As we walked to/from the sites we were on a dirt road with small wooden houses. People were sitting out on their “front porches” and were excited to see us, waving and yelling hello. One lady held up her beautiful baby so she could see us, we were rewarded with a cute grin. We loaded back in the jeep for our ride back to town.
Adorable Local With Her Mom
On the way home the guide stayed awake for a few minutes to give us all one last sales pitch, you have to give him points for persistence, but we were a little tired of saying no. Blue admitted that he planned to a canal tour but didn’t really need a guide and told the guide if he could match the price he already had for a boat he’d do it with him. The guide got angry. Blue then asked to be dropped off a few minutes before his hotel on the road we were on…the guides answer was “you can walk, it’s only a 5 minute walk from your hotel”, then promptly fell back asleep. Nasty. Blue’s stop was first and after he was gone the guide told us he was a bad boy. Why, we asked? He won’t do a canal tour with me at my price- was his answer. Hmmmm
Back in town James popped out to book us a bus ticket for the next day, no one – not the hotel staff, tour agencies or full on travel agencies – could book us a bus ticket for us…..another reminder we are off the well-worn backpacker path.
Push Starting the Bus
Our bus wasn’t scheduled to leave until late afternoon so we slept in, had a late breakfast (small, nothing was left) and picked up a few things for lunch/dinner on the 10-13 hour upcoming bus ride. We also tried to get a few things booked for the next week or so. We still were at a loss as to how to do the Makaham River cruise. We’d been pricing it and were shocked at the prices. To do a private tour on a basic houseboat, with a guide, local meals and no real entry fees (just hikes and villages) we could only get it down to $300 /person /day for 5 nights. Yes, that was per person per day! What the hell are they adding into to the package to make it that expensive? We’d sent emails back asking for a budget trip, local transportation, local guesthouses and a guide. It was likely the only way we could do it. On your own it is very hard and takes twice as long meaning we wouldn’t get past the touristy part which resembles Upper Canada Village – but dirty and filled with beggar kids and toothless old ladies selling made in China jewellery. Not really something we enjoyed. The river cruise was what brought us to this part of Borneo – so we hoped we could get things sorted soon.
About 4 pm we caught a cab to the bus station and, only about 30 minutes late, boarded our bus. It was a bit rough around the edges, filthy and almost full – full being with a few baskets of chickens and a handful of kids. Yeah! At our dinner stop we ate pb on chocolate swirl bread (OMG! It is tasty!) and traded our meal coupons for pop, the only thing sealed. After dinner is when the fun started. The men started to push the bus…..apparently it needed to be push started….so James joined in. So funny, and a first for both of us.
Back on our way we bounced and weaved our way down the narrow road, dangerously passing trucks, bikes, cars other busses, cats, dogs, chickens, cows…... It was a bit scary and we are pretty used to busses. It didn’t help that we’d be stuck in traffic early on in the trip for a car accident that looked really bad and missed a scooter accident by only a minute or two and very early on in the trip (still full day light) we almost hit another scooter and the lady in the front seat screamed. So I was a little jumpy. We finally dozed a bit.
Crossing The Mahakam By Ferry - The Closest We Got To Our Cruise
We pulled into the Balikpapan bus station at the fourteen hour mark. UGH! The bus smelled like stale people, cigarette smoke (they still smoke EVERYWHERE in Indonesia) food and who knew what else. We knew we had at least a few more hours. What we didn’t know was that after traveling all night in a broken bus they planned on fixing it here. WTF! So we sat for 1.5 hours before spending 4 more hours in heavy traffic before getting to our final destination, Samarinda. We practically leapt off the bus, dropped our bags and ran for the toilet, they had quit doing bathroom breaks. Once relieved we took a break to figure out where we were in the city. Of course every male in the area with a bike cab offered help. According to them we had to cross the river and they could take us to the ferry for only $1 /person. Hmmmm…I thought we had just passed the sign for the ferry so we walked to the road. Yup, kiddie corner to the parking lot was the path to the ferry. Assholes. They were going to have us load up onto their bike and drive us the 10 feet out of the parking lot and across the road. A few minutes later we were on a wooden boat. Back on land we headed in the direction of our first pick hotel. We couldn’t pre book anything but at least were prepared. We had a very detailed list of hotels, address and prices. At one point we paused to make sure we were going in the right direction and a guy asked James where he was going. James told him the street name and his reply was….for 20,000 IDR (about $2.50) I can tell you where it is. What? Another first, a “friendly local” charging to give directions to the lost foreigners. As it turned out we were about 10 steps form the road we wanted, and could literally see the street sign once there was a gap in the crowd. At our first pick we priced it (more than the online price) and took a look at the room, not bad actually. But we decided to look around first. James settled me in their lobby café and headed out. I ordered a café latte and by about half way through it was relaxed and ready to tackle whatever else Indonesian Borneo had in store for us. Our first choice turned out to be the best so we checked in. During my latte a guide approached me and asked if we would like information on a river cruise so he waited and went over it with both James and I. We told him we’d think about it. His 3 day tour wasn’t a bad price ($187 /person /day) but we wanted to go way up the river, not just do the touristy part. The 4 night tour was still way out of our budget (still almost $300 /person /day), but that’s what we’d come all this way for.
