A Travellerspoint blog


My last stop in Kalimantan

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large_5550_14695040783295.jpgToday, I fly from Berau to my last stop in Kalimantan, the island and town of Tarakan. The 25 minute flight replaces 2h30 by bus to Tanjung Selor followed by 1h30 by speed boat to Tarakan.
I woke relatively late today at 0600 and had breakfast at 0630. It was a good spread at Palmy Hotel for brekkie. They offered a free shuttle to Berau’s flash new airport. The airport was decorated with Dayak motifs and nice sape music was streaming through. I like how so much of Kalimanatan (except Banjarmasin) celebrates the Dayak heritage.

I had arrived just before the counter opened for my flight to Tarakan [Tarakan-travel-guide-870969] (my final stop in Kalimantan) and it was only a short wait.The check-in clerk advised of a delay as the flight from Samarinda [Samarinda-travel-guide-869709] hadn’t taken off due to bad weather there.large_5550_14691969808091.jpgDowntown Tarakan with the Grand Tarakan Mall in the background.

Waiting at the departure lounge, with free internet, I managed to do a fair bit just between check-in time and original departure time. There was a flight going to Samarinda which was delayed and someone rumoured that it was the same aircraft that would come back and take us to Tarakan, meaning that it would be another 2h, which was also approximately a 2h delay. Hope not.

I managed to get lots of admin done with reasonably good internet. We departed about 1h50 late for the 25 min hop to Tarakan. It would only be marginally slower to take a car and boat via Tajung Selor (2.5h plus 1.5h).

Taking off, we flew over the open cast coal mine before heading towards Tarakan. I smelt smoke during the flight. I guess the pilot was smoking on the ATR but I didn’t want to say anything as it didn’t smell electrical or plastic. Soon enough we were descending into Tarakan. The waters surrounding the area was murky due to large rivers nearby.

Deplaning, I asked the crew how many sectors they were doing. Answer: Twelve. The other day when they did nine, I don’t think they had a single rest or meal break so I wouldn’t expect anything more today. I’m glad I was on the third flight of the day rather than the twelfth!

The ride into town took five minutes but was a set overpriced rate. The Milia Hotel was very nice. I managed to find a place for lunch across the road where I got a big dish of capcae kuah. I needed the veges so much after Derawan. When I went to pay, it was meant to be IDR20K for the vege and IDR6K for the juice but the man said it was only IDR20K because the juice was free on Fridays!. What refreshing honesty!

I retreated to my room to escape the afternoon heat and emerged in the evening. My hotel is in the epicentre of town, next to the Grand Tarakan Mall and the cross-road of the most happening places in town. The once-grand mall appeared disused; don’t know what went wrong. There wasn’t much in terms of “happening” or even eating places. No wonder the latest version of the guidebook has left out Tarakan!

I had a look at KFC and got tempted by their chicken fillet burger. It seemed too cheap to be true, and quite rightly so, it was tiny. I wanted something else and found a Pempek Palembang stall down the road. Oh dear, more fried food. I capped it off with an Es Campur in a dessert shop nearby before calling it a day, a rather lazy day.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Derawan advice & summary; To the coal-mining town

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large_5550_14691545348115.jpgView of Berau.

Derawan Advice & Summary

The diving is awesome but come with a friend to share the cost of the boat to the best dive sites. One friend is adequate ‘cos with more people, you need a bigger boat and the price so it doesn’t really get cheaper.

It is more of a local getaway and on weekends there might be noisy reunions, team-buildings, church retreats etc. On week days it is very quiet. Also, it is carless but there are some motorbikes even though it takes only 30 minutes to walk around.

While the village “streets” are nicely kept, there is a fair of litter in the waters of Derawan [Derawan-travel-guide-1335019]. Overwater cottages do drain their sewage into the sea the old-fashioned way.large_5550_14691545612929.jpgView of Berau.

Be prepared for monotonous food like fried noodles, fried rice, fried chicken lalapan or grilled fish. This isn’t a well-off community. What you’re buying from them would be a treat for some locals.

Accept that you are going to a place relatively untouristed by foreigners, unlike Bali. You can’t expect a first world experience.


Moving on to the Coal-Mining town

Today I move on from the island of Derawan to the coal-mining town of Tanjung Redeb, but more commonly just referred to as Berau (which is the name of the greater area). I need to overnight there because the flight to Tarakan [Tarakan-travel-guide-870969] leaves in the morning and the boat and car combo to get to the airport doesn’t quite work so early in the morning.large_5550_14691545114617.jpgStalls on the waterfront.

