Another Kalimantan town at another Kalimantan river, pleasant enough on account of its markets and waterways.
We have temporarily adopted a more comfortable travel style. We arrived in Banjarmasin by plane, not fancying a 12 to 14 hour bus ride from Balikpapan or Samarinda. And we booked ourselves in a really nice hotel, to enjoy AC again, and a real hot shower. You have no idea how nice a hot shower can be, after a week on the Mahakam River!
Banjarmasin is a large town, spread out, with mosques, markets and malls – think iced cappuccinos. It is also a town near the mouth of the Barito River, with a lot of channels running through town and plenty canals interconnecting them. The appropriate way of exploring those is by motorized canoe, of course, so we chartered our own, for an early morning trip to the floating market, and an afternoon one around town.
We have been to floating markets before, and perhaps we have been spoilt, but the Pasar Kuin, some 30 minutes outside the town centre, in the Barito River, was rather small, nothing compared to the markets in the Mekong Delta. Perhaps Saturday is not the best day to visit. Still, it is an obvious tourist attraction, and there were almost more tourists boats that fruit and vegetable sellers – Indonesian tourists, which meant that we, the only two foreigners around, became an attraction ourselves, probably more photographed than many of the bananas.
In the afternoon the water level was a lot lower, I suppose Banjarmasin is close enough to the sea to have significant tidal influence. Low water does expose the rubbish, however. Our canoe proved rather less appropriate, when it started raining. No sun cover that can double up as rain shield here, so we were reduced to using umbrellas. No regrets, however, as a trip through the canals is fun, even in the rain. Part of the route passes through kampungs, really the backyard of people’s houses, but the somewhat voyeuristic feeling I initially had was quickly taken away by the people themselves, who had no problem whatsoever with a boat passing whilst they were washing, themselves or their cloths or the dishes – there always seems to be an enormous amount of washing to do, somehow. The children were the most fun: upon seeing our boat, they jumped en masse in the water, if there weren’t there already, and swam to the boat for a high five with the foreigner, they in the water and we in the boat. All very amicable and friendly.
A little outside Banjarmasin is Martapura, home to an allegedly huge market. One again, perhaps we have been spoilt, but the Martapura market, even on the supposedly busiest day of the week, didn’t impress the experts. Located as it is in the Kalimantan diamond mining area, we are supposed to be approached by all kind of dubious figures offering huge diamonds and other precious stones, for a bargain too good to be true. In reality, the market offers cheap Chinese-made necklaces of painted stones, the type you’ll find all over the world. Still, good for a few nice photos, not in the least for its unique way of presenting the ever-present dry fish.
But we are getting restless, too many things in Kalimantan are OK, but nothing really spectacular. Time for a change, perhaps?
next: inevitable Bali