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Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

Barito River bridge

The Barito River suspension bridge, linking Kalimantan Selatan with Central Kalimantan.

We continued north through the outskirts of Banjarmasin, then turned northwest onto a major road, the Jalan A. Yani or Trans Kalimantan Highway, into Barito Kuala Regency, This road was built about 20 years ago and is the main connecting route from South Kalimantan to Central Kalimantan. Building roads in this area is difficult due to the swampy nature of the ground. This is all part of the Barito River estuary and delta, and any roadway has to be built up and foundations pounded to avoid sinking. But there was a major obstacle: the Barito River itself.

Barito River

The Barito River, looking downstream from the suspension bridge. This is the largest and longest river in Borneo and a major route for trade and travel into the heart of Borneo.

At about one kilometer width, it isn’t quite as big as the Mississippi or the Columbia Rivers but it is certainly bigger than the Colorado or anything else in Utah. To connect the two provinces, a suspension bridge was built in the 1990s and opened in 1997. They chose a spot where the river is divided near one side by an island, home to a population of monkeys. The bridge spans the main river channel, crosses the island and the smaller river division on the far side, and has a total length of just over one kilometer.

Coconut

Our coconut. Although I lived in the tropics for two years, I never actually tried a coconut until now. The milk is sour as well as sweet and the rind is tasty as well.

Once we reached the bridge, we drove out over it to the other side, then turned around and came back until we found a place to park at a coconut stand on the near side. Nazar, Craig, and I walked out over the bridge as far as the island. It is quite an impressive structure and at the time was the largest suspension bridge in Indonesia. It was a hot afternoon and the sun blazed in my face, but I enjoyed watching the large barges loaded with coal pulled by tug boats down the river. It dwarfed the Martapura, and is the longest and largest river in Borneo.

View from Siring Tower

View of the Martapura River from the Siring Towers. The top is closed to tourists right now because the large umbrellas on top blew off, but one of the guards knew Nazar and let us up on top.

We waited for a break in the traffic, then crossed the roadway and walked back on the opposite side of the bridge. Once we got back to the car, we decided to try a coconut, which I have never done before even when living in Taiwan. The little roadside stand had quite a stack of them, and an even larger stack of decomposing discarded shells. The owner took a machete and chopped off the top of the coconut. We took straws and took turns drinking the coconut milk inside. It wasn’t what I was expecting – I thought coconut milk was sweet, based on using canned versions for cooking. But this is the real, raw thing, and was a bit sour in flavor but refreshing on such a hot day. We then took turns with a spoon scooping out the white coconut rind. I think I like it toasted better instead of raw, but it was definitely worth the experience.

Banjarmasin

Banjarmasin as seen from the top of the Siring Watchtower.

Something I’ve neglected to explain in all of this is the difficulty we’ve had with finding enough drinking water. In Jakarta, the hotel provided six pint bottles of water for free, and we didn’t use all of it because we were in the hotel much of the time, with air conditioning. Now that we are outside much of the day in more direct sunlight and higher humidity than even Jakarta had, we are needed much more water. I bring a bottle with me everywhere we go. The Swiss Belhotel provides two pint bottles, but has other water in quart bottles for a nominal fee. I’ve had to use some of that, two, as I don’t dare drink the water from any sink even at the hotel. This is one expense that I don’t mind paying. Once I get back to Utah, 100° F temperatures will not bother me because the humidity is low. I knew to expect this after living in Taiwan for two years, but it’s not easy even if it is expected. I’ve had to take two showers a day and my clothes are saturated with sweat every afternoon. We aren’t working hard, but we are very tired at the end of each day just from the heat. If you visit Indonesia, just remember: it’s the tropics. There’s nothing you can do about it (unless you want to stay in your hotel room all day) so you might as well live with it. It’s part of the experience. Bring plenty of bottled water with you every day.

Banjarmasin map

A map of Banjarmasin at the Siring Watchtower along the Martapura River.

Back at the hotel, I spent the rest of the evening putting together a basic English slide show on my school to show the next day.

David by oldest house

David Black by the oldest house in Banjarmasin. Made of ironwood, it has been rebuilt. There is a museum inside.

Banjar wedding clothes

Traditional Banjarese wedding clothes, inside the museum in the oldest house in Banjarmasin.

Traditional band

Traditional Borneo band in the lobby of the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin.

 

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Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

Popular spot

Water taxis unloading at a popular spot on the Martapura River. We were to eat here for lunch.

Nazar, his wife, and daughters picked us up at the hotel at 11:30. We drove along ever more narrow streets leading out of the city toward the northeast. I noticed we were paralleling the Martapura River, which we had just traveled on earlier that morning to visit the floating market of Lok Baintan.

Soto bang amat place

Our restaurant for lunch, specialing in soto bang amat, a type of soto (stew) popular in southern Kalimantan (Borneo).

Nazar was a bit cryptic about where he was taking us, saying it was a surprise. We were on a kind of frontage road leading along the river; I had seen motorcycles and bicycles traveling along this road while on the river. Then I realized where we were heading – to the very restaurant I had noticed this morning where water taxis were dropping boatloads of people off and smoke was rising from grills.

Soto bang amat

Soto bang amat. It is a stew with chicken, boiled egg, noodles, vegetables, rice, and lime. Very delicious!

This restaurant is famous as the best place to get soto bang amat, a type of stew with rice and noodles, boiled egg, and other ingredients. Each region of Indonesia has its own style of soto, and which is best is a hotly contested argument. We each got steaming bowls while another band playing traditional music entertained us. The restaurant was crowded and the sota bang amat was good. I tried not to think of what the “other ingredients” might be and just enjoy the experience, and found I quite liked it. Grills were smoking, cooking up skewers of meat which we didn’t try but which had quite a tantalizing odor.

Craig and David with band

Craig Hendrick and David Black with a traditional band at the restaurant.

After the meal we posed for photos with the band, then picked up the car and headed back through Banjarmasin to our next destination: a major bridge across the Barito River.

Nazar's family

Nazar’s family (except his son, who was practicing for the Indonesian Independence Day celebration).

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