Travel for Travel's Sake
In Indonesian, it seems like the word for walking, traveling, and vacationing are all the same. So when people ask where I am going, it is easy to say I am just walking. I have said before that on a trip like this getting there is half the fun. It is true that I could have flown basically from Jakarta to the doorstep of the Bentung Kerihun National Park in Kalimantan, but instead I took a series of boats and buses, seeing a bit of the landscape and talking a bit to some people along the way. The journey took five full days.
The express boat ride all night was quite restful, despite stories about it making people sick and all. I arrived at Pontianak at about 6am, in desperate need of a shower, but otherwise quite rested. I checked into a hotel just up the shore from the boat dock, near the town market and bemo terminal. I spotted a couple German-speaking chaps who were checking out of the same hotel and heading up the river in hopes of crossing the Mahakam mountains and making it to the far side of Borneo. I was interested in the same kind of advenure, but I was not yet ready to head out of town. I walked up to a travel agent to inquire about flight times and bus tickets for my various travel needs in Kalimantan. Then I caught a oplet out to the conservation office that used to handle permits for the national park. They told me that a place in Putussibau is now handling these permits, but they were able to provide me with a nice English brochure about the place, which evidently the WWF had put together. I thanked them for the info and headed back out into the heat to continue my tour.
Things to See, Pontianak
The conservation office was on a road of official government buildings leading up to the governor's office of West Kalimantan. There is nothing to see, per se, but I found the area interesting, as I walked back to the main road to catch a bus. Jl. Ahmed Jendi is the main thoroughfare connecting the city and the burbs, and it runs in front of the National Museum of Pontianak, which is not a bad stop. At about 0.10USD, the price is right. I happened to walk up when an English-speaking man from the museum's education center, was walking around. He was excited at the chance to practice his English, so he gave me a full tour of the facility with detailed explanations at every turn. When we got to the exit door, we found that we had been locked in by the keeper who didn't see us come in. We had to wait a bit before someone walked by and let us out, but not before I had contemplated the unhappy prospect of spending the night in this place. I also have to note here that I found myself locked in the bathroom of my own hotel room later in the day. It is not a good feeling to be alone in a foreign country and then locked inside somewhere you don't want to stay. Note that the bathroom door was simply broken and after a certain amount of banging and pleading for help, it simply opened up, instantly converting me back to a true believe in the god I had been appealing to. The only other real site to see in Pontianak, would be the Do&Mi bakery where I ran into the only other foreigners around that afternoon. Otherwise, I checked my email, checked out, and got on the night bus to Sintang.
This is the second night in a row that I spent traveling, which I would not recommend unless you can get a hotel room in between and take a shower or have a rest. I was fairly well rested for the ride and was happy to find myself sitting next to Lena, a semi English-speaker working as a teacher in Sintang. She pointed-out the famous equator monument (the other major site to see) as we headed out of town, and also filled me in on other cultural nuances as we headed up the river in the dark of night. We joked early-on that the window open to our left must be what the Damri meant when they advertised an AC bus. By the middle of the night, though we were freezing from the breeze hitting us in the back row of the bus.
Upon arrival at Sintang, I had hoped that I might find the German-speaking chaps that were only a few hours ahead of me, but I guess that they truly did have a direct bus to Putussibau cuz I found no sign of them. I decided to take the day off to rest and see the city of Sintang. After walking around a bit and chatting with the schoolboys at the bus terminal, I checked into the Sesean Losmen. The town of Sintang is much larger than I imagined, though my book said only 20,000 people. There was a cute Borneo Cafe on the river that seems to attract the foreigners that come through once a week or more. The guys there set me up with a meeting with a local English-speaking guide that night to try to sell me a local or something. See Guides. Otherwise, I just made some shopping and walked around a bit. The two places for action in a village like this seem to be the market and the river. In the shops, I picked up some mosquito repellant (though nobody seems to sell the skin spray type that is popular at home), extra malaria pills (though nobody seems to sell the mefloquin which is recommended at home), and a needle and thread to fix some clothes up.
