It was a hot afternoon as we walked the street of Balikpapan in search of Nila Warti, Kalimantan Tour agency. We were already doing a trip to Samboja lodge, so had 6 days to fill, with no plans pre-arranged. I had seen Kalimantan Tour guides reviews on trip advisor and decided to try them out. Nila was so kind she even picked my wife and me up on her scooter after we had not realised how far it was to walk to her home/office. The adventure had already begun!
I had done quite a lot of research and realised Kalimantan is a large province, so we focused our attention on the Mahakam river and Kutai national park. Nila customised a package to suit, and at 9.00am the next day, Nila and her Guide Jumree and driver Memmet were waiting at our guest house in a late model Toyota 4X4, ready to begin our adventure.
Jumree spoke perfect English, was funny and charming immediately we became friends, Memmet was quiet and reminded me of the of character off the movie "The Driver" with his intense concentration on the road as we raced towards our first destination to catch a long boat at Kota Bangun. The road conditions were good, the scenery ranged from the City limits to countryside littered with Palm plantations, small farms, villages and jungle.
Mr Ikin our skipper was waiting in his vanguard powered covered longboat ready to take us upriver and to our first guest house in the wooden village of Muara Muntai. The boat was comfortable with padded seats, and once you became accustomised to the mode of transport, the journey was relaxing and exhilarating. Along the way, there were many examples of village life, some industrial works to fisherman darting up and down the river. We had come to see nature and were not disappointed, the highlight being the fresh-water Dolphins and many species of bird life including Lesser Adjutants and a Brahminy Kite followed by a troop of Macaques feeding at dusk as we glided up a creek. We passed a beautiful floating village that seemed a world removed from our way of life, completely built on stilts and raised platforms, much like where we stayed at Muara Muntai.
The guest house - "Penginapan Badi" was comfortable, double bed, mosquito netting on the windows, air conditioning, WIFI and cable, quite hard to believe! That night we had some of the best Chicken Satay from a local village restaurant, beautifully cooked on charcoal.
After a good sleep and hearty breakfast, we navigated along a series of planks, back to the Jetty where Mr Ikin was waiting to start our journey across the spectacularly mammoth floodplain, Lake Jempang, which covers 450 Kms. The journey seemed to take an eternity, it was otherworldly being in the middle of this expanse, with a slight swell, stiff breeze, with only a few fisherman working their nets, and only the faint outline of land in the horizon. Large mushroom-like clouds filled the sky, threatening rain, then as we came to lakes edge a large silver dome of a Mosque sparkled, this was the fishing village of Jantur. Mr Ikin navigated is way through the winding river of the village as I enjoyed watching kids running beside us waving, all local people seemed happy to see us. Their way of life seemed very sustainable working with nature.
Onhong creek or "Blackwater Creek" was the highlight of the day, with its tannin stayed waters, providing a mirror-like reflection of the surrounding flora and fauna. Mangroves forest made a perfect home for the Probosci's monkeys, as Ikin stopped the boat on many occasions, spotting animals and giving us the perfect opportunity to observe. We were not rushed and seen many beautiful creatures covering monitor lizards up close, Yellow and Black tree snake, 4 species of Kingfishers. On this day we visited the Mancong village and walked around the beautifully crafted longhouse, once home to the Dayak villagers, before heading back to Tanjung Isuy where we would stay at another traditional longhouse named "Louu Taman Jamrud". The rooms were comfortable with a double bed, fan and cold showers. We ate at a local restaurant, again the theme of the trip so far Nasi-Goreng, Patim (Native fish), Mee Goreng, Meatballs, Gado Gado, Indonesian Tea and Coffees.
The next day was spent on foot exploring the village by ourselves, meeting the local people, buying crafts, before we journeyed back across the Lake to Muara Muntai, where we boarded a public houseboat that night, for our journey back to Samarinda. The houseboat was comfortable, we shared the upper deck with locals, and were supplied a lovely yellow rice wrapped in banana leaves for breakfast. Memmet was like clockwork, picked us up and our last part of the adventure would end in Kutai National park with Mr Udin and Ikbal.
The journey was around 4 hours via Bontang – Sangatta, we had rested and ate feed well, with no delays. At Sangatta we boarded a motorised canoe to go upriver for about 30 minutes to Mentoko, where the rangers headquarters were located at Kutai National Park. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Orangutans feeding in the Arran trees, enjoying the last of the afternoon's sun, and a very friendly cat. This was an older style camp, however, the facilities were comfortable, with Mosquito nets and cooked meals. Once we rested and ate, our jungle nature trail began. We did an early evening and late walk, with Iqbal and Mr Udin. The jungle sounds rang with life, we seen many species of insects, large ants to giant Tarantulas, the highlight though in the morning was seeing the Orangutans.
We were returned safely back to our guesthouse in Balikpapan, filled with stories, laughter and joy for the adventure we had just experienced. The facilities over the course of the trip were adequate and what you would expect for village life. There are not many tourists, I saw one in that 5 day period. This is a good introduction for those wanting to visit East Kalimantan in a short period, spending an extra week would be more relaxing. This place is very special.
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