Covid-19 scuppers journey down Amazon of Asia, the Kapuas River in Borneo, so a road adventure has to suffice, Way of life Information

While intercontinental travel continues to be rare in the Asia-Pacific region, domestic tourism in some nations has been booming for months.

In Thailand, Phuket noticed a big uptick in customer numbers for the Vegetarian Competition, in October, with motels booked out for the 1st time since very last March. Australia is having fun with its biggest holiday growth since the 1970s, with summer months bookings at well-liked east coast getaway cities up by two or a few periods compared with 2019.

And a modern on-web-site evaluation by the UN Entire world Tourism Organisation in Bali gave the resort island the thumbs up to safely welcome 3,900 flights and 350,000 domestic visitors in November.

But what of those more difficult-to-achieve destinations that fall less than the specialized niche of experience vacation – locations that offer far more worthwhile finding out and cultural ordeals than the heavily trodden tourist traps? Can one stop by them safely in the pre-vaccine period of the “new normal”?

Final month, I journeyed from my base in Jakarta to Pontianak, West Kalimantan, in the Indonesian part of Borneo island, aboard Sriwijaya Air flight SJ 182 (the identical flight that would crash soon immediately after acquire-off on January 9). My mission? To cruise down the Kapuas River, the longest watercourse in Indonesia and one particular of the longest island rivers in the world.

Recognized as Asia’s Amazon, this liquid superhighway stretches 1,143km from the marshy deltas of the South China Sea to the foothills of the Muller mountain range, household to some of the 200 former headhunting tribes collectively known as the Dayak.


To fly in Indonesia, passengers should maintain a negative speedy antibody check consequence that is fewer than 14 days aged. They are cheaply readily available at healthcare clinics all through the country, despite the fact that I obtained mine at a new counter set up outdoors the departure terminal in Jakarta.

I also experienced to pass the typical temperature examination at the front door and don a mask at all situations, other than whilst feeding on. Some passengers and airport team wore experience shields, much too.

In Pontianak, the cash of West Kalimantan, in which I caught a connecting flight to the inland town of Putussibau, the wellness and security protocols were being even a lot more stringent. My well being certificate was inspected and stamped twice though my temperature was checked at a few points inside of the airport.

I was offered a health kit with hand sanitiser and disposable wipes just after checking in and an officer took down my e-mail address and mobile cell phone range, in circumstance tracing and screening ended up necessary afterwards on. The hostesses on my connecting flight wore plastic robes in excess of their uniforms for further protection.

Putussibau, the city closest to the resource of the Kapuas River, is as flyblown as a put can be. But even there, in the dim recesses of the jungle, individuals wore masks, nevertheless often incorrectly, as chin hammocks, due to the fact of the stifling heat.

To encourage compliance, posters of Indonesian President Joko Widodo wearing a mask lined the most important avenue and handwashing stations had been placed in entrance of eating places and inns.

From Putussibau, I had planned to head upstream by boat to practical experience the famed hospitality of the Dayak longhouse communities. But a take a look at to the place of work of the only tour business in town dashed my hopes: the Dayak villages upriver experienced banned outsiders because March.

Covid-19 has wiped out huge figures of tribal elders in the Amazon rainforest, in South The usa, and it would be a tragedy if the identical matter have been to occur here. With no background of the prepared phrase, Dayak elders are responsible for passing on traditions, languages, organic medicinal information and folklore to youthful generations. Without having these storytellers, the Dayak culture could be shed.


A freelance tour guideline called Odi provided to take me on his motorcycle to check out a Dayak longhouse only 50 percent an hour’s ride out of city that experienced calm its ban on visitors. “You just can’t arrive all this way and not fulfill even one Dayak,” he mentioned.

Comprising 24 specific dwellings conjoined by a 100-metre hall, the longhouse was not constructed from timber and palm thatch, as I had imagined, but from plasterboard and corrugated iron roofing.

Getting so near to city, the 400 Dayaks who stay there also have electricity and Wi-fi. And they gown no various from townsfolk, in raggedy T-shirts and shorts.

Just after a tour of the longhouse, the main, whose name I could not pronounce, led us to a desk in a clearing by the river’s edge, where by we drank refreshing low-alcohol palm wine. Upon hearing I was the to start with vacationer to take a look at in nine months, I questioned how they experienced fared without tourism in the course of the pandemic.

“It’s quite various when you live right here when compared to a major metropolis mainly because the river supplies for us,” Odi stated. “I can go fishing and offer my catch at the current market.”

The chief concurred: “We have quite a few sources of food items, from farming to looking, so we do not need to have visitors to survive. While it’s sad. I personally welcomed the initial foreigner listed here in 1982 and the young children listed here adore meeting folks from overseas.”


