Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Borneo (3) - Just Passing Through Pangkalan Bun

One of the many mosques
along the riverside
We only planned to spend a night Pangkalan Bun as it would be easier to get to the nearby airport where we were catching our next flight to Banjamarsin.  Jenie insisted on paying for the taxi as part of the service he provided when we arranged the Tanjung Putin trip with him.

It was Jenie who wanted us to visit his sister's school (but he applied no pressure) and he was also keen to take us on a short tour around the river in Pangkalan Bun because he said he wanted us to make the most of our stay in his local area and see as much as we could in the short space of time we were there but he wanted no extra payment.  We really could not have asked for a better guide.

At the hotel in Pangkalan Bun Jenie left us to settle in and we just relaxed for a few hours.  He returned at about 5.00pm to lead us down to the river.  We wandered from the main road down one of the many alleys which led to the river and to a rickety jetty where one of Jenie’s friends was waiting with his small boat (or large canoe, depending on how you looked at it).  Becoming experts climbing on and off of seemingly unstable water craft, we boarded without incident (that is, neither fell overboard) and set off on a short cruise of the river and have a peek at local river life.

Us in our little canoe
We could not help but compare it to the Mekong Delta and while there were obvious similarities it was clear this area was much less densely populated by comparison.  The houses were similar, made from wooden and built on stilts over the river, as was the way the people who live on the river rely on it so much for everything.  While they have electricity, they rely on the river for washing, laundry and toilet facilities.  It seems unthinkable to us and it is hardly surprising disease is rife but it’s actually incredible to us that anyone survives. 

The children, particularly the boys, are the funniest to watch.  They use the river as a playground and they particularly like to play to an audience.  As soon as they spotted us from the shore they would launch themselves in with a huge splash.

We watched women washing their hair or doing the laundry, men lathering themselves and rinsing themselves in the river, and lots of people were doing a spot of fishing.

A view from our canoe
There were also mosques everywhere along the river, of all shapes and sizes.  Some were quite grand, others less so but it seemed you were always within hearing distance of a mosque (at least one, sometimes two).

It was only a short trip of about an hour but we enjoyed it.  We were heading next to Banjamarsin which was apparently considered the Venice of the east (without the architecture and St Marks Square so I suspect less like Venice and more like Birmingham, but I digress).  Banjamarsin has two main rivers and a vast network of canals along which many people lived so we expected it to be similar to what we had just seen but on a larger scale.

Life on the river
In Pangkalan Bun we finally said farewell to Jenie and thanked him for everything.  He played a huge part in how much we had enjoyed this part of our trip.  As well as his unrivalled knowledge of the Tanjung Putin National Park, we loved visiting the school and the little boat trip around Pangkalan Bun was an added bonus as we would not have taken the time to do this.

Jenie went far beyond what we expected of him and we wouldn’t hesitate recommending him to anyone who wanted to visit the area.

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