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Published: October 18th 2008
Kalbar - the name meant nothing when I first saw it. But the more I came across it - on banks, football guernseys, government signs; the more I pondered on its significance. Then in a moment of clarity, I took an educated guess and realised it was the usual Indon abbreviation - this time for Kalimantan Barat. With this knowledge in mind, I began to imagine a new country, pretty much isolated from the rest of the world. Just one road connection winding through highland country to Kuching, Sarawak. No roads as yet to the rest of Kalimantan and only a slow boat to Jakarta. Other than than, Kalbar depends on air transportation to connect to Asia. Capital of the province is the sprawling city of Pontianak, situated on the equator and a delta mouth of the state's major river system - the Kapuas basin. Other urban centres are the Chinese commercial centre of Singkawang, the old centre of power in Sambas, the isolated port and former pirate haven of Ketapang and developing towns on the Kapuas - Sanggau, Sintang and Putusibau.
I caught the early moning Eva bus from Kuching and armed with my recently acquired visa, cruised through
No visa on arrival facilities here
the border at Tebedu/Entikong. From the border, the narrow winding road makes its way south through upland Dayak villages to a T junction with a road running from the coast to the Kapuas river. I jumped off the bus here and caught a local minibus 50 kms east to Sanggau on the Kapuas. There isn't much to Sanggau, its pretty rough and is more a truckie stop on the long haul to Putusibau. But the river makes up for it - the Kapuas basin, the further you travel up it, is likened to a mini version of the Amazon in terms of size, volume of water and jungle catchment. I didn't have the time this trip to make it to Putusibau - next time. I had hoped to catch an express boat downriver to Pontianak but that turned out to be wishful thinking. The express boats I have become used to in Sarawak don't exist in Kalbar. So I wandered around in the wet in Sanggau, trying to find a decent hotel room with a window and a cafe that had cold beer. I found the first but not the second. Time was mainly spent on the riverbank watching the
After coffee in the morning at the ferry pier, I caught a minibus to Sungei Pinyu where the road to the interior meets the coastal road. It was a good run through village after village where churches were as numerous as mosques and we passed only one decent sized town - Ngabang. Arrived in Pinyu early afternoon, expecting to stay the night here but the 2 hotels on offer didn't meet my comfort zone. i don't think I want too much, just a reasonable standard of creature comfort but one I couldn't bring myself to walk into and the other reckoned they were full - think it was a brothel - lol. Pinyu is a bustling little market and transport hub as well as a fishing town but with no acceptable accommodation I decided to head 17 klms west to the talked about coastal town of Mempawah.
I had heard about Mempawah but didn't really know what to expect when I got there and was pleasantly surprised. Its only small but it has a certain charm and ambience. There is a nice wide river slowly flowing into the Natuna Sea, fishing boats and an air of
From a distance
tranquility about the place. Everything is calm - no bustle and noise. Even the hotel was well above expectation and cheap. It was dark when i got there so to wake up in morning and find out the back door of my room opened onto a balcony over the river with the sun rising through the forest was perfect for sipping coffee and enjoying the travelling life.
Next stop was Singkawang, 2 hours away up the coast. An easy bus ride, if a little bouncy and you entered a well laid out commercial city. Wide streets that crossed at right angles, great examples of 19th century Chinese shophouse architecture, mountains in the background and even a beach. Singkawang was settled by the Chinese after the gold ran out in Monterado (Indon abbreviation of Mt Eldorado) during the world gold rush fever of the mid 1800's. They created a busy commercial centre that still functions today. Plenty of hotels to choose from and you can even get a cold beer - trust the Chinese. Further to the west from Singkawang is Sambas which I will visit another time. You can also travel into the mountains from here past Monterado and
on to Bengkayang where the road forks either to Ngabang or on up to Serikin in Sarawak - not an official border crossing though. Will try to wander through this Dayak country another day but for now, I caught my reliable minibus transport back down the coast to Pontianak. Sitting next to me was a girl with the longest hair I have ever seen - it reached to her knees - pretty too.
The lady with long hair got off at Mempawah - I knew I liked that town. I continued on to Ponti but was a bit dismayed when the bus pulled into Batulayang bus terminal on the city's outskirts. I had become used to bus terminals being located near the centre of town; still it wasn't too difficult to get on a small City pick-up van and pretty soon I was in Pontianak central. It's big, it's noisy and it's dirty but somehow it absorbs you. The main street runs parallel to the river with Jalan Gaja Mada one street further back. Most of the new hotels are on Gaja Mada which becomes the scene at night with the young set enjoying kopi malam and checking things
out. I found the Queen Hotel about halfway along Gaja Mada which was reasonably priced (between 75,000 - 150,000 rph) depending on whether you want shared facilities or en-suite, big room or little room. My room was big but had a toilet with a seat, though not attached to the bowl as it turned out. It also had a hot shower and a window onto the street scene. It became my base to explore the town.
The waterfront is a hive of activity in the morning - full of trucks loading and unloading onto wooden ferries
that ply upriver to nearby settlements carrying passengers and goods. There were even a couple of Makassar schooners at the dock. The main port is further downriver where the ocean going cargo boats pull in. Ponti is built on the junction of Landek river and a distributary of the Kapuas. The peninsular in the middle is where the sultan built his palace. To get to it, catch a small ferry from the city ferry terminal to the mosque directly opposite and then walk into the palace grounds. Its an old wooden building in a state of decaying care but well worth the trip.
Wherever there is a mosque, there is a church
According to the caretakers there, the Sultan named the place after the things that flew by at night - the pontianaks (ghosts).
The other tourist sight in town is of course the Equator Monument. Its on the road out of town and can be reached by taking the car ferry across the river after the junction and catching a city bus heading out to the bus terminal. The monument is a replica shell enclosing the original marking which is two wooden pillars topped by a globe.
Other than that, Ponti yielded up a great place to get cold beer and watch the street happenings (coffee shop on corner of Diponegro and Gaja Mada) and some wonderful places to eat. Try Somai Bandung opposite the old Matahari mall for bakso. Also recommended is Friends cafe in side street next to Hotel Kini - it's a designer chic establishment but staff are friendly and food is excellent. In a street parallel to Hotel Kini is Frying Fish. Not it's name but an outdoor cafe conspicuous by the number of customers and the sizzling noise of Kapuas eel being fast fried in huge vats outside. Up somewhere behind the new Megamall
is a very trendy Balinese style restaurant where you eat exquisite food on banana leaf plates, reclining on raised bamboo platforms under the table.
There is no fast overnight ferry anymore to Jakarta. There is a fast ferry (6 hours) to Ketapang though. The trip back to Kuching was a night bus with the aircon on Antarctic setting - have had the flu ever since, but like Macarthur, I shall return.
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