First move in an ambitious day was to check out of my once grand but now sadly filthy hotel, reflecting as it did the money grabbing scumbag running it, though still taking the chance of leaving my bag with them as I struggled to track down the requisite Kijang for the run out to a suburban transfer point. Though Samarinda's Kijangs were colour coded in answer to their propensity and even had a letter to further obviate their general prescribed routes, there had to be thousands of them after all, the Orange G Kijangs proved highly elusive and I couldnt even recall having seen one in all my wanderings. Eventually I chanced upon one sitting empty at the roadside and though I thought I had made it plain that I didnt want a charter (ie. to hire it personally) we then proceeded to trace a distant terminal with the guy seemingly not even trying to pick up any further custom. I was ready for a fight at journey's end then but bizarrely he settled for the standard 3000 Rupes I proferred him. I couldnt understand how it had been worth his while for pennies but wasnt complaining, and I'd worked myself up into a froth for nothing. A prompt connection was handy and honest in then taking me the 40Ks along the Mahakam River to a "Royal" town known as Tenggarong, with my day trip here inspired by the presence of something which crazily big cities Samarinda and Balikpapan couldnt muster between them, a museum. Upon arrival, the further time consuming terminal transfer was redeemed by especially friendly locals who did me a big favour in colluding to drop me right by the museum, having witnessed along the way some of the aesthetics which made Tenggarong a remarkable and unexpectedly appealling town. Building after building was a grand and variously pristinely whitewashed or exotically traditional timber wonder, and a subsequent stroll revealed many small exceptional touches which rendered the town a special vibe. Before I could even enter the Mulawarman Museum however I was stopped short by a young headscarved Malay chick on a motorbike, she was an English student she explained but seemed more interested in bagging my photo than conversation and I had to apologize for looking more than a little rough after a week of not being able to shave, launder or escape the heat. It was a rare opportunity for discourse and it was regrettable that despite my early start the convoluted transport and short opening hours meant that I only had an hour to get round the museum even presuming they were playing by the rules, I was sadly only able to afford the chick short shrift. I was just thankful that the museum was open at all though and fortunately there was no inflated apartheid pricing to spoil the vibe.
Built by the Dutch in 1936 to replace the original Sultan's palace which was lost to fire, the restrained art deco design was better fitted for a museum than a palace. Holding the regalia of the local sultanate, a large photo of the latest in line showed him to resemble a big fat white-robed Santa, sporting aviator raybans and looking positively comical. I imagined that he could have been a WWE wrestler. His ancestral power was perhaps illustrated by the spectacle of a large shadow puppet theatre which had been a gift from the Sultan of Yogyakarta on Java in the year 1800, also Hindu-Buddhist statuary and inscribed stones originating from the hitherto unheard of Kutai Kingdom of East Kalimantan. The inscriptions in Sanskrit and Pallawa script betrayed its Indian affiliation in such proclamations as: "Hail to the mighty King Mulawarman of exalted rank whose gifts have been recorded at this holy spot after he, the most excellent king , has bestowed on Brahmanas the gifts of water, ghee, tawny cows and sesame seeds as well as 11 bulls". Dioramas of the temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambunan also set the scene. The predictable bullshit ethnographic section was shut but photos of indiginous people sported various uses of beadwork in necklaces, kiddy back carriers and headbands. The local finery was described as Ulap Doyo weave, literally "Long Cloth Vegetation", make of that what you will. Not for the first time a flora and fauna section went unviewed due to no lighting and childlike dioramas concocted to represent the local coal, timber and gold industries were discernible only courtesy of my trusty almond torch. Of more note however was a VOC cannon in excellent nick, and unusually the VOC was inscribed with an R below it as opposed to an A above it, it was dated 1753. Bizzarely the heart of the museum, an open central chamber and the only spot with good natural light had been stylised as a seating area, decorated with a backdrop of a waterfall, deer and people panning a river. Ostensibly an idyll for children, it was actually the designated smoking area which perhaps was a testimony to local priorities! All in all the museums internal presentations proved pretty mundane though the theatre and associated gong orchestra were impressive merely by their scale and dragon adornment.
In what was to prove characteristic of Tenggarong the museum's garden boasted many varied statues of traditionally garbed warriors and totems, and immediately behind it I discovered a further series of charismatic buildings, 2 of which were unusual arched timber constructions with appealing roofs which transpired to be shelters for the local Sultanate's cemetery. Though of general Islamic style with losenge shaped stones at head and foot, the graves were without exception unusually large and ornate examples in an unprecedented shiny black stone, this hitherto unheard of dynasty had obviously been rich as well as powerful. That in turn lead me to a much larger and striking palace, a huge indulgence typified by the rare presence of stained glass windows, the Kedaton Koetai Kartanegara was a humungous whitewashed extravaganza, and for no palpable reason. Later research revealed the largely empty edifice to be the newly completed Sultan's palace, the previous one having been converted into the museum.
The attractions just kept coming aroung Tenggarong with an adjacent mosque being an especially appealing example of the tiered pyramid style and an unusual open air minaret which was little more than a platform for the muezzin shaded under a small crown, supported by a winding staircase. From there the street opened up to reveal still more prettified public buildings stretching away into the distance, habitually lifeless places of indiscernible function which Indonesia seemed to be especially good at wasting money on. I imagined it must be a paradise for bureaucrats ensconced in their little palaces, especially since it seemed that little work got done. And a total pain in the arse for the locals to have to deal with their scattered, dubious functions.
