After we made it into Tayan, we decided to leave our beloved vessel in favour of yomping the final 120k/130k to avoid negotiating the tides in the Kapuas delta, that and the salt water crocodile population was dramatically increasing the farther downstream we got.
By this point we had yomped through the heart of Borneo, and travelled nearly 600 kilometres down the lengths of the Sungai Melawi and Kapuas respectively without a days rest. The extremely arduous jungle crossing coupled with a week of hot bagging on the river had left us immensely fatigued. We checked into a “Losman” (guesthouse) in Tayan and the smart thing to do would have been to take a day to square ourselves away and put ourselves in good order to finish our crossing. The sensible way of doing things has never been our forte however, and we had placed ourselves on a ticking clock.
A few days previous whilst we were resupplying at a town called Sanggau we had access to wifi in a small coffee shop. Whilst I was sifting through the spam in my emails, Louis had taken the opportunity to book our flights home, in less than a weeks’ time. What this meant is that we had some serious ground to cover, in a very short space of time. Nothing like the thought of missing your flight home to provide some well needed motivation.
Our stop in Tayan had to be brief, however we still needed to find out about the route we were due to travel. Thankfully we had covered enough distance through Kal-Bar to be inside Googles remit of civilization and a quick look on Google Maps told us we had 120km to cover to Pontianak all along a real life official road; What a luxury! 3 days at 40k a day would suffice, happy days!
That evening a chance conversation with a local informed us there would be a settlement with accommodation around 50k away, OK, we thought 50km tomorrow, brutal, but it leaves us less to cover the following few days.
We set out the next morning before first light, the aim was to cover as much distance as possible before it got too hot.
During our time in Kalimantan, we have learnt a lot about the local people, and for the most part, they are some of the friendliest, most generous humans we have ever encountered. However, something we should have learnt from our time spent in East Kalimantan is that the majority are very very VERY bad at judging distances. So 75km and 17hours of yomping later 2 sunburnt bedraggled white carcasses hobbled their way into the prophesised settlement.
Swimming in croc infested rivers, making a bamboo raft to escape starvation in the jungle, climbing over a jungle clad mountain range are just a few of the exceptionally dangerous activities Louis and I have partaken in since our time in Borneo. However, none of these even come close in perilous comparison to walking on an Indonesian main road at night. After several near misses and watching the second stray dog of our trip getting run over, our nerves were extremely frayed and we promised ourselves we wouldn’t be walking on a road during the dark hours again.
The accommodation was the Indonesian version of a service station, a wooden structure with a tin roof selling food and drink, with a series of raised wooden boards for sleeping on; No expense spared for Expedition 5! We washed in the buckets of rain water provided and got our heads down.
The yomp had started to take its toll on Louis’ body, a huge mass of blisters covered the balls of both his feet and a trapped nerve in his back meant the few remaining painkillers we had left were being rapidly consumed.
The following morning after a night’s sleep comprising of many curious Indonesians watching us sleep whilst talking loudly, laughing and smoking right next to us, we were in desperate need of some alone time. We spent the morning eating and drinking as much as we could before setting out in the early afternoon.
The plan was to make it as far as we could in the hours of light and stop somewhere that evening. It wasn’t until our first stop all that changed. Speaking with the owner of a small restaurant as we tried to cool down drinking sugar laden “teh es” (ice tea) we were informed on the outskirts of Pontianak there was a hotel on the road we were travelling on around another 20 km away. Having already travelled 9km and the fact we had left in the afternoon, reaching it would mean breaking the previous nights promise to ourselves we had made about travelling in the hours of darkness, however the allure of an air-conditioned room proved too strong to resist.
Kalimantan Barat (West Kalimantan) Is the major stronghold for the Dayak population within Indonesian Borneo. This was reflected the closer we reached Pontianak through the architecture and the population themselves. Huge longhouses, churches and buildings on stilts became increasingly prevalent the farther we travelled. The muscular light skinned, heavily tattooed men would smile and wave as we walked through the settlements, and on several occasions crowds of children and their mothers would greet us laughing and smiling asking for “selpys” (photots).
