03 July 2010

CYCLING KALIMANTAN, BORNEO - Balikpapan to Samarinda

14/15 June 2010

We moved to another hotel, closer to the centre and one offering better accommodation at the same price. My knees were sore from cycling up all those hills, but nothing a couple of anti-inflammatories and a few days rest can’t sort out. We even had a shower with hot water in our room, which made us stay another day and enjoy the luxury. We washed our clothes, washed our hair, scrubbed our bodies and just enjoyed the luxury of an air-con room.

16/17 June 2010
Balikpapan – Loa Janan – Samarinda

Time had come to move on and we headed further North towards Samarinda. The road continued to be extremely hilly. It was also slightly further than expected. By the time it got dark, I insisted we find a room as I had enough of struggling in the dark up hills and trying to find a room in heavy traffic (my pet hate). So we stayed over in an overpriced crumby room in the town of Loa Janan, and cycled the remaining 13 km into Samarinda city the following morning. There we booked into a local favorite hotel close to shops and the central basar.

We also took a walk to the harbor to enquire about ferries to Sulawesi. However, before leaving Borneo we plan to explore the interior by boat, as roads appear to be non-existent and the best way to see the interior seems to be by river.

I found out to my horror that our digs also came with lice on the bed. I woke the following morning bitten to pieces and itching like hell!!

18 June 2010

We conveniently found a guide to take us to the interior (they seem to frequent the hotels on the hunt for tourist). I liked the guy so we arranged with him to take us inland along the water ways. I’m sure that we could have done this quite easily independently, but what the hell let’s do the touristy thing for once.

19 June 2010

Our guide was dead on time at 8h00. We took an ankot to the bus terminus where we boarded a bus to Kota Bandung further up-river, a very bumpy 3-hour ride. There we boarded a small long-tailed boat, which was not much more than a canoe with an engine. It fortunately came with a canopy to keep the worst of the sun off us. The engine sits on the back of the boat, and has a long direct drive shaft to the propeller - a rather noisy affair. The engine spattered and roared - reminding me of our disastrous crossing from Thailand to Myanmar where the engine blew up.

Soon we left the busy waterways around the town and found ourselves on a large lake resembling an ocean. The colors reminded me of the Antarctic, whites and blues abound as we zooted across the lake. After about 2 hours we reached a tiny village where we stopped for lunch. The little village is no more than 1 square mile but was fitted with walkways for streets whilst everything ells seemed to be floating alongside it.

At times our boatman had to find his way along channels through the floating grass islands in the lake, which were sometimes so thick that the boat got stuck. We had to as directions from local fishermen a number of times.

A thunder storm was building, and came down with such force that we took shelter at a floating fish-depot. That also gave us the opportunity to buy some huge lake prawn which our guide later cooked for supper.

Our overnight stop was at a village where we stayed in a very comfortable guest house, resembling a longhouse. Longhouses (the traditional accommodation) are not in use anymore and I understand that it is discouraged by government. Traditionally a whole village would live in one longhouse, but apparently it was also a breeding ground for disease. Individual houses are now encouraged but there are still some lovely old longhouses to be seen in some villages.

20 June 2010

After a breakfast of tea and fried noodles we were on the boat again. This time the route was up a river lined by dense forest and small villages. Wooden houses on barges floating along the side of the river are the norm around this part of the world. The toilets are no more that a small outhouse directly over the water with a hole in the floor! From what I could see most of these villages are fishing villages and people don’t seem to do much more than fish, wash, and clean. I just wonder if kids don’t drown in hordes??

We even spotted some long-nosed proboscis monkeys along the way. All kinds of fishing methods are being employed, from fish traps to Chinese fishing nets, but still there seems to be plenty of fish around.

The villages along the way seemed to be well organized (albeit floating and with no connecting road). They have their petrol station, shops, furniture stores, schools, etc all floating on barges or on high stilts.

Women could be seen going about their daily business with faces speared with white cream. The purpose of which is still unknown to me. Babies were being rocked viciously in small hammocks and older kids were, seemingly, constantly playing in the river.

In the next small village I eventually found the women making the face masks. A concoction of leaves and flour. This is then rolled into small bolls and dried in the sun. She keenly gave me some (which I still have to try out).

Back in our guesthouse we ate the rest of the prawn, tempe (something like tofu, thinly sliced and fried) and noodles, washed down with some more tea.

I could still not stop itching, no lice this time just hordes of mosquitoes! I was fairly lumpy by then. Fortunately the power come on in the evening and stayed on until the morning, so one can at least have the use of a fan during the night.

21 June 2010

It was time to head back to Samarinda. First I had to take a quick peep at the traditional healer’s house. It was rather colorful and quite busy, so it seems that people make use of the local healer fairly regularly. His drumming and chanting could be heard throughout the night.

Our boatman was ready and waiting for us and we headed back the same way we came. Although there was not a huge amount of wild life around there were still a fair amount of bird life, there were colorful kingfishers, plenty of other water birds and even a huge maribu stork or two.

I must admit that the toilets here are something to get use to. Not only is it just wooden structures over the water with a hole in the floor, people wash themselves, do their laundry and swim right at the door of the toilet. Best not to think about it, just squat and do your thing. Good thing they do not use toilet paper around here. The worst is that you still have to wash your ass with water scooped from that very same hole!! Gosh, I guess that is way too much information for most people.

22 June 2010

We bought our boat tickets for our trip to Sulawesi, which appears to leave every Wednesday. I anticipate another long boat ride with minimal facilities. Judging by the way they were selling tickets left right and centre. I’m sure they have no idea of how many tickets they have sold. We’ll wait and see what the boat is like.

Ernest was sick and stayed in bed all day, so even if there was another boat we could not leave.

23 June 2010
Samarinda, Kalimantan – Pare-Pare, Sulawesi

According to the ticket the boat would leave at 11h00, but it was 14h00 before we finally left. People streamed onto the boat and we were packed in like sardines. Rumor had it that there were 4 000 people on the boat (which I could believe), licensed to carry 970 people. There was not even enough space for us to roll out our sleeping mats. Eventually we opted for the open deck, but even there it was totally packed with people coming out to escape the stuffy interior. Hawkers still managed to get thru to sell all kinds of snacks and trinkets; how they managed I don’t know. You know you in for a hot and stuffy ride if the hawkers peddle fans at only R3.00.

We waited for the mullah to call the people to the mosque (on every ship around here) and took the opportunity to roll out our mats on deck; at last we could stretch our legs!

As if that was not enough a fierce wind came up and soon we sailed through a storm. It rained, the swell was rather large and the boat pitched and the people puked! Ugggg … there was no chance of going inside as by now it was even more packed inside and there was not even standing space. We wrapped ourselves in our ground sheets and waited out the storm on deck.

The problem with such an overloaded boat is that the facilities are not designed to handle so many people. People puked and had a pee where ever they could squat! What a trip we had.


Dispatches from North Country said...

HI we are planning to do cycling trip around Borneo Island from Kota Kinabalu and around Kalimantan. Can you suggest a good route? How long should we allot in terms of cycling days? thanks!

Dispatches from North Country said...

HI we are planning to do cycling trip around Borneo Island from Kota Kinabalu and around Kalimantan. Can you suggest a good route? How long should we allot in terms of cycling days? thanks!

uno said...

nice info