Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
I woke up to a misty morning. The clouds came down, seeping through the lush hill in front of our room and gave that morning a fresh chill, despite we were so close to the equator; an area abundant with sunlight. There were barely any cars passing, just a few motorcycles speeding by with helmetless passengers. Life felt very light and easy. We were bunking at the Betung Kerihun National Park office, but the surrounding had homey kind of feel. It was quiet, peaceful, and perfect with a cup of coffee. Falling for a town can never be predicted, as I did for Lanjak, West Kalimantan.
Lanjak is mostly known as the gateway to Sentarum Lake, allegedly one the most beautiful peat land in the world. It’s natural phenomenon is also something much talked about as the lake can subside drastically and form a grass meadow during the try season. However, I’ll spare Sentarum Lake for another worthy post. This time, it’s all about Lanjak.
Like any small town, Lanjak developed along the main road. The sights are predominantly green with trees, grass, shrubs, with houses and public structures amongst them. People are seen roaming around with fishing nets, spears, and farming goods. Students are seen walking around in their uniforms on school days. In a glimpse, there’s nothing too special. However, sometimes that’s the charm of small towns, this coming from a city girl like myself.
There are a few smaller roads cutting through the main road, most of them head west to Lake Sentarum. These smaller roads are filled with local residents’ wooden houses in various colours and most of them are made on stilts. Taller stilted houses are usually located further into the Sentarum Lake area, while the short stilts are located near the main road. Even schools are elevated, avoiding the water rise during wet season. The tallest I saw was about 5 meters above the ground. The wood must be pretty good to withstand the yearly flood.
Of course, my favorite place to visit is the market. It wasn’t anything big, just a few stalls gathered in one spot. But the people were so nice, making me wish I had more time there. Stalls and shops mostly sell local goods. However, being so close to the border, it’s no surprise to find some Malaysian products, including gas for cooking. I discovered a few odd ingredients (which later I found out that they weren’t odd at all, I just have a poor culinary knowledge), which help empower sour and spicy taste to dishes. I guess that’s the taste preference around these areas. The plum eggplant and torch ginger flower are amongst these ingredients.
Meanwhile, at another corner, some gruesome blood-covered couple were laughing and starting the day with light chats amongst themselves. I had to stop by.
“I process about 200 kg of fish a day. It’s then sent to Sintang to be made in to ‘kerupuk basah’, ” says Pak Tambun.
“And who is this?” I asked, referring to the lady in front of him.
“This is my wife, Dayang. We work together here during the day. At night, we work together in bed,” he says with a big laugh in the end. A bit too much information for the morning. Dayang just smiles to hide her embarrassment of the truth. That morning scene was a bit gory and warm at the same time.
The ‘toman’ or giant snakehead fish can be fried, grilled, or cooked however you like. It’s a carnivorous fresh water fish and one of the main local protein sources. The meat is also famously made in to ‘kerupuk basah’, which is kind of steamed fish dough dipped in peanut sauce, and considered a snack. It has a similar tasting to Sumatra’s pempek. It’s a gruesome and tough process just for a snack. Mr. Tambun has a hard job, but he’s pretty proud and even tossed in a smile when I asked him for a picture, even though he didn’t have all his front teeth.
Sebabai is on the edge of Betung Kerihun National Park. It used to be an illegal logging zone but was ceased and now undergoing rehabilitation by the national park.
Interestingly, this abandoned area can now also be a place for an alternative activity around Lanjak such as motor crossing, aside to hiking. The roads used to be fit for vehicles, big enough to haul timber before the operation was brought to halt. After about 8 years, these roads are now barely visible, rocky, leafy, and some have even eroded leaving one side slump into an overhang.
Riding a motorcross bike itself is challenging, let alone having a passenger on the back seat, as yours truly. I was like a cat slipping from a tree trunk. I was constantly desperate trying to latch on Hari, national park officer and my driver, up the steep and rocky road. I’m so glad I didn’t fall and remain in one piece… or so it seems.
Risky, a ranger and Vira’s driver, seemed to pass the road easily. He patrols the track on a routine basis and is the route’s expert. He pointed out clearly that the route would be excellent for motor cross enthusiasts. It was a grueling 2-hour ride for us just to get to the river, especially on the thin passengers seat.
As tough as it seemed, the river was only half way to the main area where the main national park edge is located. There’s another 2-3 hours of tough road ahead. It is said that you can see wild orangutans and bears at the national park border also clouds are at your feet. It sounded heavenly if only we had stronger butt.
I can see Risky’s point. The butt-wrenching route might be an exciting track. It’s got rocky road patches, steep terrains, branch-whacking obstacles, and a river crossing. Everything a motor-cross kid would ever want. In addition, it has some breathtaking views and drinkable river water. Again, Borneo’s at it’s best.
Lanjak is about 2 to 3-hour drive from Putussibau. You can also reach it through Sintang, if you travel by land from Pontianak, with an additional boat ride during wet season.
The Gandaria Inn is surprisingly clean. The main rooms are on the ground floor. They are clean and with private bathroom, with shower heads. The upper rooms are with shared bathrooms. The word on the street is that its the most recommended place to stay. Rooms can reach up to IDR 150,000/night.
Contact: +62 852 5202 2631
Most of the small ‘warungs’ or food stalls around the market are good food. The most visited was the mini restaurant not too far south from the inn. It’s probably worth noting that there isn’t much night life around and open restaurants can be scarce after 8 p.m.