SYNOPSIS:  About an all nighter at Denpassar, one airport, two flights and two new guides.

I don’t even remember when I last worked through an entire night.  It’s been ages!  I had all intentions to sleep a good six hours, but what at home and with fast internet would have been a task of 6 hours — that’s what I had planned for — turned into 13.  And as I am heading into the rain forest where even a bad internet connection is unlikely, I just could not bear the thought of not being caught up on all fronts:  grading for my class, posting for the blog, uploading photos, answering emails.   It was agony as more than half of the time was spent waiting; one minute per photo, one minute per document, one minute per email.  Does not sound so bad, but try it, especially with 40+ things to grade and about 80 photos to load.  And I could not go away and do other things as the internet was only working in the hotel lobby and not in my second floor room.  But I don’t need to bother you any further with the details.  The last few blog images did not get captions, as I had to jump into the airport taxi and get going. 

A week ago I had arrived in the dark at night at the Kuta-Bali Airport, now I left at dark in the morning. I wish I had more of a chance to appreciate the airport’s architecture — was it not designed by the very architect whose guesthouse I had so appreciated in Yogyakarta!  All I could tell was that the basic idea seems to be a blend of the very traditional villa-palace-temple architecture and modern elements.

Two uneventful flights with Lion Air — by now I have lost count of all the flights — followed and at the other end, as expected, a guy stood at the welcome counter holding up my name.  It was Jaylani, who will be my guide for the next four days, with Ishmael in tow, who will do the driving at both ends.  With more time, more people, and a lot more money, I would have started the boat tour into the jungle right at Balikpapan, one of the major cities on this third largest island of the world (Borneo), tuckering down one of the longest rivers in the world, the 1000 km long Mahakam.   Instead, I will start in Kota

Of the 7 hours in the car, I don’t remember much.  I did not sleep, but I simply could not keep my eyes open.  At one point, when we first came in sight of the river, I could not help but be in awe of the sheer width of this thing.  Easily, several of the widest and longest freight boats could line up side by side without crowding each other. 

The river is used for transporting goods, mainly coal, from what I could tell.  The entire landscape though had been vandalized by dozens of coal conveyor belts.  Every one of them was easily 300 meters long, suspended right above people’s heads, cutting through villages, and then dipping down at the river where streams of coal would be spewed out as if you would pour coffee.  I wonder what that does to the levels of dust pollution around here…

When Jaylani told me that it was Jakarta people who owned, controlled and profited from the coal, I smelled trouble.  That was one of the sticky points Banda Aceh went to war over.  Siphoning off resources and exploiting the local population — the poverty in these river villages was unmistakable — cannot be good, aside from being morally wrong.

Kota is a town further up the river.  The only guesthouse is just about the rock bottom experience you can imagine.  No AC, but a broken fan.  No window but a hole in the wall leading up to a sticky, dark alley…  The air towards the river has a pleasant breeze.  But the air in my room is a sticky mess.  How will I breathe?  Most likely I will be too tired to care.  I hope so.

But first it’s off to dinner with Jaylani and Ishmael.  I cased the joint before during a 1/2-hour stroll.  There was no decent restaurant in sight.  Homemade street food, yes.  And a lot of laughing children who at the sight of a foreigner with a sun hat and a big camera walking aimlessly through their village probably wondered what had befallen them.  But Jaylani did find a warong (the local term for restaurant) which meant a few tables under a dangling neon bulb, swarming with insects.  In a glass case the already prepared food was on display.  One could choose from an array of dishes.  Fish and rice is the staple food here.  I usually go heavy on the vegetables as these thin fish with all their bones can provide certain challenges I am not trained for.

If Bali gets 3 million tourists a year, Kalimantan gets 800.  And of that, Kota probably gets… one perhaps?  What am I doing here?!

Good night. 

3 comments so far

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  1. Ha ha ha…I agree with Sol…you should just love Kalimantan, thin fish, head hunters and all.

  2. Just chiming in briefly … love your blog and follow you daily. I thought your travels in Indonesia, especially Bali, were a bit too comfortable for your usual style and now, in Kalimantan, you should be back in your element. No?
    I traveled on Malaysian side of Borneo and have fond memories, especially seeing Orangutans in the wild.
    Watch out for head hunters!

    • You are so right about this! The first part of this trip was way too civilized. The second part now – island hopping in search of different people and customs is much,much more to my liking. And after Kalimantan, things are picking up very nicely.