DESTINATIONS CULTURE AGENDA CONNOISSEUR'S GUIDE ALTERNATE ROUTES INSIDER'S VIEW NEWS PHOTO GALLERIES

CHOOSE DESTINATION

Indonesia

Alternate RoutesConnoisseur's Guide

CHOOSE AUTHOR

The Land of Shamans. Nishi and Apatani Tribes. Part 1Different India. Different Tribe, Part IIISulfur Crater in MoonlightWomen of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoTierra del Fuego. Gateway to the Icy Continent

Indonesia

Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoSulfur Crater in MoonlightNative Tribes and Secret Surf Spots« BACK « TO BEGINNING

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER

Add your e-mail address to receive our monthly news.

WE RECOMMEND:

Jewellery by Artists: From Picasso to Koons, an exhibition organised by the culture and art portal Arterritory.com

Alternate Routes · Asia · indonesia · Indonesia · Irena Frīdenšteina

Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Author: Irena Frīdenšteina0 COMMENTS

Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Kalimantan region makes up two-thirds of Borneo Island, shared among Indonesia (72.6%), Malaysia (26.7%) and Brunei (0.6%). Contrary to Malaysian side, Indonesian Kalimantan is less populated and touristy, and therefore more appealing for travelers. The current population of Borneo is about 17.7 million, of which 2.2 million are indigenous Dayak tribes, nowadays balancing between their ancient traditions and the impact of modern world. Despite the conservation efforts, Borneo wildlife is subject to persistent threats and transformation. Do hurry up to visit it!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo
Kalimantan is still home to most orangutans living on this planet

East Kalimantan's inhabitants are indigenous people of this area - ancient Dayak and Kutai tribes, as well as ethnic groups of Melayu, Bugis, Javanese, Banjarese and Chinese. Dayak people are regarded to have settled in Borneo territory some 3.000 years ago. Among them are nomadic hunters and gatherers, subsisting on what nature gives them and living in harmony with it, while others cultivate rice, bread cattle, make boats, fine quality rattan baskets and mats and are involved in gold mining and extraction of precious stones. Efforts of Christian missionaries and cutting down large portions of jungle have irreversibly changed the Dayak lifestyle during the past centuries. Most typical external representations of Dayak culture are tattoos and stretched earlobes of women, decorated with heavy copper and golden rings, although nowadays it's not so widespread any more either.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo
Photos from the internet

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo
Photo from the internet

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo
Photo from the internet

After few days of familiarization with Singapore and Java Island, we take an evening flight to Balikpapan - the most significant port city of Borneo Island. Our hotel is very cheap (7 USD) and sited near bus station as the next morning we plan to leave for Samarinda. The trip takes 2.5 hours and a ticket for two costs about 5 USD. We arrive at the bus stop in good time, get in and take our seats. As the bus isn't moving yet, we can to observe the languid local lifestyle behind the window and eating habits of people. Lots of meat, eggs and rice prevail in their menu, and we realize that Borneo is going to be a tough challenge as both of us are vegetarians.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Something like an improvised café can be seen outside, with a women leaning over a table loaded with plastic bowls, dishes and a big pot of soup. A mother with a little boy arrives and gets a big dish of soup along with a decent serving of rice and eggs. As they are swiftly consuming their food, some local Borneo men are sitting on the nearby bench, smoking. Typically shortish, these guys are giant smokers! It somewhat reminds our trip to China where people smoke freely in public transport without any second thoughts about other passengers who might dislike it. Interestingly, when bus stops, everyone gets out to get a gulp of fresh air, but as soon as they are back in their seats they smoke again. Some smokers' kinship seems to exist among the men in our bus - they smoke literally nonstop, all the way till we reach the destination!
Time on the way to Samarinda rolls by quickly, observing a beautiful landscape with jungle and colorful blots of wooden bungalows and roadside vendors, offering both food and gas. Gas, much like cooking oil, is sold in bottles, which makes difficult to recognize that a roadside kiosk actually is a gas-station.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Having arrived in Samarinda, we quickly jump to another bus going to Kota Bagun town. It takes 4 more hours to get there (a ticket for two costs ~5 USD), yet if we had chosen to go by river boat called kapal biasa, it would have taken about 8 h. Since our plan is to go further up Sungai Mahakam River and we don't have too much time, we decide to use road transportation whenever possible, going either by bus, taxi or hitchhiking. If none of the above is available, we take a scooter ride through jungle or go by a small chartered canoe boat a ces along the river. The entire way from Samarinda to the most distant section of the river, Long Bagun rapids, by kapal biasa along the river would be 523 km and 36 h.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

