mf doddy abdurachman

Traveller's Tales

 

The Mighty Mahakam River


Sailing along big rivers is one of my passions and this time, accompanied by my assistant Benny Setiawan and Yuddi Widjaya of Malang Photo Club, I sailed along The Mighty Mahakam River, in East Kalimantan, from Samarinda (GPS Coordinate: S00..30.114’ – E117.08.394’) into the deeper interior of East Kalimantan, up to Lake Jempang, for 4 days and it was one of my memorable river adventures.
 
 
 
Mahakam river, estimated around 1.000 kilometer long, which is quite short in compared with its other big fellow rivers in Kalimantan, such as: Barito and Kapuas, however it is pretty wide, almost all the way up to the edge of Lake Jempang. Mahakam has many small rivers, flowing mostly connecting the Dayak Ethnic settlements located deeper into the interior and also as outlets to the big lakes, such as: Lake Jempang, Lake Semayang and Lake Melintang.
 
 
A rather nice and clean Double-Decker boat, equipped with the necessary facilities, such as kitchen, toilet and dining can be rented for around USD 160.- (Rp 1.500.000.-) per day and the price includes: the diesel, the boat captain and   two boat attendants. However, it is advisable to buy some supplies for the boat’s crews, such as: instant noodles, rice, coffee, sugar, if we want them to keep smiling and ready to assist us anytime we need them during the journey.
 
 
The sleeping compartment is located in the upper deck and equipped with air-conditioning. It is   and long, but comfortably wide enough, to accommodate around 8 people, sleeping on the floor using mattress, which perhaps is not quite suitable for “heavy weight” persons (like me), to easily get ups from “the bed”…... In front of the sleeping compartment is a nice small open veranda with 180 decree view of the river in front of the boat.
 
It is interesting to note that the boat is equipped with a rather ancient (but work magic) water cleaning system that clean the rather muddy Mahakam river water, into a good enough quality water for bathing and toilet business purposes. However, I prefer to use a gallon of 20 liters Aqua drinking water to clean myself, every morning and using 1 liter drinking water in a plastic bottle for brushing tooth, when it is felt necessary.
 
 
The lower deck is an open deck, used for dining room, engine room, wide enough kitchen and toilets facilities, which is pretty small and quite a challenge for the “heavy weight” persons (like me) to maneuver freely …… Well, lets be fair, it is a wooden boat, which is very much in perfect harmony with the environments, not a luxury yacht with 5-star hotel facilities.
 
We have to bring our own foods, which the local Supermarkets in both Samarinda and Balikpapan (GPS coordinate: S01.15.612’ – E116.54.082’) have a wide range of good quality of foods, from both local, as well as imported, such as rice, noodles, breads, sugar, coffee, tee, milks, water, soft drinks, canned soups and sardines, well, whatever one needs. Apparently, this area has the highest consumer prices index in Indonesia for good reasons, namely: its remoteness, as well as from the history, whereby Balikpapan was known   as “Oils Towns” which happened to cost the local people very dearly indeed. Cooking our foods ourselves was another great fun we experienced during the trip.   However, to overcome these cooking problems (but not recommended because of the seer fun of it) a local cook can be hired at USD 15.- (Rp 150.000.-) per day plus meals, of course.
 
 
A 50X50 cm cool box is available to store our refreshments. Vegetables can be bought from the villages along the river as we sailed along. We could also buy many kind of fresh water fish, crabs and prawns directly from the fisherman’s net, if they happen to cross our path. The above is the biggest “Patin” fish I have ever seen …….
 
 
While he have enough supplies to travel for more than 4 days, it turned out later that we only consumed less than 30 percent of our supplies, because there are good and indeed clean village restaurants that offer variety of fresh water fish, such as:   fish, crabs, prawns etc
 
The people along the river must be a very clean people indeed. We see them almost anytime of the day, either cleaning themselves or do washing. The   houses seem to have a very big swimming pool, to serves all purposes, right in its doorstep. Children jump from their bed right into the river and it was a great fun indeed to watch them doing their daily wet routines ……… And they even give “two thumbs up” sign, whenever we pointing our camera to them ……… beautiful people indeed.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sleeping in the boat was, surprisingly enough, quite pleasant, with occasion waves coming from the passing ships, swinging the boat and it is interesting to note that “the swinging sensation” stays with us for to 2 to 3 days, after we abandoned the boat, we were still feeling the ground was still swinging, like as we were still in the boat ……….. like a drunken sailors, even we were not at all drunk!
 
 
The local economy is booming, with the coal mining explorations, from both big companies, as well as, small local mining activities and we hope that this new business would soon replace the more and more restriction applied to the timber industry, which destroyed both the environments and its habitats. New bridges and roads are being built to accommodate the growing mining business and to connect people into deeper interior. The world is getting smaller for them and I hope it doesn’t have any negative impact to their beautiful and indeed peaceful culture.
 
 
 
Day One:
 
We started around 6 am from our hotel driving to a little village called Loajanan, around 15 kilometers south of Samarinda, where the boat, we were going to used was docked. We rented the boat from Pak Jarkasih who owned some 3 tourist boats of various sizes.
 
 
We started our journey into the wilderness at 7.30 am and after around 3.5 hours on the boat, we stopped at town of Tenggarong (GPS coordinate: S00.26.755’ – E117.00.249’) for visiting The Mulawarman Museum, which originally was The Palace of “Kutai Kartanegara” Sultanate.
 
 
The Museum, is a beautiful and typical Dutch colonial house, displays many historical items belong to the Sultanate of Kutai Kartanegara.
 
 
 
Without bothering to cook and consume our own foods, we have our first lunch, at a rather good fresh water fish restaurant, a few meters away from where we docked our boat.
 