The weather appeared to have turned with the first signs wind and choppiness since I arrived. It was still drizzling at breakfast after the strong dawn downpour. Around 0900 it had dried and calmed sufficiently so I rang for a ojek to take me from my accommodation to the public pier. He was at the clinic and I had to wait for a while till he rang from outside. I went to the office drop off my key and check-out. A young lady staff popped her head out the backroom as I was leaving and asked me to wait as there was a small refund for me. I had sent money from New Zealand and it was easier to send a an approximate amount than an exact IDR amount. She brought out about IDR30K after a short wait while she prepared the paperwork.

At the pier, I managed to get on a boat by myself for IDR100K which is the usual “per person” price (well, perhaps for foreigners), because the captain was from the mainland and wanted to get back. As for the car to Berau, the driver said it was IDR100K per person but after a short wait, he said I could go for IDR150K immediately. As I had no urgency, I said I would wait. It turned out he had a pressing engagement and said we could go immediately for IDR100K with just me. Deja vu!

The two hours went quickly with lots of dangdut and some more wholesome songs. We had a brief stop on the outskirts of Berau for him to look at a car before he dropped me off at the very lovely Palmy Hotel.

It was a short wait for the room so I had lunch in the restaurant. I relaxed briefly before heading down to the gym; it was surprisingly OK for a hotel gym. I managed to get some of remedial exercise programme, which was a nice change from the walking and swimming. The scales suggest that I was now 71kg after lunch and with clothes; whereas recently I was 72kg in the morning without clothes (having lost about 2kg from my South America trip). Strange considering I’ve been on a high carb, high palm oil and fried chicken diet!

I wandered out in the evening. It's a tiny but tidy town. The river had a few big ships and some tugboats pulling barges laden with coal. The riverfront was pleasant with lots of carts/kiosks selling juice/shakes and simple meals. I had an avocado shake (first one this time in Indonesia) and nasi maut (death rice, a fried mix of rice and noodles).

After I ate my meal, I noticed the man brought up river water, presumably to do the dishes. (Fortunately I didn’t get sick). Strangely for the first time on my Kalimantan trip, I had trouble falling asleep till around midnight.


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Diving with the awesome mantas at Sangalaki

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large_5550_14691046933263.jpgMantas at Derawan are about 3-4 in width. Poor photo from Chinese copy of GoPro.
I arrived at the diveshop before 0830 and Doris was along shortly after. There was a short wait for the catering from next door before we set off on a small boat “Ferari” (sic) captained by a half-Chinese half-Bajau man (who didn’t look Chinese at all).

It was very overcast, which is supposedly good for manta sightings. The ride across took to Sangalaki took about an hour through some sections that were very shallow and light-coloured.

We “anchored” at Manta Point using a weight tied to a rope. The first dive was unspectacular with some coral and a sandy patch which I’ve kinda seen in other manta areas. It was a very easy dive (as with the next one), and good for Doris who was uncertified but have had six dives in other places. I came up disappointed but with about 90 bar of air left after 45 minutes; very unusual!

We spent our surface interval on the boat.large_5550_14691046972802.jpgMantas at Derawan are about 3-4 in width. Poor photo from Chinese copy of GoPro.I asked Osland how often one would encounter mantas out of ten dives while in season. He said, virtually every dive. The season starts now-ish but is kinda more “in earnest” from August to September then gets a bit iffy in October.

I learnt that native Derawan [Derawan-travel-guide-1335019] people (as opposed to the ones here as a result of transmigration) are Bajau; they say they are the same as Moro from Mindanao. Yes, Moro as in MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and Abu Sayyaf.

Then the conversation moved on:

A: So I hear some people were lost at sea about a year ago. Which dive shop was it?
O: That was me.
A: What happened?
O: We dived our usual route but the boat man never came to pick us up where we normally resurface.large_5550_14691047018073.jpgMantas at Derawan are about 3-4 in width. Poor photo from Chinese copy of GoPro.We waited, the weather changed, the current came and took us out further and further. I had no choice but to leave my group and swim for help. I swam for 2 hours and go to an island to get help. Despite navy and 3 helicopter searches they were never found.
A: Do you still use the same boat man?
O: No.
A: How many sleepless nights did you have after that?
O: I could not work for 8 months due to trauma and only started back a couple of months ago. If it ever happened to me again, I’d wait 20 minutes and take off my BCD and let my weight belt take me to the bottom of the sea.

The time came for our second dive at Manta Avenue. It was nice enough for a while with coral and stuff but not what I had specially come for. About a quarter way into the dive, Osland clinked on his tank.large_5550_14691047055355.jpgMantas at Derawan are about 3-4 in width. Poor photo from Chinese copy of GoPro.We saw two mantas approach and glided in front of us.

One really has to see them in person to appreciate their size, grace, beauty and awesomeness. Osland told me later they are about 3+ metres across but I would have thought they were bigger.

