Traversing across Kalimantan in an easterly direction, a couple of speedboats whisk us from Pontianak to Ketapang, then onto isolated Kendawangan to edge ever so slowly to Banjarmasin…
Continuing the impeding journey during 1998 traipsing across the island of Borneo but only in Kalimantan, the time has come to check out a couple of speedboat trips.
Without the luxury of the internet or a mobile phone, information is scarce, especially on how to travel anywhere in Kalimantan.
Back in Pontianak…
Sound slumber is soon broken with dogs barking at 2am followed by someone bashing on the footpath’s light post below, ensued by the dulcet sounds of wailing from the nearby Mosque. So loud is the wailing that it sounds as though it’s in our room…oh for a good night’s sleep – time to leave Pontianak.
If interested in how we arrived in Pontianak, my previous post on Kalimantan: Putussibau, Sintang, Pontianak explains the very long journey…
Getting to Ketapang
The Opelet driver in Pontianak drops us right at the boat terminal to catch the ride on the MV Francis Express. This boat is delightfully luxurious compared to previous boat trip experiences in Indonesia and even comes with a hostess! Decided to spend the few extra Rupiah (10,000 Rupiah each – a couple of Australian dollars), to travel in the comfortable ‘Executif‘ class and not sit on the hard splintered timber deck or roof, as on previous boats. It seems that only Chinese locals and the odd foreign tourist, travel in the Executif section of the boat.
The speedboat From Pontianak to Ketapang is scheduled to take 8 to 10 hours.
This boat leaves Pontianak on time, which is unheard of during the three-plus months of travelling in Indonesia.
Travelling south in Teluk (Bay) Sukadan, three videos play during the trip as does the obligatory blaring and screeching sounds of Karaoke – there’s no escape from this in Indonesia. Thankfully, the air conditioning works, and the seats recline to a comfortable position – luxury! At the time of travel in 1998, three of these speedboats did the run to Ketapang every morning.
By the end of the journey and moving through the speedboat to leave, the Econo section is a filthy mess even though every seat includes a bin. Each is empty but instead, the garbage is strewn all over the floor.
With a flat sea, the journey is smooth and fast. The boat barely makes the stop at one tiny village to drop off a couple of passengers, taking only seconds before speeding away again to continue the journey at a 20-Knot speed. Turning into a branch of the Pawan River, a very picturesque vista awaits. Lush mangroves grace both banks of the river dotted with palm trees growing amidst mangroves, in the brackish stained water.
Arrive quite early in Ketapang as the boat journey finished in 7 hours – astounding and a first in Indonesia.
Where to stay
With almost nothing open at 3pm, check into the Putra Tunjung Hotel (still operating in 2022), which is clean and a good hotel. You have to remember that in 1998, the Lonely Planet included some sketchy outdated information about Ketapang and not much else. No internet, no mobile phone, no English, nothing. Basically, it’s a trudge with all of your gear door-knocking until finding some decent accommodation. Also, it’s a good habit to check the room out before booking the night or handing over any cash (no credit cards back then).
An early bus from Ketapang leaves every couple of hours and only takes 1.5-hours to reach tiny Kendawangan.
Had we known, we could have done this quick trip last night instead of staying the night in Ketapang as time is running out on the visa.
Where to stay
The B.K. Losmen is literally a building with over twenty partitions separating spaces to make rooms. Sadly, the better wing with actual walls that make rooms private, is all occupied. With only one ‘Mandi‘ (bathroom) for 30 rooms, this is going to be interesting…but for a few dollars each a night, you can’t complain too much.
The night here wasn’t great as very noisy, with people speaking loudly throughout the night and the loud Mosque nearby works overtime. After almost four months of travel through Indonesia across several islands, there seems to be a pattern, locals go to bed very late, wake up very early then sleep all day – nothing gets done.
A little on Kendawangan
Kendawangan is a small place exuding a village feel and its main earner is fishing.
Met a lovely family and donated my jeans to the daughter as she was very helpful in finding out travel information. No one speaks English in Kendawangan. Although my Bahasa Indonesian is getting better, it’s not yet good enough to hold a conversation. The daughter’s father is 48, and the mother is 35, with 6 children, they’ve been married for 20 years. Women are married off extremely young. They’re pushed into the motherly mindset at around 5 and 6 years old and typically, have a brother or sister hanging off their hip to look after.
While there, the father was building a cabin for his timber boat. An excellent craftsman, he proudly shows a model boat and wooden furniture he crafted for his house – very impressive. I don’t think that many tourists pass through Kendawangan as we truly are a novelty to the villagers, to the point of being embarrassed. Locals hang out of doorways and corners yelling out ‘ello‘ and are generally inquisitive.
The police station
Hearing many stories of corrupt police in Indonesian, reluctantly, we are told to visit the police station to register our presence. Our fears dissolve in ten minutes of meeting the police as none are in uniform and all are very friendly. A supposedly quick registration dragged out to over two hours and while waiting patiently as an officer typed with two fingers, triplicate copies for each of our details. This gives us a chance to speak with other officers at the station but also little with their wives and children, and learn that the families of officers live behind the station. Think the accommodation is provided but can’t be sure as the policemen have broken English and we only have broken Baha Indonesian. Responding to the same questions asked repeatedly over the past several months, locals are intrigued about why we are here, as foreigners are scarce or non-existent in Kendawangan.
It’s great to explore and experience such an isolated region away from tourists and relatively untouched.
Time is dissolving on the visa for Kalimantan and as travel is intrepid and very slow, need to push east to the city of Banjarmasin. Decide to head down to the wharf tomorrow and hopefully catch a speedboat to Kuala Jelai, around two hours further on this journey.