Seven Bikes and a Boat: Cycling Trip from Balikpapan to Penajam

Bikes on Board Ferry To PenajamOne of the best things about living in Balikpapan is the stupendous, completely original, I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-on-a-regular-basis! cycling here.

One recent experience was a group ride from Balikpapan’s Kampung Baru (also known as “Water Village”) to Penajam, a village across the Balikpapan Bay, where back roads lead through idyllic little plantations of tapioca, water farms filled with fish, crab and shrimp, and ultimately a wide, sandy beach where tourists haven’t yet caught on to what’s on offer.

Catching a boat from Kampung Baru:

Ticket to PanajamGetting a boat from Kampung Baru is simple: the water taxi terminal is a little north of the Kebun Sayur/Pasar Impress market. The easiest way to reach the water taxis is to arrive at the parking lot/angkot (public mini bus) station just outside called “Pelabuhan Speed, Kampung Baru Tengah” (translates to “Speedboat terminal at middle Kampung Baru”). From the parking lot, follow the narrow alley that leads over the water where little shops line the left side and a fish market is on your right. Keep going until you must turn left or right; turn left and you’ll see a small ticket office on your right just before the pier leading out to little blue boats. Purchase a ticket at the ticket office (make sure you specify Penajam as there are other destinations as well), load your bike and self onto the boat assigned (they are all numbered, so it’s easy) and … off you go!

Life insurance for

Life insurance certificate!

The boat ride itself is great fun; so much so that I forgot to time it, but I’d hazard a guess it lasted about thirty minutes. Fare for the regular boats to Penajam totals 15,000 IDR per person (no extra for the bike), but if you want to use a speedboat, which is also available at this same terminal, the price is higher.

An unexpected bonus for the regular ferry ticket purchase? It comes with life insurance! Perhaps not the most reassuring of facts, but to us, it was at least amusing.

Directions from Penajam Wharf:

Penajam Wharf

Penajam Wharf

Once you’re in Penajam, just follow the main road (“Jalan Penajam Kuaro” a/k/a “Jalan Propinsi”) out of town for a little over seven kilometers, then hang a left as shown in the map above. This side road will then take you down to a bizarrely well-developed wide, two-way asphalt highway that no one uses as it is apparently built to lead to a bridge that will cross the bay to Balikpapan, but completion of said project looks dubious.

Take a right on the highway-to-nowhere and continue south, then veer left just before the river. You’ll cross a bridge that appears still somewhat under construction, then through water farms until you veer right down a dirt road that parallels the beach.

Just follow that until you can’t go any further without crossing a rather sewage-looking creek and you’ve cycled about 24 kilometers and reached the turnaround point! Several stalls along the beach sell snacks, instant coffee, bottled water and sodas if you feel like taking a little coffee break.

Getting Back:

Ferry Boat

For return, you can reverse your path (we did) or head right up one of the side roads to reach the main road once more, Jalan Penajam Kuaro. But if you stick to the coast like we did, most of the ride is fairly flat. The nice thing is that, due to the small size of the town and the fact that the main road parallels the entire ride, it is quite difficult to get lost! Once at the Penajam Wharf, just buy your return ticket to Kampung Baru for the same amount (15,000 IDR) and you’re headed home with the wind in your hair and some pretty cool views.

Ikan Bakar Asian Tip: If you’re in the mood for lunch before heading back on the boat, there is a great Indonesian seafood restaurant on the right, just a little after turning back onto the main road, called Pondok Ikan Bakar Asian. Fresh squeezed lime juice, grilled fish, steamed rice, sauteed water spinach, barbecue kampung chicken, freshly made sambal served on a sizzling plate…. Mmm, mmm!

Photo Tour:

Leaving Kampung Baru Wharf

Leaving Kampung Baru Wharf

Motorcycle? No Problem!

Motorcycle? No Problem!

Man at Wharf

Man at Wharf

Father and Son

Father and Son

Man with Kalimantan Stone Tings (Penajam Wharf)

Man with Kalimantan Stone Rings (Penajam Wharf)

Bridge to dirt road

Bridge to Dirt Road

Loading Palm Leaves for Pasar (below bridge)

Loading Palm Leaves for Market (under bridge)

Floating Fish Plant (under bridge)

Floating Fish Plant (under bridge)

After bridge, heading toward farmland

After bridge, heading toward farmland

"Live Shrimp for Sale"

“Live Shrimp for Sale”

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

Bike Route to Village

Bike Route to Village

Vendor Selling Snacks ... a/k/a Kampung Sushi!

