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Borneo

Author: Maria Zehentner
Beitrag vom: 28.04.2018

This is indonesian law!

Borneo - Sarawak, Brunei and Westkalimantan, March, April 2018

From now on we went south through the small sultanate of Brunei. We did not know much about the country, only so much, that it belonged to one of the richest in the world. Large oil reserves combined with a small population density created this high status. At first glance, you could not see the country's wealth, perhaps a slightly European touch? No garbage on the streets or in the hinterland, and instead of wood-pile buildings, they lived in row houses next to the streets.

We had no plan for Brunei. However, when we discovered a palm-fringed green area right on the beach, we could not resist. We parked Akela, got out, and stretched our legs. At first glance everything looked very nice. There was a playground, clean showers and the sea invited to splash. About the garbage on the beach you had to look over, like so often. Lennox was immediately on fire, but we were somewhat skeptical, because the spot was right on the road. We decided to wait and see if the momentary silence would last. We were not in the mood for noise and "Hey mister, where are you from" phrases. But the peace lasted and we stayed for a few days.

We owe it to a local, that we also got some culture. He knocked imperturbably on our door and made the offer to drive us in his car to the capital Bandar Sergi Begawan. We did not persuade ourselves long and got in. We would probably have been too lazy to drive to the city. Thanks to Harith, we were able to take a quick look at the Sultan`s Palace, which is considered to be the largest in the world with 1,800 rooms. After another brief stop at the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, he drove us back to Akela. It was too hot for extensive sightseeing, and our bodies burned like fire and itched mercilessly. Lennox and I had gotten too much sun in the last few days and we were stupid again and fooled around in the sand at sunset. We presented ourselves on a silver platter to the sand fleas, once again.

After a few days our wounds had healed so far, that we could sit properly and could keep on driving. The sultanate Brunei devides the Malay part in East and West. Still overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Sabah, we were now looking forward to see the west. If you could believe Emi, then this should be the unattractive part of Malaysia.

Our first stop was at the Niah Caves, one of Borneo's most famous natural wonders. At the entrance to the cave we were reminded again, how unique this island was. Not only plants and trees proliferated beyond their natural size, the animals also looked like behind a magnifying glass. Ants were finger-long and butterflies more than palm-sized. We saw proboscis monkeys and macaques romping in the branches of the trees. But in addition to all the diversity and beauty you must never forget, that you are in the wilderness on Borneo. Every step must be carefully chosen and it applies fingers away from handrails. Highly venomous snakes, spiders or centipedes cavort everywhere and especially, where they were least suspected.

At the Niah Caves, we found a cave system with underground chambers large enough to stack several cathedrals one above the other. If you walk through the corridors, you suddenly realize how small and tiny we humans are. In the caves, scientists discovered some of the earliest human remains ever found in Malaysia. The ancient cave paintings of the Homo Sapiens who lived in this cave, can still be admired today.

Unfortunately, traveling includes things that are not one of our favorite tasks, such as organizing a visa. Yes I know, I've mentioned that many times. Our arrival on land to Indonesia was imminent. Since we had planned a stay of several months there, a visa on arrival, which was valid for 30 days, was not enough. At the Indonesian Embassy in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, we hoped to apply for a six-month visa. Armed with all necessary documents we marched into the embassy. With long pants and sleeves, of course, because we did not want to risk a cancellation in advance. We were lucky, in the late afternoon of the same day we were able to collect our passports, including residence permit for Indonesia. Bingo, there are still signs and wonders! We have never been able to get visas so quickly and easily, even though Indonesia is one of the most complicated countries in terms of paper economy and bureaucracy we ever experienced.

In the scorching heat we waited in the truck in front of the embassy, to pick up our passports, when it suddenly knocked on Akela`s door. An elderly man stood at the door and introduced himself as Hermann. The man looked so very different than all Hermann`s we knew. He told of German blood in his family, which justified the origin of his name, which was quite untypical for a Malayan.

Hermann and his daughter spoke excellent English and suggested to have lunch in a nearby shopping center. We agreed and walked shortly later through the air-conditioned mall and found ourselves a few minutes later in a hot discussion about religions. It was obvious, that he wanted to convert us to his Muslim faith.

