A Travellerspoint blog

Tarakan

sunny

Though the guidebook paid only scant attention to a couple of minor attractions around town, it was my mission for today to track them down devoid of a map whilst ascertaining and deciding upon an onward egress. After a grim tasteless Soto dish of mainly tripe for brekkie, all I could find under Ramadan's privations, it was very fortunate then that mission no.1 to track down a secondary ferry pier not only revealed sailing options but a large sign bearing a map of the town complete with points of historical note. Taking photos of this for future reference set me up for the rest of the day, and though the ferry services were not as I had expected, they still left me with an option of sorts. After touring a characterful boardwalk Kampung offering insights into men turning sun drying fish and countless delighted "Hello misters", the only white man in Tarakan stumbled through a couple of airline office enquiries before continuing a long trek through the blazing heat.

The first point of note was one which even the map had not anticipated however, I chanced upon a strange foible in the November 1952 Monument, whatever that was. Given Indonesia's history of random insurrections however I guessed that the blood stained fist thrusting up from the obelisk's peak was a bit of a giveaway. My first intended stop was not evident at all however, a pit stop only promised by the map and yet seemingly nowhere to be found. It transpired that the promised Dutch cemetery turned out to be just half a dozen or so scattered graves amidst a muslim one, and it was only upon asking one of a group of ground workers here that all was revealed. The head honcho happily trailed me up and around the hillside, pointing out each of the evidently more ancient and more imposing headstones, and though as is so often the case only one hadnt been robbed of its inscription one way or another, the sole discernible example was understandable enough even in Dutch to prove my chance discovery an excellent find. It read: "H.G. von Steiger, J. Veldkamp, Leaders of the mining geological research in Boeloengan". Since they were buried together I wondered if they could have been killed in a mining accident, just a pity there was surprisingly no date on it. Crowning the slope the cemetery ran up was another bonus too, a WWII pillbox which could only have been Japanese. My new friend pointed out evidence of shrapnel damage and also a nearby stanchion now bizarrely crowded by graves, which he reckoned had been an anti-aircraft weapon mounting.

It was perhaps fitting then that my next pursuit was the "Makam Jepang", the Japanese cemetery, which was similarly tricky to track down hidden amidst a small charming housing community, but the locals kept me right and even chased after the key when I found it to be closed. A walled enclosure perhaps the size of a tennis court, there were actually only 2 weatherbeaten looking wooden marker posts besides a large stone memorial inscribed in Japanese. Intriguingly, it was adorned with a swastika top and bottom which left me to ponder an irony, there was no telling as to whether these could be construed to be a mark of Shinto devotion or if it was simply in deference to the Nazis! A couple of nearby wells from this era also helped set the scene. The "Hello misters" continued relentlessly, always now accompanied by a smile in a town which obviously saw few white faces.

Next on my prescribed mammoth loop on what was a scorching hot day to be walking was rather inconsequential, a large oil storage tank of 1904 Dutch origin, now accompanied by sporadic modern Nodding Donkeys. The tank looked like it had been bombed and that was a distinct possibility, at the Labuan Museum I had learned that the presence of oil had made Tarakan a strategic priority during WWII and so it was bound to attract such attention. Amazed that my rudimentary digital photo "sign" map had so far proved spot on, my by now rural escapade brought me to yet more quirky sights, a series of drilling towers also of this era, seized as a priority by the Japs from the Dutch. From there the passing of a sizeable present day army contingent relaxing by pyramid stacked M16s outside a stadium was an unusual sight, a little intimidating but all the attention I drew was the eternal "Hello mister". It was at their nearby camp where I had to ask permission to enter the base in order to view the next drawcard, a memorial commemorating the original site at which 225 Australian troops killed in seizing Tarakan from the Japs in June 1945 had been temporarily buried. As much a monument to their endeavour, it now sits incongruously marooned on this army base by a volleyball court. Still in amazement that my "camera map" was proving much better than many handout and guidebook examples, it was a very long trek from here back to the town centre, during which I traipsed up and down hills and along sidetracks in search of some promised Japanese and Dutch bunkers but to no avail. It had been such a full on day that with the light now fading I decreed that I'd had enough for one day anyhow, feeling much more than in a long time that I had just slogged around a double Postie shift in a heatwave. I had to force my legs to carry myself the last mile but a surprisingly accomplished day was finally rewarded by enduring an unenticing airless restaurant for the sake of frequenting the only beer den around. Soaked in sweat, caked in dust, the beer was warm and the food was crap, but the day had been good.

It was over that first few Bintangs that it was now decision time, I had to make a tough choice as to a plan for onward advancement, there were many options but all unfortunately entailing something of a marathon. The most obvious solution for getting out of Tarakan promptly was the Pelni ship scheduled to leave that night, it was an incentive in its own right as an Indonesian institution, yet the cruise to Balikpapan would actually take me further than I wanted to go and was a trip of a whopping 22 hours. With no road out of Tarakan Island or on the immediate mainland I had learned too late of the boats to Tanjung Selor from where I could have connected to the interesting town of Berau, but that would now require a second night in Tarakan and was contrastingly only a short hop. From there it would still be a 16 hour bus ride down to favoured destination Samarinda, but tough travelling in southern Sumatra made me wary of such an endeavour. Typically, the flight there was the most expensive of the lot I had sought quotes for, and though I could have simply flown to Berau or Balikpapan instead, that anorak allure went against the "overland" ethos. In the end I chanced a quick Mandi back where I had left my bag and then plumped for a day on a ship for the sake of just getting on with it succinctly. Even the Bemo driver was refreshingly friendly here, and I arrived at the ferry port to find a scene I had not anticipated, a great swathe of humanity animated in their many varied agendas. There must have been 100 minivans or more waiting to whisk away the impending arrivals and yet bizarrely amongst all this the Pelni office was again closed and I struggled to secure a ticket. My improving Bahasa allowed a few policemen to point out a tiny unstaffed table amidst the car park melee as the administrative centre, and here I paid more than what had hitherto been quoted to the point that it now made a flight look more attractive. Certainly after boarding to find the Ekonomi section a stifling sea of bodies cheek by jowl, it dawned on me just what I'd let myself in for. It was going to be crowded, hot and sleepless. In short, bloody long.

Posted by andyhay2 17:50 Archived in Indonesia

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Enter your Travellerspoint login details below

( What's this? )

If you aren't a member of Travellerspoint yet, you can join for free.

Join Travellerspoint