Day 408 to 411 – Kuching to Banjarmasin – The Crash!

Up and at ‘em early. We’re off to Indonesia, but first a delicious breakfast at Alex’s place. Probably the last western style food I’ll get for at least a week or two until I reach Bali. The road out of Kuching is a big highway but it gradually got smaller and smaller toward the border until it was a small village road. Some borders are big transit hubs for families, coaches and trucks full of shite, others are just local crossings for local for local people. This felt like a local one. There was the odd truck but it was so laid back and subdued, none of the rush and bustle of people needing to get places. 

Goodbye Kuching!

The exit from Malaysia took about 20 minutes, handing over all that paperwork I work so hard to acquire in Kuala Lumpur, I guess it was worth it in the end since they double checked everything. Indonesia was a little more bureaucratic but nothing ridiculous. As a very out of place foreigner I was immediately pulled to the front of the queue, taken a photo of and bundled into an office for questions. After the initial basics of “Why are you coming to Indonesia?” it was all happy questioning about my trip and what I what I thought of Indonesia so far. 

Customs put up a small fight with “You need all your bags x-ray”. To which I pleaded “But they’re heavy and attached to the bike, can I just open them and you look here” and to my shock and amazement he just shrugged and said, “Yes. OK”. After a 5 minute poke around he was satisfied there were no children or guns hidden in there. He disappeared with all my paperwork for 20 minutes, leaving me in a mildly air conditioned office with a bewildered young female customs assistant. 

By the time I was through the border it was way past lunch and I was getting Hangry. After 30 minutes it was obvious Indonesian driving was a different beast to Malaysian. Back to the standard Asian attitude of “Do what you want, then try not to die, then try not to kill anyone else”, in that order. The roads were also thin and unkempt, very different to Malaysia’s mostly excellent roads. 

Ramadan wasn’t helping me out. All the small villages I went through were almost entirely shut down. Muslims don’t eat or drink water during the daytime for the whole month so what use is a coffee shop or stall. Some are still used as gathering points but there was no way they were serving lunch. Then around a corner popped a village with steam rising from a building on the corner. A Chinese guy was frying up some delights for who knows who. Two policemen eyed me up as I jumped off the bike then invited me to join them. One does not refuse the police.

Friendly police just over the border

They spoke very rough English but enough to keep us all laughing through my small plate of rice and instant coffee. We took some photos, they gave me some tips on where to go and shook hands with everyone in the cafe. Then I was off again. I passed endless small villages with nothing much in them, they are not here for tourists. 

I made it to Pontianak on the coast with just enough light to find a hotel for the night and by the time I’d showered in the fly infested bathroom it was dark out and hammering with rain. I decided to venture out and try and find some food anyway, it is still 30 degrees. As I investigated one restaurant close by all the power went out. All street lights, buildings, everything. I thought it would make my already difficult search for food harder, but it was the opposite. With very few restaurants or stalls having back up power, all I had to do was spot one of 3 shining beacons of light of the only restaurants with backup power and there was dinner.

Leftovers of a gathering at the hotel

The fried chicken and rice was actually delicious, despite its very grim looks. Though the sambal it was served with was like none I’d tasted before. It blew my face off. It’s a concentrated chilli paste. In There are similar looking, smelling and tasting sauces in Thailand and Malaysia, but none of them quite as dangerous as this, I thought I could handle a good of amount of spice but the Indonesians raised the bar. I wandered back to the hotel in the slowing rain wondering if I had done permanent damage to my digestive tract. I located my room in the dark with no torches for a nice night in an empty 30 person dorm room. 

This guy was keeping guard upstairs. Best days behind I think.

I realised in the morning that I’d passed over the equator for the first time in my life! Pontianak is actually on latitude zero, it passes right through, and there’s a monument (statue? signifier?) here in town. I headed to see it on my way out of town, fighting through rush-hour traffic over 4 overly congested bridges to find it was closed. Damn it! I’ll settle for blurry closeups of the Lat & Long on my SatNav and be on my way. I have too much ground to cover today with no idea where I’m staying for the night. 

I never tried the “AA” Button. Maybe I should have.

I wanted to try and make it to Kumai in 2 days, that’s the nearest town with ferry’s to Java, and Google Maps says 12 hours driving. That means driving as far as I can today, finding a hotel or somewhere to camp and finishing the remainder tomorrow. Just over half way there I reached a town with a hotel and stopped to check it out. It was crap, falling apart and expensive. A quick glance out front and around the town told me it wasn’t exactly going to be a night to remember. 

