Tag Archives: Samarinda

Experiences on the far side of the world.

I’m constantly reminded of the truly generous spirit of people here on the far side of the world. A sweeping statement if ever there was one but consider the following, which have occurred in just the last few days.

 

Samarinda, Borneo.

Imagine if you will walking into a shop/store that specializes in fridges, dishwashers and washing machines to look for a memory card for a camera. You wouldn’t even bother; you would go to a camera shop. I did ask at my hotel reception desk if there was a camera shop anywhere nearby and was confidently told to go to the Big Mall which sounded promising and off I went. Dropped at the main door I entered to discover three floors each as big as two football fields, maybe even three, with no signage not even in Behasa, the local language. Plus it was packed, packed with families, roaming bands of shoe kicking children, yes shoe kicking, balls were presumably banned, moms, dads, babies, the usual bands of happy shoppers. I did find a vast supermarket within that rivaled Costco or a large Tesco and discovered Twinings Earl Grey but that wasn’t the point of the expedition. I wandered about amongst the crowds looking for anything familiar, anything that resembled a camera shop but no, nothing. Endless bakeries and bread shops, bread I might add very strangely colored, bright red, lurid green, pink even. I left empty handed, except for the tea, and disconsolately returned to my hotel, which by chance was attached to the aforementioned fridge and dishwasher shop.

Entering I received some odd glances, I mean, here I was, obviously a tourist, why would I be looking at dishwashers! But I spied, in the corner a cell (mobile) phone shop and fearing ridicule took a chance. Lots of phones, Samsung to be exact, not many customers and a couple of staff attending to the cash register. Ok, here we go again, out with my best gesticulations and sign language but I had a prop, my camera and removing the chip I kind of waved it about and pointed to the cash register, hopefully. How pathetic can you get? But I nearly fell on the floor as the young woman piped up “ would you like to buy a memory chip for your camera? How many gigabytes do you want?” I gaped briefly and then described what I was looking for. “Oh no” she said, “ we don’t sell those here but if you want I can go to the computer shop in the town after my shift ends at nine o’clock, buy what you want and bring them to your hotel.” To cut a long story short, she, Linda, did, at ten o’clock at night, refused a tip, refused an offer of a meal or refreshment. Gave me my bits and jumped on her scooter and beaming pleasantly sped away.

 

Balikpapan, Borneo.

Again. As it happened I knew the lady, Anita, who now runs the Immigration office in Balikpapan, Borneo where once again I was extending my visa. When I was there two years ago to extend my visa she was running the visa extension department, she was promoted and now runs the whole ship. She recognized me and ushered me through the new rules and regulations including acquiring a sponsor, my hotel manager would suffice, and after the usual bureaucratic antics I got my extension. Then she asked if I would like to go for dinner with her family, well sure I said. The family appeared at my hotel to pick me up; husband Robbie and two children who spoke no English aged probably seven and eleven. We had a very pleasant meal in a Warung (local restaurant) where we ate crab and freshly caught fish with the inevitable rice and some sort of green veg’.

Nothing could persuade them that I wanted to pay my share and they took me back to the hotel. Very wonderful.

 

Banda Neira, Banda Islands.

I mentioned in an earlier post the generosity of the staff at the hotel Maulana in Banda Neira where they spontaneously not only baked me a cake for my birthday but also gathered round singing the birthday song and generally making me feel ‘in the spirit’. There were lots of other little things they did to make me feel welcome. One time, while I was packing I discovered that my shorts had not only split at the seams but the pockets had also come apart. I mentioned this to Galuh, the lady who was running the hotel, and asked if there was anyone in the small town who could mend them. “ Don’t worry,” says she “ I have a sewing machine at home and I will fix them, no problem.” Next morning, there they were, all mended and I’m wearing them now with renewed confidence!

 

There you are then, the generosity of mankind in a faraway land. I might add that one of the three woman wore an Abaya and Hijab to work, another, while professing to be Muslim had attended Catholic school while the third, who I met only briefly so we didn’t delve too deeply, lived a city that was just about 100% Muslim.

Just goes to show as they say.

The Mahakam River.