We got checked in and went for a quick bite to eat and discussed the tours. We decided to try to talk the guy down a bit for the 4 night tour, everywhere you read it said we should be bartering and if that didn’t work than try to get him to lower the 3 day touristy tour into our budget and just do it. We had the hotel call him and he was there in less than five minutes. We started by explaining that if we did the 3 day tour on our own it would less than $50 /person and we could do that perfectly fine on our own, but we really wanted to go further in a knew we needed a guide. We asked him to come down a bit. He got totally pissed at us, and a bit nasty. We tried to ask him why it was expensive and his reply was that Kalimantan (the area of Indonesia we were in) was expensive. What? He could give us no real reason why it was so much more. All local busses, ferries, guesthouses, meals….we had those prices….what was the difference for? We really wanted to do it and were basically looking for a good reason to spend this kind of money, and a small discount. He wasn’t having any of it. He finally just picked up his stuff and left. We just happened to bump into another guide when out for dinner (I think there is a watch that announces foreigners arriving) and we priced the same tours with him, he was more expensive. After a frustrating day (well almost 48 hours now) we decided to do the touristy bit ourselves. We’d still see some culture, even if was a bit fake.
Tired, sore and cranky we headed to bed.
Well rested and with a belly full of noodles (I’m starting to get use to noodles for breakfast) we decided to go to the local Dayak ceremonies today and then pick up a few supplies for our adventure up the river. We had the directions to the place from the guide book, and doubled checked them at the hotel then headed out. Of course the first 5 mini bus guys tried to rip us off horribly but we stood our ground, on the side of the road, and finally found one that only slightly ripped us off. We got dropped of at a bus terminal where we were supposed to catch another mini bus for the hour ride to the festivities. We started asking around and a few old men told us the only way was by private cab – at $25 each way. Yikes! The mini bus was only going to cost $1 at the most and we knew they went regularly, so this was a bit of a shock. We asked around a bit more and they all agreed, we could only go by private. This is where I lost it. They were obviously lying, not even just the usual trying to charge us more. We either paid the $50 to go see a ceremony that was not even really for tourists and should only cost us about $5 in total for the return trip - or didn’t go. I was fuming, so decided to walk back to the hotel. James, just as mad, was fine with my decision. (James’ Note: These are the times I really miss actual public transportation. Get on bus X it goes from point A to point B for this price. This has happened to us before, like in Raneau where they wouldn’t let us get on the mini bus that had big letters that read “Poring” because “no bus goes to Poring, only private charter”. After dealing with guides, some of which tried to charge us over a thousand dollars a day for a tour, and another who said “don’t worry about price I’ll just meet you at the airport and we’ll leave from there” our patience was a bit thin.) Once I could finally talk without stomping my feet and swearing I made a suggestion. How about we change our flight out of Indonesia, Borneo for ASAP and spend the extra days in Lombok? James fully agreed.