During all our travels, we were confronted with many faiths. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity or, as in this case, Islam. Many people seek answers to the important questions of life in their faith. Each religion has its own history, scriptures, holidays, important places and even everyday rules. These say, for example, what people eat, what they wear or how they should live with their partner and family.

Not everyone is free to decide about his own religion. There are states, who want to dictate their citizens a particular religion and prohibit other religions. If you walk through the world with your eyes open you can see, that religion is not always something positive, which would actually have been the origin. Wars, envy and greed are always concomitants of religion, with less exceptions.

Everyone needs a sense or a task in order to be able to live happily. Whether religion plays a role in this or not, everyone has to decide for themselves. Just as we decided years ago, that we are lucky without belonging to a religion. Which does not mean, that we do not believe in something, but we do not need a religion for that. Hermann did his best, but the discussion did not lead to a common denominator. That`s why we paid after dinner and everyone went his own way.

After this brief excursion into religions, we drove on to the nearby Sarawak Cultural Village. There are replicas of houses representing every major ethnic group in Sarawak. In the buildings, tribal members showed ancient traditions or traditional activities such as dance performances. Lennox struggled to learn the dance with the bamboo sticks, he didn`t get into the tact, why he felt several times the pain of colliding wooden sticks.

The village was more like a living museum and more likely to pull the money out of the visitors' pockets. You can still find traditional tribes such as the Bidayuh, the Iban, the Dayaks or the Orang Ulu on the island, but you have to go far into the deep, dark jungle, because these minorities have been displaced in the last corners of their country by us modern living people.

Kuching was only a stone's throw away from the Indonesian border. Nervousness rose in us because we knew, that an entry by sea was very complicated and occasionally ended with an entry ban. That`s why we decided to try it by land and could only hope that it was really easier. Actually, it was really uncomplicated, if there had not been this one official, who probably got up on the wrong foot this morning. We were not allowed to ask any questions during the check, had to put ourselves exactly where he wanted us to stay, and so on. We were not aware of any guilt, but at some point he slammed on us, that we were rude and he could immediately deny us the visa and thus the entry into Indonesia, if we would not follow his rules. "This is indonesian law". A sentence, that we will often hear. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Leander was already taking a deep breath and getting ready for a discussion. He did not like officials like this one, but diligent readers know that from previous reports. I grabbed his hand and begged him with my eyes to shut up and keep quiet. I was not in the mood of getting stuck in the Middle of Nowhere, in tow with Lennox. Sometimes, even if it's hard, you have to take yourself back and stay calm. Last but not least, we got an entry stamp in our passports and rolled into our 23rd country.

Although Malaysia is counted as one of the emerging economies, as well as Indonesia, we saw a clear difference in the first few meters, we were driving through the country. Many people lived in dilapidated, tiny wooden shacks. The garbage was disposed of where it just happened, whether in front of their own house or on the street. If too much was accumulated, it was simply burned. The people sat in front of their huts or on the street, musing and living in the day.

If one looks at the country soberly, it is actually a contradiction in terms. Because the island state is rich. Rich in mineral resources and its ports are located on the main sea routes of the world. But, almost half of Indonesia's population lives below the poverty line. The reasons for this misery are multifaceted, it's not just the rise in world staple food prices. It starts in the countryside, where the population is often deprived of their livelihoods by vermin infestation, mudslides and floods. However, there is low or no government aid for the rural population, due to the corrupt government. For many, the city escape is the last rescue, but with mostly bad exit. Because of the dramatic overpopulation in the cities, poverty has risen rapidly.
Indonesia is the most important palm oil producer worldwide.
During our drive through the Indonesian West Kalimantan, it was hard to miss. The huge monocultures lined up to the roadside and could be seen in all stages. Burnt fields to regenerate the soil for the next generation, fields of freshly planted seedlings, fields of young palms and fields of palm trees carrying countless fruits waiting to be harvested. Everything was about the green gold, because worldwide demand is increasing immeasurably. Curse or blessing ?! A legitimate question, that can not be satisfactorily answered by just a few lines. Stunned by the unrestrained exploitation of nature, we continued our journey. We drove hundreds of kilometers realizing, that the landscape remained unchanged.

