Have you rented the Ring of Fire documentary series yet?! The fascinating villages and indigenous people depicted in the Borneo segment still exist. Narrow boats still glide along narrow rivers, through dense jungle, past orangutans and tribal villages with long houses and incredible tribal rituals, customs and ceremonies. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

We’d been talking to our travel-mates and reading up on our options ahead of time. It would be more difficult than hoped to get to Sintang or Putupissau, where the boats are, but then Jennifer found a way. We said our final goodbyes to Anna and Lorna at their hotel in Ketapang (following an interesting 90 minute, front-seat drive past countless villages and interesting glimpses of typical West Kalimantan. Nothing extraordinary, except that it was extraordinary. Such diverse lifestyles on this planet).

We headed straight for the small airport, where we’d spend far too much time at over the next few days. Every flight was full for days -to anywhere. And just piecing that information together was seriously challenging. The small ticket desks were sometimes staffed but often not. Their hours were not consistent or clear. Different people said different things. One person suggested taking the overnight long boat from the small jetty, but we’d already suffered that sort of experience and neither of us wanted to repeat it. I drew a simple picture of the boat we feared it was, and the local woman there validated our fears. We brainstormed in the small warung across the street where my “Mie Goreng” was just boiled packaged raman (Good thing I like that sort of thing). Realizing that our Plan A was falling apart and that we’d need to spend the night there, we set off to find a room, and a motorbike. Both were crummy, but good enough for starters until we traded both in the next day. Our room was in a strongly felt Muslim hotel: Muslim staff (friendly); Muslim breakfast (6:00 – 8:00); Muslim Call to Prayer at odd hours; and stickers on the ceiling that pointed to Mecca, to help with the daily prayers.

We returned to the airport, which was a lost cause. Same struggles. Same non-answers. We’d do this several times each day, trying to get help and find a way out. One time, we attracted the attention of someone who phoned the airline representative at his house. He came to meet us at the airport -seemingly happy to help. He arranged a flight for us, and as we were about to hand him the money, he said he needed to check something and would be right back. We sat in the empty airport and waited for his return, and waited, and waited. After nearly 2 hours, we realized that he was not coming back. It’s not in the Indonesian culture to say “no”. This was just one example of several that we’ve experienced where an Indonesian would rather leave us sitting there indefinitely than tell us something can’t be done.

We made the best of things. Ketapang is a small, flat, plain, grid-like, busy little city. (No building taller than 3 stories). It was great to have a motorbike -especially the better one we rented (Note to self: mirrors are important). One night we were heading along the main road, coming back from the airport (again), and saw some sort of beautiful ceremony happening along the roadside under a large, open makeshift tarp. We got off the bike to watch from across the street, and immediately drew attention and turned heads and smiles. We were waved over, and learned that it was a wedding ceremony. At the far side, the bride and groom sat in a center niche, while the pairs of parents sat on either side. Lots of blue drapery and gorgeous flowers surrounded them. Street ushers invited us in, and resisted our appologies for wearing sweaty, dirty, clothes that were not appropriate. Soon, dozens of guests were waving us in to join them, and we became the attraction of the event amid clamour and giggles. They escorted us to the front of the food line, where we prepared our own Bakso (noodle and veggie soup), and they cleared way for us to sit in the front row, just feet from the bride and groom. Behind us, a crowd of at least 100 guests watched our every move, and smiled and waved at us. We greeted the wedding party, who were all so gracious and beautifully dressed, and ate our dinners while we mumbled under our breath about how surreal and fun this was. An usher tried to solicit a karoeke performance from me (following a guy who could REALLY sing), but I had to draw the line somewhere. Once we finished eating, we were requested to stand with the wedding party for photographs, as we looked out into a sea of cameras and smiling onlookers sitting in their small, colorful, plastic chairs, utterly entertained by the 2 foreign wedding crashers. Within 45 minutes it was over, as we felt our time had come to give the spotlight back to the real stars of the event. We slid some money into the 2 vessels near where the parents sat, and drove away to a hundred waving new friends, many of whom were blowing us kisses.

We felt great as we headed back home, not quite believing what had just happened. 2 minutes later, we saw another similar ceremony -albeit a bit smaller, happening again across the same sreeet. This scene had a lot of gold and yellow about it, and turned out to be a ceremony for an Islamic school. Again, the ushers and guests saw us, and welcomed us in, and the whole thing repeated itself (except we explained that we’d just eaten dinner). Again, many, many photos were taken of us, with many different kids and parents and grandparents wanting in on the action. And again, it was really fun, and surreal. And again we were ushered off with smiles and waves and kisses.

While trying to leave Ketapang, we made the most of it. Sometimes I explored the far reaches of the town on motorbike while Jennifer rested or read. This included meeting the crew and speedboat that we had passed on earlier. Turns out it was a different type than described–big and comfortable –we would’ve grabbed that opportunity had we known. One day we had fun scouring several used clothing stalls. Another time we went on a search for just the right prayer rug for Jennifer’s meditation, which lead to a particularly likable gang of young women employees at an otherwise empty clothing store, who loved posing for the camera -as did most people we met. Another time, as we explored a quiet neighborhood one dark evening, we turned the engine off and just listened to the many different calls to prayer wafting simultaneously from all directions near and far. It was a beautiful experience.

We finally decided to change tacts and fly to Pontianak, a large city and transport hub to the north that -as Lonely Planet said- would have plenty of options to get to wherever we wanted to go.


Java 010


J_borneo and Java 123









Java 009













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