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Published: December 15th 2015
Photo from Wikipedia, by Kalai
It’s durian season in Indonesia. Or at least in Kalimantan. For those who don’t know what a durian is, it is a fruit. It is often called the King of Fruit. The durian is the India of fruit. You either love it, or hate it. It has a very specific taste, some compare it to crème caramel, others to cheese, and yet others to shit. One thing everybody can agree on is that the durian has a rather pungent smell. You can smell it is durian season, and it isn’t a particularly nice smell. The smell of durian is so pungent that it is not allowed to be carried on airlines (not even in the hold), many buses likewise enforce strict no-durian policies, and if you are keen on a hotel room, it is best not to walk in carrying a bag of durians. The reason is not only that its smell is so pungent, but also because it is almost impossible to get rid of the aroma.
Unfortunately my bag smells of durian. This is because the buses I ride on, do allow durian. And they stow it on the roof, together with all the other luggage, covered by
a tarpauling in case it rains. When it doesn’t rain, and the sun is beating down on that tarpaulin, you can imagine how the smell of those durians melts into everything else that happens to be stored under there. Everything else included my backpack. For twenty hours my backpack shared a space with the durian. Maybe not right next to it, but under the tarpaulin it matters not. The result was a rather funky smelling backpack. A souvenir from my bus ride from Putussibau to Pontianak.
I took it into my room in Pontianak and within minutes my room had the same funky smell. The sweet stench of death. Oh you cursed durian! I took everything out of my backpack. Luckily my clothes are packed in zip-lock bags, the smell hadn’t penetrated that far, though it had attached itself to the outside of the bags. I took the contents out of the zip-locks and washed the zip-locks. I washed my backpack. I washed my necessaire. I aired everything. For days. It helped a little. Parts of my backpack are clear of the smell, parts not. The lingering smell of durian still stubbornly clings to the top section of my
Jutta, Charlie (my German friends from Putussibau) and me on the beach of Pasir Panjang
bag. And mind you, it is more than a week ago that this happened. I fear the waft of durian shall remain with me for a long time still.
As an aside, I was planning on starting this blog with a picture of the fruit. Since I didn’t have one yet, I went out in search of a good shot. But the bane of the durian has struck again. The once ubiquitous durian, sold on every street corner, was nowhere to be found. Murphy’s Law! Wikipedia came to my assistance. The photo is not mine, it is from somebody called Kalai. God bless him.
I stayed only long enough in Pontianak for my backpack to dry. My next destination was up along the coast, towards Singkawang. As luck would have it, my German friends in Putussibau were in town. And they had a car. And they offered me a lift. Because they had to go up that way. I warned them about my durian smelling bag. They decided to take the chance and allowed me to ride with them, bag and all. We went to Singkawang, but wanting to see the sea, we opted to stay at a
beach resort. A cheap hotel would have had our preference, but what we got was an overpriced empty resort. It was that or another overpriced empty resort. Choices were thin on the ground. At least we got to see the sea! And arrived in time for a beautiful sunset.
Sunrise was less impressive. It rained. And it rained. And we left. And I went my way and they went theirs. Mine led to Singkawang proper. Theirs back to Putussibau. I am grateful for their generosity. Not only for the lift, but also for the beers they shared with me, and the dinners they paid for me. It’s not only friendly locals you meet when you travel.
So Singkawang it was for me. One day in this Chinese majority town, where men from Taiwan come in search of brides, or so they say. Brides were not on my mind though. Just a stroll around town. I strolled and saw Chinese temples. I strolled and I saw Chinese food. I strolled and I saw Chinese Indonesians. And all the time I strolled I was greeted with ‘Hello Mister!’ A foreigner in these parts is hard to come by.
Fishing man taking in his line
left Singkawang and went to Pemangkat in search of another beach. I didn’t find one, but I did find a rather nice hotel situated on a bluff, where the river drains into the sea. My room hung over the brown silty water of the river, my view to one side was the sea, to the other the river. Fishing boats puttered by. All was serene. Another empty hotel. Rainy season beach or waterfront hotels are ghost hotels. But the owner was friendly and the price was right. If Singkawang gets few tourists, then Pemangkat gets less still. Once every six to eight months a white man passes by, so the landlord told me. My entrance in Pemangkat was noted. Excitement followed wherever I went. ‘Bule’ the colloquial word for white man, was whispered or shouted as I passed houses. Giggles could be heard, wide eyed stares could be seen. Was this ‘bule’ real?
He was, but he has left. They will have to wait at least six months for the next one to come along, me thinks. He left for Sambas, up the same river his hotel was located on. Last stop on his tour of Kalimantan. Sambas, a
former sultanate, a trading town since time immemorial. It’s enjoyable, it has an old palace, nice waterfront views, and a small town vibe. An agreeable little town all in all. Like all the towns I have passed through along the coast, tourists are a rarity. For now I am the town’s entertainment. But soon I shall leave. Onwards. Kalimantan has been good to me, but the next island beckons. I bring it the smell of durian as a gift.
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