Vendor Selling Snacks … a/k/a Kampung Sushi!

Closeup ... the chicken-stuffed rice wrapped in banana leaves was pretty tasty!

Vegetable-Stuffed Fried Tofu (left) and Chicken-Stuffed Rice Wrapped in Banana Leaves (pink tray). Which one to try? Both, of course!

House on Rice Fields

House on Rice Fields

Woman with Wheelbarrow

Woman with Wheelbarrow

Drying Fish

Drying Fish

Ladies of the House

Ladies of the House

A View from the Road

A View from the Road

Beach Scene

Beach Scene

The Beach at the End of the Universe...

The Beach at the End of the Universe…

Coffee Time!

Coffee Time!

Returning from Beach Area

Turning Back at Beach Area

Blunders in Bahasa … and how to inadvertently hit on polite gentlemen.

The other day, a friend and I finished a group walk (a/k/a “Hash“) where, at the end-point, most of the hash members were enjoying delicious Lontong and Kari (the former, compressed rice steamed in a banana leaf so that, when unpeeled, the rice retains the shape and has a mild gelatinous texture; the latter, curry sauce with lemongrass).

Naturally, we decided we’d like to join in that endeavor, so we grabbed a bowl and plopped down next to a middle aged Indonesian man sporting a festive green hat. Since I was sitting closest to the man and had never met him before, I thought I should say something in order to be genial. The problem was, the man (who, like many Indonesians, was very polite and reserved) seemed to be taking pains not to look at me or my friend. Solution? Well, that hat of his was pretty cool, so I thought I’d start with that.

I cast the man a side-wise glance, grinned and said in my best Bahasa Indonesia,  ”I like your hat!”

The man, in return, sat perfectly still for a second or two while staring straight ahead. After another moment, a slight smile tugged at his mouth and then he said, barely looking my way, “Thank you.”

Progress! Pleased with my social foray thus far, I thought I’d keep going. “From Java?” I guessed.

“No,” he said, and now that amused smirk grew bigger, “from Bali.”

“Ah, Bali,” I repeated while nodding wisely.

Another moment of silence passed until he said, “You speak Bahasa well.”

I thanked him, protested that I did not, but added that I was trying to advance myself. And from there (and with the help of my friend who actually does speak decent Bahasa), we fell into a scintillating conversation regarding various cities in Indonesia, local delicacies and the virtues of the stinkiest fruit on earth … a/k/a “Durian.” After our chat and snack of Lontong, my friend and I bid the gentlemen adieu and returned to our respective homes for the evening.

When I saw Sam later on, I relayed the story of my Bahasa exchange and wondered out loud why my new hash friend was so amused when I complimented his head gear. But it wasn’t until I was lying in bed that night and thinking the conversation over that it hit me that … I’d gotten the word order wrong!

Because in Bahasa, you typically put your adjectives and possessives after the noun. For example, in English, we’d say “the brown dog” or “his house,” but in Bahasa, it would be “dog brown” or “house his.” Interesting stuff, I know, but this is where it really becomes important to get these things right:

Because instead of saying, “I like your hat” (Saya suka topi anda), I’d actually saddled up to an extremely polite man who was minding his own business, grinned wide and announced, “I like you, hat.” (Saya suka anda topi).

I probably will never know if that man thought I was a schizophrenic hash-ette who’d developed an undeniable attraction to green hats, or if he merely assumed I was attempting to cover up my forward ways by pretending my initial come-on was really directed to his topi.

Either way, I finally appreciate those mind-numbingly boring elementary school lessons on diagramming sentences! Poor Mr. Valley would be vindicated, if only he knew.

Hash House Harriers in Balikpapan: HASH Mash

Blurry AdventuresFor the uninitiated, The Hash House Harriers (A/K/A “Hash”) is an international running group dating back to the late 1930′s when some rowdy British expats in Malaysia decided they needed a way to sweat off their hangovers.

Despite these beginnings (or perhaps, because of them), hashes are now going strong around the world, with over 2000 chapters spanning every continent (although it doesn’t appear that Antarctica’s is currently active). Today, there are hashes for every walk of life: family hashes, women’s hashes, men’s hashes, group hashes … you get the idea. And Balikpapan is a hasher’s paradise, with a hash going on somewhere in town at least three times a week! Continue reading

Young Adult New Release! The Orphan of Torundi now available on Amazon

The Orphan of Torundi is available on Amazon today!