The section Samarinda - Kota Bagun in a smoke-filled bus proves to be the most difficult of the entire three-week trip. Not a slightest whiff of clean air can be inhaled. Women are nonstop waving their fans, yet almost to no avail, as there are four to six people smoking. I get a vicious headache and have a feeling as if my nose was stuck into an ashtray. The smell is particularly disgusting, yet shooting disappointed glances towards the fervid smokers make no difference whatsoever and they just continue their pursuit. Luckily, the small upper windows can be opened and I spend the entire ride kneeling on my seat, trying to stick out my nose as close as possible to the window. I feel like a dog poking its head out of a car window, letting wind to tingle its nostrils! It's the only salvation in this gas chamber created by Borneo males. In addition, black stains are now adorning knees of my jeans, as if I had knelt on a coal-pile. Well, you cannot expect much cleanliness in such travels - it is part of the adventure.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We arrive at Kota Bagun port hungry, with rumbling stomachs, yet as we glance into the only eatery, we change our minds. Food is served on paper, which is usual practice here, but the only choice is meat with rice, eggs and gravy. Clearly, it's not going to be a vegetarians dream and it seems that for the next six days we'll have to survive only on rice alone. People in Borneo eat meat three times a day and "meat-rice-eggs" is a never-changing trinity of every meal. Fish, chicken and pork are cooked already in the morning and preserved in glass food storages, while boiled rice is kept in large rice tubs. Rice on your plate is topped with a cold chunk of meat and it's then pored over with some kind of chili sauce. Almost complete lack of vegetables in menu results in vascular diseases that are very common there.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

In Kota Bagun port we find a ces owner and haggle over a price for taking us to Muara Muntai village. An hour and a half long trip costs about 20 USD,
Everything is very simple at Kota Bagun - houses are elevated above the ground on wooden supports while the daily life is taking place by the river. Small wooden toilet cabins, tied up rafts and boats and lots of other stuff clutters every spot available. Life flows unhurriedly with kids paddling, men fishing and women doing their laundry. As we are passing by, locals greet us, wave and smile...

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Now and again, huge barges pass us by with tiny tugboats in front of them, mostly transporting coal and lumber.
Borneo faces massive environmental crises as vast territories of rainforests have been illegally cut down during the previous years. There are almost no big trees left in the areas near Samarindai and Balikpapan, along highways and in many places along the river. Unconsidered economic activity, greed and business interests have done vast and irreversible damage to nature there.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Most of the timber flows to Samarinda, while Balikpapan is a center of oil and natural gas production. Rapid depletion of natural resources started in Kalimantan after Indonesia gave green light to foreign capital in 1970. Its economy is mainly based upon natural gas and palm oil industries as well as gold and coal mining.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

It's impossible to reach Muara Muntai by land and therefore everything people need in their daily lives is taken there by kapal biasa. A big wooden boat leaves Samarinda every morning, after 10 hours arriving at Muara Muntai, bringing sacks of rice, baskets of eggs and passengers. There are no special passenger seats and people are just sitting or sleeping on the floor. Both wooden houses and streets of the village are elevated on wooden posts and beams over 1 m above the ground. The streets are made of special type of hardwood, ulin or ironwood, and are strong enough both for pedestrians and for scooters.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

