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Published: March 2nd 2013
Tawau to Tarakan
Fishing platforms on the way to Tarakan
Kalimantan, I have been here for almost two weeks now and if I have noticed one thing is that you get somewhere near to nowhere on a daily basis. Not because the destinations I have been to are so far flung, but because transport is so slow, and this in turn it caused by the abysmal condition of the roads. It didn’t come as a surprise, I knew what to expect, and quite frankly I am exactly where I thought I would be after twelve days, in Samarinda.
What I didn’t quite realize is how expensive transport would be. You pay premium for crap rides in Kalimantan, and you don’t get very far or very much for it. If I didn’t have to pay so much for getting anywhere, I would be on half the budget I am on now. I have far exceeded my daily budget; it has doubled in fact, which I am not very pleased with. Ok, this isn’t completely fair, I also spent a lot of money in Derawan, on a cottage above turquoise waters full of green turtles, and on a couple of dives, and on a boat tour to see stingless jellyfish bobbing around
Mangrove forests in the tiny mangrove park in Tarakan
in a lake (by the way, they haven’t quite lost their touch, or so I discovered), and swimming with manta rays. Yes, Derawan also blew my budget, but I had counted on that, I had however hoped to compensate afterwards by living and travelling cheaply. But that turned out to be an illusion.
Instead of taking the usual route straight to Samarinda via Berau, a grueling twenty odd hour journey over some terrible roads, I decided to try an alternative road. It is not in the Lonely Planet, there is no information on it on the internet, but somebody on Derawan Island told me about a village called Biduk-Biduk, a mere six hours from Berau which was supposed to be very nice. A beach town, with nearby a clear blue lake combining fresh and salt water. I knew nothing about this place, obviously, but I made it out there, was dropped off at a friendly losmen with beach front location, and spent my time discovering the sights, watching the tides from my room and practicing my Indonesian with the locals.
The problem with out of the way locations which are not on the usual route is that getting
out of there can be quite hard. It was easy to reach it from Berau, not so easy to leave it, if I didn’t want to return to Berau but continue on to Samarinda that is. The day I was supposed to leave, the taxi never turned up, insufficient people to make the journey worthwhile, so it seemed. Next day, was, however, a winner, but what I thought would be a seven hour journey to Sangatta, turned out to be more of fifteen hour one, over scenic though rough logging roads. And because there are only two taxis operating this route, well, you can guess that the price was exorbitant.
Was it worth it? Yes and no. Yes because it was nice getting away from everything and I think the area has a huge potential for tourism. I was told by the locals that there are several islands nearby with turtles and good snorkeling, there are waterfalls, the lake with its clear blue waters and reasonable mainland beaches. On top of that the villages are quiet and peaceful and full of friendly locals. No, because the price I eventually had to pay to leave was a bit over the
top, but that is what you get for taking little used routes, so if you just look at value, perhaps it was not. But then again, if I had returned to Berau things would have been different. So, maybe the answer is a full hearted yes anyway.
I am glad I took the time to learn the basics of Indonesian, because out here you need it and it has provided me with some interesting conversations.
Meet Ancong for instance, a Kijang (shared taxi) driver from Tanjung Batu, where you get the boats to Derawan. A friendly fellow, who charged me hardly anything for what was in effect a chartered taxi (I had it all to myself), but also made sure I got local price on the speed-boat to Derawan.
As we drove towards Tanjung Batu he told me about his life and his dreams. Ancong, is on wife number four at the moment, because as he put it: ‘I love girls! After a few years I get tired of my wife and I look for another one. I can’t just stay with one woman. Even now, I have a girlfriend on the side.
Yep, Ancong liked
Kingfisher me thinks
to flirt and clearly monogamy was not his strong point. So, why marry in the first place you would think, a good question which I also asked. ‘Because it is easy, they cook for you, you have a nice bed to come home to, a house, it is very convenient.
’ Hmmm, I wonder what his wives had to say about that.
Ancong had two children, I didn’t quite find out with which wife he had them or if they were from different wives.
Ancong used to work in a shop, but he hated that job, so he became a Kijang driver, which he loved doing because ‘I can do what I want, I feel like I am free.
’ As for his dreams for the future, well… ‘My wife is from Derawan, the people there are rich, because they have hotels and take tourists on their boats to the other islands. When I have some more money I will open up a homestay in Derawan too and become rich and live on the island. This is the good life!
’ Makes you wonder if he married his current wife because of the connection.
Then there was Yuniarto from Biduk-Biduk
View of the former Sultans Palace across the river
who took me around on his motorcycle. Yuniarto had been working in Banjarmasin, but was now back in his village. He had a pick-up which he used to transport goods to and from Berau, this was how he made his living. Yuniarto spoke some English and combined with my Indonesian we could make a bit of conversation. It was Yuniarto who told me about all the attractions around Biduk-Biduk, about the islands, and the waterfalls.
Yuniarto wanted to go back to Banjarmasin, where he worked for Van Oort, a Dutch shipping company. His dream was to become a captain one day, I hope he does.
Finally there was the driver to Sangatta, the one who was prone to overcharging. I didn’t ask his name, and I didn’t talk much to him. But what I found out from observation was, that he liked to drive while handling two phones at the same time (over rather dismal logging roads). That somebody named Setan, which is Devil in Indonesian, kept trying to ring him, but that he didn’t pick up in all the fifteen hours I spent with him. I wondered if Setan was the name he had given his wife
Sunset over the river
on his phone. The Devil was persistent though, I will give him or her that. He did however talk to loads of other people on the phone, he was positively obsessed with either texting or phoning. It is a wonder he was able to drive at all.
He was greedy, which caused him to overload his Kijang with goods and people, which in turn caused the roof to buckle in and the back door to fly open at one point with one of the bags bouncing onto the road. The back door was a lost cause after that, he managed to close it again after considerable effort, but I suspect it will need to be repaired, along with the roof. I put it down to karma, his greed costs him his car in the end. It was an interesting ride, that is for sure.
And now? I am in Samarinda, contemplating how to minimise my spending. I will go upriver, maybe life is cheaper there. Probably not.
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