Sunday, 21 October 2012

MIXED FIRST IMPRESSIONS - South/Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

We have to firstly say, we know we are terribly behind in our blog posts. The internet in Kalimantan is surprisingly bad for a place so developed in other ways. In most towns we haven't even seen internet cafes, let alone WIFI in our hotels. So, sorry we're late- there will be more Kalimantan posts to come when it is possible..........

Where we are!

As we were wandering through the car park of Balikpapan airport, a kind man approached us and in broken English asked us if we were looking for the minibus into town. He told us how much to pay and where to wait, then walked away, and we thought “Welcome back to Indonesia!” The positive receptions in Indonesia always pleasantly surprise us after being away.

Our excitement at arriving in a new place, Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo), was dampened slightly by Rich’s back playing up a bit as it does from time to time. Although Balikpapan is a very pleasant city, there isn’t a great deal to see there, so we took it easy for a couple of days, and used the time to brush up on the Indonesian language, with a few short trips out and about, before our impending long bus trip.

And oh, what a bus trip. We organized to take an overnight bus south to a small town, Kandangan, and scored what we thought were great seats right up the front. We have been on some scary bus rides in our travels- notably the Himalayas in India and Nepal, where drivers dice with death overtaking each other on narrow mountain roads. But nothing compared to the fear we felt on this bus, with its psychotic, chain-smoking driver speeding like a maniac through villages on the pitch black pot-hole filled roads. We had to keep telling ourselves he had done that route many times before and knew the route well. The fact we had heard this was one of the best roads in Kalimantan, didn’t bode well for further bus travel here! An  interesting sight on this bus journey, and  subsequent ones, was the massively long lines of ever-present yellow trucks queued up for hours waiting for petrol stations to open to buy some of the hard to get diesel fuel.

Kandangan was a one night wonder to break the long journey, and we unfortunately ended up getting eaten all night by bed bugs in the dive hotel we ended up in. And so to Banjarmasin!

After a somewhat slow start to our Kalimantan trip, we really began to enjoy the place in Banjarmasin. Attaining a grand room for ourselves, we spent our days exploring the more rustic areas of town, away from the hustle and bustle of the ubiquitous traffic and crowds. We preferred the wonky, wooden walkways around the harbour filled with produce, boats, and people working along the river, to the more touristy river tours suggested by the few “guides” in town.

Banjarmasin market

Riverside homes, Banjarmasin


Riverside, Banjarmasin

Banjarmasin boy

Banjarmasin goodies

I was especially intrigued by the chicken part of the market, with one man killing the chooks, a second plunging them in boiling water, and a third plucking them then and there. Very efficient system and one that would probably put some people off eating poultry forever !

It was in Banjarmasin, that a small girl asked Richard “What are you?” Good question! 

An interesting day was spent in the nearby towns of Martapura and Cempaka famous for their gems- especially diamonds. After a visit to the gem market to check out the goods, we explored the diamond fields to see how process works from the beginning. Being a gold panner from way back, Richard convinced me to traipse barefoot through the mud to see the smaller scale guys fossicking with pans to find tiny diamonds.

Gem Market, Martapura

Martapura posers

Diamond mine workers, Cempaka

Diamond fields, Cempaka

Diamond mine workers, Cempaka

Diamond fossicking, Cempaka

The bus from Banjarmasin to Palangka Raya was very late (no surprise there!), and we whiled the time away “chatting” to the ojek (motorbike taxi) drivers. They were so fascinated with inspecting everything Richard was wearing, even getting him to take of his shoe, so they could all crowd around to see the size!

Buying whisky concoctions, Banjarmasin bus station

New friends, Banjarmasin bus station

This bus was typical of many in Indonesia. They seem to have at one time been nice buses- perhaps coming second hand from a richer country. But by the time they reach Indonesia, they are completely knackered, and because they were originally meant to have air-con, there are only tiny windows in the very top. This means a sweltering, sweaty bus trip during the hot season (now)!! To make matters worse, the air quality was atrocious due to the burning off of the fields that occurs around this time of year.

Palangka Raya is not the most picturesque city we’ve been to (especially with the extreme smoke in the air), but, after finding accommodation (difficult in a place where many hotels won’t accept foreigners), we found a lovely neighbourhood  down by the river, where about a dozen families live on each pier, and share little rickety boardwalks to the water.

Pier, Palangka Raya

Home access, Palangka Raya

Riverside, Palangka Raya

Riverside, Palangka Raya

Riverside, Palangka Raya

Riverside, Palangka Raya

Riverside, Palangka Raya

Floating house out of the water, Palangka Raya

By this stage in our trip, we had learnt that some aspects of travel in Kalimantan are difficult. Sometimes it is the language barrier, and sometimes it’s the expense of things we would like to do, but usually, it’s simply that there is no information about sights/transport/accommodation for the independent traveller, and locals often do not know either. This extreme difficulty in finding information began to wear us down a bit, and we found we had to miss some things we wanted to do. We had to recover quickly from these small disappointments, and think forward to what the rest of the trip might bring.

Around Palangka Raya

Around Palangka Raya

Wonky house, around Palangka Raya

Pumpkins, Palangka Raya

Smokey air, Palangka Raya

1 comment:

  1. Thanx for a great report and our warmest greetings from sunny Sulawesi. You guys are really hardened travellers! We almost feel guilty, chillaxing lazily on the beach and only reading about our tough friends' adventures. Keep up the great exploring and blogging! With the best wishes, Konni & Matt (on the launch pad into Vietnam).