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Borneo Day 8: Friday, July 28, 2017

Snacks on motorcycle

On our way to the Meratus Mountains, we traveled along the Jalan Achmed Yani through Martapura and on to Rantau and Kandangan. The road was busy, and we passed people on their way to market. This person is carrying an entire snack stand on his motorcycle.

Today was the most amazing experience we have had so far, and that is saying something. We traveled to Loksado, a four-hour journey into the Meratus Mountains, floated down the Amandit River through a tropical rain forest on a bamboo raft, walked to a Dayak village and a waterfall, saw rubber plantations and cinnamon trees, and ate some great Indonesian dishes.

Banjarmasin combo-s

A satellite image of the Banjarmasin area of southern Borneo overlaid on a 3D model using data from the USGS Earth Explorer website. The route to Loksado took us through Banjarbaru and Martapura and turned to the northeast, paralleling the Meratus Mountains through Rentau and Kandangan, where we turned into the mountains to Loksado.

When I first sent a list of possible things we’d like to do to Nazar back in May, I asked rather timidly if it were possible to visit the Dayak people and Meratus Mountains. He responded that it would take two days to do and would not work in our schedule. I knew that was likely to be the case, so I accepted his reasons.

But when we landed at the airport, he told us that he had made a change in the schedule and got permission from the headmaster for us to miss school on Friday to go to Loksado after all. He had to still work out some details and negotiate a cost with a friend who would be our guide, and he would have us pay for the trip, which we willingly agreed to.

Loksado area

The area around Loksado, showing the main road (in white) and the path of the Amandit River, which we rafted along. Loksado does’t even show up as a village.

After a few days here, he told us he had worked out the details and the total cost, for three people on the raft, and gas, meals, and guides for six people would be $150 U.S. An incredible deal! I still can’t believe it was only that much. Craig and I divided the cost so it only came to $75 each, which is about one million rupiah.

Main highway

This is the main highway from Martapura through Rantau and Kandangan. Sometimes it is wider (about three lanes worth) and usually it had much more traffic than at this spot.

Here is what the Swiss Belhotel website has to say about Loksado:

Isolated area located in South Kalimantan is popular by the name Loksado, a sub-district in Regency of headwater of South River which became a Dayak Tribe’s house where they can live everlasting with the splendid landscape. To reach out this place, you will explore the heart of Meratus highlands about two and a half hours from Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan. Next, be ready to get drift with the magnificence panorama of tropical forest which decorated with waterfall and rivers that split the forest.

Despite some English problems, you can get the idea that this is an amazing place. Loksado is located in the Hulu Sungai Selatan Regency. Indonesia is divided into provinces, which are somewhat equivalent to our states but not as independent from the federal government. Each province is divided into regencies, which are like counties. Banjarmasin is the largest city in its regency. The school in Mandastana is in Kuala Barito regency.

Mother and daughter

A mother and daughter on their way to market in Rentau.

Nazar’s friend and our driver, Budi, picked us all up at the hotel at 8:30. There were six of us in a small minivan: Budi and Nazar in the front seats, Craig and I in the middle, and Nazar’s wife and oldest daughter in the back. We headed southeast out of Banjarmasin on the main road past the airport, east through Banjarbaru and Martapura, and onward. The road turned toward the northeast as we got closer to the southern hills of the Meratus Mountains. It was cramped, and my right leg started to hurt, but with some isotonic exercises I was able to endure. The road had two full lanes with just enough room for two cars to pass each other, but often there were motorcycles zooming in and out, or we were passing one, or trying to pass a slower truck or car. Budi would announce his intent to pass with a beep of the car’s horn, as if to say “On your right!” or “Get over!” Sometimes there were close calls as motorcycles (or us) narrowly escaped being caught by oncoming traffic. Yet somehow it all worked and we saw no accidents, or even crumpled fenders.

Rantau marketplace

The marketplace in Rentau. You can always tell a market because the motorcycles are packed together and it is the busiest part of any town in the mornings.

The road was elevated above the countryside and houses had been built along it on stilts to keep them above the low-lying swampy ground. I tried to take some photos through the window, but most of them turned out blurry. We passed through the larger town of Rantau, with busy marketplaces and mosques, then continued on. I was longing to stretch my leg, but by changing positions frequently was able to make do.

