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.