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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
All 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 !!!
Thank 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.