Rubber plantation

A plantation of rubber trees. These are too small to start harvesting the latex sap, but will be large enough in a few years. As we got to more hilly ground, these plantations became numerous.

The surrounding countryside became more hilly and I started to see we were passing groves of thin trees with mottled trunks of grey, tan, and green, planted in even rows. Nazar told me that they were rubber trees. A bonus! I’d wanted to see a rubber plantation, and here we were driving through them. They don’t like to grow in the low lying areas, which are more wet and used for rice cultivation, so they became more frequent as we approached the hills. There were also palm tree groves, used for making palm oil.

Coal boss house

Guarded gateway for one of the coal boss houses. This is one of the mansions we saw on our way to Loksado.

In some of the small towns along the way we saw enormous, ornate houses. Budi told us that these were the houses of the coal bosses, who own and run the large coal mines in the area. The coal deposits are in the foothills of the Meratus Mountains and a series of unpaved private roads has been built to transport the coal to the Barito River or to the sea for loading on barges, like the ones we’d seen on the river. Green trucks could be seen driving along these roads as we passed over them on bridges. Before these roads were built, the trucks used the highway we were on (the only one in the area) and it had caused bad congestion and many accidents.

Coal road

One of the roads built specifically to transport coal from the mines in the mountains to the Barito River, where it can be shipped by barge to ports. I had seen the barges, now I saw the trucks.

We crossed into Hula Sungai Selatan Regency and the main city of Kangangan. It started to rain heavily as we reached the city, but let up enough for us to leave the car. We stopped at a restaurant in the marketplace and ate ayam goreng (fried chicken) with green chili sauce, rice, seaweed (I think), cucumber slices, and a sprig of a mint plant served on a banana leaf. We ate it with our right hands. It was very tasty and I quite liked the green chili sambal. It was good to stretch my leg.

Buka-open

Kandangan after the rain. We stopped for ayam goreng (fried chicken) at a restaurant here.

Beyond Kandangan we turned into an even narrower road toward the east. Before long, it wound up into the foothills and wound through small villages. We rolled down the windows and enjoyed the cooler, freshly washed air. The call to noonday prayer was beginning, and Budi wanted to stop since this is the most important Friday prayer. After passing several mosques we stopped in a small village along the road at a mosque Budi was familiar with. Nazar, his wife, and Budi went into the mosque to pray while we walked around the village and took photos. I found it incongruous that the somewhat primitive looking houses had satellite dishes on their roofs. Chickens and baby chicks wandered around, roosters crowed, and we took photos of the houses and children. Then I heard a strange call coming from behind us, of some exotic bird (I thought). I walked back and discovered it was coming from a wooden cage we had passed. It was a dark grey monkey with lighter fur around its eyes. I also saw what looked like a cacao tree nearby.

Pausing for prayer

We paused in a small mountain village for noontime prayers at a small mosque. While the others were praying, Craig, Nazar’s daughter, and I explored the town.

After prayer, we continued into the mountains. The road became steep in places, taxing the power of the small minivan. The forest grew more lush and green, and we passed mountains and streams, crossed wooden bridges that I wouldn’t have dared to walk across, let alone drive a car, and finally arrived at Loksado, a small village at the headwaters of the Amandit River.

Incongruity

Houses in a village in the Meratus Mountains. The houses here were of different design and construction than the Banjarese houses along the rivers in the south. The satellite dish is a bit of an incongruity.

It had been a fascinating drive, seeing more of the countryside and everyday life of villages and towns in the hills. Now it was time for yet another adventure.

Village in mountains

Houses in a mountain village where we paused for noontime prayers. Notice the satellite dish – these remote towns are not without their modern conveniences.

Mountain village shy kids

Shy kids in a village in the Meratus Mountains.

Small town mosque

Small mosque in a village in the Meratus Mountains. The noontime prayer was being called as we traveled through these villages, so we stopped for prayers and explored the village.

Banana trees

Banana trees in a village in the Meratus Mountains of south east Borneo.

