On Borneo’s Tarakan island : Passport is confiscated, held ransom 3 days by a corrupt Chief Immigration officer …
Current location : Gattières, France
From 28/Feb/09 to 03/Mar/09
28/Feb/09. Just before dawn, the shadow of Tarakan island and its flickering lights in the horizon slowly came into view. In the low tide, Captain Nadi guided the KM Slalu Ada, without difficulty to its homebase berth at the Pasar Barokah fishing village, approx. 2 km from the main ferry terminal of Tarakan. The crew chuckled as they watch me hazily climbed the 3mtrs height out onto the wooden pier. They saw it right : I had reached my limit of inhaling diesel fumes after 10hrs rocky voyage in the dark.
By 8.30am, my bike was geared up and my local contact, an Indonesian named Hajiran arrived. Having experienced a number of international border crossings, I was confident it will go down well since my passport, visa, bike docs, exit customs transport papers for bike transport onboard KM Slalu Ada (sanctioned by Tawau customs office) are valid and in order.
Suddenly, no passport and no bike … I realised that this time I’ve managed to get myself into some serious troubles in this far-out corner of the world, a place where few people is aware of its geographical location. A bad omen. Very stressful. How do I get them back and quickly out of here ??
I realised I needed to play the game – Indonesia style, if I wish to quickly get out of this mess. Its funny how a couple of phone calls to a friend in Jakarta, who followed it up with calls to some army friends, make a big difference. Monday 02/Mar/09, Officer Rahmat suddenly changed his tone and offered to validate my passport entry into Indonesia if I leave the island the very next day. Another meeting was held, this time with the Customs dept. officers, in order to have the bike released, where Officer Rahmat explained how he felt sorry for me, and I don’t really look like an illegal. Back at the ferry port immigration office that evening for passport stamping, in attendance of his officers and Hadjiran, Officer Rahmat insisted I must first sign the typed report (with interrogation questions Officer Rahmat himself answered). He says it is a necessary procedure – the report is for his office use only – and promise he’ll stamp my passport immediately after. Can I now trust him, do I have a choice ?? Hadjiran shook his head as I signed. Guess what ?? Officer Rahmat then refused to sign my passport, unless I pay “some” money for his troubles !! Yes, he tricked me good. When asked why he reverts again to this ruse, Officer Rahmat burst aloud saying he and his staff earn poor salaries, he uses his personal computer for official work - soon he needs to upgrade this computer to help the immigration dept. !! Its been 3 terrible days at Tarakan. Exhausted and fed-up by Officer Rahmat’s manipulation, I said I can only afford MYR 150.00 (about Euro 30.00), or he can deport me back to Tawau as he had earlier threatened. He laughed, but accepted. My passport was stamped entry date 02/Mar/09, and entry into Tarakan via ferry vessel KM Indomaya on my departure card !! (should have been on the KM Slalu Ada, so, where was I on 28/Feb/09 and 01/Mar/09 ??). Can you imagine this immigration office has bandits disguised as immigration officers !!
My fastrack getaway plans to go to Sulawesi took a knock when the big Pelni ferryboat I anxiously waited for on 03/Mar/09 informed they do not carry vehicles, only passengers. Hadjiran managed to locate an alternative way out of Tarakan via a small taxi boat leaving same day to a remote village called Tanjung Selor on mainland Borneo, some 5 hours boat ride away. From there, my Borneo map shows long jungle tracks within E.Kalimantan on way down towards Java. It was my only way out, so I grabbed it (before Officer Rahmat decides to play up another trick) – at least I’ll get my liberty back.
Its been a nightmare on Tarakan. Its openly corrupt ; I never thought I get to see state officials acting in concert (in this case, the entire immigration dept), daring to publicly intimidate and go in after their prey (myself, Capt Nadi and fishing boat owner). Its the most corrupt frontier I’ve encountered since the start of my trip. Hadjiran, my honest and friendly local contact, could not believe either what he saw and heard. Before I left Tarakan on the taxiboat for Tanjung Selor, he asked not to have bad feelings towards Indonesians because of it … well, I don’t.
Come to think about it, during 4 days on Tarakan island, I did not get a chance to visit the town or island. Too bad, maybe next time ?? Unlikely. Once bitten, twice shy.