Friday, 19 September 2008

Borneo Part 1


Something I really wanted to do with this blog was write about the great holidays and adventures we have while living in Indonesia. The hope is that one day, my kids will read this and remember the exciting life they lived while being expats.

One of the unique experiences I have had is travelling through Kalimantan (Borneo) with work. I have done this 7 times now, with no end in site, and each time I go I am filled with dread (I get scared of the car trip - you will see why), but also excitement (it is really interesting).

My last adventure started only 7 hours after getting home from our 4 week mid year holiday. I had started the day before leaving the in laws at 9am. We got to our home here at 9:30pm local time (that's 12:30am where we had started) - a total of 15 1/2 hours of travel - alone, with 3 kids.

The next morning I was up at 4:30am kissing the kids goodbye and made my way back to the airport. I was the last on the plane (there is a really good bookshop there and I was torn between two books).....guess in my own subconcious I was hoping the trip had been cancelled.

We arrived in sunny Banjarmarsin at around 9am local time (8am Jakarta time). Only a brief stop at the last proper toilet (yes it was a squat, and it was foul because there was a toilet blocked next to it (with the door open) - BUT, that's the best toilet for the next 10 hours, so one does not complain.

Off we went in the landcruiser, the driver, my boss and I. For the next 4 hours, travelling just over 200 km, we dodged motorbikes, goats, trucks, buses and people. People everywhere. Where else can you go from 80km to 5km within a km, for hours on end, have kids doing sit ups on the road because the road is the only built up area in the village and even the school is on stilts in the water.

This is where I need to limit myself. I will go on about this if I don't watch myself. Driving through Kalimantan is the most bizare of experiences because.

  1. The countryside is diverse with people who are getting on with living a life that they have no ability to change - so you feel kind of lucky, here I am listening to music on my ipod, wearing my bvlgari glasses, in a landcruiser, all expenses paid, being paid to do it.

  2. The kids look like no other kids I have ever seen - they look really, really happy, riding these huge 1950's bikes, playing with friends, running along the road half naked, wrapped in their mothers baby ties (pathetic I don't know the names of these baby holders every mother here owns).

  3. The women all look so young. It is legal to marry at any age here, and there is no pre marital sex. So people get married at 13 or 14. Motherhood follows quickly.

  4. The endless villages - the houses just keep going for a good 200km. The mosques turn into catholic churches, then back to mosques. The stilt houses in the swamps become the tiled houses in the rainforests, rubber trees become rain forest, the beauty and the tragedy of the place really is hard to put into words.

  5. Waiting - there is no other word. Imagine living in a house that was the size of an average western kitchen. Now imagine cleaning it. Okay, now you still have another 8 hours until your husband comes home. Got a book - doubt it, you can't read, you left school to get what? Women wait on the balcony of their homes.....waiting for school to finish, waiting for life to? I don't know.

That's the first 200km down, another 200km to go. This part is full of potholes the size of a house (only a slight exageration (depends on the house you see)), rainforest everywhere. Not as many houses. This is the toughest part of the trip.

It takes between 8 and 10 hours to drive from Banjamarsin to Maura Tewah (central Kalimantan). This was a very good day. We decided with 2 hours left, let's try to get there so we can do the next leg of the journey today, not in the morning.

No sooner had we decided to get there quick, than we came to an abrupt stop. There was a fire in town. I offered to go ahead and see if I could help move the trucks off the road (all traffic had stopped and everyone helps with traffic in Jakarta). I ask the stupid naive questions, is the fire truck in the way - there is no fire truck my boss tells me (he already knows I'm an idiot concerning these things).

Lots of kids with buckets ran past, "but we are in a hurry, come on", more people run past with buckets (the stream was behind us).....10 minutes later the traffic moves, the house is still burning. The road was closed because that was the only place to pull the saved items. They were still smoldering, but had been pulled to the other side of the road.

Only after we went past did I think - hey, I should have taken a photo of this. The whole town was there, not to watch, but to try to stop the fire and try to recover something. Boy, you can feel really selfish sometimes.

We got to Maura Tewah at 4:30. That was really too late to go for a 2 hour boat ride up the river, but, we'd toyed with the idea for the last 2 and 1/2 hours, so we weren't giving up now.

We went to the mess to change into "mine clothes" and went back to the river. The water level was right down (it varies by about 15 m throughout the year). We set out at 5pm. At 5:30, it was pitch black. We share the river with logs being floated down in their hundreds, 3,000t barges full of coal (with tugs at each end) , local river boats, the odd random log, branches etc, just depends on whether any storms were recent. We had a tiny little light in front - very silly move, but we were working on getting back on Friday instead of Sat - we were motivated.


Shannon said...

Hey, Where is Borneo part 2?

Jakarta Rocks said...

I'm not motivated enough yet - soon.