Borneo Again

We awoke to bid farewell to Ketapang. We had liked our stay, surprisingly. We returned our motorbike, and were each driven to the airport via motorbikes  –in my case driven by a craaazy driver. Our departing flight was an hour late, which allowed me time to sit with the others to watch a World Cup game -something I did whenever possible of late. Indonesia was as caught up in it as anywhere.

After an hour’s flight we arrived in Pontianak, where this entire adventure had started 2 weeks earlier. It’s a small airport, but busy. We were immediately met by a pleasant young man who offered his help for our getting to Putussibau or Sintang. Though Pontianak sits on the mouth of 2 large rivers, he claimed that there were no longer boats that went where we were headed. We nearly agreed to let him take us to the bus station for a long ride eastward until we learned it was an overnighter -with non-sleeper seats. Mutually passing on that opportunity is a sign that we’re getting older. Besides, everything happened too fast, and our options were still unclear, and we couldn’t believe that our newish Lonely Planet book could be so wrong. We needed to sit down and run through our options.

Three hours later -we still sat, dejectedly at a small cafe table, taking turns setting off to ask varied agents questions or to doublecheck schedules and tripplecheck destinations– we finally let go of the entire pursuit of Borneo and the Dayak tribes, and vowed to line everything up better next time, and decided to do the next best thing: go somewhere new. So we bought plane tix to the island of Java, giving us 2 days to explore Pontianak first.

A crazy, rush hour taxi ride to a cheap room chosen from our book gave us our first detailed look at Pontianak. It’s big, flat, not especially attractive, and the streets very busy. We also learned that motorbikes are not popular because thefts are common (this helped explain the car congestion), and that they are not rented out. Ugghh. Our 3 story hotel was hidden behind a motorcycle shop, which one needs to pass through to reach the lobby. The hotel and our room was surprisingly nice, and quiet. After settling into our room, we set off in search of dinner at a short list of Lonely Planet recommended restaurants. One of my complaints against LP is its maps, and scale. We walked a looong way that first night, aside noisy traffic and upon unkempt and uneven sidewalks, only to find the place closed down. So back we walked -and then some- until we finally reached our second choice restaurant. It was a large, plain, stark, vacuous room, with office furniture tables and chairs given a second life. It did a great business as a popular seafood restuarant. (The next night we sat in another vacuous restaurant, one much more elegant -but were the only customers).

Our following breakfast was at a nearby corner place that was packed with locals. We immediately drew attention and stares -and (me) flirty comments and glances from the young staff women.  : )  A guitarist and violintist wandered amongst the tables playing beautifully together. I appreciated their rendition of “Yesterday” and they appreciated it when I said “Kemarin!!” (yesterday) and tipped into the little sack attached to the guitar neck.

We caught a trishaw to a riverside park, where we were befriended by a very likable young Indonesian man who sat and talked with us for a long while. He and his wife awaken every morning at 4:00 to pray towards Mecca. As we were saying goodbye, in reference to the World Cup, he said that the only thing he liked about Germany was the Nazi’s. Upon seeing our confused faces, he quickly said he was kidding, but his words stayed with us. Several days later, while in Java, we’d see something that would make us feel that maybe he was not kidding.

While Jen went into a large department store, I explored the neighborhood. I followed a narrow, empty boat-jammed, dirty canal 5 minutes to find that it emptied into the wide, muddy river. It struck me that we were in the thick of the shanty riverside communities that we first saw 2 weeks earlier from our speed boat to Sukadana at the start of our eco-tour.

We caught a Bemo back towards home. These are small vans that go up and down the streets, frequently stopping for riders. They are ridiculously cheap, but ridiculously barren of comfort: two wooden planks rest atop buckets, and run lengthwise, and up to a dozen people can crowd onto them. Getting in or out of the back door is not easy. But Bemo’s are fun, and authentic, and we enjoyed our brief conversations with the curious locals, who carried bags and baskets of fruits and vegetables.

We were a block from home, but I had my bearings now and wanted to show Jen the river. We entered a maze of narrow footpaths past run-down dwellings. An open space appeared, with cemetary plots on both sides of the path, and a bench that we took advantage of. Off in the distance, a group of kids yelled out to us, and when we smiled and waved back, they came running. Several had toy guns. We took shelter from some rain under a small overhang nearby, as a boy came to tell us that his mother -watching from across the lot- had invited us over. The children were very excited as we scurried over to a fast-swelling group of adults and kids. We drank tea and ate crackers under their porch overhang, and talked. I wowed them with my “removable thumb” and “eyeball” tricks. We were told that all of them in this immediate neighborhood -some 93 families- were related: aunts, uncles, and cousins, sibs, etc.

After a while, a dozen of the kids were excited to show us the river, which was a minute’s walk away. Jen and I took cover from the rain under a mosque’s overhang, where a crowded cluster of stillted, run-down shanty dwellings met the river. The kids and teens hammed it up by jumping / spinning / sommersaulting into the filthy (and crocodile-friendly) river over and over, competing for our attention. Nearby, older women used the same river to wash clothes in. This was all really fun, and one of the highlights of this entire eco-tour adventure.

We flew away the next morning. Borneo had not been the experience that we expected and hoped for. And we are sure to return sometime and see that Dayak adventure through. But this brief experience was uplifting, and a great note on which to leave Borneo.

-matt

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