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Balikpapan to Samarinda


Though my hotel also managed to boast unexpected balcony views of an adjacent beach and very contrasting rickety shoreline shacks, Balikpapan's initial poor showing was little redeemed by an ugly skyline skulking under a full on tropical downpour this morning, and though I tried to brave it I finally gave in and took refuge in a net cafe since the poor light scuppered photography anyway. Seeing no point in hanging around then I made alternative use of the time by immediately decamping 2 hours north to the nearby city of Samarinda, helped on my way by an unbecoming street culture of pestering kids and beggar women betraying a local dichotomy of wealth. Having literally bumped into a rare white face in the night in search of a beer, the expat presence was actually belied more by the local kids knowledge of the English word "money" than sadly any evidence of an anticipated pub. Thankfully there surely had to be closer to 30 buses a day to Samarinda rather than the 3 the guidebook advised, so a prompt departure soon had me surprised again at a very undulating inland route not once hinting at the Sulawesi Sea despite both cities being on the waterfront. Sadly, it actually persistently revealed evidence of the worst forest devastation I had hitherto encountered anywhere in Asia, with repeated bare tracts of charcoaled tree stumps not even having succumbed to reinvestment as agricluture. Variously pretty or rickety timber shacks were contrastingly greenified by a local industry of pot plant production. It had been an irony to be heading back north in contest to my recent maritime marathon, and I was left to ponder in hindsight whether the more convoluted but doubtless equally challenging local boat from Tarakan and then a lengthy bus journey south might not have been the more logical progression in getting here. I would have regretted it either way I mused and was at least again glad to have made further swift progress. Allegedly a very contrasting affair to Balikpapan, arrival in Samarinda revealed the difference to be defined more by its setting upon a broad low sweep of the mighty Sungai Mahakam, one of Borneo's major inland waterways. At another time the draw of its access into Borneo's most exotic heartland might have proved irrisistible, but that was a recipe for tough, costly and time consuming adventures I had no further heart for. The promise of Samarinda itself had been enough reason for this short backtrack, and though finding all the desirable hotels full and ending up in a dive certainly didnt help, the city's immediate impression was one of a further downward spiral into disappointment. Streets choked with stagnant traffic became impassable even to pedestrians, with swathes of motorbikes inconsiderately blocking the patchwork pavements as a matter of course. Random unlovely developments made neighbouring overelaborate architecture look ridiculous, and I also started to notice the telltale symptoms such as putrid piles of roadside garbage, prominently placed ugly electrical junctions and stomach churning street food reminiscent of the Third World. Even the established restaurants were a poor retreat in habitually not even mustering vegetables or cold drinks but giant rats instead, and though it didnt serve to make me any less grumpy about it I was at least aware of the ever narrowing blind alley I was leading myself down. Certainly Ramadan was a compounding factor which was really starting to bite, but besides starving for the main part of the day and struggling to even trace a chilled drink, the final test was not being able to retreat into a bottle of Bintang after hard hot days short of redemption. Though I chanced upon several normally elusive net cafes which perhaps served to illustrate Samarinda's size, there was not a single hint of any beer advertising around town let alone a bottle of booze to be had, even in the large supermarkets, and the evident prevalence of non-alcoholic malt brew "Near Beer" had me surmising East Kalimantan had to be unexpectedly dry. It was an irony to consider that such privations were the very reason why beer had become so important, with the renewed convention of my bathroom sink soaking my feet for the want of plumbing serving to typify the hint of desperation.

Posted by andyhay2 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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