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Semarang to Pontianak


That morning I was reminded why I usually resisted taxis like the plague when the seemingly amiable old boy tried to convince me that the 16,000 fare plus rip off 5,000 gate toll fee equated to 23, I was releaved just to be there though and indulged him the extra 10p. A small but very modern terminal, Semarang airport boasted such wonders as a practically unknown no smoking zone, a good English language book and map shop and delicious sludgy coffee, even if it was predictably price-hiked up to the rafters. After also succumbing to an unexpected and begrudged airport tax payment the check in was late in opening, perhaps explained by the now sods law realisation that mine was the only flight delayed.

Soon enough though I was safely sat aboard my Batavia Air 737 bound for Pontianak in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo, plumped pride of place with row 1 to myself. As we taxied out a military Bell 412 helicopter or similar throbbed right over us disrespectfully low, and I also spied a lone DHC-5 Caribou. Take off was disconcertingly bumpy, but we unstuck eventually to immediately reveal a heavily flooded coastal plain beyond, Java was soon behind me and the Java Sea below. Some unexpected islands dotted around had the allure of green, turquoise and golden atolls, until the haze sadly intensified into a smothering blanket of moisture laden air. It was only close to final approach then that I gleaned my first peek at Borneo, forewarned of 2 things which both served to detract from it. In the stereotypical epitome of the tropics, I peered out into the mirk in search of rainforest, only to see an intensely green patchwork of concerted cultivation. Yup, there was rain, but nope, no forest. My long lugged rain jacket now prove its worth, and though the small airport terminal was a dump, the Scottish weather at least made it unexpectedly fresh and bearable. I had hitherto tired of constantly enduring rivers of sweat running down the creases of my palms, and other nooks and crannies such as inner elbows were unmitigated harbourers of sticky grime. No great hassles here, I just sidestepped the taxi sharks to hoof it out to the main road in the rain, and though a little disorientated I was finally very fortunate in finding helpful locals who understood every word of my Bahasa, an unexpected small Bemo terminal got me into town for all of 10p.

First impressions of Pontianak, capital of West Kalimantan province was that it was a shithole, and though it was perhaps little redeemed by the rain and gloom, the pavements seemed to be that little bit more haphazard, that little bit dirtier, and certainly the stench of open cesspools didnt do the place any favours. There was the habitual incessant traffic, with the motorbikes resorting to the pavement as often as not, only prevented by cars and foodstalls inconsiderately blocking passage. The Khatulistiwa Hotel was a winner though, central and available, and unsurprisingly so since it was perhaps the largest hotel I've ever stayed at in my life, encircling a whole street as it does. The rooms were similarly humungous, and it earned extra brownie points in the modern fan, inclusive brekkie and great blessing, a clothes horse. Try living without one when you do laundry every other day. It was also a quirky bonus to stay here since its name meant "Equator" in Arabic and that was a local attraction, the world's longest line passes just outside of town. Not for the first time, it was as quick as I could get to the Mandi and then plonk myself down in front of the fan, subsequently rejoicing in an unexpectedly fresh evening mustering few bugs. Finding beer at a makeshift shack proffering pavement tables, I was star of the show as ever, and the attentions revealed an interesting first lesson into the discernibly varied ethnic mix here. There was a sizeable Chinese community here, and indeed though that proved obvious in spying people using chopsticks and the odd temple and clan house dotted around, there was still a dearth of Chinese characters since the language had been heavily suppressed under the Suharto dictatorship. What surprised me more though was that other people I took to be ethnic Chinese were actually indiginous Dayaks, not how I expected these people to look at all. A trio of bashfull young honeys set the mix, with one being of Dayak origin, one ethnic Melayu (Malay) and another Javanese. That reminded me in turn of Indonesia's sometimes troublesome policy of "Transmigrasi", whereby people were given incentive to relocate from overpopulated Java and settle elsewhere. It was a question of interpretation as to whether that could be deemed a beneficial policy of homogenous nation building, or whether it was an ill-conceived affirmation of overweighted Javanese influence liable to lead to confrontation. In spite of aspirations of ticking off at least some of Pontianak's highlights that day, sleep was too difficult to resist after my recent privations, and even 2 restaurants indicated in the guidebook proved absent from where they should have been.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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