During our 6-day travel around Borneo and Kalimantan, we do not encounter a single foreigner. Like some extraterrestrial beings, we are greeted and scrutinized, treated with food and exotic fruit and photographed with mobile phones. There isn't much choice as for lodging and we pick one of the three guesthouses or "losmen" of the village. We stay at Penginapan Srimunati losmen with 18 rooms, none of which are occupied. They are very simple and modest with a single bed being the only piece of furniture in each room. There is a shared bathroom with cold water and a long dining table in the corridor (only it's not clear who uses it as there is no restaurant). There is a large terrace, overlooking the main street, furnished with tables and items for tea preparation.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We haven't eaten for an entire day, yet there is no café or any other eatery anywhere to be seen. Then we notice a woman cooking something in front of a house. Undefined pieces of food are dipped in dough and cooked in oil. The ready bits are placed in glass food case next to plastic bottles with liquids of the most unusual colors, perhaps some sauces...Despite of synthetic and unappetizing look, we decide to try some of those freshly cooked, roll-shaped things. They turn out to be baked bananas served on small dishes with sauces of various flavors. Further along the street, a woman treats us to some kind of donuts and sweet cup-cakes. They taste good and we appreciate everything that we can get. Who knows when the next meal is going to be?

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Borneo cats have no tails - just some small stumps are left, yet we don't know whether tails are chopped off or it is some peculiar tailless breed. An important place at the village is its gas stations, offering bottles of yellowish liquid. Their volume never exceeds 1 liter and that's exactly the amount you need to ride your scooter for a whole day!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

As there are no bars or restaurants, no clubs or movies, youngsters are gathering in small clutches and riding their scooters along the village streets - the only entertainment they have. There are only few streets, so they are circling round and round all the time.
While walking along the village, we are noticed by a bunch of such kids. Screaming excitedly, they try to take photos of us. Since they don't know English and we don't know any Indonesian, no real communication is possible and taking photos is the only thing we can do. Some more timid girls pass us by and then stop and turn around, shyly. They smooth their hair and eagerly take group photos with their mobiles together with us. Who could have guessed that we are capable of bringing so much joy and fresh emotions into this village!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

While crossing a bridge, we are greeted by some evidently quite well off guys, as one of them is riding a motorcycle, not just a scoter. Suddenly to our great surprise we hear - "Hello, do you speak English?" Yet to our "Yes!" we get a reply "But we don't!", followed by laughter. That much of communication! With gestures hey ask if they can take a photo and off they go, just exclaiming "I love you!" as we are walking away. We are already accustomed to using a gesture and body language there, writing a preferable price for a boat ride on a telephone calculator and showing by gestures that we are looking for a place to sleep or that we are hungry.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Evidently, the village kids are getting the most fun out of our visit. As children in any country, they are the most inquisitive and impish. Everywhere in Borneo, they are making the same funny gestures meeting strangers like us. Like in many other poor countries, children do not have many toys, so they play with each other. We notice a group of kids, however, who have come by some modern sports equipment - a set of badminton.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

At the riverside, the merriment splashes even higher. Guys are jumping into water, wishing their photos to be taken, while girls, being a little shyer, catch sight of us and hide behind wooden cabins, giggling, and then follow us from some distance. My companion wants to join the boys and have a dip in the river, but seeing toilet booths set up on the bank after every few meters, he changes his mind.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Although there are toilets in most homes, people often use toilets on the river. They swim and wash their laundry in the same river and it's perfectly acceptable for everyone. Life is different here, and at times, there are things that are a bit difficult for us to accept.
Wooden plank-ways above the water are narrow and shaky, and my companion feels like Gulliver, yet what else can you do but pull yourself together and cross over!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Further from the river and deeper into the village, rice fields are spreading, enclosed by meshes to protect the harvest. People are growing various crops and vegetables, even though we do not find any of them on our plates. All the houses and streets are built on poles and wooden beams, as during the rainy season it is getting very wet and even impossible to walk in deep mud.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