I have had a hard time writing this section. I start and stop and re-read and delete. It sounds like we are doing nothing but complaining, and I have toned it down and left out so much nastiness. We knew this part would test us, we knew it would be slow going, a bit expensive, few conveniences, lesser food choices and all round uncomfortable. We were prepared for all that. What we were not prepared for were the people in the tourism industry. And I have to make myself clear – anyone not in the tourism industry has been overly friendly, helpful and I smile now just thinking about it. But anyone involved in tourism has been nasty. To be honest it has been quite an adventure, the busses, trying to figure things out, finding safe (for our bellies) places to eat and that might make us laugh or tired or sore or cranky but that is all part of traveling. The lying to my face so you can rip me off is not something I will put up with. So we are leaving a week early. (James' Note: We should be clear that we can, and have, put up with quite a bit while travelling, and have always found it worth the hassle. This was just about the first place where we both found that the money and effort really wasn’t worth it. For the record so it doesn’t all sound negative, Malaysian Borneo is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. North Sumatra Indonesia, which we visited last year, was fantastic as well. Kalimantan doesn’t have as much to offer as either of those places, other than lots and lots of KFCs, but charges way more for it)
We finally found an in-town mini bus that charged us the going rate and we got dropped off at the shopping plaza. I treated myself to an iced-mocha from KFC and James had a slushy. Again, about half way though I was back to normal, feeling a bit defeated, but happy. I was on an adventure of a lifetime with my hot, dive instructor husband – it was hard to stay upset.
Last Sight Of The Mahakam
We had an early breakfast and jumped on a bus to go back to Balikpapan where we’d have to spend one more night, then catch a flight to Bali …. Then a ferry to Lombok. We decided we could use some peace and quiet. Including our bus today, we’d been traveling to, in and around Kalimantan for 7 days and racked up 40.5 hours travel, 34 hours on busses alone. We’d bussed, cabbed, ferried, flew and even did bit of walking with not much to show for it.
We’d pre- booked a hotel and when we were checking in the girl informed us that our medium room (not the cheapest for once) was across the road in the same building as the Bar and it stayed open (and loud) until 3 am so would we like to downgrade? Huh? For real? She also informed us that building had no internet….even though our booking clearly said so. Nope. Oh and the free airport shuttle was only for a group, the kettle not in all rooms, not yours for sure…and the list goes on. Blah! While checking in we started talking to three other foreigners. A girl that had been working, living and traveling abroad for a few years and two guys who’d been traveling for over four years…and, if you can believe it, were all leaving early too. They too had had enough. We ended up grabbing lunch from the bakery and had a great meal by the water trading horror stories of Kalimantan. How sad is it that five seasoned travellers are all giving up? We all agreed on one thing, it was the tourism industry that chased us away.
After our great meal we headed back to the hotel to try to book some stuff for the next week or so. It’s high season in Bali and we had nothing booked. Yikes! After being in our room about 30 minutes we figured out it had cockroaches. Could I put up with them for one very short night? Nope…so I went down to the desk. The bitchy lady informed me they did not have cockroaches so I offered to go catch a few, bring them to her….and she agreed to switch rooms. The second was two doors down and carpeted like the first, the third a long way away and tiled….we still slept with the bathroom light on – James says cockroaches don’t like light. Our room squared away we went in search of a movie theatre. Funny, we didn’t end up going but we had a hard time finding the cinema so had help from the security guards. The first one we talked to, who had a walkie talkie, must have radioed the next security guard we should meet and so on and so on….so all we did was walk off an escalator and a guy waved us in the right direction, then off an elevator and another guy waved us on…until we found it. In our defence it was hard to find, especially if you couldn’t read the signs. It was a bit creepy but funny. As I mentioned we didn’t see a movie, nothing great was playing. We found out the next day that the Indonesian government has suspended the import licenses for Hollywood movies due to unpaid taxes. Things were in the process of being worked out, but we likely wouldn’t be seeing any decent movies any time soon.
I crawled into bed with a sigh of relief. We were headed to Lombok – and everyone loved Lombok. I am a little embarrassed to admit I am looking forward to a break.
Early Departure (our 19th flight)
After our noodles and coffee we caught a cab to the airport. Our flight today, actually the connecting flight, from Surabaya to Denpasar is our 19th since we started March 6. It’s with Wings Air, a subsidiary of Lion Air, which is one of 14 different airlines so far. Wow!
After landing we priced the airport cabs and decided Lonely Planet was right – they were very expensive. We walked the 3 minutes to the main road and caught one for 1/10th the price of a cab at the airport curb. Hint hint. And then we drove into the Kuta area. Hmmmm….. It was busy, noisy, filled with shopping, restaurants and so many modern conveniences – I was doing a happy dance in my seat. Again, a little embarrassed. We found our hotel, checked in and were laughing at how different the pictures were on the internet but it was budget and everything we expected. We went out to confirm our ferry booking and grab a bite to eat and caught a small glimpse of Bali. It really was a busy place. So many tourists! The beach was packed and I thoroughly enjoyed walking back to our hotel along it, watching everything going on. We went to bed early with the gently thump thump thumping sound of the bars in the area.