Across the road I initially resisted the carbon copy war memorial with requisite wingspread eagle I had witnessed in so many other towns, but further consideration revealed another remarkable effort in a carved relief which depicted in turn important moments in the evolution of the country. It was interesting and actually a very receptive means of appreciating it, in first traditionally dressed people performing ancient ceremonies, only to be contrasted markedly by the appearance of first perhaps a Portugese "conquistador", then certainly the Dutch. The prevalence of war was a notable factor from there on, right down to illustrations of torture endured under the Japanese. Having right from the start proved a fantastic redemption after the disappointment of the big cities, Tenggarong even then managed to bless me with the best feed I'd had in a long time, I even had a double helping of the unusual beef stew and diced chili potatoes it was that good. And it didnt let up from there either. Stopping to appreciate a small rickety boardwalk stilt village I stumbled upon an untranslatable memorial but the bare-chested rifle bearing warrior and the date 1946 was a clear reference to the independence struggle, contrasted by another depiction the other side of a small bridge. The effigy of a woman standing within a large bowl and bearing a plate in her hands was a theme I would later see copied, and surprisingly the large inscription underneath was also represented in English in its entirety, a testimony to the "10 points"...............
More than anything else however, what distinguished this town was the exhaustive repitition of 2 symbols which unfortunately had remained foolishly unexplained by the museum, the first being a serpent figure with something approaching a dragon's head, the Loch Ness Monster even came to mind. And then secondly, umpteen statues bore a bizarre amalgam in a mythological beast akin to a Griffin perhaps, though its eagle wings and mammalian body were fronted by an elephants head, weird. Though perversely Tenggarong's one tourist shortcoming was the absence of a promised tourist office, an excellent map displayed by an adjacent quayside was not only easy to follow and detailed, it revealed more hitherto unknown wonders in a Timber Museum (established with a propagandic ilk towards logging no doubt) and interestingly a planetarium. The planetarium was predictably shut and the Muzium Kayn not worth the walk, but as per usual it was demonstrated that if you could only just get your hands on the information then the guidebook would time and time again be put in its place.
Its as well to note here that in spying unknown attractions on my way out to Pampang the other day, compounded by the chance acquisition of a tourist map there, my visit to the tourist office in Samarinda though finding it tellingly closed down had still done me a service of sorts. In asking for a map, all the security guard could muster was actually an excellent map of East Kalimantan and not of the city. Not what I had had in mind but it revealed such diversions and detail that forearmed with that information, for sure I would have taken the more overland route south from Tarakan and not the Pelni ship. What a bugger.
Tenggarong blew me away all over again then with a double sided mural in a small park similarly showing resistance to the easily translatable "armada belanda" (Dutch Navy), though the first similarly cannon blasting illustration was an enigma in relating an indiscernible encounter in 1844 with a certain Erskine Murray. Fantastically mystifying, but sure enough the Scots got everywhere it seemed. Having momentarily been marooned by a downpour, it was only left for me to trace a quirky up-market hotel which decorated its expansive lobby with what must be some unique motors here, there was a 1950s American Plymouth, also some mark of Ford and a Fiat which both resembled an Austin 7. Thoroughly charmed by the delights of Tenggarong and its riverside setting, it was a regret not to have elected to overnight there then, especially after the encounter with the Motorbike chick. Though I could have just plumped for a hotel and accepted further privation due to the lack of my gear, I was prompted to move on under the desire to make further progress that day. Tenggarong's good vibe in typically relentless and yet less aggressive "Hello misters" as well as fantastic smiles from clearly delighted locals was unfortunately impaired in the departure by the attentions of a madman who by the time I'd got back to Samarinda had managed to convince himself that I was going to pay his fare, it was a complication to the habitual price arbitration I did not need and once again felt obliged to scarper lest my new best friend get any further bright ideas.
Squeezing into my now habitual restaurant dive for Iftar, I then retraced my hotel in deliberation as to my next move. I had already checked out that morning with the intention of somewhat ambitiously moving on back down to Balaikpapan, but with the light now gone and the bus service questionable I surprised myself in plumping for another night in shite. Desperate for a shit, shower and shumthing else beginning with sh, an early departure for Balikpapan the next day would work out cheaper, more palatable and just as amenable so I crashed one more night in Samarinda. And besides, had I really just discovered a pub oasis in a proverbial desert only to desert it? I thought not. Unfortunately the enticing but bumpy, winding journey up to Tenggarong had not been conducive to photographyy which was a regret, vistas of the river variously revealed the prevalence of small fish farm collections outside stilt houses much as you might have an allotment outside in your back yard, enormous tug towed barges loaded with coal, and my first ever sighting of timber "rafts", collections of logs fixed together and floated downriver. It had been a lesson from Gordon the night previous to learn that if you saw logs being barged down here then the reason was simple, those ones didnt float! Samarinda had certainly taken its time in growing on me, but I returned to its one pub that night to get my writing done, never easy when your hand normally dampens the page with sweat so as to make it unusable, sidestepping the stalker who knew he'd been out of order, and I also chanced upon something I had long looked for but never found. Presuming aviation to be a touchy subject in military obsessed Indonesia, I finally discovered an aviation magazine, the very first edition of a new publication. With a beer in my hand, happily ensconced within an air-con shopping mall, it almost felt civilised. Hell, it wasnt too much to ask, was it?