We crossed the region around the town of Pontianak, through which the equator runs. We did not take a proof photo at the equator, we also felt that it was super hot. We can not answer satisfactorily the most asked question, whether if the water of the toilet flush really runs to the left in the southern hemisphere. However, this has nothing to do with our physical ignorance, because the reason for the water drainage in the northern and southern hemisphere can be simply googled, but rather, that there are stand-up toilets in Indonesia, which you need to fill up with a plastic container.
To keep on talking about water. This precious commodity took once again a completely different status in Indonesia, than it already had. We were in the tropics with high humidity. During the reconstruction of Akela we decided against the luxury of an air conditioner. Ergo we rolled ourselves into a restless sleep because of the high temperatures in the living room and were often sweaty and blown up in the morning. It was not funny to slip in wet clothes in the morning because they had absorbed the moisture overnight.

Driving in the cab with the windows open was tolerable, but had its pitfalls. Apart from a stiff neck through the permanent draft, dirt and dust were our constant companions. We were covered in sweat and dirt from morning to evening. If you ran your fingers over your face, streaks of dirt remained. As soon as we had a parking space, we stripped in all directions to find a shower opportunity. Yes, we have a shower in Akela.
However, daily showers would mean filling our water tanks every other day, and we did not feel like doing that. Especially with every refueling there was a risk of contaminating our water tank with algae or dirt. We took every opportunity to wash the dirt from our bodies. Whether it was showering on the beach where people saw us, toilet facilities at gas stations, abandoned buildings with water, water containers on construction sites or public showers, it did not matter. Some washing facilities were so dirty, that you didn`t want to have a closer look, cause otherwise you would have turned around. But we were over this disgust. The main thing was water!

The city of Kumai was our last stop on Borneo. From there we took the ferry to the island of Java. We rumbled along the road towards the harbor, engrossed in a conversation, when suddenly two policemen appeared at the roadside and wanted to stop us.
These two guys were not the first on who wanted to control us, since we were traveling on Indonesia's roads. Just like their predecessors, they were extremely clumsy. With open mouth and wide eyes they stared at us and forgot to wave us aside, until it was too late for us to brake and stop. Leander would have had to put on a full stop to come to a stop in time, which we did not do, it was not an emergency. So we went on carefree, because most of the time it was no matter, whether we stopped or not.
This method has been working since Central Asia. These civil servants fell out of the frame and took their duty a bit more seriously.
Only a few moments later, blue lights appeared in the side mirror. With a loud siren they overtook Akela and forced us with their aggressive driving to the side of the road. When both vehicles had come to a standstill, they got out and came to meet us. While one came to Leander at the driver's door, the other circled skeptically the truck.

The conversation was difficult, because the officers barely spoke English and of course we played the stupid tourists. They were not satisfied with the vehicle papers, besides, they had no dime of what was written in it. "Passport, Passport," repeated one constantly. We took our time, because we were reluctant to hand over the passports. The policeman became impatient, holding on to the door handle and pulling himself up to Leander. Big mistake, because Leander does not like that, if someone is touching his truck. So he pulled his hands away and pushed him slightly off the running board, which in turn the policeman did not like that much. In order not to appear rude Leander clawed our passports and got out. The policeman calmed down and disappeared with our documents for a while.
He could not find anything, the visa was valid, so what! But he did not want to give them back to us either. With the papers in one hand and the walkie talkie in the other, he strode around Akela. He stopped at the rear carrier and touched the motorcycle. Leander became impatient! He clapped his hands and repeated over and over again "time, time, ferry to Java".

The policeman made no effort to give us back the passports, and could not make us understand, what he still wanted from us. Yes, we got it, "this is indonesian law!" Again and again colleagues sparked on the walkie talkie. We had no idea what it was about. After spending some time on the side of the road and not getting any smarter the officials told us, that we had to follow them to their head office. Now it became too stupid for Leander. He went to the policeman, tore our passports from his hands, and explained once more politely: "No time for this bullshit, need to catch the ferry!"

