Tuesday, 29 June 2010
From Borneo Leana and I took the ferry East across the straits of Makassar to Sulawesi Island. Due to my illness and touristy side-shows we haven’t done much cycling since then. But first, let me continue where I left off last time. From Balikpapan in Borneo we continued North up the coast to the capital of East Kalimantan, Samarinda. Leana was keen on a boat trip to the interior, and in Samarinda we hired a guide and then took a bus up-river to KotaBangun where our water-trip began. The 3 days on a small long-tailed boat across a series of lakes and up remote jungle tributaries was rather interesting and enjoyable. Most of the villages and towns along our route are accessible by water only. We didn’t spot any Orang-Utang, but we did see quite a few of the indigenous long-nosed Proboscis Monkeys, as well as a variety of bird life (also Maribu Stork and large colourful Kingfisher). Overnight accommodation was in one of the village guesthouses, designed along the lines of one of the traditional long-houses of the region. Unfortunately I subsequently picked up a debilitating illness (perhaps Dengue Fever from the ferocious lake-land mozzies) – no sooner had we returned to Samarinda than I was confined to bed with fever and body pains. A couple of days later I dragged myself down to the ferry dock bound for Sulawesi – hoping for no more than just a place to lie down during the voyage. But it was not to be! As it turned out, our ferry was designed to carry less than 1000 passengers, but according to reports there were more than 4000 people aboard. As a result the floors were so packed with bodies that it was impossible to stand or walk indoors, so I eventually found a space on the open side-deck to roll out my sleeping mat (we sailed through a storm for most of the night, and we rode it out by wrapping ourselves in our ground sheets). To say the least, I was rather relieved to disembark at the port of Pare-Pare in Sulawesi 17 hours later. After a further 24 hours in a comfortable Pare-Pare hotel room it was time to move on towards the Tana Toraja region in the mountainous interior of the Island. Toraja is a popular tourist destination as the colourful locals have a distinctive “horned-roof” building style, there are various elaborate ceremonies (including funerals and harvest festivals), and the region is also very scenic. Now we’ve been in Rantapao – the largest town in Toraja – for 2 days already as I’m still trying to recover from my illness. We’ll probably move on tomorrow and make our way towards the city of Makassar, from where we should return to Java Island. Daily distances cycled since my last report from Balikpapan have been:- Loa Janan 126 km; Samarinda 13 km; Pare-Pare (to & from ferry) 3 km; Enrekang 86 km; Makale 80 km; and Rantapao 24 km. Distance cycled thus far in 2010 is about 6 100 km, and total distance cycled since Cape Town is 58 887 km.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
After the 22 hr ferry ride from Java, Leana and I were relieved to eventually wheel off into Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo). The final part of the voyage had been up the Barito River to Banjarmasin, and even in the gathering dusk we could see that many people here spend their life on and around the water. As Leana was unwell, we spent a couple of days in Banjarmasin, an interesting city disected by a maze of rivers and canals. During that time we took a tour in a small open slow-boat to experience the legendary floating market at dawn, as well as a late-afternoon cruise along the canals amongst the stilted houses to see local life up close. Eventually we cycled away from there via a lesser road, following canals and rivers in a Northerly direction. There are still many places in Borneo which are accessible only via waterways, as roads do either not exist in those places, or are periodically impassable. Thus, we were somewhat alarmed when our small paved road suddenly degenerated into a dirt track. The tropical climate, as usual in these parts, brings with it the heat and humidity and daily showers. And so, true to form, on our first day out we were forced to shelter from a storm before proceeding in the persistent rain. The wet road was fine until we suddenly found ourselves “up to our necks” in mean clay. Not only was it impossible to cycle in the sticky slippery mess, but the bikes soon became so clogged up that the wheels wouldn’t turn! There was no suitable camping space around, so we pushed (and dragged and slid) gradually onward, arriving at the small town of Margasari