Banjarmasin, city of rivers

Travelling by boat through Indonesia is a real gift for the nature and people you meet, but the bureaucracy and paperwork involved with it is not always easy.

We need to renew our visas every month and it is a real curse for many fellow cruisers, but as we say in Spanish “no hay mal que por bien no venga”.

We prefer to take the positive side and realized that looking for harbors with Immigration Office gave us the chance to visit places we would have never sailed to otherwise.

Banjarmasin was one of those places.

Main town of South Borneo (Kalimantan) it is a bustling big city, located at the junction of the Barito and Martapura rivers.

Jacques Nicolas Bellin 1747: Carte Des Isles De Java, Sumatra, Borneo &.a Les Detroits de la Sonde Malaca et Banca &c (Benjarmassen on the SE corner of Borneo)
Jacques Nicolas Bellin 1747: Carte Des Isles De Java, Sumatra, Borneo &.a Les Detroits de la Sonde Malaca et Banca &c (Benjarmassen on the SE corner of Borneo)

Our experience is that the harder it gets to reach a place, the more rewarding it becomes to be there.

We spent two days sailing from Kangean to Banjarmasin.  We hardly had any sleep between squalls, lightning and unlit fishing nets that we had to avoid, slaloming all night long.

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As we approached Borneo, the color of the water started changing to a darker brown, letting us know that we were getting close to the Barito River, which is with 900 km lenght, Indonesia’s longest river.

We were almost there.

At the entrance of the delta, there were more than 100 big cargo ships anchored and barges and tug boats were moving all over the place, being emptied from its load, mainly coal and tropical hardwood that came from the jungle up the river.

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To get to Banjarmasin we had to follow a narrow channel dredged on purpose for the barges up the Barito river for 20 miles. Without clear water and the mud banks showing depths below a meter it was not something we looked forward to. We sneaked in between two tugboats towing barges.

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Barges loaded with coal. Full means going downstream, empty going up the river.

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Since we did not make it to Banjarmasin before sunset and we could not spot the debris and logs floating down the river, we decided to anchor next to a small island, out of the commercial traffic that moves day and night.

The following morning we lowered our dinghy to go for our first “monkey spotting” trip. It took us a while, but we were successful observing langurs and long tail macaques in the wild, but we found no trace of the proboscis monkeys. We would have to wait to get to Kumai to spot them.

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On our way back, we saw people on board Lumbaz. For the first time, since we left San Diego had someone gotten on board without our permission.

We heaved anchor and arrived in Banjarmasin.

Everything moves around the water here, so there is a dedicated Water Police. We asked them where it would be safe for us to anchor and they gently showed us a spot, close to the commercial harbors and in the route of one of the ferries that connects the shores of the River, so that we were basically always surrounded by boats and people moving. Not very private or intimate, but safe!

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Water police called Polair in Bahasa Indonesia Polisi (police) and Air (water)

The activity was full on, even on a Sunday afternoon. Freighters, barges, ferries, pinisis, klotoks or river busses, speedboats, all moved all around us, carrying people, cargo, animals, full, empty…

This is the ferry that sails past Lumbaz every 25 minutes. They keep an eye on us!!
This is the ferry that sails past Lumbaz every 25 minutes. They keep an eye on us!!

On the riverbanks there are places where the logs are parked, waiting to be hauled on to the barges. It is sad to see the amount of large cut trees floating around.

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Logs waiting to be taken downstream to the freighter for export. In the meantime, people use them as pontoons for fishing.

We could only think about what is happening to the rainforest and the big problem of deforestation and logging, which we have been seeing throughout the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

These go to export, to our terraces, bathrooms or living rooms.
These go for export, to our terraces, bathrooms or living rooms.


The following days were just amazing!!

Banjarmasin lies a few centimeters below sea level. In 1526 Sultan Suriansyah built a kingdom on the edge of the Kuin, Martapura and Barito rivers that later became Banjarmasin city and converted the people from Hinduism to Islam. Local people build traditional floating houses along the rivers called “lanting”, facing the rivers, which are made of wood or bamboo. Not much has changed in centuries.

We took several trips with our dinghy into the channels and could see how people live on the river.

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It is hard to describe the place: it is an “Indonesian Venice”.