Bend in the road

Past the village where we stopped for prayers, the road became more twisting and the scenery more lush and green

Approaching mountains

Pathway into the rain forest. As we drove further into the mountains, the lush greenery rose on hillsides around us and small paths like this one beckoned us to explore.

Bridge to cross

One more bridge to cross before we reach Loksado. And this is the main highway . . .

 

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Borneo Day 5: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

IMG_4152

The pool at the Swiss Belhotel Banjarmasin

We were back at the hotel early enough that I got a chance to rest and relax at the pool. The Swiss Belhotel Banjarmasin has a very nice pool with a patterned blue tile bottom that is quite inviting. Craig was already enjoying the pool when I arrived, and we were the only two in the pool until about 5:30 when others started coming out of their hotel rooms. I swam a few laps and exercised my legs, which needed stretching.

Right at sunset the call to prayers began, and the buildings reflected the sound of the muezzins of several mosques as they recited the adhan and read sections from the Quran. One mosque in particular seemed loudest or most nearby, but it was hard to tell which based on the reflection of the sound. As the sunset progressed, the clouds shaded from white to yellow to orange to pink. They were morphing and transforming as they moved slowly across the sky, and swallows wheeled about searching for mosquitoes to eat.

There were small kites flying high in the air, and occasionally we would see one flying and tumbling through the sky without a string. This happened several times, and I asked Nazar about it later. He said the kites are flown for fun, but that the kids who fly them like to have kite wars. They fly near others and try to break their strings. That explains why several kites seemed to be zooming around each other.

Sunset

Sunset over Banjarmasin. Small kites are flown near the river, and the children who fly them often have kite wars. We saw several kites with their strings broken tumbling through the air.

As sunset faded into twilight the prayer call from the nearby mosque continued quite a bit longer than any others. Craig went inside but I stayed and listened and watched. The swallows headed home to their nests and were replaced by bats fluttering in the air, also looking for mosquitoes. Darkness came and the stars shone out. I walked to the parking lot again and looked at the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri as the prayer continued. It was an interesting experience, looking at unfamiliar stars with the unfamiliar sound of the muezzin rising and falling in the sky.

I also asked Nazar questions about the call to prayers and how it is done in Indonesia the next morning. I know some things based on my World Religions class many years ago at Brigham Young University, but Nazar explained more and how it is practiced in Indonesia. Islam requires five acts of faith, called the Five Pillars. One is a submission of will to Allah as the One God and Muhammad as His prophet (the Kalimah). This is done through the salat, or call to prayers, that all believers need to do, bowing to Mecca five times per day. The phraseology depends on which sect of Islam one practices (Sunni, Shi’a, or Zaidiyyah) and is called the adhan, so a muezzin is also called a Mu’adhan, or One Who Recites the Adhan.

Silver tower mosque

A mosque near our hotel that has an especially powerful loudspeaker system.

The exact timing of the calls depend on the phases of the moon and the lunar calendar, but generally the first prayer is early in the morning between 4:30 and 5:30 (we heard this call as we floated up the river on Sunday). There is a late morning prayer, noon time prayer, afternoon prayer, and evening prayer at sunset. Friday afternoons are a special prayer, with longer length, where all believers are expected to attend a mosque.

If people cannot go to a mosque to pray, the muezzin’s call acts as a reminder to pray wherever you are. All that is required is purity before God, symbolized by washing of the feet, hands, head, and other parts of the body. This is why there is a small pool near the school’s mosque (or taps for water near the junior high mosque). Friday evening prayers are especially important; all people are expected to attend a mosque for this, as it starts the Saturday Sabbath observance. The prayer call can be of various lengths depending on what section of the Quran the Imam chooses to have read.

The position of muezzin is important at each mosque (or masjid) as the people around rely on him to know the specified times for prayer, which can change depending on the time of year and phase of the moon. Evening prayer begins at sunset, so the muezzin must know when it sets even on a cloudy day. They are chosen for their character and the quality and loudness of their voices. Before the age of microphones, the calls were done from the top of the mosque’s minaret so everyone could hear. Now they are broadcast via microphone and loudspeaker. In some cities, it is possible to hear several muezzins calling at the same time, in different melodies, from different mosques, in stereophonic sound.

