EL Fellows do South Kalimantan

My first trip out of Palembang since settling here after orientation was….EPIC.  Now don’t get me wrong, I was prepared to be dying to get out of Palembang, but I must say I really do like it!  That being said, I was looking forward to seeing a different part of this massive country, AND I was dying to see some of the other fellows that I’ve missed so much since Orientation.

I won’t give you an exact play-by-play (it might go on for waayyy too long).  Instead, I’ll give you highlights:

Banjarmasin: Floating Markets

Our fellow Fellow (ya follow me?) Jon, lives in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan (which is part of the larger island of Borneo), and it was Jon who masterminded this trip. Most of us flew into Banjarmasin on Thursday night. We sprawled around his house, and got a 6am wakeup call in order to make it onto the river and to the floating markets.  Banjarmasin is known as “The Venice of the East” .  My counterpart claimed that when the Dutch were here, PALEMBANG was “The Venice of the East”… what happened?!  Banjarmasin stole the title somehow.  I won’t hold a grudge though, because it was an amazing sight to see.

Our captain: Jon. Floating towards the floating market.

We rented a boat for the 10 of us, and we went up/down (? I’m always so bad at this..) the river.  On either side were houses on stilts.  The people who live there were slowly waking and going out to their “bathroom/kitchen/laundry room”—the river.  I don’t mean this in a gross way.  It was fascinating, and I felt a bit bad, like we were going through their house.  Many of them were pouring water over themselves from the river, and some were washing dishes or clothes.  They peered at our large boatload of bules (all in matching blue, AWESOME shirts).   As we floated along, some long canoes (probably not the correct term) passed us, with men and women taking their produce to the market.  When we got to more open water, we got to a floating warung (a warung is streetside eatery, although you’ll notice this one is not on a street).  So you just shout over your order—the boat pulls up beside it, and they pass out our food and drinks.  I required both iced tea AND coffee because it was way too early to be talking to me without large amounts of caffeine.  We all ate Soto Banjar which is Banjaramsin’s soup.  Can’t quite recall what was in it, but it was good!  A difficult thing for me to adjust to is typical Indonesian breakfast—they eat rice, chicken, hot soup, etc.  These are things I don’t want until dinner time, and it is sometimes difficult for me to eat them that early.  But as they say, “When in Rome” (or the Venice of the East).  As we sat in our boat and ate our soup, people paddled up, offering to sell us their produce.  I bought some tiny bananas that were very yummy, and some other people  bought other types of fruit.

The floating warung: where we bought our breakfast.

Soto Banjar at the floating market. Notice part of the market floating by in the background.

Buying some tiny bananas.

THEN, we found the greatest floating contraption of all time: the floating doughnut boat.  Oh my gosh.  Heaven.  I don’t know how many we ate.  Perhaps our boat sunk a tad bit.

Iris & Jon are very happy we found the doughnut boat.

Everything was so fascinating, beautiful, and colorful.  I took lots of photos (see facebook later for more).  For once we were snapping as many (actually more) photos of others, than they were of us.

View from our boat of some the houses along the river

Man selling produce

People doing laundry and washing in the morning.

Loksado: Campfires and sing-songs

After the floating market, we drove up to Loksado, which is in the mountains of South Kalimantan.  It took about 4-5 hours including stopping for lunch.  We stayed in a guesthouse with 5 bedrooms—no AC (but not really necessary), and of course Indonesian-style bathrooms, but very comfortable and communal living.

The singalongs began early! Here we are awaiting further instructions about our lodging.

The Borneo Brothers leading us in a sing song

Although this could happen anywhere, in any country, and it isn’t necessary to be in a foreign country to do so, having a sing-along with people playing guitars and sitting around a fire is one of my favorite things.  We had been asked to request songs, so that Jon and Esteban (the Borneo Brothers) could practice for our sing-along.  They were awesome!  And I of course, had to perform my number 1 (only one?) on guitar—Wagon Wheel.  I especially must say a special thank you to Jon for “Goodbye Earl” and to Esteban for “I’ve Just Seen a Face”—during each I went a little mental.  Terima Kasih!

Loksado: “hike” and swimming under a waterfall.

So we had ‘tour guides’ AKA Jon’s students.  They really did so much to organize this trip and took care of a lot of the negotiating in Bahasa Indonesia.  Well we wanted to go on a hike, so they told us there was a great place to go up to with a waterfall.  There are several things I want to note here.

