78: All Aboard the Monkey Boat

Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.

River port Kapuas 2014-10-12

When we arrived at the tiny little airport in Kalimantan, we were met by our guides, Yetmo and Tina. They obviously knew our flight had been delayed, but they didn’t know whether we had decided to stay the extra day or not. Yetmo’s brother was the captain of the boat that was taking us up the river and they were in a hurry to get the trip underway, so once we confirmed with them that we were going to extend the trip another day, we hurriedly rescheduled our return flights.

We were flying with a little airline called Kalstar, and it was their decision to make the unscheduled change to our flight. You would have thought that they would have also felt an obligation to accommodate the flight rescheduling costs we were having to make. But this being Indonesia, that wasn’t the case. Instead, we all had to pay the airline a few more hundred thousand IDR for the privilege of having them fuck up our plans. You had to love the smiling gall of this place. Well you don’t have to, but I supposed it helps.

Two big 4X4’s took us all to the port where we stopped at a dusty little warung in the village for a break before departing. It was run by the wife of the man who was the cook on our boat. It was the typical sun-bleached, bare boned noodle and rice café you found in the small villages in Indonesia. The kind of place a westerner would only risk eating in if they were really hungry. None of us were that hungry, but we all had a cold drink whilst we waited inside, away from the glare of the late morning sun as our boat was being prepared for boarding.

There were eight of us on the trip in total, the average age being somewhere between the mid-to-late forties. Laura and Clive were a married couple who were both at the far end of forty, maybe even fifty – middle ages are hard to tell, though Clive did appear to be the younger of the two by a few years. Laura was the headmistress at the school where Claire worked and Clive also worked there as a teacher.

Jane was an attractive American woman who was raised in Japan. Along with her English, she also spoke both Japanese and Bahasa fluently. She was married to an American man who had his own company in Jakarta. They had two children and they had been living in Indonesia for almost twenty years. Mathematical logic put her in her early-forties although she didn’t look any older than thirty-five.

Caroline was a middle-aged woman from New Zealand who was also the wife of an expat businessman. Gaby, another Kiwi, also worked at Claire’s school, but she was approaching retirement age. Ditte, a tall Danish woman who was married to a businessman who ran a large food company in Bandung, was probably already at retirement age, or even beyond. She had also lived in Indonesia for many years and also spoke fluent Bahasa.

Despite the slightly odd socio-cultural mix, there wasn’t any awkwardness between us. Everyone seemed quite nice and agreeable, but this was clearly going to be a very sober and civilised nature trip, which was probably a good thing for me. However, we were all westerners and civilised or not, our culture demanded that we like a bit of a tipple when holidaying. Claire had brought a bottle of rum for the trip, and there was lemonade and cola already stowed on board as part of our food and refreshments. Yetmo had taken drink orders from the rest of us for our three days on the river and had gone off to collect them. This not being the capital, getting alcohol wasn’t as simple as popping into an Indomaret. Nevertheless, we weren’t going to have to wait for him. He was going to catch us up on the river later.

We didn’t have to wait long for our boat to dock. However, when I walked out to the jetty to get aboard, the boat I saw wasn’t the boat I expected. I mean I know nothing about boats or anything nautical, I just had my westernised assumptions about what a boat should be; you know, a modern styled vessel the likes of which you would find tied up in a marina in the Mediterranean, or on the bank of the Thames. But looking around at the other boats that I could see on the river, it was what I can only guess was a typical, traditional Indonesian riverboat. I mean I’m not saying I was worried; Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago with a great nautical tradition that dates as far back if not beyond that of any European nation. It’s just that the sudden realities of otherness in the different cultures of developing countries often give your western memory’s frame of reference an unexpected little judder.