Current location : Gattières, France

Putting so much faith on an old winch with rusted thin wire produced cold sweat on my palms.

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.

Tarakan – a regional commercial hub and transit point – is a tiny island off the northeastern coast of Borneo in East Kalimantan province. As dawn breaks, the fishing village of Pasar Barokah came to life with taxi speedboats and sounds of fishing vessels, some returning from their night catch. Luckily for me, the berth was equipped with an old winch and a very thin rusted wire dangling out beneath it. Capt Nadi assured me this winch lifts “anything”; to my relief, with the help of their fellow workers, it lifted the bike out from the cargo hole onto the deck. Wow, putting so much faith on a thin wire produce cold sweat on my palms.

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.

I was wrong. When we showed up at 9am at Tarakan’s ferry terminal immigration office, the Chief Immigration Officer, Mr Rahmat (NIP 040062674), surprised to see a biker, looked at the bike and began to ask a series of questions – how I arrived, who sponsored my trip, why I had not arrived by ferry, etc. Despite my explanations (ie I had visited the Indonesian Consulate in Tawau to inform my entry by fishing boat and they had no objections, that the Malaysian immigration office in Tawau sanctioned my departure by fishing boat to Tarakan, the ferryboat could not load my heavy bike); that morning, Officer Rahmat declared my entry illegal and confiscated my passport, without stamping entry on it. I asked if he has the right to confiscate a valid passport with valid visa and valid entry date ?? His reply was simply it’s his right as an Immigration officer. Later that morning Capt Nadi and the boat owner were also called in for questioning. Officer Rahmat soon began to make subtle threats and warnings to us about the seriousness of the issue, and how even he is drawn into trouble because he “must now sort out my unauthorized entry”. I “should” normally pay a fine of USD 3000 for such offence, he said.  By evening time, I was allowed to leave to find a hotel. Somehow, the Tarakan Customs Dept. came to know about my arrival and they summoned that I leave my bike in their customs locked up warehouse until the immigration matter is sorted.

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 ??

Yet, I was not arrested nor did the immigration office lodged a police report. Un-uniformed Officer Rahmat and one of his officer visited me the same evening at the hotel (he showed me my passport which he said it is safer with him as he brings it home in the evening, rather than leave it at the office). The next evening, they returned and wanted me to sign a typed up report (meaning confirm I entered the country illegally). Officer Rahmat also suggested a solution can be found if I pay USD 1500. I refused, as I did not enter Indonesia illegally and I did not have the money. He roared with laughter when he hears that – since I arrived, he repeated often that someone traveling the world on a BMW must have a lot of money !!

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 !!

Some of the Customs officers told me, as far as anyone of them can remember, they have never seen any foreign motorcycle entry by sea from Tawau into Tarakan. They laughed when I asked if it was necessary to confiscate the passport of the 1st foreign biker that turned up ??

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.