Day 149-151: Tawau to Tarakan, Indonesian Borneo

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June 23rd 2009
Published: June 29th 2009
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Tawau to Tarakan

Sony W290Sony W290Sony W290

Our new baby! What do you think?

June 24th

It's done! We've moved our flight back to South Africa to the 7th of October. Robbie at STA Travel in Hatfield made the change in the blink of an eye. The best service we got in all of our travels comes from South Africa. Makes you think...

Today's the day we leave Malaysia. We're heading to Tarakan in Indonesian Borneo, the province also known as Kalimantan. Though we had enjoyed Malaysia a great deal, we feel ready for something new.

After breakfast we walked around, looking for take-away lunch we can enjoy on the boat. We saw an electronics store. All thought of food ceased. We went in. We liked what we found. We walked out with a new Sony W290 compact digital camera.

Okay. Y'all probably think we're shopping crazy, but we're not... okay, maybe just a little. The thing is, since losing our previous Sony we've been using the Olympus, which should be our dedicated dive camera. Also, like we've said before, the Olympus is rubbish above water so Talita (who uses the compact camera) didn't shoot much pictures. We were going to look for a new camera in Indonesia anyway but the price
Ferry ticket officeFerry ticket officeFerry ticket office

Nobody could find that on their own
here was very good so we decided to go for it.

At 10:50 we left the hotel and walked to the wharf. Here we managed to buy ferry tickets to Tarakan and a friendly lady guided us through the chaos to the immigration counter. Without her help we might've gotten lost in all the confusion.

Our boat was scheduled to depart at 11:30. 45mins and one false start later we finally left port. While in Tawau we saw only two other tourists and that was at the embassy. We were the only tourists on the boat and a few friendly and curious locals would stand close by and observe us. Now we know what Orangutans feel like. One crazy dude babbled at us in Malay and scratched at his arms and face, all the while holding out his hand. We had no idea what he wanted, but we assumed it was money. We didn't have any money and he eventually left.

The trip to Tarakan took four hours. After the first hour we had to get our sarongs because the aircon must've been set to -10. We were freezing! By 3pm our extremities were almost frozen and we went to sit outside and thaw out.

We reached Tarakan around 4pm. After climbing over two boats and walking down a very long pier we reached immigration. Here they checked our temperature, presumably to make sure we don't have Influenza H1N1, searched our bags for who knows what, and then we cleared immigration.

Once all the formalities were done we headed in the general direction we guessed the hotels were. Everyone that passed us waved, shouted or hooted. Children followed us, laughing and chatting excitedly, and people stared at us like they've never seen tourists before. All too soon we'd find that that could actually be the truth.

The hotel the guidebook suggested was horrible to say the least. The best room was small, dingy, and had no shower - just a bucket with water and worms. We ditched that place in a heartbeat and went to another hotel, the Grand Taufiq. For the same price we got a big room with a king size bed, a nice bathroom and shower, plus TV. No toilet paper in the entire hotel though. Goes to show how few, if any, western tourists they see here.

So far
I'm rich!I'm rich!I'm rich!

This is what a gazzillion Rupiahs looks like
we'd met only one person who speaks English and that was at immigration. The rest of the population speaks only a few basic words; "No", "Yes", "Hallo mister" being the most popular and accompanied by much gesticulating. People here seem genuinely surprised that we speak anything other than Malay Bahasa or Indonesian Bahasa.

We dropped our stuff and walked into town looking for an ATM and an agent that could book flights to Bali. We found an agency (where one lady and one guy could speak English) but the flights were so expensive Ferdi nearly had a heart attack. While he walked off the shock he found an ATM and Talita finished trying to get a more reasonable price.

Coming from Malaysia, where almost everyone speaks English, this small town is a little intimidating. It's hard to find Internet access which makes us entirely dependent on the people here, with whom we are unable to communicate. It made us realize how lost we feel without the empowering luxury of the Internet.

We went home to see if we could make a less expensive plan. It seemed we had three choices:
1. Take a boat to the mainland and try to arrange transport from there (with the lack of English in the area we shudder at the very thought),
2. Spend two and a half days on a boat to Java (sounds too much like the dreaded slow-boat from Laos),
3. Fly to Java (and inflict massive damage to our budget).

After apologizing to our budget we decided to fly.

There's a strange lack of restaurants here. Luckily our hotel had one. Because none of the staff speaks English and the menu was in Bahasa we figured out what the words meant using our guidebook and wrote our order down. The food was real good but even though we wrote down our order they still got it wrong and Talita ended up with chicken in her rice and prawns in her fried veggies. She bravely picked out all the meat and ended up thoroughly enjoying the meal.

After dinner we watched a couple of movies then hit the hay. It was a loooong day!

Today's highlights:
1. Getting a new Sony camera.
2. Arriving in Indonesia.
3. Finding a nice hotel.

June 25th

This morning, after much prayer and mental preparation, we braved the streets of Tarakan in the hope of finding breakfast and a couple of plane tickets out of here. We found a grocery store and stocked up on Milo cereal, milk and some snacks. We also found Blueberry flavoured Fanta! Cool!

At the travel agency we got a flight out on the morning of the 27th. We won't fly to Bali but to Surabaya in East Java. It's the only financially viable option. Happy to have that sorted we went back to the hotel where we enjoyed our Milo breakfast and settled in for the day. There's nothing to do here so we spent the day reading and watching movies. We're very thankful to have a nice and comfortable room in which to spend our days here.

Today's highlights:
1. Booking plane tickets out of here.
2. Enjoying our first Milo breakfast.
3. Comfy room to chill in.

June 26th

Our morning was spent in an Internet spot not far from our hotel. We did some banking, researched dive sites and operators in Bali, and finally booked our flight to New Zealand. We'll arrive in Auckland on the 21st of July.

The afternoon was spent reading, watching movies and playing chess. We can't wait to get out of here tomorrow! The people are so friendly it's exhausting. All the attention is just too much. We're not cut out to be celebrities, but this place could be a narcissist's dream.

Today's highlights:
1. Successful morning organizing and arranging our travel plans.

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We are millionaires!We are millionaires!
We are millionaires!

That doesn't mean much in Indonesia

27th January 2010

My husband and I are headed to Tarakan this summer-he is a pilot with MAF. I visited him there last year when we were engaged and I can imagine what a difficult place it would be without knowing the Indonesian language! It is a place of hidden treasures though-if you ever get back to that part of the world head to Derawan-it has amazing snorkeling and scuba diving and is just an all-around beautiful place. I laughed when I read about the attention you got from the locals-it is overwhelming! My blonde hair and blue eyes don't help me blend in either! Hope the rest of your trip went well!

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