Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Kalimantan Adventure Part 1

I have been missing from the blogsphere, Facebook-sphere and Twitter-sphere for the past 1 week. I hope some of you are still around to read what I will be writing today. If some of you wondered, I was in SouthKalimantan, or Kalimantan Selatan, or fondly known as KalSel the past week.
I am here for work and it has been an eye opener for many of us whiner back home, especially those that complains constantly about how bad our roads conditions are or how much we can’t live without our water heater for that much needed hot shower.
This week, I will save all of you my blog readers the agony of reading health, exercises and boring stuff about how I lost 17kg in the past 8 months. In fact, there will be pictures and post about the very food I complained to be unhealthy (Yay? Or Yay!). 
Brooks 21km Run. Pic thanks to SC Chan
I will attempt to provide as vivid and as lucid of explanation for this particular working trip in a few installments. Having really limited time and playing catch-up with the family upon return and also to get back into the groove with the social media, so bear with me.
My adventure to KalSel pretty much started on the morning on March 18, 2012. I set my alarm at 4.30am so I could get up and prepare myself. The taxi has been arranged two days before to pick me up at 5.30am in the morning. My flight is at 8.30am and I can’t miss the flight. There will not be another flight and no one will wait for me.
Don't get left behind. Picture from my Instagram
You know what they say about things that could go wrong? Yeah, it pretty much started off wrongly. I snoozed my alarm and did not wake up until the taxi driver called me. Even that, I thought it was the alarm and I tried snoozing it – again.
What comes up next was the frantic running about like Mr. Bean and waking up wifey, took a quick shower (with soap), changed (thank God I put out the clothes I wanted to wear the night before), wore  sandals, kissed Ms. Wife and off I went – all in 6minutes flat. I am proud that I only forgot to brush my teeth and have breakfast.
The taxi driver asked me if I am late and should he drive faster. Assured him that I have enough time if he just stick to his speed limit. After all, rushing sometimes will slow you down as you could meet with an accident – which was what happened to wifey’s car a day before when a car rushing did not stop a junction and rear-ended her car. The lady that rear-ended the car told us that she was rushing to work.
Back to the story of KalSel, yes, I managed to reach the Puduraya for Airplane aka LCCT on time at 6.30am. A short wait and I had my two other colleague, PC and Zain joining me at the bag drop counter. No drama here as everything was done two days before. I know – I am anal when it comes to these arrangements especially when travelling. We had breakfast shortly preparing for what will come our way which will be travelling for 8-hours from Balikpapan to Pamukan Bay.
Pretty decent. Maybe because I am not choosy. Black with no sugar for the win.
The flight was on-time and we found ourselves seated between all the “tetangga” or the Indonesian neighbours. They must had been to KL for the weekend for some work or shopping trip and I found myself seated right in the middle of 8 others Indonesians. I got 3-hours to learn the lingo or subconsciously soak them all up.
Onboard the Caterham Plane
With little geographical knowledge of KalSel, I estimated the journey is towards Gunung Aru, which is about 400km from Balikpapan. I found out the journey was only 200-odd km. So, 8hours sound pretty, long. It is like snailing pace from KL to Ipoh which will be a typical 2-hours toll to toll journey. But 8-hours? Like Seriously?
Landed. A short walk from plane to Immigration at Sepinggan International Airport
Misleading artwork for the Visa On Arrival
We landed at Sepinggan International Airport and a short walk got us into the immigration clearance office. The place is small. With only three counters available; one for VOA (tourists/social visiting pays USD25 for a 30-days visa), one for Foreigner or Bule and citizens of Indonesia, and one more for citizens only. We were asked to move to the VOA line and it took us almost 45minutes to clear the immigration. We were the last in-line (for VOA) and the others behind us was diverted to the other two counters. 
160 people from the plane, into 3 lines. I should had seen it coming.