Social, commercial and private activity happens along the canals and you can see people cooking in their kitchens, doing laundry, washing themselves or brushing their teeth in the river. Everybody waved happily at us.

We stopped in front of a beautiful Mosque that we visited. Masjid Sultan Suriansyah is one of Indonesia’s oldest (over 400 years) and it hosts an Islamic  school we got invited to visit. The kids were happy to see us and we started the picture sessions with all the teachers, students and parents that were around.

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One of the highlights was the floating market. We got up early and took the dinghy. At sunrise we were there, to buy our veggies and fruits.


Banjarmasin - 19The floating market of Banjarmasin is a traditional market at the estuary of the Kuin river, a tributary of the Barito. From daybreak boats come from villages around the rivers Tabuk, Jelapat, Anjir and Selapat, bringing vegetables, fruits and other daily needs and household utensils. Buyers and sellers come to the market in small boats and close their transactions on the water. It was mainly women that were rowing their canoes full of fresh beans, watermelons, mandarins and Indonesian spinach.

The colors were amazing, and despite the rain (we are in Borneo!!) we had a great time buying and having breakfast at the floating restaurants eating the delicacies that Indonesians bake every morning.

We ended up with a dinghy full of watermelons, oranges, and all kind of veggies and it was great, for one time, not to have to carry everything by hand and walking in the heat.

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One morning we had an unsolicited adventure.

The big logs get pulled up and down the river by small tugs and so they had been doing every day, past Lumbaz with no issue or concern to us.

But that morning, while having breakfast, we saw them come close to Lumbaz, a little too close. At the beginning everybody was taking pictures, but we all realized they couldn´t make it and the current was pushing hundreds of tons of wood towards our bow.

Banjarmasin - 76All the man standing on the logs ran towards Lumbaz to prevent what seemed unavoidable. One of them even fell in the water between the logs, putting his life at risk. With all men fending the logs of our bow and the tugboat pushing they managed to move along our hull without major damage.

People here are not used to yachts and our boat feels like made out of paper compared to local boats built out of hard wood, mainly iron wood, teak or bangkirai and practically indestructible. At the end it was just another adventure to add to our logbook.


The days passed and we went to pick up our passports. A last surprise!!.

They were all ready to go. Putri, one of the officials handed them over and then came Azita and handed us a present,  a local Banjarmasin crafted purse.We invited her over to visit us on Lumbaz and had a nice chat.Azita speaks great English which allowed us to gain some more local knowledge.

Can you imagine going to an immigration office in your own country and leaving it with a present?

Indonesia is such a wonderful place !!!

Banjarmasin - 77Thank you so much Azita!




As Azita said Indonesian have to be inventive: after delivering the coal to the big ships and on their way up the river, the barges get cleaned by man who sweep the rest of the coal, load it into their boats and sell if afterwards, making a living out of it.


Supermarkets can be great fun and always an occasion to be taken in pictures. Noa was asked to stand for pictures in the supermarket (her blond hair was captivating) in the same spot. She had people standing in line to take pictures with her. Then, when we went to pay at the cashier they all wanted to have a picture, stopping to deal with the other customers in order to have a family picture taken.


Lumbaz gets a bunch of visitors

After saying goodbye to Oma, Cristina and Gina we sailed north to Lovina, on the northern coast of Bali.
We enjoyed a few days of taking care of Lumbaz, catching up with missed schoolwork and a couple of visits to the Green School in Bali and even a trash walk with John Hardy. We got really inspired by the projects they handle.

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John, Benjamin, Eugénie, Daniel and Peter after their trash walk.

Our plan was to sail north across the Java Sea to the Kangean Islands, some 80 miles away. We had agreed to meet our friends on Nautilus there, who were sailing from Lombok.
The passage was great with beautiful sailing wind again after so much time!

Kangean Islands supply comes from traditional boats trading between Java and Surabaya.
Kangean Islands supply comes from traditional boats trading between Java and Surabaya.

We found a beautiful and protected bay surrounded by reefs, unfortunately the presence of salt water crocodiles did not allow for any swimming.
The anchorage was about 2 miles away from the main town of Saobi which gave us some privacy. But after a short visit to the local school everybody looked for a way to get to Lumbaz. Small longboats, diesel powered or under sail were coming from the village and from the neighboring villages to visit Lumbaz. We estimate that the two following days more tan 60 people came on board.

