The Road Travelled Less - Pontianak

Trip Start Aug 02, 2007
Trip End Aug 12, 2007

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Thursday, August 9, 2007

The distance between Kuching and Pontianak might not seem that far linearly, unfortunately, the roads that traverse between both cities are anything but linear, especially after crossing the Indonesian border.. The result: a 10-hour bus ride not for the faint-bladdered or those with motion-sickness.. The 2.5 rest stops didn't do much to ease the agonizing journey - one after the first hour in the suburbs of Kuching, next was the lunch stop at a Minangkabau eatery 3-4 hours into the journey.. and the last one was along the roadside for passengers to smoke or pass motion among the bushes.. lovely.

There was sluggish traffic from wayy out of town and along the way, you could see huge industrial factories on one side of the road and a number of 'water kampongs' on the other.. where the dwellings are surrounded by canals that play an essential part of life from transportation to washing to bathing and even swimming lessons.. I'm not too keen for the idea of bathing in the same area where dishes and clothes are washed but it sure does save on bathroom and kitchen space in the house does it? ;)

Downtown Pontianak didn't give much of a first impression apart from messy and dusty (at least to me).. so I was glad that Imp decided to try looking for rooms at the Grand Mahkota Hotel which was in a quiet location not far from the river and downtown.. Never has a 3-star hotel with small rooms felt so luxurious (it's amazing what grimy streets and a torturous journey can do)! Even the Malaysian tourism minister stayed there while attending a conference.. so no prizes for guessing which is one of the best hotels in Pontianak!

The rest of the evening was spent walking along the promenade by the Kapuas River.. watching the locals enjoy the breeze, have dinner at mini stalls by the road or engage in some water activities.. though the woman riding the sea creature wasn't enjoying herself - apparently the sea creature was leaking.. haha.. Found ourselves at the nearby Matahari shopping mall and ate at Texas Fried Chicken.. sound like a rip-off huh.. but that's not all, there was also a CFC (guess?) in the mall.. how bizarre.. After stockpiling on snacks and nata de coco, we headed back to the hotel for a nice rest and feast while watching animal planet.. Yaaay!

A long day awaited us on 10 Aug.. we walked around the old colonial and chinese (according to Imp the expert) and took in many of the sights, such as the Santo Yosef Church, a dual-function stadium with shops (Imp's favourite building), bustling marketplace along the river and dozens of passenger and cargo boats lining the pier.. the spirit of place is really alive, though a little too dirty for my liking.. haha.. I mean, I saw a stall owner dip a bucket into a sewer drain and washed his arms and legs with it.. EEEeeee! So GROSS! Though it was definitely a sight to behold - daily local life unfolding before my eyes.. just don't touch me!!

The warm morning air soon heated up in the raging mid-day sun and we found ourselves back in the cool hotel room to seek refuge from the scorching weather and enjoy a nice refreshing drink of nata de coco.. However, as it was our last (and only) day in Ponti, Imp forced me off my lazy ass and we had a quick, but absolutely yummy, Satay lunch in town (I don't want to know how they washed the food / hands / plates) before heading for the water kampong on the opposite bank of the Kapuas River.. local style!

I'm really glad that we made the trip to the water kampong cos it sure was an eye-opener for me! Apart from the two main historical buildings - the grand mosque and istana, the settlement itself was an area of interest where half the houses are built on water, somewhat like a mini Venice of Indonesia.. the people can paddle or swim to each other's houses instead of walking.. cool right! It's like having your own (cheap) marina! Well, maybe swimming is not a good idea.. the water didn't look that clean.. haha..

Apart from engaging in water activities and posing gamely for tourists, the people (or more specificaly, kids) also play with pigeons.. I wonder how they train the birds.. guy 1 stands with a pigeon in his hand, held such that it can flap its wings but not fly away.. guy 2 will stand a distance away with another pigeon.. guy 2 releases his bird, guy 1 will swing his hand up and down so the bird in hand (worth 2 in the bush.. hee) flaps wildly.. then guy 2's pigeon will fly straight to guy 1.. and then.. CATCH! Interesting huh.. Though I'm not too sure on the animal cruelty part.. doesn't sound very nice for the pigeons.. but then again, if the birds don't like it, why do they let the kids play with them.. hmm.. ponder ponder..

As luck would have it.. while I was engrossed in the little game, Imp managed to chat up one of the boys who eagerly agreed to bring him for a little tour of the water kampong and point out all the old houses of significance in the area.. nice! But what a long walk it was.. we even reached the main tar road at the far end of the kampong.. well.. as long as Imp got his pictures.. some of which had their owners posing in them.. haha.. Here's one anyway.. with our little guide in it! Heh..

One thing I've realised about Indonesians is their hospitality.. and they really open up to strangers and treat them like friends.. take our kampong guide for instance.. after the tour, he even gave us a ride back to town on his own boat.. and without demanding anything in return.. though the Imp gave him a tip and bought him a drink at a roadside stall.. where the owner and two other customers chatted with us as though we were old friends.. (Well, actually, they chatted with Imp.. I don't understand Bahasa Indonesia.. They just laughed at me.. "You want to learn Indonesian, you come home with me la!" Haha.. er.. no thanks..) We even had a free ride back to our hotel.. once again, without demanding money.. Well, if there's one thing I will miss from this dirty, sprawling city, it's the hospitality of the people! :)
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