It was very disconcerting to think that these communities were at the heart of the tribal violence that blighted Kalimantan in the late 1990s which saw several Dayak communities returning to their head hunting rituals in what they refer to as their “War” with the non-native Madurese population within Borneo. On a few occasions discussing this with the locals we were told how the Dayaks involved would go door to door looking for Madurese to kill. Many people protected their neighbours however, as with any issue such as this huge it had huge underlying social, economic, and cultural reasons behind it. It seemed very strange indeed how these seemingly peaceful calm communities could have been driven to such extreme violence.
Another few hours comprising of numerous near misses later, we reached our hotel. Louis blisters by this point had evolved into monsters, despite the dressings and numerous layers of tape applied to cushion the yomp, his feet were in a terrible condition. The AC in our room and shower was a welcome relief from our past few weeks of self-imposed hardship. The only good thing about covering 105km of our 120km in 2 days was that it left the following day free to cover the relatively short distance of 15km.
We woke early and made our way into the urban sprawl that comprises Pontianak. Numerous tin roofed structures with the odd grandiose building from the Dutch Colonial era comprised the city. Thousands of mopeds, palm oil trucks and lorries lined the streets in what looked like the most mental episode of whacky races ever created. The city sits on the equator and spreads around the Kapuas Delta. Crossing a bridge we saw many children swimming and washing in the river which we guessed from witnessing some of practices up stream must at this point be heavily polluted.
The city of Pontianak gets its name from a word meaning the undead vampire of woman who died during childbirth. According to legend they like to spend their time murdering unsuspecting men and eating babies, supposedly the area of the city was abundant in Pontianaks before the city was settled there. Thankfully for Louis and Myself we didn’t have any encounters with these delightful ladies during our time there.
Once we found ourselves a hotel in the heart of Pontianak we checked in and began to prepare for our final push. Despite Pontianak being billed as our final destination, it is in fact the penultimate one. Being sat on the Kapuas Delta it is located 25km away from the west coast of Borneo, where we would need to reach for our crossing to be considered “legitimate”. Bergans ditched, carrying nothing but the expedition flag and GPS the following morning we left to finish our first island crossing.
The road to the coast was probably the most polluted we have travelled on our journey. It was abundant with masses of petrochemical factories, palm oil refineries and depots catering for the ships leaving Kalimantan laden with it’s natural resources. Swarms of vehicles spitting benzene fumes added to the cloud of smog we were walking through. Once we reached what we could consider the west coast we were faced with a small track leading to a gated compound by the sea. We followed the track and after a few words with the security guard in Bahasa explaining we had just walked from Samarinda to reach there, we were allowed in.
The security guard explained to the workers what we had done, and a crowd of men followed us to the edge of the docks. Relief and an enormous sense of achievement washed over us, we had completed our journey in much less time than we had previously envisioned, thanks to a fast flowing river, and our mule headed determination in reaching a decent bed. The following Chad Phots/videos (Cheesey photos) ensued and we took a great deal of pleasure in flagging down a taxi to take us back to the hotel.
The following day just so happened to be Christmas day, which we spent consuming a great deal of Bintang, eating and packing our bergans ready for our flight home on boxing day. The finish had been somewhat of an anti-climax, however it began to really hit home what we had managed to accomplish. On the very dark days we faced alone in the jungle, the thought we would be sat sipping an Indonesian beer watching George Clooney crucify batman on TV in an air-conditioned hotel room seemed an impossibility. I don’t think I could have achieved this with any other person, Louis and I have had a lot thrown at us the past few weeks, which we have faced with the Bootneck tested combination of gallows humour and relentless dripping.
We have learnt some very valuable lessons which we will be taking forward to our future crossings, and we have had a lifetime of amazing experiences squeezed into a few weeks. It has been an extraordinarily difficult, but amazing journey that I am immensely proud to have been a part of.
Louis and I have faced some dark days on our journey, and it is worth taking the time to appreciate why we are putting ourselves through this mammoth challenge. In raising money for The Royal Marines Charity and Help For Heroes we aim to give back to two amazing charities that make a huge difference in improving the lives of wounded serving and former serving British soldiers. We set out on this challenge in particular to highlight the plight of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder within the forces community, which effects many of our veterans. If you have been inspired, or just amused by our antics across Borneo, we would both be grateful if you could take the time to #Chuckusafiver or more if you chose for the charities via the link below.
1395km, 39days, Jungles, mountains, rivers, and roads. Job done.