I have taken boats down the Mekong and been swimming in rivers in Mexico (where people also washed their clothes and their cars), but I don't think I have ever seen people use their rivers so much. Every respectable town around here seems to have a small river. And down by the river, there are often a couple house boats where fisherman and petrol sellers live. From there, you can always catch a ride to the other side. Then there are the outhouses that float on the river, but are tied up on the shore. They usually have a small landing area people go to wash their clothes or bathe. In the evening, there are children who seem to just be playing in the water, though I suspect they tell their parents they took a bath. All along, everyone seems to think that the water will be magically clean forever. This is an especially odd sight in streamside stilted markets where the toilets, garbage, and random leftovers all end up in a trash heap beneath the buildings. If there is ever some clean-up effort, it should take a lot of work to install sewage systems in areas like this. Until then, hopefully their rivers will serve them well.
The next morning, I took the 6:30 bus along down the pothole-filled paved(?) road. Taking a bus during the day is much hotter, but it allows you to see some of the countryside. Around here that means alternating sections of forest, cleared land, and small settlements. The people typically cut the trees and burn-out the brush in a rotating fashion so that every few years they have new land. I really like these crazy careening bus rides through the bush, but honestly there is some similarity to what you might see in Thailand or Laos or even China, though the level of population and type of land-use may be most similar to Thailand. Strangely, I did not see a single field that look suitable for rice farming. I realize that the season is over, but usually you can tell what areas are farmed for what. The only thriving agriculture that I saw was something resembling beanstalks. Anyway, such was the bumpy ride up to Putussibau.
Again I was surprised at the size of this town. At over 600km from Pontianak, it is somewhat cut-off from the rest of the country, though the newly-paved road, and a small airstrip have changed things recently. Putussibau is now the official jumping-off point for trans-Kalimantan trekkers. From here, the standard tour takes you up the river two days by speedboat, then four to seven days of trekking over the mountains. And again down the river on the other side, the Mahakam. I was in town to look for a guide to the local national park. I found one, but only after wondering around town for a day and a half. I asked at the main hotels where backpackers stay. I hung out at the bus ground and socialized with the oplet drivers. A few of them befriended me and gave me a brief tour of town. I think the oplet guys are usually a friendly bunch, but I found the guys in Putissibau to be quite helpful. But none of them could introduce me to a good guide. Finally, Alec, the leader of the group I had been tagging along with, offered the name and number of a local friend. I met up with Usman, the only English-speaking guide in town. After that meeting, Usman's moped pal took me to the local foreign language school where a bunch of us tried to teach the kids a new word or two. The main thing to do in town is just see the market and the river. I picked up a hat at the market before heading off to Ukit Ukit.
One More Time
The last leg of the ride in, involved taking one more bus just a bit further into the bush. This last road toward Lanjak and the border town of Badau, is still in the process of being paved. However, strangely, it is smoother than the other road that has been paved over and already destroyed by trucks and buses. The main problem on this last road is the bridges. Some of them have been upgraded to steel construction with wooden planks, but others are just wooden planks really, which the driver may or may not have to get out and fix he goes. Surprisingly, the scenery is still not raw jungle, though. There are more burnt patches where people are preparing to plant the fall crop of rice. There are grassy areas that are recovering from this treatment. There are a ton of rivers and longhouses and random things to amuse oneself along the way.
I was told to get off here and ask around for the family or friends of Daniel Madu who would show me a place to stay for the night. I didn't know at the time, but I was introduced to Daniel's wife. I spent the afternoon siting on her porch and trying to communicate my purpose as best I could in the Indonesian I had learned. I managed to get a bath and have dinner before Daniel finally showed up. He managed to explain everything that I had screwed up, but he didn't give back the presents I had given his wife when I thought that she was just some random person who was being nice to me. Anyway, everything went much smoother from that point.