Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SEA for Ourselves: ReBorneo

Have you rented the Ring of Fire documentary series yet?! The fascinating villages and indigenous people depicted in the Borneo segment still exist. Narrow boats still glide along narrow rivers, through dense jungle, past orangutans and tribal villages with long houses and incredible tribal rituals, customs and ceremonies. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

We’d been talking to our travel-mates and reading up on our options ahead of time. It would be more difficult than hoped to get to Sintang or Putupissau, where the boats are, but then Jennifer found a way. We said our final goodbyes to Anna and Lorna at their hotel in Ketapang (following an interesting 90 minute, front-seat drive past countless villages and interesting glimpses of typical West Kalimantan. Nothing extraordinary, except that it was extraordinary. Such diverse lifestyles on this planet).

We headed straight for the small airport, where we’d spend far too much time at over the next few days. Every flight was full for days -to anywhere. And just piecing that information together was seriously challenging. The small ticket desks were sometimes staffed but often not. Their hours were not consistent or clear. Different people said different things. One person suggested taking the overnight long boat from the small jetty, but we’d already suffered that sort of experience and neither of us wanted to repeat it.

I drew a simple picture of the boat we feared it was, and the local woman there validated our fears. We brainstormed in the small warung across the street where my “Mie Goreng” was just boiled packaged raman (Good thing I like that sort of thing). Realizing that our Plan A was falling apart and that we’d need to spend the night there, we set off to find a room, and a motorbike.

Both were crummy, but good enough for starters until we traded both in the next day. Our room was in a strongly felt Muslim hotel: Muslim staff (friendly); Muslim breakfast (6:00 – 8:00); Muslim Call to Prayer at odd hours; and stickers on the ceiling that pointed to Mecca, to help with the daily prayers.

We returned to the airport, which was a lost cause. Same struggles. Same non-answers. We’d do this several times each day, trying to get help and find a way out. One time, we attracted the attention of someone who phoned the airline representative at his house. He came to meet us at the airport -seemingly happy to help. He arranged a flight for us, and as we were about to hand him the money, he said he needed to check something and would be right back.

We sat in the empty airport and waited for his return, and waited, and waited. After nearly 2 hours, we realized that he was not coming back. It’s not in the Indonesian culture to say “no”. This was just one example of several that we’ve experienced where an Indonesian would rather leave us sitting there indefinitely than tell us something can’t be done.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: SEA for Ourselves: ReBorneo