  1.  “hiking” in Indonesia (in my one time experience) consists of hiring a fleet of 15 ojeks to DRIVE us up treacherous roads across flimsy drawbridges halfway up the mountain.  THEN dismounting, to hike the remaining 20 minutes.  THIS was quite the experience.  I have been driven around on a motorcycle loads here in Palembang, and I really do enjoy it.  It’s a great way to see everyday life without getting stared at.  Also it’s COOL (temperature wise)…and the other way too.  But this ojek ride was something to remember.  15 guys pull up to our house on their motorcycles—clearly the guys from around the villages who have a motorcycle & are up for earning some money for the day.  We were two short, so one zooms off to round up another couple drivers for the remaining bules.  They aren’t wearing helmets. We aren’t wearing helmets. I suddenly wish I prayed more often.  The way I figure it these days is, there’s nothing I can do about it if I get killed, so just go with it. (Good outlook?)  I’m sure I wasn’t the only nervous one though.  We set off down the roads (going faaaast).  It’s a beautiful drive through the mountains.  Then, we start off-roading.  Across scary loose bridge #1.  These bridges are made of wood—probably reinforced by metal of some kind, but they make noises like they’re going to fall apart when motorcycles cross—so imagine a line of 15 going across!  Every time we crossed, I held my breath.  And we crossed MANY bridges.  Up the mountain—bumpy.  Seriously, it was a hiking trail, and we were motoring up!  A huge line of motorcycles!  It was a really cool perspective, but I don’t know if I would have been sorer from hiking or riding on a motorcycle for 30-40 minutes.

Line of ojeks and passengers ready to cross first bridge!

crossing a bridge

Along our “hike”. rooster and motorcycles.

Caravan of motorcycles ‘hiking’ through the jungle


We get to hike the rest of the way to the waterfall.  We have been informed by our Indonesian friends that bikinis/too much skin will upset the spirits of the waterfall, so we must wear shorts and t-shirts.  I’m a bit annoyed by the spirits and wonder why they care, but of course I respect their wishes. Indonesia is still a very mystical land.  People can be ‘possessed’ by bad spirits, and a few English teachers here have witnessed this.  A group of us saw it happen in Bandung at a Sundanese (group from West Java) cultural performance.  A girl was “taken over?”  and started convulsing, and had to be carried out.  I am probably too practical for my own good, (I even have trouble with my own religion whatever that may be), so I am trying to be more aware and conscious of keeping an open mind.  But don’t expect me to pass out into convulsions anytime soon.

Actually hiking!

Walking across the bridge this time!

So to respect the spirits’ wishes, Jen and I went into this little changing room shack up near the waterfall, only to find it inhabited (AFTER I pulled my pants down) BY  ARAGOG!  (HP reference, anyone?)  Ok. GIANT SPIDER.  Jen absolutely lost her mind screaming and pointing and we were TRAPPED like RATS (ew, sensitive subject).  I wasn’t screaming, but I was thinking of pushing Jen through the door to get her out.  Luckily I didn’t act upon my impulse because the spider dropped right in the doorway.  Dear god. I’m shuddering just thinking about it.  We made it out of there in one piece.  Half screaming, half laughing, me trying to hold up my pants!  What we needed now was to dunk ourselves in some freezing water.

The waterfall was beautiful!  Our ojek drivers had thoughtfully (?) followed us up the hill (on their motorcycles most of the way), and gathered on the rocks to observe the strange bules who like to jump and swim in freezing water.   After sweating for the past two months, feeling cold was GLORIOUS.  We had fun trying to swim up to the waterfall, only to get pushed back.  The strong people made it close. I tried to stay alive and did my doggy paddle.

the waterfall!

Notice: apparently the spirits don’t mind if the MEN don’t wear shirts….Just sayin. From left: Esteban, Kate, me, Autumn, Jackie, Iris, & Tabitha

Loksado: Bamboo Rafting

Bamboo rafting: the reason we were all there.  What could be cooler?  Did it stop me that I have never done any sort of rafting?  Of course not.  We were given a scare when we arrived in Loksado on Friday that the river would be too low for us to go bamboo rafting.   So during our campfire sing-along that night, we did what anyone would do—we had a rain dance.  (Or at least some of did).  We must have gotten our timing off, because it showed up a bit late, but it was all fine.

So rewind: Jon planned and purchased matching team t-shirts for our fabulous weekend.  On the front it says: “Mau ke mana Mister?”   (Where are you going, Mr.?)  If you recall from a previous blog, this is something asked/shouted at you quite regularly here.   On the back of our t-shirts it said: “BAMBOO RAFTING!”  So yes, we rocked our matching shirts.  The fact that there was a possibility we wouldn’t get to GO bamboo rafting was very upsetting for many reasons, one being: we would then have LYING t-shirts.  We really couldn’t have that.