We secured our luggage (it is conditional release, so make sure you don’t lose your luggage chit if you are checking in luggage). Then, it is a compulsory custom and immigration x-ray scanning upon exiting the airport. Don’t ever think of bringing in anything funny – though my EDC was in my toiletries bag.
Upon exiting the airport, we met up with the other team – the potential JV partners of the estates and mills we are visiting. There were 5 of them and the total strength was 8 person. We waited for a while and had the representative from KalSel meeting us. We had to take three taxis from the airport to the jetty to catch a speedboat across the Balikpapan Bay. The distance was less than 15km and it cost us IDR450,000 or MYR150! Time taken were about 20minutes.
Toyota Vios as Taksi, as they call it.
The short drive took us down this Oil&Gas town and I was starting to wonder if the 8-hours as told by the driver sent by the estates were true. They initially estimated an hour from Airport to Jetty, but it was only 20mins! So, can’t be that bad. See how I was still trying to convince myself over the journey? Those that know me will know why the apprehension. Those that don’t know, I have motion sickness and was known to barf from KL to Penang on the train when I was about 5 years old travelling with my parents for work. We arrived at the Semarang Port Jetty where we will take speedboat instead of Ferry to cross the Balikpapan Bay.
You eat this at your own risk. Their version of Ais Kacang
It takes only 15minutes on board the suicidal speedboat, where no life jacket are given and you do ride at your own risk.
Colorful Speedboat with no proper chairs
It was in a way fun though, never mind the rickety old speedboat that make those fast double on-board speedboat to Redang looked like a luxury boat.
Kreenggg Kreennngg!!
How simple was the speedboat? Well, here is a photo of our driver, Pak Shamsul (left) sitting at the front with the boatman.
Even Pak Shamsul is hanging on for his dear life
We reached the other side of the bay and was warned by Pak Shamsul not to allow the locals to carry our bags. They will make a fast one on us for a short walk across the jetty. A few of us got charged IDR50,000 or about RM15 for that short 150m walk.
The Plantation host prepared 3 Toyota Innova, otherwise known as Toyota Kijang to take the eight of us from Balikpapan to Pamukan. The team was split to 3-3-2 with each Kijang assigned a Supir (driver) each. Apparently, the Supir drove from Banjarmasin - 16hours from Balikpapan...
Refuelling before journey...from a Jerrycan stored behind the car. Talk about exposure to BTEX inhalation...
From there, the adventure officially begins. With no idea of what lies ahead, we hop onto the Kijang (but the one i was in was a new Avanza and we were to change to Kijang at Tanah Grogot as the Avanza would not survive the road after Tanah Grogot) and mentally prepared for the long 6-hours drive (as it takes an hour from Airport to Jetty, another hour across the bay). The thoughts of why the Avanza will not survive the journey after Tanah Grogot kept me awake.
Yeap, that's the town road!
10minutes into the journey, our van stopped by the road side. Our Supir told us that he need to refuel the car. But I do not see any petrol station. However, what i saw was makeshift stalls selling petrol (otherwise known as Bensin or Benzene in Indonesia) using those 5liter plastic containers.
Cewek (girl) that knows her liquid. Solar refers to diesel and also known as Suria.
Talk about occupational hazard. I am sure she won't suspect the exposure to the hydrocarbon fumes and sun will potentially give her bad complexion. But i guess she is very well prepared with some personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of...cooling powder on the face.
Strong one hand operation. That explained the delts.
We refuelled with about 10liters of petrol and if the convention is right, Tanah Grogot is about 100km (assuming the average fuel consumption will be 10km/l) - so, it should just take slightly over an hour. Conversation ensued with the Supir and i came to realised that our Bahasa Malaysia is not understood by the locals. I had to be quick and start to catch on some para-phrase to bridge the communication. Somehow, i know i will need to learn it fast - there are possibility i will need to perform the presentation in the best possible comprehensible way.
