Despite ostensibly only being a couple of hours down the road, the outrageous obstacle course endured by hapless pedestrians on top of the time consuming Kijang transfers between city and terminal at either end meant that it was an all day affair to escape sadly disappointing Samarinda and trek back down to Balikpapan. It must be said at this point that all things had by now conspired together to elicit in me a thoroughly grumpy demeanour, every partisan driver, every maniac motorbike streaking down the pavement in the wrong direction, every avenue blocked by bikes and stalls and open sewers had me cursing at the ridicule of the situation. Worst of all though in this part of the world had been the propensity of the "Hello Misters" which had risen from vaguely acceptable levels meriting a polite yet annoying recognition, to an unprecedented onslaught which left me incredulous. It was as unmitigated as that encountered in Bangladesh and that took some doing, but here it was exercised in an especially disingratiating manner which had me sadly resorting to blanking mode even though I knew the attentions were well intended. The raucous inane shouts brought me to think of one of the long term old timers I had spent time with at the 75 Travellers Inn in Penang, who had related his frustration at "grown men behaving like 12 year old boys". He had repeated the remark in frustration and though at the time I knew not of what he meant, I thought perhaps I knew now.
Imagine this. You step out of your hotel room and the guy slumbering half naked on the landing cries "Hello mister!". Downstairs at the reception you hear the same thing. A guy outside scavenging through a pile of putrid garbage shouts through his facescarf "Hello mister!". You try to dodge the motorbikes in the absence of a pavement but they find you in the gutter anyway, the guy who nearly runs you over at great speed shouts "Hello mister!". Numerous other drivers and pillion passengers create an echo so that you hear it 10 times hence in the time it takes you to walk the short hop to the sanctuary of the air-con mall. Even there the chorus continues, "Hello mister!". If it was youthful exhuberance which undoubtedly some of it was then maybe I would understand. But men old enough to be my father perversely split my eardrums in greeting me, and I am unnerved by repeated friendly approaches expressed too aggressively to be friendly. What makes it worse is that I know it is reserved only for me, an involuntary admission to racism which might not have bothered me until arrival in Balikpapan when I subdued the touts only to lose it with a Kijang gang. Waiting for the Bemo to fill up they are clearly less acquainted with my lot than I am with theirs, and despite our dealings being wholly in Bahasa they still presume I'm sucker enough to demand 20,000 Rupiah of me by waving such a note in my face. Thats more than a pound for a trip I know costs precisely 14p, it sure aint the Ballingry bus. "3,000 maybe" I reply. Chancer no.2 backs him up and I hit them with the ubiquitous "Saya tidak orang bordoh, saya tauh berapa harga" (I'm not stupid, I know how much it costs). Theyre clearly too fuckwitted to appreciate that I'm streetwise though, and its left for the 2 young Islamic chicks in the back to point out the obvious as I slam the door shut and proffer the first middle finger and F word I've had to in a long time. From there I suffered the double indignity of a 2nd Kijang not following its prescribed route and so I ended up at a distant ferry pier, the ensuing connection warranting further nerve jangling in following uncharted territory but thankfully getting me back to the oasis of the Gadya Mada Hotel with precisely 1000 Rupiah (5p) to my name. If I'd been left short I'd have been stuffed a long way from home.
I was so thankful for the hike up in standards of the hotel, with the chance to do laundry and shave that I shook off the sulk pretty quickly however, treating myself to a super expensive coffee fix after failing to trace a cinema in another daring Kijang foray north. Tired of the sweat, fight and toil, a revelation in Bali TV had me electing to stay at home that night in deference to a questionable quest for beer, with a poignant and somewhat appropriate documentary relating the gruesome details of the Bali bombing upon the imminent 5th anniversary of the 12th October 2002 atrocity.
Having sadly tired and frustrated at Kalimantan's underwhelming tribulations, the whole melange of so much for so long had me now resolving to reach new levels of ruthlessness at onward progress. The intended path had always been to aim for southern city Banjarmasin, Borneo's largest, unfortunately a dispirting and intimidating 16 hour bus journey away, and yet having gradually pieced together the fact that there was no onward air connection from there to Bali, therein lay a problematic quandry. Impatient for Bali's demeanour as much as its distance, the direct connection from Balikpapan suddenly became appealing despite its admission to corner cutting, from Banjarmasin I could only fly to Surabaya on Java. At another time that might have seemed ideal in furthering a natural continuation from Yogyakarta and Semarang in central Java from whence I had departed 2 month previous, and yet the time and distraction involved in negotiating eastern Java from there on had become unthinkable in view of my now excruciating impetus to reach Australia ASAP.
The situation had also been mysteriously complicated by the approach of Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan and so Islam's prime holiday on a par with Christmas and New Year rolled into one. Having seen vague references in the past to the 21st, it was admittedly a shock to suddenly realise that the celebration of the 13/14th would soon be upon me, it was a time for the locals to be with their families and so as the news on TV related, transport was highly congested. It was something of a nightmare to contemplate that I might be stuck in Kalimantan for days with everything shut and not so much as a beer to redeem it, I promptly decided that even if it would cost me a million Rupiah (a bit more than 50 quid), then I would do myself a favour for once and get the hell out to Bali. Not only did Bali have beer but hey! It didnt even have Islam! Right now that sounded real good. Even from there the time it would take to negotiate the non-negotiable overland route to Australia was cringe provoking, but if there was corner cutting to be done then I felt I could justify this one at least, I just had to. And by the way, for no beer read no beer, music, English, power showers, sit down toilets, tea which is actually hot, TV, cinema, white chicks, pavements, manners, the list went on and on.