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At one stage, we even had to organize the visits, only allowing one boat per visit, while the others drifted waiting for their turn.

Boats taking turns to get on board. Mainly to take pictures of themselves, and of the girls!!
Boats taking turns to get on board. Mainly to take pictures of themselves, and of the girls!!

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Some younger students were approaching with small tuned canoes roaring at high speed, others were coming, sail up, with the wind and the teenagers motored to Lumbaz. On board, kids were excited, taking pictures of the boat, of all of us and for sure, of the girls…

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Small kids move independently, sailing their sail powered canoes into the sunset in crocodile infested waters. No bubble-wrapped kids in this area!

Three young kids came rowing on a small canoe on their own.

Kagena small 2nd - 3 (1)We invited them on board and they had taken their English exercise book in order to practice the language with us. We tried our best and talked in English and Bahasa but they did hardly speak it, since they mostly spoke Kangean, their local language.

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One of the visit took longer than expected, showing the interesting talks we got involved in. The problem is that the sun disappeared behind the horizon and our visitors, as all Kangean people, are devote Muslims and needed to perform their Maghrib or evening prayer. They asked if it was ok for us and after washing their hands and feet on board used the foredeck for their Salath.

It was a really nice atmosphere. All those spontaneous visits, that could have been tiresome, are a treasure in our memories and a box full of surprises.
We spent a long time with some teenagers that could speak some English and were really fond of football. For sure, coming from Barcelona was a treat for them and we spoke a lot about Messi, Neymar,…  message of Saobi boys to Messi  (thinking that because we come from Barcelona, we can talk to him.


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I think we cannot call them Catalans, but they sure wear those colors with pride!

Kagena small - 39 Kagena small - 32
We could easily have spent some more time in this beautiful anchorage, observing the fishermen and slowly getting to know more and more people.
But Borneo was waiting for us. We had to renew our visas in our next destination: Banjarmasin, Kalimantan’s capital, called the “City of Rivers”.

Sperm Whale by Ainara

We were sailing from Komodo to Lombok and the sun was high up.

Komodo to Bali.004

There was no wind and you could hear the sails flapping from one side to the other, so we decided to pull it down and turned the engine on.

Dad was standing outside when he suddenly saw a big spout in the horizon.

We all went out and suddenly saw a second one. We slowly approached it and realized it was a whales blow. We were all really exited when we noticed that the blow was coming side ways.

I was certain that is was a Sperm Whale!  I could not believe it! I had not seen a Sperm Whale on this trip , and now it was there, a few hundred meters away! (although it was not the first time!)

When I was 5 we were sailing to Menorca an island in the Balearic Islands (Spain)

with my grandfathers boat Jadic, when we saw a pot of Sperm Whales. My Parents told Luna and me that we were amazed (Noa and Nils were not born yet) but of course I can only remember it from the pictures so I was really happy to see another one which I could probably remember my whole life.

I was jumping from one side to the other when we saw its back floating on the surface. It was sleeping so Dad and me jumped into the water to have a closer look at her. It was all so fast that I incidentally put my Mum’s and Luna’s fin on, instead of mine (We all three have the same type of flippers)

Dad and me swam closer and there she was!

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She woke up and looked at us with her beautiful big eye. I could see this rough skin and her amazing strength. She was slowly disappearing into the blue of the ocean and the last think I saw was her eye, looking at us.

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I was overwhelmed by feelings. It was such a powerful animal and yet so beautiful. These animals had been there for thousands of years, had seen things that none of us could ever imagine, had gotten out of being extinct because of the Whalers, and today they were still here for us to admire.

We started swimming back to the boat and I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

Whales are just amazing animals!

Coming North

From Lumbaz Logbook:

Today,28th of May 2016, at 0815 o’clock in the morning we crossed the Equator in the longitude of 106 degrees 07 minutes East. We had a light SE breeze whith squalls attended by showers of rain.
It has been, to the date, 740 days; 2 years and 10 days since we crossed the Equator and entered the Southern Hemisphere on our sail from Mexico to the Marquesas. The Southern Hemisphere, precisely the South Pacific Ocean has been our home ever since.
By leaving it today, on our northbound route, we leave behind many friends and memories.
Following the tradition, we all showed our respect and gratitude to King Neptune who has so vigilantly, followed us on our journey across the Pacific Ocean.