It’s 3pm and Google Maps told me over 5 hours to Kumai. Something in me was just set on Kumai, getting there faster meant a quicker ferry, which meant less money and less risk. Never in the trip would I have left for a 6 hour ride at 3pm, into the jungle without knowing where fuel, food or beds were, I had no internet or cell connection at all and it’s Ramadan so everything is closed. Eh fuck it, off we go. 

That ride is tied for the longest stretch of the entire trip. I stopped once for fuel in the 5 hours it took me and didn’t even get off the bike then, just pouring the plastic bottles in. It was a glorious end to the ride, pitch black for the last 2 hours and so quiet on the roads I could barrel along at 70mph winding on the jungle roads. The stars steadily came out and with no light pollution they were stunningly bright, I slowed right down to gaze up at them and nearly veered off the road. 

Fuelling up at sunset, just as everyone is breaking fast.

I arrived in Kumai tired, sore and a bit proud. But it just felt like a dusty Asian town, maybe I’ve become a bit blind to them now. Even when I tried to treat myself to something nice after the marathon ride I ended up getting a Nasi Goreng and heading to the supermarket for supplies. People were curious enough to stare but not friendly enough to engage, not through fear just indifference. It’s a very off-putting kind of situation that often happened in India too and it can be very isolating.

I had a goal in the morning though: The Harbour. No time to waste in finding and preparing for the next available ferry. Information about ferries is very hard to come by online, there’s not even many Overlanders that come to Borneo to learn from. I was going on what little information I had, some company names and and some other GPS coordinates. I headed to the port and started asking around and showing logos so people could point me in the right direction. 

Pulling up outside the first and most hopeful of them left me a bit deflated, they were closed. The workers were literally just leaving and didn’t want anything to do with me, but I managed to get out of them that the next boats weren’t leaving Kumai for another 8 days. FUCK. That is not good. They gave me some tips for other companies down the street but told me they’d be the same and they weren’t wrong. I had some small hope when a communication error lead someone to almost book me on a passenger ferry. Once he realised I had my bike too he shoo’d me out of his shop. 

I was in need. I couldn’t afford an 8 day delay and certainly didn’t want to spend 8 days stuck in Kumai. I had a stack of cash that was only getting smaller and documents expiring soon, and the solution to all those problems was not on Borneo. I headed to the tiny airport in a desperate attempt to find a bribe friendly airline that would just strap the bike into a small plane and get me to Java. The security guards did not like me parking anywhere near the airport and two soldiers followed me to the offices to watch me get laughed at by the workers there, before telling me in no uncertain terms I had to leave immediately. One does not argue for long with soldiers with guns at airports. 

Some furious googling and very helpful calls made by the receptionist at the hotel told me best option was Banjarmasin, another two days ride further south. Well there’s no point hanging around here any longer. It’s already 11am but there’s a town halfway there I can make it to before dark. Pack and go! Even though I was rushing it was a great ride, a small road that wound it’s way through the jungle, around the hills and through village after village.

Five hours later Palangkaraya greeted me well. A stroll through some very old small streets to find a big mall and a lovely wood shack restaurant with more friendly policemen. The next day was Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the end of Ramadan, so I planned ahead and stocked up on supplies in the mall, then went in search of fuel early in the morning to find the only station open in town before I hit the road. Another 5 hours to Banjarmasin, I should be there in time to search around town for Ferry offices.

I hit the road and then something hit me. A pretty standard maneuver in most of Asia is to overtake whenever you like and the person on the other side will move out of your way. If they can’t get out the way or either of you is going too fast. You crash. I saw him coming, it was very late, I gasped and swung left hard. This happens at least once every day and I was already tutting and cursing him for the close callwhen my brain informed me there’d been a loud bang and some shaking and we must have collided. A millisecond later my foot exploded in pain. I’ve been fortunate to never break a bone or get a really serious injury, so this is the first time I’ve ever involuntarily screamed in pain at the top of my lungs, for 2 full breaths. 

I had swung left and he’d swung to his left. That’s all that stopped us hitting head on. We’d split apart in an angle away from each other, but were still on the same piece of road, we’d swiped down each other’s right hand side. I’d been doing about 50mph at the time and had stayed upright after a long wobble. It’s surprisingly hard to make a motorcycle fall over when it’s moving (think ghost riding) so even though I was screaming in pain and not concentrating the bike just kept going straight. The other guy wasn’t so lucky. All together me, the bike and the luggage probably weigh about 350kg, an Indonesian guy on a moped is probably just over 100kg on a big day. I didn’t move far when we hit, he flew. 

