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Borneo Day 4: Monday, July 24, 2017

Craig teaching class

Craig Hendrick teaching a class at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

Craig and I had taught for about three hours this morning, sharing details about our schools and home states with the English classes at SMAN 1 in Mandastana. We were grateful for the chance to rest and cool off a little in the faculty room, which has fans blowing. Nazar had some work to do, so we had some sealed plastic cups of water (which are popular here) and some green cakes and talked about how the day went.

Fish on ice

Lunch on ice!

Even though school wasn’t yet over, Nazar told us that he was on special assignment with us this week and didn’t have to teach his afternoon classes. We loaded into his car as the students went to noontime prayers in the school mosque and to lunch, and he drove us to find lunch ourselves. We stopped at a green building just off the main road between Banjarmasin and Central Kalimantan. It was an open-air restaurant that specialized in grilled fish.

Grilled fish

Grilled fish and vegetables with sambal sauce.

Different types of fish were on display on ice in buckets in the front, and we picked one for each of us. They put the fish on grills and served it to us with various types of salads, and vegetables, such as cucumbers. The fish was very good, but Craig and I hadn’t known there would be so many side dishes, so we had chosen fish that were too large for us to finish. Nazar took the leftovers home. So far, he has paid for all of our meals, and we insisted that we should pay for our fair share. He said we could treat him to American food the next day, and that we would also pay for everyone’s trip to Loksado on Friday. I know he is receiving a stipend, just as we are, for his expenses, but I hope we are not being too much of a burden on him.

Galum trees

Natural vegetation in the area of Banjarmasin. This is fairly swampy ground, part of the Barito River estuary. The trees here are called galam trees and are useful for building house foundations because the wood stays strong in wet conditions.

Before the fish arrived, Nazar took us over to the side of the restaurant where we could look out across the undeveloped land beyond. It is swampy land, with low-lying bushes and studded with trees growing up about 20 feet. He said these are galum trees, which are quite useful for the foundations of houses when people can’t afford ironwood or concrete. Galum trees are cut into logs, which I’ve seen stacked along the road, and are good at absorbing water and remaining strong under wet conditions, because that is what they grow in naturally.

Galum wood

Stacks of galum wood beside the main road.

Nazar drove us further along the highway toward central Kalimantan. We entered a town along the Barito River and drove to a park on the riverside. Banjarese longboats were pulled up to the pavilion on the river, and we watched as large barges navigated up and down the river, carrying coal from the mines further north and east in the Meratus Mountains. It was peaceful, and reminded me of Hannibal, Missouri on the Mississippi River and the riverboat we rode there. There is something relaxing and unhurried about a river town; it moves to the flow of the river and never hurries or stops, but just keeps rolling along. I found myself humming “Old Man River” in my mind as we watched the boats.

Barge on Barito River

A barge on the Barito River, which is the main artery of transportation for goods in central Kalimantan.

We drove back to Banjarmasin over another bridge across the Barito River and back to the main road. I’m beginning to recognize the houses and businesses we pass, the rice fields about ready for harvest, and the small towns and mosques. I’ll talk about rice farming later, but I enjoyed the chance to see more of the country life.

Family boats on Barito River

Family long boats on the Barito River.

As we traveled, we passed a number of yellow freight trucks, which Nazar said were carrying palm nuts to the processing plant. There is a large palm plantation near here, where a number of farmers sold their land and now work for the plantation. At least no rain forest was cut down to make way for the palm trees.

Blue barge

Blue barge near Banjarmasin.

We drove back to the city and Nazar dropped us off at the hotel. We went to our rooms, and I showered and laid down to rest and take a nap. I needed it. Craig got supper at the hotel, but I wasn’t hungry enough. I’ve been having trouble with my intestines being a bit backed up since coming to Indonesia, and my appetite has suffered. I ate some of my snacks instead and uploaded photos.

Gas station

Gas stations are rare, as they take up quite a bit of real estate and must be built up above the level of the fields. So along roads such as Jalan A. Yani, small stands sell bottles of gasoline in different colors for the type of fuel (regular or diesel) and octane level.

Although we weren’t looking for supper, Craig and I decided to do a little exploring at the end of the day. We walked across the bridge over the Martapura to a small open-air market on the other side.

Preparing for Independence Day

A stand in the Banjarmasin market selling patriot bunting in Indonesian red and white, preparing for Independence Day.

It was past sunset, and the stalls were closing up for the night. There were the usual stalls and carts doing business, including a cart selling bakso and fried tofu. Indonesian Independence Day is coming up on August 17 and many stalls were selling red and white bunting and flags. We didn’t stay out long, but circled back around past a mosque as the evening call to prayers rang out. We walked back to the bridge and returned to the hotel as sunset faded into twilight.

Cap stempel marketplace

Marketplace in Banjarmasin at twilight. For some reason, this is the district for buying cap (signature chops) and stempel (stamps).

Sidestreet at twilight

Open air market at twilight.

Masjid

The Masjid Noor mosque, which was broadcasting the evening call to prayers as we walked past.

Unloading garlic

Unloading bags of garlic in the open air market in Banjarmasin.

Marketplace at twilight

Open air market in Banjarmasin near the Martapura River, across from our hotel.

Bakso street vendor

A street vendor making and selling bakso from his cart in the open air market.

Sunset over Banjarmasin

Sunset over Banjarmasin

 

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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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