Here’s what reviewers are saying:

“The Orphan of Torundi delivers all the key ingredients for a successful young adult novel…. A vivid landscape, a refreshingly unique plot and a lovable protagonist will keep you rooted to the story from the very first page. Surprising twists, and a heart-in-mouth romance take this novel beyond your average Young Adult read: all will rejoice in the turbulent adventure Sam takes the reader on.” -The Children’s Book Review Continue reading

Thirty Meters High at Bukit Bangkirai (Balikpapan’s Canopy Bridge)

Panorama of Canopy Walk

About a two hour’s drive north of Balikpapan city central lies one of East Kalimantan’s tourist draws: the canopy bridge walk at Bukit Bangkirai.

Bukit is actually a park within the rain forest, featuring log cottages for overnight stays, a small restaurant, restrooms, several [overgrown] jungle treks, a questionably maintained swimming pool and, for those who linger until five in the afternoon or so, the lure of viewing East Kal’s famous Hornbills that frequent the area around dusk. Continue reading

Announcing Early Review Copies for The Orphan of Torundi!

It has been a while since my last post.  But I have some arguably valid excuses.  To wit, (1) moving from China to Borneo is a slightly involved procedure and (2) I’ve been busy completing tasks for my soon-to-be-released novel, The Orphan of Torundi!

I thought it would be fun to post the ARC/Catalog Copy here.  So, without further ado … Continue reading

The Glory of China’s English-Language Signs

Bathroom philosophy puts a spin on it.
Bathroom philosophy puts a spin on it.  But when you think about it, really, this is spot on.  Because … what is this world that we live in?  And what is a jream?  And are they one and the same?  You could spend hours just mulling that over…

One of my great regrets about our year in China was my failure to capture the brilliance and hilarity that is the English language restaurant menu. It is worth going out to eat for that alone, even if the repercussion of said venture includes the digestion of certain unthinkable delicacies.

Well, I don’t have those awesome menu descriptions captured in all their pixelated glory, but I did snap a few signs we encountered in our day-to-day lives. Continue reading

Looking for a unique greeting card hailing from the Pacific isles of Tonga?

Tongan Greeting Cards Pua DesignsThen look no further!

Amy, who has been awesome enough to share her completely original Tonga-livin’ experiences here on Tonga Time … you know, things like climbing coconut trees (well, Toni gets credit for that — thanks Toni!) to making fresh coconut cream from scratch, to small, inconsequential tidbits like having a baby in Tonga!!!! … well, she’s taken her killer graphic design experience and turned it into a micro-business in the Friendly Islands!

If you get a chance, visit her new Tongan greeting cards website at Pua Designs.  Just click her logo!

(Oh, in case it wasn’t clear, I was joking about the inconsequential nature of birthing a child.  In Tonga.  In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  With a bucket and adult diapers.  Yup.  I totally could do that…)


We’ve moved to Balikpapan, Indonesia …

Sam at Kebun Sayur Market, Balikpapan

Sam at Kebun Sayur Market, Balikpapan

… And you can see where our priorities lie!

It has been a whirlwind since our move from Tianjin, China to here: Balikpapan, a port city on the east coast of Kalimantan (a/k/a “Borneo”) Indonesia. Folks here call it “Kal-Tim,” which is short for Kalimantan Timur (timur means east in Bahasa Indonesia).

First stop?  Pasar Kebun Sayur — a huge market selling batik, Dyak handicrafts, produce, every sort of household good and clothing item a soul can think of and … delicious food, of course!  Balikpapan’s specialty is seafood — lucky us! Continue reading

Budget Travel in Shanghai: What to Do and See

The Bund at Night cont (4)Whenever we used to think of China, more often than not, we’d think of  Shanghai.  And when we thought of Shanghai, images of 1930′s glamour, junk boats, cosmopolitan streets and seedy opium dens straight out of a Clavell novel came to mind.

Turns out, Shanghai isn’t at all like that.  It’s a modern, bustling city crammed with malls and then malls and then … more malls.  If you love to shop, you’re in heaven.  But if you were hoping for that mystical aura the name of Shanghai conjures, you may be disappointed.

That said, there is still plenty to see that does not include chain stores and tour packages.  And even though Shanghai’s known for being pricey, these activities are budget friendly. Continue reading