 earthquake, I found the temples to be very impressive. Then it was back on the bike.

It was a fairly flat ride into Solo, known as a very conservative city. It can’t be all that conservative as Ernest managed to find not only a beer, but also a tin of ham. The local Moslems probably think that he is going straight to Hell!

The next morning we decided to stay one more day. I handed in my laundry and we walked around town. We also bought some new dry bags at an outdoor store, at a fraction of the price we would pay for it in SA. Food for myself was more difficult to find as everything I saw had meat or egg in it. Eventually I ordered a spring roll at the hostel where we stayed and instead of a spring roll, got an omelette with veg inside. Ernest had to once again eat my poor order, and that after he already had to eat my breakfast omelette which came included in the room price. (I think he’s had enough of omelettes for a while).

31 May 2010
Solo – Caruban

After Ernest had 2 omelettes for breakfast (mine and his), we headed in the direction of Surabaya and found the road fairly smooth and flat. That also meant that the buses and trucks were going ten to a dozen and we had to be careful not to become road-kill in the process.

At last it seemed that we were (at times) out of the built-up areas and among some farmlands for a change. Cassava, rice and sugarcane were being grown in large quantities. All kinds of things were being sold next to the road, including tiny monkeys, fancy chickens, and colorful song-birds in cages.

I nearly got bitten by a snake which had been run over, and in defence it was striking out wildly in all directions. I did not spot it until the last moment, so I swerved away in a panic and nearly got run over by a truck myself -sjoe, that was close!

Otherwise it was a good day on the road and we put in a full days cycling, something we haven’t done in a while. Around 5 pm we pulled into the small town of Caruban where there was no problem finding a bed, food, and a beer - what more can I ask for?

1/2 June 2010
Caruban – Surabaya

We were on the road early and headed in the direction of Surabaya, and until we reached the outskirts of the city we made good time as the road was fairly flat and not too congested. However, once we reached Surabaya the traffic became horrendous, and the last 15 k’s into town took hours - the last thing I feel like after such a long day on the road! (When Ernest decides what the destination is for the day, then there is no stopping him - and me like a small dog following in his wake, tongue hanging out and huffing and puffing for 160 km!). By the time we found a budget room close to the city centre it had been dark for some time, and I was totally buggered. I had a quick wash out of the mandi and then passed out on the bed.

The following morning we went to enquire about a boat to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. The first shipping company wouldn’t allow us to take the bikes along, so after I schlepped all the way to the head office of another company I was informed that the ticket office was elsewhere. We decided to leave it at that for the day, and rather cycle to the ticket office the following morning.

That evening a huge explosion rocked our street, scattering building rubble and broken glass everywhere – I nearly shat myself! The power was cut, and there was general pandemonium around the place with people running and sirens, etc. There seemed to be a strong military presence which made me think that it was something more sinister than just an accident. (Later I discovered that it was an accident in a gas-storage warehouse – it was even on the TV news, and apparently 3 people died).

3/4 June 2010
Surabaya – Borneo
By ship

In the morning we packed up and cycled to the harbour where the friendly security guard at the gate went to the shipping office by motorbike to buy our tickets for us. I wasn’t feeling well, and as the boarding time was only later that afternoon, I parked myself under the nearest tree while Ernest went back to town in search of an Internet cafe and snacks for the trip.

Judging by the ticket price (R160 SA for a 24h00-trip) it sure was not going to be a cruise liner. I was suffering from severe diarrhea and certainly wasn’t looking forward to spending a long time on a crowded boat with a lack of toilets. The ticket included 6 meal vouchers so it seemed that they were expecting us to be on the boat for significantly longer than the predicted 20 to 24-hours. The fact that we only left at 20h00 instead of 17h00 made me wonder if we were going to need all those vouchers. However, once on board the friendly crew gave us an option to upgrade to a private cabin for a mere R40 each - what a bargain! (I quickly dug in my wallet en coughed up the money). There we were like two comfy rich tourists, even having meals served in the cabin while the rest of the rabble had to stand in que’s! The ship was a large car-ferry, so we could cycle on board and store our bikes below decks with the trucks and cars and motorbikes (R60 per bike).

Twenty-two hours after sailing out of Surabaya we docked at the river port of Banjarmasin. We only had to cycle a few k’s into the city, and although it was dark we had no trouble finding our way and booked into one of the budget hotels. It was immediately apparent that it was going to be even hotter and more humid in Borneo than in Java. The last part of the ferry trip to Banjarmasin was up a large river, and from the ship one could see that a large part of the population lives in wooden stilted houses over the water along the riverbanks.