The evening approaches and again we feel emptiness in our stomachs and decide to return to the village and look for some food. A voice, calling from a mosque, summons people for prayer, being the only reminder that we are in a Muslim country. Faith is held in high esteem here and the villagers head to the mosque, while we turn into the opposite direction, searching for something less spiritual - just a next meal!
We find an eatery and watch closely so that a cook fills our dishes only wish desirable food - fried rice with chili sauce, few slices of carrot and an overgrown, fresh cucumber.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

In the next morning we plan to leave the village, so we have to make arrangements regarding a boat. Muara Muntai will stay in our memories as a small, yet colorful spot on this planet, inhabited by friendly, sincere and smiling people and being a true delight for everyone who visits it. I sincerely would like to wish this place more guests!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Sungai Mahakam River is 920 km long, and we are only at its beginning or so called Lower Mahakam.

There are 3 large lakes in Muara Muntai neighborhood - Melintang, Jempang and Semayang. Our way leads further on along Sungai Mahakam and across the lake Jempang. At 6 a.m. we are at the river and get into the boat. It's very chilly and I feel lucky to have a sleeping-bag with us, so I can comfortably curl in it. The boat travels at a sufficiently high speed, yet it doesn't hamper us to take in the gorgeous morning views. A sheer white mist is rising above the river and enfolding the nearby trees.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Nature is still asleep and the only sound disturbing the otherwise deep silence is an engine of the little ces. These boats began to be used around 1990 when a local boat owner introduced a brand new idea - attached 2 ½ horsepower engine to his canoe (nowadays they use 20 hp engines). The word "ces", pronounced like "chess" comes from the sound of a motor that starts and then conks out.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

The rising sun tinges the sky golden - it's beautiful beyond words! Lively movement starts on the river - fishermen are catching fish, people in boats are going about their daily chores and we meet also large public transport boats. The river is the principal artery of life in this area.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

For the majority the river gives everything - both job and means of subsistence. The villagers are traders, fishermen and ferry workers. All kinds of fishing nets can be seen there and people have come up with different methods of catching fish.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Fog-enfolded wooden houses seem surreal along the shore. People use fish for their daily meals and sell at the market.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

When we have enjoyed the view for some time, something new comes into sight. People have adapted themselves to life on the water of nearby lakes! All the houses, lining along the riverside, are built on high poles. Such villages on lakes are something completely new and unseen for us! A large mosque towers at the end of the line of houses.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

When the village is left behind, we find ourselves in the changing waters of the lake Jempang. The lake spreads for 15.000 ha and the color of its water changes, depending on season. The depth of the lake varies according to season, too, from 0.5 to 1 m in a dry season to up to 7 m in a rainy season. In a dry season, it can be navigated only by small, 1x3 m boats.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Mahakam River and lakes is a habitat of 147 species of fish and 298 species of birds. In the areas where the water level runs very low during the dry season, people are growing rice, herbs and vegetables. Also cattle can graze on verdant grass of dryer spots of the lake.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

While crossing the vast expanse of Jempeng Lake, you can see that people are living literally on the water. Their homes are large, floating barges and only satellite dishes disclose the century in which we are actually travelling.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

As the water level drops very low during the dry season, at times you can meet fishermen, standing in the middle of the lake - a pretty a surreal view.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Verdant, succulent grass grows along the shore but in the distance rainforest greets the view.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We get out of the boat at Tanjung Isuy village, inhabited by about 7500 Dayak Benuaq people. We plan to reach Mancong village by boat as we have heard that a ride along the narrow river, winding through rainforest, is an amazing experience with views much like the ones before the ruthless cutting of trees. It's a chance to behold nature in its primitive splendor.
We walk through the village, yet don't see any people there. Finally we see a local man coming into our direction. Asked about getting to Mancong along the river, he explains, showing with his hands, that the water level is too low and it wouldn't be possible to go by boat at the moment. There is no other choice but to look for some scooters to get there.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

The man offers us to stay overnight at his house, but as we are willing to continue our way he hurries off to look for a motorcycle. Not so long, and he is back, but now we have only one vehicle for three of us. In addition, we have huge bags. We ask him to look for another piece of transport and half an hour later we have two drivers, two motorcycles and off we go! It is approximately 9 km from there to Mancong along a very poor road through jungle.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