Central mosque 4

The modern styling of the Sabilal Muhtadin mosque in Banjarmasin. The towers near mosques are minarets, from which the muezzins would traditionally call people to prayers.

Another of the Five Pillars is the Haji, or pilgrimage to Mecca expected of all Muslims at least once during their lifetimes. Nazar said that it is difficult either for money or for time for all people to go, but when the desire comes you must obey that wish and go. Those who do go are given a higher status in their community and are considered to be especially devout. The final pillar is the month long daytime fast during Ramadan.

I expressed how many similarities Islam has to my own religion. I am impressed by Islam’s focus on purity of thought and modesty of dress, and on the type of devotion and dedication it takes to follow all of the daily and lifetime expectations and observances. My own religious requirements as a Latter Day Saint (Mormon) seem pretty simple by comparison.

We talked about how religion is practiced in the United States as we drove to school, before the topic turned to other matters. I was glad to understand more of how religion affects the daily lives of the teachers and students and people of Kalimantan. I wish all Americans could get the chance to meet these people; perhaps they would learn not to fear, as knowledge and faith will always replace fear.

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Jakarta Day 6: Thursday, July 20, 2017

Aqua mosque

Mosques (masjid) come in a variety of designs and colors. Some commonalities are the domed tops and tall minarets, used for broadcasting the call to prayers by the muezzin.

On our way back to the hotel, we passed along the expressway and I noticed the wide variety of mosques (masjid) throughout the city. No two are alike, and they are often brightly colored with ornate metallic domes or minarets. I’m used to the frequent LDS chapels all over Utah Valley, which are very similar to each other in appearance because they are built on common master plans. These mosques vary in interestingly different ways. Some neighborhoods have large mosques in good repair, others were smaller or older, their paint more faded or their metal domes a bit tarnished or tilted. I don’t know why one mosque would be in good repair and another not; perhaps some become more popular depending on the imam or muezzin. These get more donations and can build better-maintained mosques. Maybe there are other reasons.

Blue dome mosque

Mosque with blue dome and golden domed minaret.

I saw that some mosques were small, attached to individual businesses. Even smaller businesses that can’t afford a mosque dome will have a musholla, or prayer room. I saw these as I was at restaurants and had to visit a bathroom – I would look into the musholla. They have a padded floor for kneeling; believers take off their shoes at the door and kneel down to pray with hats or hijabs on their head, the men in front and the women in back. The attitude is one of submission to Allah, acknowledgement that He is the One God and Muhammad is his prophet.

Green mosque

Green and gold mosque.

Although attendance at mosque during prayers is encouraged, the only mandatory time is the Friday afternoon prayer, when the entire community is required to attend. In many Islamic countries, this is the start of the holy day, from Friday noon to Saturday noon. In Indonesia they don’t practice the holy day observance, based on the saying in the Quran that the people should pray on Friday and then “disperse.”

Observatory dome mall

This isn’t a mosque, but is a very unique building that is part of a shopping mall. It looks like some sort of hydraulic observatory.

At other times, people can pray wherever they are at. Even hotel rooms will often have arrow decals stuck on the ceiling, pointing toward Mecca so that guests can know which direction to kneel to pray.

Taj Mahal mosque

These photos were snapped out the window of our bus on the way back to the hotel. This particular mosque looks similar to the Taj Mahal in styling even if the color scheme is simple.

We arrived back at the hotel, ate lunch at the buffet, and had a brief meeting in the conference room to prepare for our flights to our host cities the next day. I spent the balance of the evening eating snacks in my room and uploading photos. I have been using Photoshop to clean up the best photos as I take them so I won’t have a huge backlog upon returning home. I’ve been sending them to Becca attached to e-mails, and she’s been posting them on her Facebook account, which reaches over 700 friends. Once I get these blog posts written and edited, I will have all the photos ready. Then creating the actual posts will proceed rapidly. I have also been uploading my cleaned photos to the group Google Drive account so others can share them. I also packed up my bags and arranged for the hotel to keep some of my carry on things at the Concierge desk (such as my travel pillow), as I would not need them in Kalimantan.

White mosque

A simple, modern style white mosque.

Tower mosque

A smaller mosque with interesting minaret tower.

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