I slowed to a crawl and regained my senses. I couldn’t see anything in my mirrors. Should I even stop. The usual rule for Overlanders in Asia, unfortunately, is not to stop. Some places are known for regularly lynching people who cause accidents, especially outsiders (looking at you India) others are known for their less than ideal criminal proceedings and treatment of foreigners, others for their uncanny ability to take advantage of a vulnerable rich person. 

I decided I couldn’t ride with the pain, I needed a hospital. I executed what may be the smoothest and most perfect u-turn I’ve ever done on Donkey on this thin and uneven road and through some miracle I didn’t have to put my mangled foot down at all. I pulled up next to the carnage on the side of the road, the guy was covered in blood. Thankfully it was mostly from his leg and he was very much conscious despite not wearing a helmet and being thrown all over the road. 

One guy spoke a little English and tried asking me what happened, I don’t think he realised at all that I was in pain too, I said I was going to the hospital, intending to ride the 1 hour back to Palangkaraya since it was the last big town I’d seen. He pointed me up the road saying “1km” hospital. I set off in search but missed it and after two more, less graceful, u-turns I found the place. It was tiny. There was one actual doctor, 2 beds, some longer term rooms and a small pharmacy. The doctor took a look at me as he passed and said nothing, I poked my head around and saw he was already treating the guy who hit me, he’d beat me here while I was lost. 

I sat in the foyer and waited, the gathering crowd staring at me. Now my mind was coming back I started to get ahead of myself and panicking. I was fucked. I won’t be making the ferry, that’s a 4 hour ride away and I can’t even walk, my Carnet expires in a few weeks and my money will run out, I have no internet to fix any of these problems right now. Eventually I caught my panic mid-stream and stopped. Just fix the foot. That’s all I need to do right now, anything else is after that, time to get pro-active.

I got up and hopped to find someone who could help, nobody was really running the place, it was a large collection of rooms so I just tried to find someone. I eventually tracked down a nurse who found someone with a little English skills and figured out this place didn’t have an x-ray machine, not a surprise in hindsight but to me that was my sign I had to leave. I was certain my foot was broken and I needed to know how bad. 

I decided to head to Palangkaraya and the large hospital that comes with a city that size. They’d have an x-ray and the area around had everything I needed to rest and heal. I knew I’d have to ride the bike there, no way am I leaving it and luggage out here. The ride would suck but my right foot is just for the rear brake and isn’t doing a great deal most of the time. I grabbed my helmet and hopped toward the bike. The crowd outside was jeering and pointing me back, trying to get me healed up and not let me ride. An old woman poked me in the chest and pointed me back. I said “No, Hospital” and pointed up the road. They got angrier, and I realised they weren’t trying to hold me here for my own good, they didn’t want to let me get away, they were waiting for the police. Great. 

Time to start thinking in defence mode. Most of the time travelling you can be very open, you can trust most people, and you can trust them a great deal more than you’d think back home. The balance to that is knowing when you’re in a bad spot or vulnerable and doing the opposite. My documents suddenly became very precious and I became very aware of where my valuables were. 

The doctor finally became free when they sent the other in the ambulance to the proper hospital, I had to grab him to have a look at the foot, he hadn’t even realised I was hurt and thought I was just waiting for a verdict on the moped driver. All my gear had taken the hit and didn’t look any more tatty than it usually does. It had taken the beating perfectly. I pointed him at my foot and limped about and he said “Pain?”. He rolled his eyes and pointed me up on the bed. I was not looking forward to getting the boot off knowing I’d have to get it on again, but there wasn’t much else for it. 

After the doctors initial scepticism his eyes went wide when I peeled my sock off to reveal a glowing red throbbing foot covered in blood. “Ah. Pain”. The iodine came out and he got to cleaning and inspecting. Despite the boot taking the impact perfectly and nothing cutting through it, the force had torn the skin between my toes as they got squashed and twisted. After some poking and prodding he assured me that nothing was broken. I was flabbergasted, and didn’t entirely believe him. That kind of crash and that much pain should have left me with at least a toe broken. I’d be getting that checked properly.

Doc on the right, me grimacing on the left

Once the cleaning and wrapping was complete I squeezed the boot back on with almost as much pain as the initial crash. It had to go on though, I need to get out of here soon. I could feel the crowd was certainly not on my side. The moped driver was in much worse shape than me and had been taken to hospital. From what I could make out, his right leg was shattered, let alone his other injuries from sliding down the road unprotected. The crowd outside was comprised largely of his family and friends from around the village, not my best supporters. 