One of the few traditional longhouses (lamin) can be seen in Mancong and its front is decorated with numerous wooden figures - totem. Nowadays the house is not inhabited any more. Originally built in 1930, it was restored with state support in 1987 and now serves as a museum.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

32 families are living at Mancong village, all of them belonging to Dayak Benuaq tribe. Each family has its own home, not like in old times when several families shared the same longhouse. These houses are now serving only for social ceremonies and traditional dances. In ancient times, headhunting (mengayau in the local language) was very widespread here, too (read more about headhunting in India and I.F. travel to Nagaland here). Armed with their swards, Dayak Benuag people protected their families, yet nowadays this headhunting has disappeared. People live separately, mind their own business and lead a modern lifestyle.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Although the number of inhabitants is small, the village has its own school and we have a chance to visit it. There are only few teachers, working there, and the number of schoolchildren is very small, too.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

After visiting Mancong, we proceed to another neighboring village that has an inhabited longhouse with several families living there. As we have already observed in India Arnuchal Pradesh region, a very steep and narrow ladder leads up into the longhouse. Steps are narrow and one has to be quite good at balancing, to climb them. Although not a problem for young people, it may cause difficulties for the elders. As we have been already told at Arnuchal Pradesh, a moment comes that senior family members cannot leave the house any more.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Nowadays traditional Dayak culture finds its expression mostly during special events of their lives - child birth, marriage and burial rites and ceremonies. When a member of Dayak tribe dies, such ceremonies are held every evening for an entire month. People sing, dance and drink homebrew alcohol made of coconuts, called tuak.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We are invited to stay over and take part in a ceremony, yet we prefer to continue our way to Muara Pahu, although it's not clear at all how to get there. The guys, who helped us to get this far, promise to lead us to the nearby road but we still have no idea how to get to our next destination. There is one bus per day travelling that way, but no one knows at what exactly time it can be expected at this particular place.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

When we reach the road and find out in which direction Muara Pahu is, we start walking, hoping that some passing by car would pick us up. The road is empty and we have walked for quite a while when finally a jeep pulls up. Three guys dressed in uniforms are sitting in it and one of them speaks English! He turns out to be a laboratory assistant, inspecting coalmines of this area for the purpose of some tests. First we would go to a nearby coalmine and then they would take us to Muara Pahu. It's perfect for us! After a couple of hours we are in Muara Pahu, which turns out almost impossible to access by car. A tiny path, branching off the main road leads along the fields and finally reaches the riverside. There it continues as a wooden street built on poles, the same way as we have already seen in Muara Muntai.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

So, why we were so eager to get to Muara Pahu? It's because here you can see freshwater dolphins Irrawaddy Dolphin, or Pesut in the local language. They are among endangered species and can be found only in few places around the world, e.g., in Thailand, Amazon River, Laos and Cambodia.
At the port, we try to show with our hands that we are looking for dolphins, yet our gestures only make people laugh. Two young guys know few words in English and take us to Mahakam information centre on their motorcycles. Yet people only smile there and no one speaks any English. It's absolutely unclear, which direction to take to see dolphins. At Muara Pahu the river splits into two smaller ones and we don't know, which to pick and how far we should go. It's highly unlikely that without a guide speaking English we would be able to catch a glimpse of dolphins! So decide to take a ces boat to Melak. It takes us several hours and costs 30 USD.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We watch passing by barges along our way, carrying their valuable cargos to Samarinda and Balikpapan. Yet after crossing Jempang Lake with its charming wooden houses, this section of the river doesn't seem particularly exciting for us.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Having arrived at Melak, we find a hotel. Finally we find ourselves in a larger town with shops, a bank, a cash machine and everything else that a proper town should have. We want to explore the neighboring villages and visit several Dayak longhouses there. A kapal biasa has just arrived and a lively bustle surrounds it. Elderly women are trying to sell some chips and drinks to passengers. We find an eatery and get our regular dose of cold rice with some unknown cooked jungle plants.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