The challenge for river enthusiasts in Borneo, after experimentally testing themselves on the minor rivers, is the Mahakam, the country’s longest river. Rising some one thousand kms in the central mountains it wanders down to the coast near Samarinda where it empties its self into the the Makassar Straights by way of a large delta. The immediate problem is finding a way onto it as the first two hundred kms are heavily trafficked with vast mineral barges and coastal craft while the banks are crowded with stilted villages, shacks, shops, restaurants, cafes and of course mines. Not too  edifying. Coal is loaded onto barges from huge conveyor belts crossing high above the dwellings and poured down into the waiting barges, with of course, the resulting dust and stink. There are bottlenecks on the road along this part of the river where a bridge crossing has been built, unfortunately said bridges tend to collapse periodically leading to sad  loss of life. To avoid this hive of activity requires either a car rental or a bus ride, I chose the latter and up ready and waiting at 5am my guide, the excellent Abdullah, showed up and immediately hailed a passing scooter coaxing me onto the back for the ride to the bus terminal. I got the idea early on that this was not going to be any type of luxury cruise! The bus turned out to be a short, thirty seater, raggedy seats, cargo down the center aisle, doors and windows open for ventilation, every seat taken, crowded with Moms and children, farmers, miners and me. Sure got some interested looks. Off we wheezed casting clouds of fumes through the aforementioned hive of activity. Two hours and we were through and into the countryside, the hills loomed, no jungle, just palm oil plantations, the road twisted and turned, rose and fell, and the passengers started throwing up. Like I said, no luxury cruise this one.

Five hours of that and we reached the river, broad and brown, wide and lazy, and there was my boat. A ces, a glorified canoe with a lawn mower engine, the propellor attached to a long pole sticking out the back. The propellor sits quite high in the water and throws up a spectacular curved wash high in the air as we race along, it’s pretty impressive. In some parts of Asia this is known as a ‘long tail’. Settled into the one seat and roared off upstream where we promptly stopped. Propellor jammed. This has happened before here and there so I wasn’t really perturbed, just take it as it comes. We slowly made our way to the first village, tied up, unjammed the prop’ and set off again, noisily. Many, many villages along the river and judging by the number of satellite dishes these fisherfolk were doing just fine. Floating shops, floating gas (petrol) stations, floating houses, stilted walkways, tons to see. Different too, a Muslim majority village, a Dayak majority village, a Catholic majority  village, a village of immigrants from Sulawesi, another with people from Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, totally fascinating, each with different languages but they all speak Dayak as well.

We crossed some big lakes, negotiated reed beds and huge banks of weed, almost impenetrable and of course we got stuck periodically. Harry, the driver, didn’t seem too concerned and bashed the cloying weeds with his paddle, freeing us. The problem was that as soon as we stopped clouds of mosquitos descended on us, out with the bug spray which helped a little. Eventually to our village for the night and the accommodation turned out to be a Dayak communal tribal longhouse. We wandered around the lanes and paths, watched the children fishing off a bridge, tried to find a replacement charger for Abdullah’s phone and ate some very good food for dinner.Then it was time to attend a Dayak Tribal Ritual featuring five drummers, a very large Shaman (medicine man?), wearing bells on his feet and a long skirt who danced and chanted, many female attendants and two chickens. There were maybe fifty people gathered in the big hut, mainly women with some sleeping children plus a smattering of men, everyone was Dayak, and me. People have written books about what I observed, suffice it to say I accepted that I was no longer in Hertford, Hereford or Hampshire any more, not even in Marin. It was all very strange and got stranger when two chickens became part of the Ritual. Oh no, I thought, but no, it was ok, they lived another day. I would love to have the words to describe it, the Ritual, but I don’t, probably because I had no idea what was going on, everyone seemed very happy though, much smiling. I think Abdullah told me we were communing with the ancestors, certainly offerings were made to someone/something, stuff was set alight and burned smokily, fruits were placed around in bowls and on plates clearly not to be eaten by me. I took some video on my tiny ipod, maybe it will make it home and I can find someone to shed some light on it. Again, it was all very strange.

Next morning it was back out onto the lakes and rivers, more getting stuck in the reed and weed beds,  more mosquitos, lots of bug spray. We traversed big lakes, made our way down narrow waterways, enjoyed the wildlife, failed to take photos of kingfishers, again, and passed by many, many more floating villages. There were more Bird Hotels. Did I mention these before? Can’t remember. All the villages had their bird hotels, big concrete or wooden structures, quite ugly with small holes in the walls and amplified bird song emanating from speakers on the roof. The birdsong attracts the swiftlets who build their nests within using their saliva, thousands and thousands of them. Their situation, beside the river, provides an abundance of food, mozzies etc. The nests are then harvested with the price at source being $100 per kilo, the nests are then exported to China where they are the basis for Bird Nest Soup, at vast expense. I became quite obsessed with Bird Hotels, eagerly pointing them out to the long suffering Abdullah who would smile, indulgently.

