Paradise is evasive!

OK, figured out why they call it “paradise”, no one knows what I’m talking about or where it might be? When I ask about an island close to here for snorkeling, they all refer to Derawan which is a long trip. So, I’m off looking for a new paradise which in many ways, I’ve found every day.

So, here’s the latest scoop. I’ve met only a couple of people here who speak English. I’m definitely back in Indonesia where the infrastructure is very different from Malaysia. Malaysia if familiar not only with tourist but with things like schedules, information, mopping floors, menu’s with prices on them, internet and WiFi. I found only one internet cafe in my wandering about. It was full of kids playing games, every single computer.

A look bordering on terror passed the face of the man when I asked about using my laptop. I don’t need WiFi, have an ethernet cable and should easily be able to plug it into their router and be in business. Even in Ranau, the little village in the middle of nowhere in Sabah, they had one cable already connected for just such a purpose.

Now, for me, I really need to learn more Indonesian language. I learned a couple new words today: Berapa which is how much and Enak with is delicious. I’m going to find my little book and start building a vocabulary.

My room here is nice especially by Indonesian standards. It’s the first time I’ve had a room with: private bath and shower; AC; telephone; and TV. So much for amenities as the shower doesn’t work and I kept waking up very hot last night as the AC apparently shuts off every hour or so. The TV carried five Indonesian channels and with what little I’ve tested it, they all seem to carry soap opera’s. The telephone, I haven’t used that uet.

When I woke this morning, I had a few things I wanted to accomplish today. I expected to be met by money changers at the border like I have at most border crossings. Since none were there, I had Malaysian Ringgit to change. Speaking no Indonesian and the man at the front desk not speaking English, I held up the Malaysian money. He shook his head no. I raised my shoulders in a question while simultaneously circling my finger in the air as if “around here”. He gave me a name, I asked him to write it down.

I also wanted to get a handle on finding the island near here or deciding to go directly to Sulawesi tomorrow and I needed to find an ATM for money. First order of business, leave the hotel, wander around and get some bearings.

Down a side street, I found the first travel agency of my trip. However, neither this one or the next five I entered spoke any English so I kept looking. Finally, I took a taxi to the money changer, changed the ringgit for rupiah and walked out the front door to discover a travel agency next door. This one had people who spoke English. Uncertain, I walked down the street and found a place to sit out of the rain called the “Cake House” serving very nutritious Chocolate Coconut Crunchy rolls and other delicacies. On the way, I stopped by three more agencies for questions about the island to no avail.

Suddenly, it became clear: go to Sulawesi. It is clearly the path of least resistance and the path opening with the greatest ease. The island felt like a struggle. Back to the agency and checking on bookings, I decided to head all the way North to Manado, Sulawesi tomorrow.

A little information on where that is and what is available there, click either of these links:
Manado Info

It will take a full day to get there with a 7 hour layover for me here in Balikpapan, then a flight direct to Manado landing around 9:00.

Very quickly, everything I wanted to do today was completed! Now, I’m looking for a room in Manado so I don’t have to look for a room when I get in late.

People here are curious and very nice. They are helpful when they can be and honest when they can’t. Now I’m off to learn a little more Indonesian!

Map of Sabah, the state I left yesterday: Sabah

Map of Kalimantan where Tarakan is: Tarakan and East Kalimantan

And, this map will give you an overview of Indonesia so you can see where Sulawesi is in relation to Borneo as well as get an idea of how large Indonesia is. There is other information at this National Geographic site:
Indonesia Map

I’m here, wherever that is….

I walked around town and found the one hotel that has WiFi and even though I am not staying here, they gave me the password to use their system. The internet cafe next door was completely full. Not a tourist in sight, only small children playing computer games.

So, here’s the latest scoop. I’m sitting in a town I didn’t know existed until I read about it yesterday. This morning, I was awaken by the Muslim morning call to prayers at 4:30. I dozed back to sleep and got up before 6:00. A quick shower, checked out of the hotel and hoisted my pack for the walk to the bus stop. This walk was pretty simple. Down the street, turn left, up the hill and go straight.

Yesterday, I was spying Squid, Sting Ray, Moray Eel, Jack Fish, Barracuda, etc. On the way out and back, I saw the remote villages of the Sea Gypsies. I read about them after the tsunami. Apparently, living in such close relationship with the sea, they knew something was so they all left. Simply took their boats and went off. Not a single Sea Gypsy perished in the tsunami. The ones here build homes on poles they pack into the sand, a bar that is too shallow for boats but perfect for them fishing and growing some sort of sea weed. They harvest both and come to the village when they have to.

