Oh yeah, Tenggarong, Indonesia. We find ourselves in country #20, south of the equator for the first time in our lives, but still on Borneo. But after the last two days of boats, planes, buses, angkots (minibuses, but more like aluminum boxes on wheels, often with a really large stereo system) and ojeks (motorcycles), we feel like we could be anywhere.
Here’s how we got here. (Follow along on this map, starting in the upper left.) We walked from our hotel in Tawau, Malaysia to the four hour ferry ride across the border to Tarakan, Indonesia, after spending 24 hours in Tawau waiting for our Indonesian visa. On arrival in Tarakan, we were whizzed off on two ojeks to our hotel. Easy enough.
The next morning it was a proper taxi ride to the Tarakan airport for our 11:30 flight to Balikpapan a few hundred kilometers to the south. At $30/ticket, the flight was much preferable to the 24-hour-plus ferry, and the ferry is far from daily. From the airport, it was a 10 minute taxi ride into town, and then an angkot and 2-hour bus ride to the outskirts of Samarinda. On to Tenggarong, where we needed a small angkot and then a bigger one and then a smaller one again to cover the 30-some kilometers between the two cities. We were deposited in front of a pleasant looking, Lonely Planet-recommended hotel, that was unstaffed and apparently totally uninhabited. We trudged around town a bit until we settled on hotel with a musty room with a shower but no sink. After the simplicity of travel in Malaysia, this is going to take some getting used to. The final tally: 1 ferry, 2 motorbikes, 2 taxis, 1 airplane, 4 angkots, 1 bus, 36 hours. Phew.
Along the way, we visited a mall each day (we can’t seem to avoid them), discovered that hot oranges aren’t refreshing in the least, and had two friendly offers to host us, both in cities we’re not going to visit this week. Mercifully though, the palm oil plantations have been nowhere to be found. The deforestation has been near total in all of the places we’ve been, but at least there are farms and botanical diversity.
All this is so that we can hop on a ferry heading up the Mahakam River into the “wilds” of Borneo. I’ve always wanted to take a boat up a river into a jungle, and since the Amazon is a long ways away, this is my opportunity. CeCe is gamely being supportive. We haven’t seen another traveler in two days, and no one has owned up to speaking English since we left the airport this morning. But I think we’re up to the challenge.
At least we’re eating well. Malaysian cuisine was much-hyped, but honestly, how many fried noodles can one half-vegetarian couple eat? Indonesia has been terrific on the other hand. Last night we had dinner at a small roadside restaurant. We ate Chinese-style with a handful of plates in front of us. The coconut-curried jackfruit was sensational, like a very sweet squash, the chicken had more flavor than probably any chicken I’ve ever had and the whole fried fish had two surprises: roe sacs. Yum! At breakfast we discovered gado-gado which entails rice balls, eggs and veggies in a peanut sauce. Double yum! And tonight, we had chicken soup, which would cure even the worst cold. Not sure what made it so good (perhaps it was the televised replay of Everton’s FA Cup victory yesterday, starring New Jersey’s own Tim Howard), but it was.
I’m already excited for tomorrow’s breakfast.