well after dark. There we camped in the local police station – I’m surprised that they were prepared to accommodate us as we must have looked worse than any self-respecting Orang-Utang. We haven’t seen any of those animals here yet, although we have now cycled through jungle and over the mountains which separate the Southern- and Eastern provinces. Again, as in Sumatra, we had more than our share of never-ending steep hills! Currently we are in the East-coast "oil-city" of Balikpapan, on the shores of a large estuary (and/or bay?). Right up to the end it was no easy task reaching this place. After a long day on the road we arrived at Pananjang on the opposite side of the estuary. The ferry crossing took more than an hour, and we were dismayed to discover that Balikpapan city was still some distance away from the ferry dock. Twenty kilometers and a few hours later we had traversed the tricky hilly road in the dark, and we’d survived the subsequent crazy traffic to arrive in the city. However, we were not yet home and dry – it was Saturday night and there was no room at the inn! After hours of searching it was close to midnight before we could eventually slump down in the crumby room of a suspect establishment. However, every dark tropical cloud has its silver lining – there was a nice TV in the room with SA Supersport channels! (We've since moved to a better hotel, where we even get toast with chocolate on it for breakfast). I’ve been catching up on SA Rugby, Cricket, and of course the FIFA World Cup - I’m not the only one. Around here the locals are crowding around big screens and TV’s at pavement cafes to watch the football (and Indonesia did not even make it to the finals!). Everybody knows about South Africa now (Afrika Seletan) – even here in Borneo. As a South African I’d always imagined that the end of the earth was probably not too far away from Borneo, but then it all depends on one’s perspective. Earlier our local river guide, after a long silence, had confided in me that he thought South Africa was a very faraway place! Now, Leana is suffering from a knee problem, probably due to all the steep hills - as soon as she's able we should move North up this East coast of Borneo towards Samarinda. Daily distances cycled since my last report from Surabaya have been:- Banjarmasin (to & from ferry) 24 km; Margasari 81 km; Kandangan 54 km; Tanjung 97 km; Muarakomam 92 km; Kuaro 57 km; and Balikpapan 141 km. Distance cycled so far this year is 5 827 km, and total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 58 555 km.
Thursday, 3 June 2010
Indonesia is currently an Islamic country, but this was clearly not always the case. The city of Yogyakarta in central Java is probably the premier tourist destination of the Island, mainly due to the ancient cultural relics in the area. The largest Buddhist temple in the world (8th century) stands in amazingly good condition at Borobudur, about 50 km from Yogyakarta. What adds to the attraction of this region is the number of impressive volcanoes all around, including the active smoking Merapi which towers close to the city. We also stopped over to take a look at the ancient Hindu temples at Prambanan (Leana went to the temples on her own as there is a fairly stiff entry fee for foreigners at these sights, and besides I could feel a bout of "Temple-Fatique" coming on - reminiscent of Egypt!). Otherwise Leana and I seem to be getting back into our routine. We've become re-acclimatised to the tropical conditions, and Leana's arm seems to be more-or-less OK. As I've mentioned before, the traffic on Java Island is very hectic, and I won't be at all sorry to leave that lot behind. The night before last, after a rather long day on the road, we arrived at the outskirts of the capital of East Java (Surabaya)at dusk. Finding our way to the "cheap-room" area in the city centre took all our patience and a lot of luck. We had a rest day in Surabaya yesterday, but last night our nerves were rattled again by a massive explosion close by (a gas storage warehouse just down the road blew up). Now we're literally waiting for our ship to come in - this afternoon we board a ferry, and hopefully we'll arrive at Banjarmasin (Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo) some time tomorrow. Thanks to Leana for the ferry ticket. Distances cycled since my last report from Pangandaran have been:- Cilacap 93 km; Kebumen 92 km; Borobudur 87 km; Prambanan 71 km; Solo 51 km; Caruban 121 km; and Surabaya 159 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town on this journey has been 58 009 km.