Well, there are definitely more suitable getaway cars than our Oldie, so Leander just got in and drove off. With the premonition, that the cat and mouse game had not ended now, we sent Lennox back, closed the passage, and drove on. Nervous we looked again and again in the rear-view mirror and checked the situation. Fuck! A torrent of blue lights and howling sirens were close at our heels. But to our astonishment, the two vehicles overtook us and disappeared in a thick cloud of dust behind the next corner. Was that all?

It was the only road so far, so no chance to change direction. Conscious and prepared, Leander steered into the curve. Hardly out of the bend the squadron was already recognizable, that had positioned with reinforcement at the right side of the street and blocked the road with their vehicles. Four policemen stood with MG`s In front of their vehicles, aiming at us. Leander started to smile because of all the effort they took, I got scared. We rejected the thought of breaking the barrier quickly. It was unmistakable, that they wanted to lead us to the left side to follow them. Slowing down the speed, Leander rolled towards them, but could not resist making a small turn to the right indicating, he was heading for the roadblock. The officers with their MG's got a bit nervous, but Leander immediately turned back to the left with a smile.

My heart almost slipped in my pants and Leander the dork, has probably watched too many Bruce Willis films. We followed them and reached after a short distance the headquarters.
While two officers held us with their guns in shaft, the other two came quickly to the driving cabin. Leander jumped out of the cab and told me to sit and watch out for Lennox. The procedure from before repeated itself. Obviously they leafed through our documents and touched Akela. We did not get any information what was going on, that`s why we pushed again for the time we were wasting here. The executive did not give up.

Finally, someone who spoke some English arrived, and everything started from scratch. We were travelers, who were on the move for two years blah, blah, blah. Leander showed him our driven route on the map. The policeman was impressed, but could not understand how it was possible to reach the island by truck. Leander touched his chin, looked dubious and smiled "with a boat ?!" "Ahhhh ..." was the poleceman`s answer. The distraction attempt with Small Talk did not work, they wanted to go into the living room. OK, we explained to them, that the entry ladder was broken, like always! That was no obstacle for the boys, they were athletic. Next step, shoes off! They stuck to it, too.
Together, they opened each drawer and rummaged around in it. Lennox and I were sitting on the corner seat, Leander watching them standing with eagle eyes. The mood grew looser, and also somehow funny, and suddenly he clapped his hands and said in our direction, "So, now I have something for them". He opened the bath door and came back with a small bag, in which I kept a pumice stone. He opened the bag and held it towards Charly, one of the policemen`s name. Charly pulled out the good piece. He turned the little stinker in his hands and held it under his nose again and again. We started to laugh, Charly kept on inspecting! Was it the pumice stone he was looking for? ;-) I don`t think so!

So, no fun anymore, "tell us what you are looking for!" Gradually, the individual parts put together to a puzzle. Charly was from the Drug Squad, the other two from the Indonesian FBI and Secret Service. High-profile cast in the middle of nowhere. Apparently we were on the main smuggling route between Malaysia and Indonesia. With Akela, which still had foreign number plates on it, the officials had no idea what we were doing here, and that`s why we came automatically into the circle of suspects. Finally, we know what they were looking for. They suspected a drug courier in us.
We could convince them, that we did not carry anything illegal. After all the inconsistencies have been corrected, everyone relaxed and the situation calmed down. For us, it was too late to continue driving, because it was already dark. Under the personal protection of the local police, they looked for a parking space in front of a restaurant for us. In order to find a nice ending, we invited Charly and his colleagues for dinner. With one day delay we drove to the ferry the next morning.

Comments (1)

  1. Lothar Steiner
    Lothar Steiner at 25.06.2019
    Hallo Maria & Co

    Der "Spiegel" machte mich eben auf euch aufmerksam, aber alles lesend zu genießen, kam ich nicht, aber nach deinem ersten Beitrag bleibe ich dabei.

    Euch Drei das Beste.
    Lothar

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