From Tarakan, I still had to cross the river by wooden boat to Tanjung Selor, the point where I would be able to continue by land to the rest of Indonesian Borneo. Again, I had two days to wait for the boat.
In Tarakan, I visited a special needs school. Some of the children were preparing for the Borneo Soccer Cup Special Olympics. The teacher said that those who will join the Olympics are really good at soccer and have already played outside the country. I felt so proud of them. Physical limitations aren’t real limitations: the real limitation is mental.
I had so much fun in Tarakan with the children but, eventually, I had to say goodbye to the children and head to the ferry port. I spent a night there and, the next morning, took a boat to Tanjung Selor. I almost had panic attack when they loaded the boat, because it was a small boat and I think it was overloaded. There were not many passengers on this boat, but it was full of cargo.
It was dark when I finally arrived in Tanjung Selor. I went to the police station to get them to fill out my log book. One of the policemen invited me to stay at his house, so I stayed there. He was worried because soon after the road leaves Tanjung Selor, there will be nothing but forest for more than 150 km. Also, he said that some of the roads are bad and some are still under construction.
Next morning, it was raining but I kept on going. As I expected, the road was so bad. My bike and I were struggling big time.
A lot of people asked me on this trip, “have you ever been scared of travelling alone in the forest?”. The answer is no, I never got scared. I found the sounds of random birds or insects singing to be calming. I kept hoping to see elephant cross the road but I was not lucky enough to see any. I drove many kilometers all by myself along this road, with no other cars or anything. It was fun because I sang along the way and no one got angry because there was no one there to hear my broken voice. Every half an hour, maybe only one truck passed by. It was a wonderful experience. But my bike and I needed to be careful because it was raining and the road was slippery and we also needed to watch out for fallen trees.
I stopped at the first shop that I found, right in the middle of the forest. I stayed there because it was too dangerous to continue driving at night.
The next morning, four hours before the big town of Sangata, my bike gave up. My right suspension linkage broke and I lost balance and almost fell into a gorge. I was lucky because there was small shop nearby that was full of truckers. All the truckers came along and helped me. They all convinced me not to continue because it was too dangerous and because the roads ahead were bad and there was nothing beside the road but forest. They loaded my bike onto one of the trucks and drove me the last 95 km to Sangata.
In Sangata, the trucker brought me to workshop. Unfortunately the workshop didn’t have enough equipment so they couldn’t fix my bike fully. I spent two nights in Sangata, staying with a host from Couchsurfing. We were already in contact via couchsurfing but couldn’t tell her when I would be in Sangata, because there was no signal in the forest. I finally called my host right when I arrived in Sangata. Luckily, they were able to host me. Desi, my host, came with her friend, Ibnu, to pick me up and take me to her house. As soon as we met, it felt like we had already known each other for a long time and we talked about everything. Desi’s family greeted me and we all had dinner together.
The next day, Ibnu, Desi and I drove around Sangata. My bike was still broken, so I rode pillion on Desi’s bike. We went to a secondhand market and had so much fun together.
Finally, after my bike was temporary fixed, I continued to Bontang, the next city. Bontang was an hour’s drive from Sangata. Bontang is a bigger town than Sangata and I found an official workshop for my bike. It was going to take two days to fix everything, so I trusted them and left them to it.
I stayed in this house in the middle of the sea. There was no electricity and sleeping under the moon was amazing. I really liked all the people there. They are activists that care so much about the environment. If anyone wants to come to Bontang, please contact me, and I will put you in touch with these wonderful people. Your experience in Bontang will be unforgettable.
Spending so much time with these awesome people made me forget about my bike. That was my biggest mistake. When the workshop called me to tell me my bike was ready, I went over and took it for a test ride. I immediately felt there was something wrong with my bike, but the people at the shop convinced me everything was okay. I drove my bike to the house, parked it in the parking lot, and stayed in the house in the middle of the sea for two more days.
When I finally left town, the trouble started. My bike was not able to climb any hills, even very small hills. I had to push my bike many times. Luckily, a guy on a motorbike saw me and, as we were going to the same place, he followed me. Every time we came to a hill, he helped by pushing my bike from behind. I was so angry at the mechanics in Bontang. When I made it to Samarinda, the second biggest town, I went straight to the official workshop for my bike and complained. It turned out the last workshop had glued my carburetor piston, so it couldn’t move up and down. They finally replaced it with a new one. I was so angry and traumatized because they are a well-known workshop and it was unbelievable that they did something stupid like that.
I have to admit that Borneo was hard. So many broken roads, a broken bike, and almost a broken leg too. My bike had broken many times and at this point I was frustrated because the mechanics did more harm than good to my bike. I don’t understand how people could be so careless and not realize that it could put someone else in danger.
I was disappointed with Borneo because, before I came to Borneo, I set my hopes too high. I thought Borneo was still pretty and the forest was still nice. Instead, I saw palm plantations and coal mining almost everywhere. So disappointing. There was even forest burning in the conservation area.
When I was in Banjarmasin, I also saw people selling protected animals. I reported them to the animals association, but I am not sure what happened after that.
Not everything was bad in Borneo. In Banjarmasin, I stayed at a family’s house and we went to the floating market at Muara Kuin together. In order to visit this market, you have to wake up early, because it operates from 5 am to 8 am only. I found this market interesting because the sellers were genuinely making a living and were not concerned with posing for tourists. Also, in this place, I not only saw the floating market but I also saw people taking a bath and doing a number two in the river! In Borneo, the river is the center of many people’s lives. In the river, people do their laundry, brush their teeth, take showers and also do number two. Despite many signs around the area telling people to start using proper toilets, people are still doing this. I think it is disgusting, but what can I do?
Borneo is really huge and I spent more than a month finishing my trip there. I met so many nice people along the way and they all helped me so much. When I think about Borneo again, I have mixed feelings. I feel disappointment, frustration, anger, etc., but I am relieved I finally made it. Borneo was the hardest part of my trip so far but I am glad I was able to get through it and keep my spirits up to finish my journey.