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Tarakan to Balikpapan


All at sea. Mercifully I did at least mange to escape the oppression of the crowded sauna below decks and score a spot on a bench on an outside deck that night, I slumbered a little at least. The stars were a rare treat that night though, complimented by a stereotypical Islamic crescent moon, and thankfully the late departure hour meant that the uncomfortable restless night wasnt too long to endure, the heat tempered by the 25 knot headwind. With the dawn arose an island which from my poorly scaled map I could only guess to be Pulau Derawan, one of East Kalimantan's major draws as a diving destination, though predictably pricey. Later that morning our only other view of land materialised forest clad with barely a sign of human influence, this was the headland of the Pegunungan Sambaliung promontory which jutted out from East Kalimantan and served to lengthen my voyage by forcing a circuitous route to within 100Ks of Sulawesi. Flying fish darted about as the sea shimmered under a nigh on cloudless sky, and I elected to variously burn and resort to Factor 30 than retreat inside to the carpet of scattered bodies. Scanning a distant featureless horizon, there was not another ship in sight for hours. Then a military style performance in demonstrating a life vest drill was a sadly belated affair involving solid style life preservers of a type I hadnt seen before. It would have been pretty tricky trying to figure them out in the dark the night previous, though it was actually funny in that each deckhand sported a different coloured overall, they reminded me of the Teletubbies. The ship seemed pretty full too, with Ekonomi class proving to be a great gallery of open mattressed areas, with tellingly not a single one apparently spare for me. Out of a maximum 1906 souls permissible on board I was clearly the only tourist , just the way I liked it. 5 hours short of Balikpapan the first of many oil rigs pierced the glaring horizon, testament to
the city's credentials as a dramatically expanding boom town based on oil, tellingly boasting for example the 2nd busiest airport in all Indonesia. Most unexpected for Kalimantan, to think there was more air traffic here than ever popular Bali, and upon reaching the city the aircraft were a regular feature even at this late hour. Also lighting up the sky was a gas flarefrom the nearby petrochemical works, a glow which helped me deduce that the ferry had actually docked much closer to the city than the guidebook had led me to expect. Considering the number of people on board and Indonesia's propensity for a different interpretation of etiquette shall we say, it was a predictable crush in trying to the negotiate the narrow deck passages and egress point, before being hurried on bruskly by a deck officer onto the ships own retractable gantry. It was a serious health and safety issue to be descending down steps not in parallel with the horizontal, an accident waiting to happen as I stepped gingerly down the slippery stair faces heavily loaded.

Now if I thought the crush on board ship was bad then this was just beyond the joke. Being forced down a very narrow passageway through but not within the terminal building, we were promptly abandoned in trying to force ourselves out through a field of thousands of people intent on heading the opposite direction, dodging motorbikes also crazily trying to squeeze past. They had so many eternally idle policeman, a bit of crowd control wouldnt have gone amiss. Escaping out onto the road the morass transmorphed into 2 solid snakes of Bemos, or Kijangs as they call them here, small vans ill suited to getting easily in and out of, but I found one heading my way soon enough. With the locals on board taking an instant shine to the rare white face and my Bahasa seeming more accomplished here than average, it was still no surprise to be asked for over the odds but I was simply too tired to fight. I gave the chancer what he asked for simply telling him I knew that that was a lot. It was only pennies but these were the petty details which often served to prey on my mind, every day was something of a fight and I felt stupid when I lost, especially for not sticking up for myself. Balikpapan's major waterfront junction was easily discernible and close to my first budget choice, and soon enough I found myself a surprisingly good deal at a joint which was most definitely a mid-range option. Gargantuan and shiny, it bolstered such hitherto unknown wonders as security guards, an inclusive room service breakfast and corridors wide and long enough to play football. The Ekonomi price tag was qualified by the insufferble lack of air-con and the enduring entrenchment of the Indonesian psyche in a tiny Mandi basin, but at this late hour proved a boon nonetheless. The resident Padang restaurant certainly helped too, even if the pickings were slim and I mistook curried brains for chicken. I declared it Haram to the waiter and thankfully got my chicken in the end. With a change in historical background from Sabah, the singular absence of a Chinese community also perhaps explained why a beer became too much to ask for that night, and I was shocked to discover Balikpapan not as the shiny cosmopolitan expat friendly centre I had presumed courtesy of the oil money, but still boasting dodgy pavements with gaping holes, partisan driving and slapdash buildings.

Posted by andyhay2 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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