Luckily, the bamboo rafting “drivers” accepted us.

Every raft had two passengers (except one had three).  Kate and I shared a raft with our awesome “gondolier.” I don’t want to brag or anything, but I’m pretty sure Kate and I had the best navigator.  His name was Satri.  He smiled a lot, did tricks with his bamboo stick (like using it as a pole vault), let me steer, AND didn’t smoke & blow smoke in our faces!

Satri our bamboo driver!

When we set out, it was very exciting-going down some rapids, and marveling at the beautiful sights and sounds.   It was very peaceful, and yet it also kind of felt like a ride at an amusement park.   The river was still pretty low, and so we got stuck on rocks a lot, but luckily Satri is the man and lifted the raft (us included) over rocks, and moved rocks around, and used his bamboo stick to push and maneuver us around.  Shortly in, we realized how much our butts were going to hurt from sitting on the raft.   Then we remembered it was a three hour ride down the river.   So much of the ride was us contorting ourselves to sit in different positions, including lying down and the ever-popular Indonesian squat.

View along the river

Low waters. Driver takin a break in the river, the rest of us just relaxin

View from our raft

Kate and I (and Satri) were the first raft out of the gate (no, there wasn’t a gate).  I was quite proud that we were first. I felt like we were discovering everything.  Sometimes we’d all get jammed up at a particularly rocky place, and Jackie & Iris’ raft or Autumn & Esteban’s raft would ram ours giving us a nice jolt.  We kept the lead most of the time.  As the river widened, sometimes there were 4 or 5 rafts grouped together so we could pass snacks and give each other high-fives.  All very important tasks to do while rafting.  When we did lose “first place” and I urged Satri on to overtake those losers, I realized that I’m actually more competitive than I thought.  But it was nice to be near the others at times, because we would sing more songs.  (we have a very singy group).  Although sometimes when we lost the others, Kate and I sang songs to amuse ourselves.   The circle of life was a good one, also a Little Mermaid song.  (There was a Disney theme).

View of the back of our shirts!

So if you recall, we did a rain dance the previous night.  Unfortunately, I guess we didn’t specify when we wanted the rain, SO it started raining lightly and pleasantly about an hour in.  Then, it started pouring.  I stuck my bag under my t-shirt and impersonated a pregnant woman.  Don’t know how much it helped really.  It was actually quite chilly, but I kept reminding myself that chilly was SO NICE and rare for me and to bloody ENJOY IT!  And I really did.  It was lovely.  The hard rain lasted maybe 20 minutes or so.

Towards the end, Satri asked if I wanted to take control of the raft.  DUH.  So I stood up, tried to keep my balance, and took the bamboo stick.  It was so fun.  I maintained control…mostly.  Bamboo is so strong.  When I started drifting to the side and it was too deep for me to reach with the stick, another raft came up beside me to guide us back.  I was good after a few minutes.  THREE hours these guys do it!  Strong dudes.

Steering myself and Kate through the rushing (ha!) waters.

Jen rockin the bamboo rafting!

So ends this blog: highlights from South Kalimantan. It was an amazing trip, and was so wonderful to be in the MOUNTAINS again and also to catch up with the other Fellows.  What an awesome group we have.  In two weeks, all of us will be together for TEFLIN (National TEFL conference in Indonesia), so I can’t wait to see everyone again! Sometimes when I’m homesick, I remember that a big part of why I love traveling is the people I meet.  I’ve already informed at least one couple on this trip that I will be visiting them in 10 years (and of course, hopefully before then).


About Deirdre Hand

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." Bill Bryson
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6 Responses to EL Fellows do South Kalimantan

  1. Jennifer Hand says:

    What an incredible trip! I want to build a bamboo raft now! How do you think it would work on Claytor Lake? 🙂

  2. Kate says:

    Awesome recap, Deirdre! Thanks for posting so many pictures, too. They’re the first I’ve seen (other than a few profile pics).

    Also, one correction: We got up for the floating market at 5AM, not 6AM! Makes all the difference. 😉

  3. Perry says:

    Great blog Deidre. Keep em coming! Have fun and be safe…Im living Indonesia vicariously through your blogs!!!


  4. Jennifer McCloud says:

    Hey, Deirdre. Your experience sounds AMAZING! So happy that you are having such a wonderful time. Can’t wait to read “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Jonathan and I send you Thanksgiving blessings!

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