The main road starts getting tighter and smaller. Polisi (Polis) riding side by side - wearing bulletproof vest!
About an hour into the car ride, i start to realise that the car hardly exceed the speed of 50km/h. The road seems to be riddled with potholes and we were sharing the road with other heavier vehicles and with other commuters on two wheels. It starts to get you thinking if that 100km will ever happen. What follows for the next close to 3hours was vehicles overtaking recklessly, motorbikes coming up the wrong direction, sudden braking due to huge potholes, human standing right in the middle of the road, 150 gallon barrels placed in the middle of the road and other nuances that will make the average Klang Valley citizen cringe and show their middle finger.
And that include "toll collection" and/or what seems to be "fund raising to build a mosque at the area you pass-by". Notice the 3-tonne truck in front and that the road is no longer tarred.
I wasn't joking about human standing in the middle of the road as you can see from the photo above. Apparently, this part of Indonesia is having some problem with their fuel supply. Ironic as Balikpapan is an O&G town. We were told people line up, or park their cars overnight at petrol station to fuel up!
Traffic jam caused by these stations along the way, further aggravating the travelling speed. If you think the NGV taxis in Klang Valley should be shot for lining up along the main road, then be prepared to see how it is at 10 times worse here.
After what seems like eternity, we finally reached Tanah Grogot. It is like small town where it gets a bit more civilised compared to the road that we drove on for the past 4 hours. Lunch was served at 5.30 in the late afternoon, or was it dinner?
Hungry hungry hungry. Everything is fried! :(
Disconnected from the luxury of internet connection and a free way to keep in touch with the family, finding a wifi spot (that is free) is like striking gold. It could be the very last for days to come.
Internet! Yay! Nevermind the pre-broadband days 56K speed...
I was not sure if i was hungry or was just gonna eat my misery away. I ordered a plate of fried duck with lalapan (or salad) that comes with rice. PC, my colleague/senior in office went a bit adventurous and ordered Nasi Bakar or Burn Rice with Kampong Fried Chicken.
My Bebek/Lalapan dengan Nasi. It was a skinny duck with no fat. Some vegetables, compulsory sambal and what looked like ginger paste...i think.
PC's Nasi Bakar with Kampong Fried Chicken, some vege, sambal, ginger paste and water to wash your hand. They assume you will eat with hands - like a man. The nasi bakar is actually just rice that is barbecued/browned using the leaf to wrap the rice in them.
Lunch/dinner was good. As planned, me and PC (riding in the same Avanza) has to change to a larger Kijang for the remaining of the 100km, or more, journey. We are about half-way there. Total travelling time was already close to 5hours since we landed. With an hour rest for us and the Supir, the journey continues. It was about 6.30 and it was already getting dark and the road has no street lights. Our Kijang has misaligned front light. Road getting tighter. Trucks getting more. Potholes got bigger. And the rest of the 100km was nothing more than 30km/h - with a lot of last minute braking, swerving (to the opposing lane and seeing your life flash before you), falling asleep momentary only to be woken up as your head knocks the window due to the extreme movement of the vehicles. By then, the promised 8-hours were running thin. It has been more than 12-hours since i woke up at 5.30am...
Highbeam when unsure. Time : 7pm.
What is that in the middle of the road that cause the car to jam it's brake? Oh, potholes...
This is not estate road yah, the above is still the main trunk road! Motorbikes rides in darkness, some without frontlights and have to brave those destroyed road. We in Klang Valley complains about bad road??? Eat this...
...and this...but careful as...
...swerving to the opposite lane just to get stuck? Sucks big time...
A 10-tonner showing how it should be done. Potholes? What potholes?
Just how really bad was the road? Watch this 28 secs video and tell me if you feel sort of motion sickness. We had to endure almost 140km of these road condition. 
Just as you thought the road condition improve enough to allow you to adjust your seat belt, you get surprises (which apparently, are pretty normal in this part of the world) such as the few photos below.
