Biking Borneo

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We had to start thinking about our further travels to Indonesia. The visa you get when you fly in is only valid for 30 days, and we are planning a longer stay. On the flip side, the land and sea crossings do not issue a visa on entry, and require one to get it ahead of time. Since there was an Indonesian consulate in Kuching, we decided to go there and try our luck.
The previous day we scoped out a place which rented out motorcycles. A lot of people in Malaysia get around on two wheels, so we thought why should we be any different. The 30 RM (USD$10) per day price made it irresistible. After a few minutes of getting acquainted with our new 125CC two wheeled road cruisers (granted mine was automatic as I’ve never rode a motor bike beforehand), we were on the road navigating the streets and roundabouts searching for the Indonesian consulate, a couple to a bike.
We arrived in front of the HSBC building where the guidebook said the Indonesian consulate was located. However, it was no longer there. To add insult to injury, their phone number was disconnected as well. The desk attendant did not speak English and had a hard time explaining to us where to find it. Luckily, a friendly HSBC office worker spent about half an hour of his lunch time giving us meticulous directions.
During this time we inevitably had to use the bathroom. Weronika and Tomek went to the sixth floor. After a few minutes, Tomek comes back down laughing hysterically. Weronika is locked in the bathroom and cannot get out. I get to there and there are office workers running around, laughing nervously, searching for some tools which could be used to free my trapped wife. The door lacked a door handle, and Weronika ran into the stall and slammed the door shut behind here. Within only a hole where the handle should be, she had no way to get out. Luckily, with a little fidgeting I was able to pull back the bolt and free my wife from her temporary predicament.
After a fifteen minute ride, we finally found the Indonesian consulate. Unfortunately, when we got there it was close to 1pm, and the gate attendant would not let us in as visiting hours were over. After some light pleading though, he changed his mind and issued us our visitor passes. At the door to the building, same story: visa filings end at noon. Once again, a quick plea, and off to the desk we go. Now things get more serious. To get an Indonesian visa, you need an entry and exit ticket. However, the way we are traveling, we do not know where we will actually be in the next few days, let alone weeks and months. We began explaining that we want to travel backpacking and see some of the less traveled corners of Indonesia. Bam – no entry ticket required. However, they are still insisting that we have an exit ticket. Some more pleading and explaining (but no whining) and we were able to bargain the requirement down to a loose itinerary. Unfortunately, we needed some photos and photocopies of credit cards, as well as request letter, so there was no way we could file today.
We got back to the center of Kuching to grab a bite to eat when Iza’s eye started bothering her. It was quite swollen and slightly purple. Luckily, we all have travel insurance. Tomek called to find out which doctor she could visit. The rest of us took off on a bike trip to the resort town of Damai to see the beach. (Some foreshadowing for the worried parents: Iza’s eye is OK, she did not have to go to a doctor, as the swelling went down on its own).
The road culture in Malaysia, and especially here on Borneo is fantastic. No one speeds, and often does not go the speed limit. All the drivers are considerate and make room for merging traffic. We have not heard one horn since we got here. It is really easy to get around and driving feels very safe.
After about 45 minutes of driving we got to Damai and found a resort which let us use their beach for a nominal fee. The sky was overcast so we were not catching much sun, but it was very relaxing to just lie there on recliners at the beach and enjoy the moment.
A little down the road was a much recommended Heritage Cultural Village. It is an open air museum of buildings and culture from all over Borneo. When we arrived there, it was closed. However, the gate was open, so we walked in. We strolled around leisurely and admired the structures, hoping that in the near future we would get to see some of them in the wild. It was a little boring without the “culture” aspect, as all the performers we already gone, but then again, we got to save the hefty RM60 entrance fee per person. The only challenge was hopping the fence to get out of this place, as the gate was already shut when we were leaving.
As we were driving back, dusk began to settle in, and hunger was chasing us. There was a little fishing village of Bental not too far way, so we took the turn and went to see what it had to offer. Much to our dismay, the prices were unnaturally high for seafood — most likely white person syndrome. Luckily, we found a roadside stall where a lady was frying bananas in dough. We stopped for an extremely warm and pleasant chat as we munched on banana fritters. A bit further down the road we found a similar stall selling hamburgers. A small crowd of Muslim girls in colorful headscarves giggled uncontrollably as we stopped by. We talked a bit to the parents as the kids amused themselves when we tried to take their photo “for the newspaper.” This was most definitively the highlight of the day.
The ride back into town was pleasant and uneventful. We went to sleep as the Chinese sing along in a nearby temple blared loudly until the late hours of the night for the second night in a row.

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