Current Location : Gattières, France
Last entry date : 08/Jun/09

Off we sailed on 27/Feb/09 evening towards the Indonesian port of Tarakan on the fishing boat KM Slalu Ada. The captain annonced the weather looks fine for the ride.

From 24/Feb/09 to 27/Feb/09

Up till now, armed with a valid passport & visa, Carnet de Passage and info from the net, I would turn up with the bike at a legal border and asked to be allowed to enter. These are land and air borders, with administration in place, and the authorities stationed there knew what to do with people like me (exception for China, of course). So far so good.

On 24/Feb/09 evening, I arrived at the coastal town of Tawau, Sabah, ready to enter Indonesia’s E. Kalimantan on Borneo Island. The idea was to somehow try to get across to the Indonesia port of Tarakan 100km away. From here, I could either hop onto a ferry to the island Sulawesi, or ride through the vaguely traced E. Kalimantan’s jungle route down the eastern flank of Borneo till the city Banjarmasin.

There is a nearer and smaller port of Nunukan, but I crossed it out when locals in Tawau advised that local “mafias” are operating and many “bandits & conmen” are just waiting to help me once I reach the port – or bring lots of cash as it would cost a fortune in payouts just a find a crane to lift my bike onto the jetty or get my bike legal for riding.

For the 1st time since the start of trip, in this remote northeast region of Borneo, I’m confronted by an unknown vast 100km sea border crossing between 2 immigration points … there was zero info regarding whether its possible to cross this frontier with an accompanying bike, how or what I need to do to get across this frontier with a bike !! No news either on the Hubb of biker’s forum Horizons Unlimited about this crossing point. I came across short articles on the net about a couple of independent riders who got in many years ago; they apparently had “high level contact” help, but how they did it remained a mystery. Even the “old hands” at the port of Tawau or immigration officials are politely surprised as they cannot recall meeting a biker asking to simply “go over there”. It starts to appear like a high stake poker game; by coming here I’m calling a bluff – if that does not work, well … my … backward plan is to turn back some 2000km to go via the Sarawak / West Kalimantan border to Pontianak which is confirmed passable with bikes. Its great to have a flexible trip plan, but this is such a big U-turn and I’d dread to do that, now that I’m here …

Soon after I arrived, the Immigration & customs officials said that its not possible to cross into Indonesia with a vehicle – all vehicles stop here. They also said they don’t know how they can help me. For a brief moment, I wonder how the hell I chose to cross here with a bike when its not a confirmed crossing for vehicles (Tawau is the only official crossing, by sea, into Indonesia in the whole of Sabah) – I’ve just stepped on sh*t ; there was flashback of stress generated by my previous 3-day mini ordeal while trying to cross the Chinese border at Korgas – although at that time I had permission to enter. This time, it looked bad !

There were no precedent cases. My problems, I found were :

a) the passenger speedboat ferry terminal of Tawau can only cater to passengers
– it was not possible to push my heavy bike down the narrow passenger ramp and somehow get it lifted onto the passenger speedboat’s roof (which returning Indonesia’s migrant workers fill up with their oversized lugguages and heaps of electronic & household equipment)

b) it might (if lucky) be possible to find a fishing boat willing to transport BOTH my bike & me into Indonesia ?? First I need to find one, after which special permissions from the authorities (immigration, customs police, Indonesia’s consulate in Tawau, etc) in Tawau are required

c) then I need to find a crane, if available, or risk it by letting hired hands “lift” the bike in stages, in & out of the boat ?? In practice, its so easy to damage a bike this way or … end my trip here if it drops into the sea !!

Luckily for me, my friend Thiam’s contact in Tawau engaged the services of a local agent name Zul to help me out. Zul worked in the local fish industry so he knew the fishing boat runs, immigration and port procedures. Soon, it started to “buzz” around the port that a biker was looking for a fishing boat to transport a bike into Tarakan. Over the next 2 days the Indonesian consulate in Tawau advised it had no objection to me accompanying a fishing boat since I had a valid visa. Zul found a fishing boat. The Tawau customs police interviewed the boat captain and was satisfied enough with our declared documents to allow his boat to carry the bike. When all these were done it was still up to the head of Malaysian Immigration office at Tawau to decide if my departure would contravene any laws, question of legality by departing on a fishing boat, or who’s to be accountable should an accident happened to me “out there” (As usual, I volunteered that I’m responsible for myself). After 2 rounds of interviews the head of Tawau’s Immigration office approved my departure traveling on the fishing boat and put his exit stamp on my passport. Here’s a good man, according to my books, someone who understood my simple reason to traverse into Indonesia.

Youpie !! 3 days after my arrival in Tawau (consider myself lucky) … I happily sailed onboard the KM Slalu Ada on 27/Feb/09 evening into Indonesia waters. Its another 1st for me – this time riding on a slow and noisy chuck a chuck wooden Indonesian fishing boat with my bike firmly attached inside its cargo hole (instead of usual live crabs), towards the port of Tarakan, approx. 10 hrs away in good weather. Inside the tiny cabine, the diesel fumes dissipated, smoky like in a smokers’ lounge, from the engine 1.5mtrs below. Before long, the combined diesel fumes and the rocking motion of the vessel against the waves meant I had to take out a plastic bag I had in reserve in case I throw-up my lunch. The crew joked that they never eat before a voyage. The captain added that I’m lucky as there’ll be good weather tonight – the sea’s not too choppy sea and there are no big waves that’ll try to overturn the boat !! Whatever that means, I noticed they had no VHF radios, navigation chart nor a spare engine (well, they had one, but since it went for repairs, it never came back). The captain and crew carry handphones but the signals died soon as we were out in the sea. They were going oohs & aahs when I showed them my GPS with Indonesia maps !! So, I avoided asking silly questions about about safety, emergency, etc. The crewmen explained they’re from Sulawesi ; the sea is their 2nd home. And while we chatted in Bahasa during my “long” voyage in total darkness (yes, all lights are turned off, including its small navigational light – is it to avoid attracting pirates ??), I’m astonished at how the captain & crew guided their boat through sight and stars !! Now and then the crewmen would yell out to the captain to navigate away from the numerous unlighted wooden fishing structures standing out there in the open sea.

Once I got passed the vomiting stage caused by the diesel fumes and the rocking motion of the boat, the voyage became enjoyable. It was a fantastic way to get into Indonesia’s Borneo. I don’t know what awaits me at the other end at the port of Tarakan.