Central Kalimantan Days 5-6
Right now, as we motor in the early morning toward our final dock in Samarinda, it is pouring hard rain. I am on the top deck under a metal roof with tarps on the side and looking out at the grey green forests around us as we eat our breakfast – a final magnificent celebration platter proudly carried up across the slippery deck by our chef. Until today, it has been sometimes overcast and sometimes sunny and always hot during the day but cool when motoring on the water. Julie describes herself as a “tropical fish” and I guess I am the same as the heat and humidity does not bother me.
And to our great surprise given the extra preparations we made, no mosquitoes or at least very very few. But with this rain right now —- we may be in for a change.
Yesterday was a variety of transportation and interesting visits to the most rural of communities, two different Dayaq tribal areas. The lack of rain at the end of this dry season meant that the river was too shallow for our small canoe-like boat to make it to the final village so we motored on the water for a while, then docked (which meant more hazardous walking routes from boat to land) and walked through a village to a waiting car. This village, small and poor as it was, has a beautiful pre-school nursery courtesy of the government with a few happy looking children.
It also has a very old tribal long house with some beautiful aged funerary sculptures outside with some living spaces inside. We climbed up the traditional sloped wooden ladder to get in — only to find out when it was time to leave that a more standard formal entry had been built with a few short stairs.
One of the most surprising aspects of this tour of Kalimantan Borneo was the widespread construction of the large mostly concrete buildings to house swift nests which I mentioned In these earlier posts. I asked our guide if we could actually go inside one and he spoke to a local man at this Dayaq village who allowed us into his bird nest building.
Dark with birds fluttering around, we climbed into the downstairs level and saw the birds who built nests actually on top of little speakers giving out the bird song that draws them in. Our host told us that a middle man for a company in China comes around once a month to buy the nests they collect — paying the huge sum of 8,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah per kilo (equal to about $535) for whole birds nests and half of that for broken up pieces. These are then processed, washed and cleaned in China and sold there, he reported to us, for $10,000 per kilo for the making of birds nest soup, considering highly medicinal. He himself has 2 such bird nest buildings, the new one cost him about $2,800, a princely sum in this part of the world. This income source is now a mainstay of formerly traditional communities and is why the large many storied concrete building are everywhere in Kalimantan where swifts congregate, which tends to be along the rivers and streams. The historical nests on high cliffs are now rare and prized even more highly but difficult to find.
The car took us through the countryside where we could see the results of a now outlawed practice of clearing and burning fields for rice which was then used a few years until the soil was depleted and then abandoned. We finally reach our destination, and walk through a traditional Dayaq village, little changed over recent time.
The local tradtional long house has large groups of families still living in their ancestral space and receiving public assistance on a monthly basis, enough to keep them in food and water. Large plastic water containers are everywhere in these small villages, providing clean water for cooking and drinking but at a cost.
We walk further along and see wood stacked for drying, a valuable commodity and the town’s elementary school with the children all in uniform outside for a break. Our guide asks them to sing the Indonesian national anthem for us which they perform in unison with gusto. We ask how large the classes are — and there are only 4-5 kids in each grade from 1-6.
We haven’t balked at any of the rather risky transfers we have been asked to make but I was happy that Julie refused to follow the guide who wanted us to hold on to a side of a rickety building and walk on a thin ledge of dirt at its edge with a small ravine down below. Instead we walked back the way we came which was just fine.
We were back on our boat for a late lunch and then relaxed as the boat wound its way back down the Mahakam river, cruising all night to teach Samarinda in the morning to catch our onward flight further North.
I have been asked to describe some of our food experiences which so far have been almost completely on board our two boats and excellent. Most importantly, none of us have had any stomach issues although we of course are only drinking bottled water, and a lot of it.
Our cook on the Klotok boat in Pangkalambun was a young woman whom we thought was about 17 but it turns out she is older with 3 kids and our present chef is the very obliging middle-aged man whose photo I sent with my last post and his cooking is considerably better. Breakfast has been eggs for those who eat them, pancakes, and at least some form of fried rice or fried noodles with fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, mango) for dessert. After our chef here realized I didn’t eat eggs, and I went to a local shop and bought a container of 10 pieces of fresh tofu and two blocks of tempeh (after all we are in the land where tempeh was born and reigns supreme), he also cooked for me for breakfast a wonderful tempeh or fried tofu dish sautéed with a vegetable although we had to warn him to leave off the red peppers. The main meals have been either a chicken dish or a platter of very large prawns (which I don’t eat but Jack and Julie enjoyed) plus in addition a fish dish, often with a great sweet and sour sauce. Frying (I assume in palm oil but I don’t know) is a big part of the cuisine and I have had my oil quotient for the next year. Fried potatoes, fried sweet potatoes, fried eggplant (the long sweet ones), fried tofu and tempeh. One fish dish was made with some kind of bright orange vegetable we couldn’t recognize together with a small oblong green vegetable and these turned out to be a form of eggplant and a form of very sour fruit. Lemon grass is a major flavoring as well as turmeric — and everything is too salty for me but despite my speaking to both cooks about this, there was no change. Julie says I need the extra salt in this climate any way.
Our only problem on this “deluxe” houseboat (which is perhaps a misnomer as it is rather old and worn, with one very small toilet and shower room) is that there is a high unmarked step down located right outside the bathroom which we have been worried about since our arrival. On the last night, I missed that step in the middle of the night and fell sprawling across the wood floor, scraping myself up a bit but without any serious injury. This is not a location for any kind of injury as real medical help is many hours and a flight away although there are small medical clinics in the area.
We hope the rain does not follow us up to Berau and then on to the Derawan Islands.