Reality transported as this morning, I found my minivan and had 20 minutes before it departed. I ordered a “Kopi Susa”, coffee with sweet milk, and waited. When I walked to the van, one man was sitting in the very back. Did I say man, I mean travel angel.

I said hello, he spoke very good English, something that has been rare since I entered Indonesia. He told me about an island not far from here that he used to work at and described it as “paradise”. Yesterday I didn’t know where I’d be going, now it seems I’m headed to paradise!

Funny ending to the story about this man. When the van finally loaded up and was ready to leave, he said something from the back and got off. Apparently, he was there for me.

Our driver delayed and delayed before finally taking off and driving a slow circuit around Semporna honking the horn and trying to attract a few more customers. Back where we started and 15 minutes past our departure time, he got out. Our “real” driver showed up finally and we took off, sort of.

He turned off the highway a few kilometers out of town and honked the horn. No one there, so he proceeded to the next cross road, turned right and honked some more. After five minutes, several people appeared. I thought they were passengers. Not to be! One was his daughter with his brief case and whatever else he had left behind in his rush to be late for work.

On the road finally, for 20 minutes, when he pulled off the road again. I looked around for passengers but there was no one in sight. The driver got out, I suspected a low tire. I was wrong, a full bladder was the cause. He walked behind a tree and once finished, we continued our journey.

Arriving in Tawau, I had no idea where I was or where I needed to go? The driver pointed behind and said something about my watch or time. I thought we were near the ferry terminal and immigration. Not so.

About five minutes later, I saw an official looking building with security wire around it. I asked the guard if this was immigration? He said yes. I asked about Indonesian Immigration and ferry terminal? He excitedly pointed down the road ahead of me.

Three or four more times of doing this, in a very unofficial looking part of town, I found the office for the ferry tickets which was nearly next to Malaysian Immigration. Apparently, the boat direct to Tarakan doesn’t run every day so I was lucky. The tickets were pricey, nearly as much as my plane ticket from Bali to Singapore, but it was a deluxe ferry.

I walked off, found a place for breakfast, and ate amidst and entire restaurant of curious eyes and nervous giggles as they all observed this one tourist in town. Not a lot of tourist traffic here.

Back to immigration, I was waiting when a friendly older man asked if I was German. I told him I was from the US. He lived in New York for 7 years and was a seaman. He was also one of the people who’s village was destroyed in the tsunami in the Banda Aceh area of Sumatra. We had a nice visit waiting for immigration which turned out to be a very quick check out.

Once on the boat, Eddy introduced himself and started talking about his travels and adventures and then telling me about opportunities in this area. He gave me his phone number and address and told me next time, call him and he would set up a jungle trip to see the Dayak’s up river about 3 hours.

It was a long walk from the boat to immigration and he was out of breath so I took his luggage for him. I’m so glad I got my tourist visa in Penang. The agent looked at my passport and was confused by the old entry stamp from Sumatra. I finally got him to look at the new one, a quick look and stamp and I was on my way.

Outside, Eddy was waiting. He got two motor bikes, I followed on the second and went with him to his home, met his daughter and grand daughters, and visited with them for a long time. He took me on his motor bike to find a hotel. Seven stops later, I found one.

Tomorrow, I’ll scout around for trips to the island I heard about. It’s not every day you are around paradise so I may as well check it out. I’ll also see about flights to Sulawesi and have pretty much decided to localize my stay in the Southern part of the island. That is, unless I change my plans and decide to head North to Manado and the islands there that are supposed to be legendary diving and snorkeling spots. Of course, the area around Mabul was supposed to be.

In the evening, Eddy will pick me up and I’ll have dinner with the family. His grand daughter was disappointed when I left.

This isn’t the kind of town I would consider hanging around. It’s spread out along the waterfront and inland. I’ve yet to get a feel for the place. Hotels are either very pricey like $295,000 rupiah a night or the bottom end of $40,000 which was really…..not nice. I found a place that feels comfortable, clean and safe. I have a private bath and AC, a rarity to have either and especially to have both.

That’s it from here, the place I didn’t know existed until yesterday, I’m here NOW, and who knows what tomorrow may bring?