Looked like the only road to get to the other side is now officially blocked by two trucks, laden with goods, sinking to their respective side as they tried to manoeuvre past each other. The convoy of 3 Kijang stopped, got out and "enjoyed the view".
PC the Engineer trying to figure out how that happened while Zain wonders why he was even asked to come along.
There was no way these two trucks could be pushed or moved away without proper tools or tow truck. In fact, i have not seen any tow truck along the road the whole day. It was already 9pm when the above happened. We were officially on the road for no less than 9 hours. Estimated distance to destination is about another 40km and will take about 2hours - best estimate.
One thing that i must comment on the people in Kalimantan. They are helpful and selfless. One would expect only the drivers and assistance of both the trucks to be trying to get their vehicle out of the ruts, which is the very typical style of any Malaysians minding their own business. There were three trucks behind the truck facing us from the photo above and they all came down to help. Everyone is doing something to help rectify the situation.
Help came when another truck has cables that can be used to pull the truck out. Noticed the spacing between the two trucks? yeap, they were driving that close to each other!
Many Hands Makes Light Work. No pun intended.
The selfless truck was none other than a truck painted with the image of Indiana Jones. Got to love the artwork and the irony of it.
look at the two photo before this. You will see Indy reversing and positioning to help ;-)
The attempt was not successful, unfortunately. But these Banjarese people do not give up. So, they continue digging, planning, and smoking their Kretek to find a solution. We has already waited for about an hour.
Indy tilting his body to lend weight to the rear tires for more traction. My biggest worry was that the cable used to hook both the trucks will snap and cut someone standing nearby into half.
30minutes later, a 10-tonne truck drove up and offered to help Indy. They discussed and decided the best thing to do was to have the 10-tonne truck pull Indy, while Indy pull the stucked 3-tonner. Think of it as metal orgy of almost epic proportion. 
The 10 tonne pulling the 5 tonne pulling the 3 tonne
While waiting for the outcome of the tugging and pulling, a short conversation with the Supir had us understand that the Kijang used to transport us is no ordinary Kijang. These "uncle" van widely used as people mover (within the RM100K price range in Malaysia) is rear-wheel driven and most impressive of all, have trucks suspension absorber and uprated springs.
With a little touching up on the photo above, I am sure Toyota will consider using the image for their marketing purposes! Note the road condition, these cars aren't even 4WD!
Hooking up the 10-tonner to Indy
Finally! After almost 2 hours!
I was expecting the truck to drive off since it unstuck itself. That was when i saw the men started walking towards the hole and trying their best to level off so other vehicles could past! Talk about "after sales services" ;-)
They know well, if they don't level it as much, they can't pass too
We continue our journey and finally reached the destination after almost 12hours on the road. The estate road condition was slight better compared to the trunk road. Due to the amount of time travelling and the road condition, the Supir wanted to get to the destination as fast as they could. All i recalled was being thrown around at the rear seat mercilessly. Holding on to the seat belt and having the restrain activated due to sudden jerking movement was just crazy. It makes the roughest ride i ever had in Kuantan recce-ing for the Xterra biking trail looked like paved heaven!
We reached the officer's mess of the plantation otherwise known as Pamukan Resort. A long house that has 12 rooms with each able to fit in 3 person comfortably.
Home for the next three nights
The bed and room - was a welcome sight. We rested the body for work begins the very next day. The amount of time spend travelling from KL to Pamukan was almost a day worth. None of us were looking forward to the return journey to Balikpapan and that was for sure. 
Day 1 : 220km travelled at 25km average...
Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of this write up. More will follow and this week will be a super busy week for me, so do drop by on a daily basis for Part 2 as i myself do not know when it will be published too!


  1. Wow those roads really do look terrible. I bet even an all terrain vehicle would have trouble with that.

  2. LIT - you bet. They replaces the MPV's every two years. No point trying to repair as the cost will be more than buying new