All day on the river, thundering along on the wide open parts, creeping along to observe the banks, more getting stuck in the reeds, it was a fabulous day, exhausting but far, far away from the humdrum. We eventually tied up in a village for the night, a village with no dogs. No dogs? No, no dogs. This I noticed quite soon as it is the sign of a 100% Muslim village. Apparently The Prophet, when on the run from the authorities had his hiding place betrayed by dogs, so no dogs in Muslim villages. Also, no beer. We passed the evening pleasantly enough at the house of one of his friends, the wife made local delicacies, the kids watched cartoons on tv, the menfolk chatted away while I rested on the sofa wondering what to do. It wasn’t as if I could read a book or play music on the headphones, that would be impolite just about anywhere. But I drank lots of tea, enjoyed the delicacies except perhaps the stewed bananas in, I think, rancid condensed milk, whatever it was it was horrid, truly awful. After a couple of hours it was time to go, back on the scooter, back to my concrete box to sleep. Ten o’clock came and there was a great wailing, up and down the street wailing. That’s new thinks I, turned over and tried to sleep again, my concrete box was very hot on account of no window or a fan.

Dawn came, eventually and peering over the edge of the upper floor there was a huge canvas covering the street outside the accommodation, chairs everywhere, people gathering, food being prepared and much sawing of wood and hammering. Odd, it wasn’t there when I went to bed. Abdullah appeared, what is happening says I. “oh didn’t you hear the Morning Prayers, the owner died last night”. Of course I had heard the Morning Prayers but as for understanding them, not a chance. The hammering and sawing came from the local carpenters, building the elderly Gent’s coffin, right there, on the street, he was quite elderly and his demise was not unexpected, but still!

I’m going on a bit sorry, lets wind it up.

Off back downstream in the ces to the jetty, found the car to take us back to Samarinda with a young woman already in the back. Turned out she was the one and only local midwife who delivers babies up and down the river and we were giving her a ride to town. Very charming, no English, but wherever we stopped she would find children she had brought into the world and chat chat chat. Nice. Abdullah insisted that I go to his home and meet his family, oh no, not another social situation where I do not understand a word spoken, all I wanted to do was take a nap. It seemed churlish to refuse so we arrive at his house, slip and slide up the steep path with no steps, fall in through the door and collapse on the sofa. I heard singing and from the back of the house comes Mrs Abdullah, Diana, bearing a cake, with candles all lit followed by many children of all ages singing Happy Birthday, in English. Oh my goodness. I had to blink seriously. It was quite lovely. There were presents. More tea. We always had Birthday Tea back in Marin but I didn’t make a big deal out of my birthday, I just mentioned it when Abdullah, at some point, asked me how old I was. There I was in far away Samarinda, having Birthday Tea, it was all a bit much and I was quite overcome. What could I do in return, fix the family computer of course, hahaha, they were all thrilled.

I have been off the Internet for over ten days hence the lack of communication. I was a plane, car and boat ride away on a coral island, an atoll, complete with reef and lagoon and little to no connectivity. It was a miracle to find in these days of mass tourism, only a handful of other wanderers were there, less actually.

It was called Maratua.

Floating village shop.

Floating village shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floating gas station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child fishing for dinner.

Child fishing for dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statues outside Tribal Longhouse.

Statues outside Tribal Longhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very bad lighting but this is the Shaman.

Very bad lighting but this is the Shaman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in the reeds.

Stuck in the reeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffin making.

Coffin making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing on the river.

Fishing on the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clouds and river.

Clouds and river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird Hotels.

Bird Hotels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Bird Hotels.

More Bird Hotels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mending nets.

Mending nets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very peculiar looking bird.

A very peculiar looking bird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a Marabou stork and seemed to be almost domesticated, in a way.

It is a Marabou stork and seemed to be almost domesticated, in a way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy people.

Happy people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing.

Fishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagle.

Eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A rare black long tailed monkey.

A rare black long tailed monkey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I seem to have mislaid the Birthday photos. I will upload a couple when I find them.