We arrived in Borneo on Wednesday, September 25, after three straight days of travel. There was a long-haul flight to Singapore with an awkward hour-long stop in Seoul. At 2 a.m. we holed up at one of Changi’s many McDonald’s outlets, snacking on seaweed fries, burgers, and a wedge of goat gouda I’d brought from home.
After landing in Jakarta, we sought information about the terminal for our connecting flight to Pontianak from four different uniformed officials and received four competing directions. Eventually we made our way to the domestic terminal, where for most of the five hours we spent there we were the only non-Indonesians. Boarding the plane was the opposite of an orderly Southwest board-by-group experience. Although we all held tickets, the jostling and shoving to get past the gate agent suggested that the flight was actually first-come, first-serve.
On the plane, an old model with fraying seat cushions and dirty, streaked windowpanes, the flight attendants translated the safety instructions in English solely for George and my benefit. Landing in Pontianak, we faced a situation at baggage claim not unlike the boarding procedure in Jakarta. I inadvertently mowed down a fellow passenger or two in my do-or-die attempt to claim my backpack, but I was repaid by a jab in the back of the leg with the sharp end of an umbrella.
I mistook the entrance to our hotel, the Gardenia Resort and Spa, as the entry point to the town’s police department. We bumped down a long driveway past polisi milling about with full weaponry, patrol cars and motorbikes, and rows of ready-to deploy riot shields. Later, we’d learn that the entire police department was holding a retreat and training at the hotel.
That night, we collapsed into bed, fully relishing what we knew would be our last ‘real’ shower and night in an air-conditioned room for six weeks. Wednesday morning brought a ridiculous adventure: a ride in a rickety high-speed boat up the river and along the coast to our final destination, Sukadana.
As with all of our experiences thus far in Indonesia, the boat was packed with at least three times the number of people that would have been considered appropriate in the US. We boarded early to partially escape the ceaseless action at the dock: floating and flying garbage, feral cats missing their tails, folks pulling up to in all manner of boats as part of their morning commutes, boats that in no way looked like they could support a load of any significance, and a couple ‘restaurants’ serving food that I’m pretty sure is cooked with scuzzy dock water.
Although initially pleased with ourselves for selecting seats near the front, we soon realized our mistake when it turned out that 1) our boat driver was a chain smoker, and 2) the ride turned insane out on the open ocean, our little craft slamming over swells and driving a constant salt water spray across our faces and down the front of our shirts and pants. This was the first time I truly understood the saying ‘my stomach dropped’.
A couple hours into the journey, we climbed out the side of the boat to a tiny wharf, following a crowd of fellow passengers to a restaurant perched on the wharf’s rickety planks. Its food was billed by former volunteers as some of the best we’ll have during our whole time in Indonesia. The buffet spread was full of mysterious offerings and heavy on both soup-like dishes and items containing unknowable fish and meat products. We picked at our bowls, half-heartedly swallowing rice that tasted like mud!
Upon arrival, we waited for a ride from a clinic staff member. When an ambulance pulled up we figured, correctly, that our chariot had arrived. Travel-weary and bleary-eyed, we were deposited at our house to figure out how to use the bathroom (no shower! no toilet!) and sleep off our exhaustion under a mosquito net in the sweltering heat.
More adventures to come…