Ferry From Pontianak to Ketapong in Kalimantan (2007)
We are on a journey to spot orangutans in the wild. That’s how we chose Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan where we would spend the next one week. Lubuk Baji would be our pit-stop from where we would explore the jungle. It was only when I started researching on the destination I found that it was not on anyone’s map and most certainly not on GPS. You have to be both crazy and hardy to venture into this dreaded outpost, a rudimentary manmade shelter deep inside the jungles of Indonesian Borneo.
Reaching Lubuk Baji involved five modes of transport over three days. First we, a motely group of five including my son, and thee friends, flew to Jakarta and from there, to Pontianak on the equator in Kalimantan. From Pontianak, we took a seven hour ferry to Ketapong from where we were picked up by SUV and taken to the edge of the forest. We were ferried in a canoe through ruddy waters of creeks where snakes dangled from the branches and crocodiles snarled.
You can read about Borneo elsewhere on this site, but this is about the boat ride from Pontianak to Ketapong. When we reach the ferry terminal early in the morning, it is bedlam. There’s a sea of humanity waiting to board the skiff. Dozens of motorbikes had already been loaded on to the ferry and many were waiting ot be loaded. The jetty is an impossible chaos of women kids, motorcycles, cycles, sacks, sundry packages in gunny bags, cartons, etc. As we contemplate the scene and wonder about our sanity in deciding to make this trip, our Australian guide Glen Harris asks us if we should go back. No way.
We decide to make a run for it and clambered over gunny bags and cartons to claim our six inches of space in the cabin. All the seats had already been taken and the deck is overflowing with plastic stools to accommodate more people. We squeeze into whatever space was available and hoped it would not capsize for overloading. We are actually relieved since the seats are made of rexine in garish colours and torn in places. Soon the boat starts moving.
Then begins the ordeal. The passengers open their breakfast – most of them in the form of liquids with stuff floating in them – and the entire deck fills with an unfamiliar aroma that makes us want to jump into the South China Sea. To add to our woes, all the cockroaches start creeping out of the woodwork. Soon the cockroaches outnumber the passengers on the boat. They crawl into your pants looking for food particles. We hastily make an exit and go looking for the captain’s cabin. We push open his door and enter, flashing our most ingratiating smiles. Being the only foreigners on the boat, we are not shooed off. The cabin is thick with tobacco smoke and the captain is in casual jeans and his team are in sarongs – no smart sailors’ uniforms here. The smoke almost chokes us, but it is any day preferable to the smell of food on the main deck. We plonk ourselves on assorted cartons in the captain’s cabin and watch the mangroves go by.