 
We continued our journey up river, passing town of Kota Bangun (GPS coordinate: S00.13.245’ – E116.35.667’) and decided to stay overnight in the boat, docked in a small village by the name Benua Puhun (GPS coordinate: S00.16.739’ - E116.47.840’). While of course, we covered our entire body with anti-mosquitoes cream, however, surprisingly enough, there were not many mosquitoes around and people said that they have never having mosquitoes related disease such as: dengue fever or malaria. Well, God acts in mysterious way, doesn’t HE.....?
 
 
That night was the moment of truth of how we deal with our cooking for the dinner. After a quick tutorial and of course with a bit of throwing weight around, I managed to teach the basic cooking skills I have, to my assistant Benny, to make: Fried Rice, village omelets with all sorts of vegetables and canned sardines cooked in tomato sauce and I must say that Benny did the job pretty well indeed.
 
Day Two:
 
After waiting for the heavy rains to ease, we started our journey at 9 am from Benua Puhun to Muara Muntai (GPS coordinate: S00.21.757’ – E116.23.768’). Arrived at Muara Muntai around 2 pm and due to the water plants “Eichhornia Crassipes Solms”, or the “Enceng Gondok”, or “Ilung-Ilung” as the Dayak people call it, we have to abandon our boat and take a little, but pretty fast small wooden boat, or sampan, to the Lake Jempang, to Tanjung Isui (GPS coordinate: S00.30.345’ – E116.08.651’).
 
 
While we sailed up river, I noticed the unbelievably huge amount of floating debris of both, Eichhornia Crassipes Solms and weeds, coming from the lakes, just like an island floating on the surface of the river, which cause problems of navigation, especially for the small boats.
 
Tanjung Isui is located in the edge of Lake Jempang, where The Dayak of Benuaq community live. While they live in new environments, in individual houses   with modern facilities such as electricity and television, there is only one remaining typical “Dayak Long House” which the Dayak call it “Lamin”.
 
 
 
The only Dayak Long House is basically used to accommodate the curiosity of the flocking tourists into the area, where they could see the Dayak women making handicrafts and weaving their traditional clothing and also used it as hotel, for the tourist who would like to spend a night of history there…… Well, not in the way the Dayak people do sleeping on the floor, but on a bed, equipped with mosquito net and a little fan decorating the room ……. 
 
 
After a tiring travel in a narrow and pretty bumpy speeding boat for 3 hours, up and back, we were relieved to arrive in the luxury of our boat around 6.30 pm and stretched our tired legs. Instead of staying overnight in Tanjung Isui, we decided to continue our journey down river back to Kota Bangun and spent the night in our boat, in Kota Bangun.
 
Day Three:
 
We started at around 8.30 am from Kota Bangun continued our journey to Lake Semayang, but it was raining and foggy.
 
 
So we decided to travel back to Kota Bangun to have our lunch in one of the best restaurant, serving   fresh water fish, prawns and crabs, fried with hot sauce and grilled with all sorts of magical herbs and they tasted just so good and they served it in our boat .…. where else on earth one could get such   services…..?
 
 
 
After all those big bellies full with delicious, exotic and indeed healthy foods, everybody dozed off, except the Captain who wisely decided to quietly continue cruising his boat, carrying the happy sleeping passengers, to a small village called Lekaq Kidau (GPS coordinate: S00.18.355’ – E116.49.132’), in Sebulu, where we could see the conservation of a small number Dayak community of Kenyah tribe. The Head of the community there said that there are still around 6 elderly Dayak with long stretches ears left in the community and in order to take photo of them, we have to contribute some money amounting to around USD 35.- or Rp 350.000.- for the community and tips, as we please, to the individual Dayak for the photo sessions……. 
 
 
 
After taking hundreds of photos, one of the elderly Dayak Kenyah woman, with long-stretches ears, in their colorful traditional dresses said to me: “I don’t know how many people have taken photo of me, but I never see one…..” I said to her: “ I will send you one and that is a promise”  And she answered with smile on her soft crispy cheek: “Many have said the same thing ……” She left me speechless, but I gained my courage and said to her: “I am not one of those many, I promise you, OK….? And I just walked, as fast as I could, to the awaiting boot, with the captain was still dozing off on board. I must say that I have a mixed feeling, if not a rather unpleasant feeling, when taking their photo and looking at their old, tired and crispy faces. They are “The Last Of The Mohicans of The Dayak” of Borneo………. history is awaiting them.
 
We decided to head back to Samarinda and stayed overnight in the boat, in its home dock. So we have an extra day and decided to use it, to cruise along the town of Samarinda for a half-day, the next morning.
 
Other bits and pieces:
 
It was interesting to note that apparently there is a clear sign of a very dominant Muslim community along the Mahakam River and it can be seen from, both the number and indeed sizes of the Mosque, from a simple architectures, up to a really modern ones. When we started to see a community settlement in the horizon, the first sight will either be The Dome or The Minarets of a Mosque…….
 
 
 
 
 
 
There are also so many types of houses on the river banks; while some are very basics and the other are quite nice, colorful and looks pretty cool indeed.
 
 
 
 
While in all my Mahakam Adventures was very enjoyable and indeed rewarding, however, it was sad to note that while we were cruising along the Mahakam River, we saw a glimpse of only a few quick seconds of the nearly extinct of the legendary Mahakam Dolphin (or Pesut of Mahakam) and thank God, it is now protected. Equally so, we saw only two occasions of the endangered Proboscis Monkey, known as “The Big Nose of Borneo” and not a sight of Orang Utan……. I am afraid that our next generation might not be able see those beautiful people of the forest in their habitat anymore ……… God forbids.
 
 
See you in the next article……..


 
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