We saw a turtle shortly after. Then Osland guided us up a coral “hill”. He must have had good vision as the reason only became apparent a little later when I saw some hazy resemblance of the two mantas. It was even more awesome at the top of the “hill” as the two mantas circled us for a little while. There was also a time when we had a manta and a turtle together in the same scene.

Moving on from there, I saw a silhouette of what I thought was a thresher shark with a characteristic long tail. It disappeared but we saw the creature later on the sandy sea floor.large_5550_14691047098193.jpgMantas at Derawan are about 3-4 in width. Poor photo from Chinese copy of GoPro.It turned out to be a leopard shark which has a large tail as well.

Again it was an easy dive and I surfaced with about 80 bar of air after 45 minutes. We took lunch on the pier at Kakaban. I rested while Doris and the rest went up to the jellyfish lake. I also waited while Doris did her third dive at Kakaban’s Barracuda Point.

On the way back, we saw lots and lots of dolphins. Even the crew got excited because it isn’t an everyday thing for them. We got back to Derawan about 1700.

I had a rest till around 1900 when I grabbed dinner. Fortunately I ran into Simon & Karen so I was able to share my experience with them (as they are moving to Sangalaki), and also say goodbye. I went to pay Osland at 2000 and also say goodbye to Doris there at the same time.

What an awesome day it has been!


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Relax and admin

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After breakfast at 0730, the tide was right for a swim. I quickly changed and went for a cool dip, lingering as much as possible to fill in the free day. I eventually came out of the water for fear of having had too much sun. After a quick shower, I checked the time. It was only 0930

I did some admin in bed. A storm came up after a long period of dark clouds. Thunder, lightning, torrential downpour and wind. But finished up rather suddenly in time for me to meet Doris at Derawan Ocean Divers at 1200.

There were no thorny issues to resolve and we were happy with the plan that we discussed yesterday. Doris and I were able to have lunch straight away at her guesthouse next door. She was a lovely keen traveller, having been travelling for 2 years on a shoestring. Being a solo girl wearing a selendang, a lot of Indonesians take a liking to her offering free accommodation and taking her under their wings. The hospitality she sees far surpasses what I get, which is already quite remarkable.

The rest of the day was free to relax. I did take an early evening walk around the island which took 30 minutes.

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Jellyfish lake and diving at Kakaban

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large_5550_14691044818814.jpgDiving at Barracuda Point on the island of Kakaban, an hour away by speedboat.
It was a leisurely start with a 1000 departure from my hotel pier. I got there slightly before and was surprised Osland needed a PADI form. I thought it would be less official out here in the middle of nowhere.

We were on the boat in no time and the ride to Kakaban was very smooth. The water was like glass in parts. We got to the SW end of Kakaban and did our first dive at Barracuda Point (as opposed to another one called Barracuda’s Point supposedly). It started as a bit of a shelf with quite good coral, a shark, and finished with a large school of barracuda. I love barracudas!

For our surface interval, we parked up and walked up to the lake on Kakaban to swim with the stingless jellyfish. The water was brackish (slightly salty); I guess it is leftover from the days when it was part of the sea before it was cut off.large_5550_1469104485716.jpgSnorkelling in a lake of stingless jellyfish on Kakaban island. Due to the lake having been cut off from the sea, they have no natural enemies and have hence lost their sting.The jellyfish have evolved to be stingless due to lack of natural enemies.

No fins were permitted. We had to go deeper into the lake to get a good concentration of the jellyfish. I think I had been conditioned to avoid contact with them. After a while, when I knew I had been in contact with them from paddling around, I did touch a few just for the thrill of it. I tried not to overdo it in case it causes them to rekindle their sting in the future. LOL!

We had lunch on the jetty. I had a very nice fried chicken topped with chilli sambal. The Dutch had their sauce on the side, fortunately for them, as they don’t like spice.

In all, the surface interval at 2h was more than the required. We returned for the “Wall Dive” site. And what a wall it was! The coral was absolutely glorious.large_5550_14691044895063.jpgSnorkelling in a lake of stingless jellyfish on Kakaban island. Due to the lake having been cut off from the sea, they have no natural enemies and have hence lost their sting.There were some nudibranches and an orang-utan crab which I didn’t see. No big stuff for me until the end when we saw a turtle.

On the journey back we encountered a pod of dolphins. We slowed down to watch them jump before continuing to Derawan [Derawan-travel-guide-1335019]. As we were pulling in, we saw a huge turtle. Simon & Karen have seen it in their snorkels near the island . They think it likes the seagrass. I wonder if it likes the discharge from the toilets from the overwater cottages.

After a rest, we met up to pay Osland. I met Doris from China who had just arrived. We managed to agree on a plan for Sangalaki and tentatively advised Osland that we’d go on Wednesday. Another sigh of relief as it looks like I’m getting to do what I want here in Derawan.


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