Banjarmasin, Borneo – Floating markets and water babies

We spent two nights in a city called Banjarmasin on Indonesian Borneo. Banjarmasin is not, in all honesty, known for much and it seemed like a slightly depressing place on arrival. A long haired Indonesian guy was waiting in our hotel reception and eagerly approached us as we checked in telling us he spends all day every day ‘looking for tourists’. He thrust a business card outlining the different tours he offered into my hand and looked at us in anticipation. We told him we would call him and went upstairs to settle in to our room. I had a quick flick through the Lonely Planet and lo and behold there was half a page dedicated to this very tour guide, Tailah, who is a trekking expert in the surrounding areas. We only had a day there and as the city is based on a river we wanted to do some exploring by boat to see what promised to be more authentic floating markets and the floating villages around the city. We decided to head out for some food and on our way out we realised that Tailah was waiting for us in reception – this guy was keen! We chatted for a bit and decided to visit the floating markets with him in the morning – meeting at 5AM – and to go out with him again at 4PM to see the floating villages. We said our goodbyes, had some tasty street food and then an early night ahead of our 5AM start.

The next morning we set out in the dark with the Islamic call to prayer as our soundtrack, making our way to a small, local floating market where we were the only Westerners. We bobbed around in our little boat and tried to take some photos that captured it all…

We saw the first signs of sunrise over this beautiful mosque:

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Approaching the market:

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I loved this lady’s hat and her smile:

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We bought some brown sugar cake and coconut porridge for early breakfast:

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I loved watching negotiations over price – if looks could kill:

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Later on it got pretty busy, I love the bright colours of the boats:

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The ladies put thick cream on their faces to protect their skin from the sun:

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This market was the Indonesian equivalent of Costco. The buyers would fill an entire boat full of whatever produce they specialised in, from fruit and vegetables, to fish and firewood, to sell on in their local area and the sellers left with an empty boat – this wasn’t for daily grocery shopping! After an hour or so just watching the action it was time to head back to Banjarmasin town.

That afternoon we met Tailah and our friendly boat driver again and set off to see the floating villages. We took a sharp turn off the large river and realised this would be a boat tour with a difference when we had to lie down flat on the bottom of the boat in order to pass under one of the very low bridges connecting the floating villages. We emerged on the other side of the bridge and we were in another world. Tiny wooden houses were lined up either side of a narrow canal. Lots of little wooden outhouse toilets were built at the edge of the river (apparently there are over 10,000 in total throughout the area) for communal use – all of them deposit the sewage straight in to the water the villagers use for washing. Thankfully the government has installed a safe drinking water supply, a big blue pipe runs throughout the villages providing safe water for everybody.

A typical ‘street’ in the floating villages:

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It soon became apparent that it was bath time. Adults and kids alike were scrubbing away with shampoo and soap or simply jumping in to the water having a whale of a time. At first I felt quite uncomfortable, after all, I wouldn’t want people to watch ME shower, but the response we got was incredible and very humbling. The kids especially were so excited to see some unusual looking people that they all screamed hello, jumped in to the water and swam towards the boat with their hands reaching out desperate to get a high five! Some even followed our route from the street behind the water, running along and screaming and shouting every time they got a glimpse of us. The adults were equally friendly shouting hello and even blowing whistles to get out attention. This was one of the most incredible experiences I have had travelling and I hope some of these photos help to bring it to life…

Bath time fun:

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This little guy heard the commotion from inside a toilet and popped his head up to say hi:

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Posing:

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Time for a high five:

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Stowaway alert:

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Under the bridge:

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A moment of quiet:

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The whistleblower and our smiling boat driver:

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Eventually we turned back on to the main river and left the floating villages behind, lying down in the boat to pass under one last low bridge. The day had been incredibly interesting with a bit of sadness and a lot of happiness thrown in. Living conditions were definitely poor in the floating villages, but the entire community seemed full of happiness and energy and I won’t forget the smiles we were given for a long long time. Banjarmasin had so much more to offer than we first realised.

The next day we flew to Surabaya for one night before making our way to Ubud on Bali.

xx

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