It turns out that a breakfast at our hotel is included! We have been travelling from one small village to another and seeing a real dining room with a served breakfast table is a genuine surprise for us. There are five metallic food trays covered with lids on the table and we already rejoice at the idea of getting omelet or something like that for breakfast. To our disappointment, there are only five different meat dishes under those lids, and again all we can get is rice. At the port we manage to arrange a jeep for the entire day to visit the villages, it costs us 45 USD.
The first village, Terring, is located 45 km from Melak. We have been told that an old Dayak woman with outstretched earlobes is still living there. The driver takes us to the Terring port and shows us a man with a tiny small wooden boat. Nearly capsize the boat, we get in, yet everything ends well and we are safely taken across to the village.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

As we do not see anyone out there, we enter a small shop and using our gestures and body language again, try to find out where we can find the old woman. The young local punks don't understand anything - they show into one direction than into another and finally shrug their shoulders, showing that they cannot help us. A man passes by at that moment and noticing our efforts to explain something, comes closer. It turns out that he knows the old woman and shows her picture on his mobile phone. I instantly recognize her as I have seen her photo while gathering information about Dayak people and preparing for the journey. I smile and ask him to takes us to her, but he only mutters - "dead". Again we are too late - the woman has already passed away.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Saddened, we go back across the river. There, a man approaches us and strikes up a conversation in perfect English. Asked about dolphins, he tells that indeed they can be seen in Muara Pahu area, in about 70 km long stretch of the river. Obviously, seeing them at all is a matter of good luck. Speaking of Terring woman, he tells us that she has passed away already a year and a half ago, yet perhaps we can try to meet another senior Dayak woman, who lives in Pampang - 26 km from Samarinda. Evidently the guardian angel of travelers hasn't abandoned us altogether, and we still have a chance of meeting an authentic representative of Dayak tribe!
We continue our way by car to Eheng village that boasts a still inhabited longhouse, built in 1960 by Dayak Benuaq community.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

And inhabited it is! As we arrive, we see several scooters at the house, hanging laundry and children playing. Jungle is spreading behind the house, some pigs are roaming around and we notice several ceremonial sites next to the house. Outside, a group of people are preparing for a meal - girls are cooking something over a fire, kids are running around; there are some dogs, pigs and piglets mingling, too.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

My face, arms and shoulders are burned by the sun, and I notice that the girls have some sort of white liquid in a bowl, and their faces are smeared white. I show my sunburned face and try to find out if the white stuff is meant for this purpose. The girls smile and nod, and smear my face and arms white. Now we look exactly the same and we all laugh. Dayak house reminds me of the ones we have seen in Northeast India, where sometimes up to 60 people share a same longhouses of Nishi and Adi tribes.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

A Dayak man invites me to come in. From him I can gather that about 30 people permanently live in this house. He shows me around the living space of his family - everything is very modest there and looks much the same as in the houses of Indian tribes. All the belongings are hung on the walls, a kitchen area is separated from the sleeping area, and there is no furniture - people sleep on plaited sleeping mats. The greatest value for any man is his machete, a beautiful scabbard to hold it and a knife for wood carving (see a video on Borneo tribal art). During daytime, most of the inhabitants are working in rice fields or in the forest, harvesting rubber or rattan for their weavings.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We bid farewell and continue our way to the next Dayak Benauq village, Benung, in the distance of 20 km. There they have a bigger and more ancient longhouse. Guests can stay overnight there, cook dinner and observe traditional lifestyle of these people.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