Just after darkish, Odi took me to a neigh­bourhood bar to try out kratom – a tea with psychotropic compounds created from the leaves of the tree of the very same identify.

Indonesia has some of the strictest drug guidelines in the environment a toke on a joint can land you in prison for a yr. However kratom, which is unlawful in many extra liberal sections of the environment, is classified as a organic treatment.

I drank two glasses but felt no consequences. I did, nonetheless, truly feel perturbed by the toddler monkey the barkeeper experienced caught and chained up for his patrons’ amusement and by an previous drunk who stored insisting I shake his hand when all I was keen to offer you him was an elbow tap.

“There’s no coronavirus in Borneo. It’s just politics,” the drunk insisted. His sights reflect those of numerous individuals I encountered in Borneo. For motives that proceed to baffle clinical gurus, the pandemic just has not taken maintain there. Testing is close to non-existent but with a telephone in just about every hand, it would be impossible to conceal a fatal outbreak from the evening news. At the time of creating, there had been only 24 confirmed Covid-19 fatalities in Kalimantan, which has a population of 16 million.


The following day I figured out I also could not journey downriver on the Kapuas. With no other travellers to share the charge of a riverboat, the cost of a personal constitution was prohibitive. So I was compelled to use the world’s the very least-adventurous sort of transportation – a bus.

Aboard, the air conditioner was kaput and the home windows scarcely opened. And to make issues even worse, the driver blared K-pop tunes by a speaker found right earlier mentioned my seat in the course of the bone-jarring 200km, seven-hour journey to Sintang, the largest inland metropolis in West Kalimantan.

I manufactured use of my evening in Sintang – one more characterless, oil-stained Indonesian town with very little significantly to see or do – by hitting the central marketplace to sample West Kalimantan cuisine: Dishes this kind of as chai kue, dumplings stuffed with taro, chives and peanuts mie tiaw apollo, beef noodles with a tremendous-tangy sauce and bubur ikan ahian, seafood porridge with a few forms of fish, which include a black species with a steak-like texture. Markets are vectors for illness, so I kept my confront mask in a ziplock bag while I ate, and sanitised my fingers right before and just after touching foodstuff or money.

From Sintang I continued west in a shared taxi with a driver identified as Rizky, who turned an instantaneous friend. Every single time we strike a crest with river sights, he stopped so I could get a picture even though he and the other travellers took images of me. He also stopped at two roadside eateries, at 1 of which I tried using goat satay with peanut sauce that was superior than any I have eaten in Bali, where the dish was born.

When we arrived at the riverside city of Sanggau, Rizky took me to 5 lodges until eventually we found just one with clear sheets. Prior to parting, we exchanged Instagram account names, which is compulsory in Indonesia, and took group selfies. When the other folks questioned me to get rid of my mask for shots, I recurring what had come to be my mantra in Borneo: “Hati-hati corona! ” (“Be mindful, corona!”)

Sanggau was all the things Sintang was not – a quaint riverside city with sweet-coloured houses and terraced properties curling all-around a riverbank intersected by streams and inlets, in which little ones splashed when their moms washed apparel. Like a lot of towns in West Kalimantan, it was rich in variety, with green and blue mosques, soaring white churches, a Chinatown with coffee shops set on houseboats and a Taoist temple.


Early the future morning I established off on foot along an empty state road that climbed and dipped like a roller coaster across rolling hills to Pancur Aji, a multi-tiered waterfall pockmarked with caramel-coloured freshwater pools and surrounded by jungle.

On weekends, the waterfall draws in nearby families, but it was a Monday and I had it to myself. The audio of operating drinking water and birdsong coalesced as I slid into one particular of the pools for a refreshing swim.

I expended the next 3 days hopping from city to city, producing new good friends, making an attempt new food items and overloading my camera’s memory card. I met no other foreigner through the vacation.


On my previous working day in Borneo, I identified myself on the best deck of a rickety sightseeing boat that chugs up and down the Kunyit River, a tributary of the Kapuas that cuts Pontianak in 50 percent.

Just after passing underneath Sanggau’s huge arched Tayan Bridge, painted purple and white in the colors of the Indonesian flag, the captain swung past the 250-12 months-outdated Jami Mosque, the birthplace of Islam in Kalimantan, and the Kadriyah Royal Palace, which is produced fully of ironwood and painted canary yellow.

A rainbow appeared as the sun sank guiding marshmallow monsoon clouds and the tin-roof shanties on the riverbank glistened silver and gold.

I experienced not cruised down the Kapuas River or put in a night with the Dayaks listening to aged headhunting tales, as I had planned. But I had expanded my horizons, found a new and gorgeous part of the world – and doubled the number of followers of my Instagram account.

For the newest updates on the coronavirus, visit listed here.

This report was initially printed in South China Early morning Write-up.

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