While waiting around for the police to arrive I got my list of drugs, delivered with very deliberate English that had obviously been Google translated. My bill also arrived, the hefty sum of around £15 for all the treatment and more than enough pain and antibiotic drugs to last me the treatment. I can stomach that. 

The police finally arrived and, with the help of my new friend with some English skills, I tried to explain what happened using a scrap of paper and lots of pointing. They nodded along and consulted each other. They all shared some words in Indonesian and then the Doctor pulled me aside to explain the situation, I played dumb not understanding for as long as possible until they distilled it down to what was actually happening. “It doesn’t really matter who’s fault it is, the police and family would very much appreciate a ‘donation of good will’ for your part in the accident”. Basically you are rich and can afford to pay for his treatment and you likely won’t be allowed to leave until you have. 

I was furious at first, done playing dumb and ready to argue the point. Until I remembered I could barely walk, there’s an angry crowd primed to turn into a mob, there’s two policemen who couldn’t care less, and nobody knew I was here. Add to that my recent bill for treatment being so low and I reached for my wallet. I offered them the equivalent of about £30, a good chunk here, and they seemed happy with it.

We took some “handover” photos that were very weird, with me grimacing in pain trying to stand normally. They seemed to want this documented very well before they’d allow me to leave. I turned to leave and the crowd mostly parted so I bolted straight to the bike, threw my things on there and left as soon as possible. Which wasn’t very quick, I hastily tied my things to the bike and my only friend helped me push the bike uphill to back it out of the parking spot. I shot out of there.

I was back on the road and a massive wave of relief hit me. After which came pain again. I’d escaped but now I had 4 hours ahead of me to get to Banjarmasin. The foot was throbbing horribly with my heartbeat, pressing against all sides of my normally very roomy boot. The foot peg wasn’t helping either, it had been bent back 45 degrees and turned downwards in the crash. The steel of the mounting plate had bent, and my foot had been between it, and the moped that bent it. This new angle meant my foot wasn’t stable on the peg and pointed out and downward too. I leaned through a right hand corner and my foot caught the ground at about 40mph, getting whipped back and slapping the bike. I nearly vomited from the pain. From then on I left my foot awkwardly hooked back over the passenger foot peg like it was hanging out to dry, far away from the road. This had the added benefit of pinching a vein and cutting off some of the blood flow, not normally a good thing but it stopped the throbbing and a little of the pain. 

Rolling in to Banjarmasin was interesting in the heavy traffic. I was terrified of catching my foot on anything. Small scrapes and bangs are not uncommon in heavy traffic in Asia, so much so they’re rarely recognised as events at all. I do not want one of those right now. I want to head directly to a hotel, one with a ground floor room available and a restaurant not far away. First though I headed directly to the Ferry terminal to find the ticket office. I needed to know when the next ferry was and didn’t want to have to put this boot on again to find out. May as well get it done as soon as possible and while I’m geared up and able. 

Not only were they open on Eid, there was a ferry in 3 days and they booked me a space there and then. Perfect. I paid up, got my tickets and instructions and left happier. 3 days wait would be fine, but with the foot it was perfect. I had 3 days to just sit and rest, let it heal without interruption of boarding a packed ferry and trying to get through the 25 hour crossing barely able to walk. 

I found a hotel and instantly knew I’d take it. Ground floor room about 10ft from the restaurant and semi working wifi. Everything I need to not have to walk for 3 days. I threw my bags in the room and rode to the store down the road, bought a bag full of snacks and treats to last me 72 hours and returned to make my recovery cocoon. 

Sign at the hotel. Durians stink.

I made phone calls to everyone back home to let them know I was alive but the inevitable crash had finally happened. Mama was the hardest to tell, she was torn between chastising me, feeling sorry for me and telling me to come home. Telling her how lucky I’d been and how much worse it could have been at any stage, did not really help her. 

If either me or the moped rider had reacted slower we could have crashed head on. If there was any traffic I could have hit someone else too in the wobble. He could have easily have been more seriously hurt and I’d have been held responsible by an angry village. I got off very easy. I didn’t even miss a day of the trip, the ferry was in 3 days whether I was hurt or not so I didn’t even miss a day for recovery.

Once I was my room and changed it was time to deal with the boot. I stretched it out for a while, bit by bit until I could start to slowly squeeze my foot out. It popped out and I felt it immediately swell, throbbing again. That’s not going back on anytime soon. My normal shoes wouldn’t even fit on, tight as they were. It’s looking way worse now, but that’s just swelling and bruising, tomorrow I’d find a hospital for a proper check. 

My swollen manky foot

12/06/2018 – 15/06/2018

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