from Borneo to Belitung

CR and KN Williams
Mon 3 Oct 2011 02:43

2.60S 109.45E

3rd October 2011

We are now half way to an island called Belitung which does not even have a mention in Lonely Planet so could be anything. The sea is very shallow round here from 5m to 30m. Disconcerting when we are used to hundreds of metres.

Our 2 day journey through the jungle on a wooden river boat was wonderful. Very basic but comfortable with mattresses and mosquito nets on deck at night. I plastered myself with DEET but left out a tiny patch on my elbow and got about 5 bites before it was dark so I hope the dreaded doxycycline works.

There was a proper loo and shower (river water) and delicious food cooked by a young girl called Su. The washing up was done with river water but no one got ill…2 months of eating in tiny places in towns with open sewers had probably acclimatised us.

We saw crocodiles and lots of proboscis monkeys jumping around the trees and once leaping across the river in front of the boat. The engine noise keeps the crocs away briefly.

The orang utans are semi wild and have feeding platforms where the rangers bring bananas and milk and make noises like Tarzan to call the apes. Suddenly seeing them swinging through the trees is amazing and they are so used to tourists we could get really close.

We saw big Tom, the dominant male, and lots of mothers with babies. The babies stay with their mothers until they are 8… no nursery or preschool here.

On the way back to our boats we waited until it was dark and the trees on the river bank were lit up like Christmas trees with fireflies. I had never seen them before; quite magical.

The actual town of Kumai is a busy port with huge tramp ships moored in the river and the attendant lorries and noise and dust on land. The local lads apparently used to get legless so it is now dry with not even a cold beer. We just did diesel and laundry and left the next morning.


Whenever countries become independent, their first action seems to be to change the names of everything; it’s obviously their country and they can do what they like, but it confuses the likes of us. Part (only) of Borneo is now called Kalimantan and I don’t know what Belitung used to be (Sarawak seems to have vapourised).

We had a nice 16-20kt wind off the quarter for about 18hrs, but then it dropped and swirled around the stern, so on with the engine.  It’s not so much that we can’t pole out the genoa (although it would be easier with more of us) but it’s just not worth it because the wind changes every few hrs. Also, C gets v/worried if we look like arriving offshore at night because of the reefs and unlit fishing traps so timing becomes a problem.
Fishing boats at night are less of a problem now we know where they leave their nets and have low expectations of navigation lights and reliable radar contacts.