1. 5 Nov, Day 22, at breakfast at Hotel Idola, we met a group from GT Tyres (PT Gajah Tunggal) and its local agent in PT Trijaya Perkasa Abadi. Arijanto was wearing a T-shirt with the IMI logo. I thought they were on a auto trip too and wanted to exchange notes with them, but they were not. Told them Colin Heng of GT Tyres in Singapore was looking at sponsoring my all terrain tyres but this fell through as he could not get the right size in time for me. Mrs Purnomo were kind enough to arrange her company to check my tyres when we reach Banjarmasin. We took a group picture in front of Hotel Idola.
2. We left for Banjarmasin at about 11 am. Someone told us that it would take 4-5 hrs to get there and we did not check. As it turned out, it was more like 6-7 hrs, as Banjarmasin was some 420 km away. We told ourselves that in future we should always check. When we reached Palangka Raya, the provincial capital of Kalimantan Central, it was about 5 pm and it was getting dark. We decided to break journey here instead rather than proceeding to Banjarmasin. However, when Yeow Pheng called his relative, Ah Meng, Ah Meng told us he had already paid for the hotel in Banjarmasin. That left us no choice but to press on to Banjarmasin. We reached there at about 7.30 pm. It was not a joy driving at night. It required full attention, with little room for error and we were just traveling in darkness.
3. Ah Meng, his wife and youngest son met us at the Rattan Inn Hotel, the newest and most preferred hotel in Banjarmasin at the moment. After checking in and settling our luggage, we went out for dinner.
4. Banjarmasin has a population of 630 000. It is the largest city in Kalimantan and is also the provincial capital of South Kalimantan. It is located on the delta island near where Barito and Martapura rivers meet. It is a major trading centre in Southern Kalimantan and handles major exports from the region like timber (which has decline in importance), coal, gem stones etc. Its population comprises 96% Muslim.
5. Next morning, we woke up at 4.30 am to visit the floating market, Pasar Trapung at Kuin. It is considered a must-see for visitors to Banjarmasin. At the village jetty, Ah Meng hired a boat for 100K Rp. At 5.30 am, we made our way to the floating market in near darkness. There was few boats initially, but by about 6 am, many seemed to appear from nowhere.
6. They were mostly sampans, operated by 1-2 persons, selling vegetables and fruits. Ah Meng bought rambutans and some vegetables. There were more women than men in the sampans. The women wore colourful tudongs, adding to the colours of the morning landscape. All in, there must be 80-90 boats.
7. On the river banks, men and women in sarongs started to gather at the jetties of the sawmill to wash-up and do their morning washing. I presume their homes must be behind the sawmills. Away from the sawmills, along the shore, were houses in stilts and, at regular intervals, mosques. Smoldering smoke was emanating from the sawmills, even in the early hours, polluting the air and clouding the sky. Sun rose about 6 but we did get to see the sun until after 7 am.
8. At 6 +, boats carrying tourists like ours started to appear in good number. These 2 girls were obviously in very good mood and they posed for our pictures.
9. With better road networks, and now shops and supermarkets in the town, the floating market has outlived its original purpose and has now become more of a tourist event. There were more tourists with their cameras clicking away than locals shopping.
10. We hopped on to a breakfast boat and for about S$3 had coffee, satay and ketupak. More than other boats, the breakfast boat was doing a thriving business. Here is a picture of Ah Meng and his family.
11. As we made our way to the Monkey Island, the sun was just appearing. Not far away, we saw silhouette of a couple of islands. Visibility was really bad. They were really barges loaded with coal, pulled by tug-boats. We were told South and East Kalimantan are major coal producing regions, and coal is consumed internally or exported to China. The area is also a major exporter of gem stones.
12. The Monkey Island was nothing but an island to get the tourists to part with a few Rupiahs to buy peanuts to feed the monkeys. Nothing more. With the number of tourists turning up at the island, the monkeys must be overfed. They could also be very aggressive. There was a small temple with 2 broken statues of the Monkey Gods. It had deteriorated and I had feeling that few people now visit the temple because of the unpleasantness of the visit.
13. After a porridge breakfast, we returned to the hotel to collect the car for washing. This was how the car looked like, before cleaning. It took 2 hours to give the car a thorough clean up.
14. For lunch, Ah Meng drove us to Martapura (about 40 km from Banjarmasin), to eat Ikan Bakar (basically barbecue fish), at a place called Bincau. They were open air wooden sheds, built on stilts on the fringe of a pond. Was told on weekends, the place could be packed. Like the locals, we ate with our fingers.
15. I had always thought that bird nests were harvested in caves, like the Niah Caves we saw in Sarawak. I first saw buildings that were constructed to attract the swallows to build their nests in Singkawang. Ah Meng had invested in one, built next to his home, 4 storey high, 12 m by 24 m. According to Ah Meng, it would normally take about 5 years before one sees any return. Like all businesses, knowledge is key to success. Ah Meng explained to us how he experimented with various ideas to improve yield. In the evening, the swallows, like a swarm of bees, returned to their home. It is not as simple as we initially thought.
16. We had turtle soup dinner at Ah Meng's house, while watching the swallows coming home. In sharing our experience traveling from Pontianak to Sumpit, Ah Meng told us that the road from Balikpapan to Pontianak, coast to coast, from East to West Kalimantan, will be ready in 2010. The road will open up more areas for development. With 40-60% of the state revenue now kept by the provinces, the provinces now have more fund to undertake infrastructure projects. Previously, Jakarta took 70%.
17. Ah Meng (his name is Zhu Yuming), a Khek, grew up in a town near Singkawang. After school, at about 18, he went to work in Pontianak before taking up a job in the timber business in Banjarmasin. With the decline of the timber industry, he decided to move into the bird nest business. He is related to Ah Lan and Ah Keong of Singkawang. He and his wife, Ah Moi, were extremely good hosts during our brief visit here to Banjarmasin.
18. We will have our tyres checked by GT Tyres tomorrow before we head for Balikpapan, traveling along the coast and making one night stop before we get there.