In the next morning, we already go to the bus stop ready to spend the next 8 hours in a smoke-filled bus on our way back to Samarinda, when a bunch of local kids surround us and together off we go to a local market, smelling of fish. We vividly remember our dreadful previous ride, so we decide to look for another, more enjoyable mode to get to Samarinda. Going along the river by kapal biasa would require 16 hours, and therefore we decide to hire a driver. The agreed price is 50 USD, but we will have a chance to stop whenever we wish to take photos along the way. And no cigarette smoke!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Generally the road is fairly good. Most of heavy cargos are transported along the river and roads are affected mainly by flooding, not trucks.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Along the way, we observe numerous oil palm plantations. They are used to produce palm fruit that are harvested using long poles with blades attached at the end of each one. Heavy clusters are loaded into trucks and taken to oil procession plants in the city. I try to rip off a fruit just with my fingers but it's almost impossible - they are firmly attached to the bunch.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

On our way we stop at an oil processing workshop. Palm fruit are mostly taken directly to large automated oil refineries in Balikpapan, but now we see that such primitive small facilities, using manual labor still exist. Special metal hooks are used to remove fruit from their clusters. The empty bunches are burned on the spot and pungent smoke enfolds workers for all day long. It's a very hard job to unload those big trucks, brimming with palm fruit with only bare hands and pitchforks!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We resume our way but suddenly the driver pulls up and gestures towards a mosque - it's a prayer time and he leaves us in the car. In the meantime, we decide to visit a nearby village, which results in a lovely photo session with a friendly local family.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

The same way as we are keeping a cat or a dog, this family has a little monkey as a pet. It curiously observes my camera and doesn't seem to be timid or shy at all. Soil is very dry and cracked around the village, and it means that during a rainy season the entire place is flooded. It's a zone of rainforests!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

We see several oil palm nurseries on our way with millions of new plants, promising to form new and new palm plantations in the future. Flying over Borneo, you can see more oil palm plantations than forests. These plantations generate huge income for their owners, at the same time bringing great damage to natural forests across the world. Jungle and rainforests are the lungs of our planet, yet they are more and more destroyed in order to free the land for palm tree plantations.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Not too long, and our driver stops the car again. This time he feels hungry and soon we find ourselves in a roadside café. It is furnished with very low tables and everything is wrapped in plastic. Contents of glass food cases is the same as always - entire chicken legs with feet and claws, fried fish and our usual dish - cold boiled rice! We take some beer, too, but it turns out to be warm! Dried bananas are the only treat available there and prove to be a good companion for us during the entire journey!

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

Having reached Samarinda, we find a cheap hotel and decide to finally treat ourselves to a really good meal. Yet nevertheless it's a pretty big city, we cannot find a decent restaurant there and finally put up with a simple dinner right on the street. A man is skillfully cooking rice for us in a woc pan, sprinkling them various sauces from glass bottles.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

On the next day we take a minibus to Pampang (5 USD), hoping to meet the above mentioned Kenyah Dayak granny with long earlobes. As soon as we arrive at the village, we are taken to a gorgeous longhouse and there we meet the old woman and other members of her family. They are perfectly aware of her huge value and everything is arranged according to the best business standards. Without excessive shyness, they ask our driver to translate for us that the price of one photo is 2 USD. Having confirmed that we understand, I am allowed to take a photo. Then we make several group photos - the old woman is very friendly and nice to us, she touches my hair, strokes my head and holds me by the hand. We pay a total amount of about 20 USD and even buy some hardwood bracelets, made in the traditional Dayka style.

Foto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in BorneoFoto: Women of the Tribe and Search of Freshwater Dolphins in Borneo

So, that's the end of our Borneo adventure. Before travelling, we felt certain anxiety as for where are we going to stay, how we'll manage to communicate and get from one place to another, what the risk of catching malaria is (we decided not to take any anti-malaria tablets), etc. We didn't know how everything will turn out, yet with an open heart, a positive attitude and allowing, even travelling along little explored trails proves to be fun and easy. I hope you will find my story inspiring and encouraging!

VIDEO: Dayak tribe of Borneo, Indonesia - BBC

Follow this link to see all the photos of Irēna Frīdenšteina: http://picasaweb.google.com/mazins1

SHARE:
Facebook Twitter

 

Your comments

Unfortunately there are no comments yet.

Your name:

Time of visit:

Your comment: