Stepping back into a Medieval world

We were looking forward to a good look round the small, remote island of Siantan with Iski, a local man who loves to help cruisers. He is teaching himself English, sponging up new words and phrases and asking questions of anyone who will listen to help him improve.

We each hired a scooter and began our 10 hour day by puttering to the top of the nearest hill overlooking Tarempa. It was clear from here that the haze we were seeing from SY Esper was being blown across 400 miles from Borneo. It had a strange smell so we asked Iski what it was. He told us that because of the change in wind direction we were now experiencing the full force of illegally burning rainforest on Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. We had seen this before on mainland Malaysia, but never so thick as it was here in the Anambas.

The first people we met were a mother and son team by the side of the road who were breaking granite rocks into smaller and smaller sizes. This back-breaking work in the searing heat takes its toll. At first we assumed the son was the mother’s husband because he looked around the same age, but Iski told us he was only 49, the same age as Jamie. For their pains, they receive a mere US$25 per m3.

Next we went to a farm where they grow crops for the Anambas islanders. Nothing is exported and everything they farm (potatoes, chillies, all kinds of spinach, fruit, grain etc) is eaten. We saw orders for tofu scrawled on a post. Tofu is a big part of the local cuisine and they make it here from beans imported from Malaysia. We were lucky enough to see the whole process from start to finish using a method which has been in use for generations.

As the day continued we stopped to meet lots of people, most of whom Iski knew or was related to in some way: for snacks, for lunch and just to admire what we could of the view. In a small fishing village on the southern coast we watched boys playing ‘spinning tops’ made with DIY gas cannister tops which they deftly spun to the death. In the mid afternoon heat a vendor appeared with ice cream in a large tub from which he scooped dollops of a white, sticky substance.

Watching those kids running around outside in the street and getting ice cream from the vendor reminded us of our childhoods. We had both played outside with the other kids on our road until it was time for tea and wondered if life was really simpler and more innocent then? Were there fewer dangers now? There are certainly fewer people and cars. Or were our parents less scared, preferring to rely on the sensibleness of their children and some ingrained words of wisdom? The only advice back then from parents was ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and ‘stay on the pavement’. Funny how perceptions have changed over the years.

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Later in the day we picked our way through a road being built in what seemed to be quite a well-to-do area. A wall of sound pierced our crash helmets, coming from a raised platform where a local band played dance music. We stopped to watch the fun and were soon invited to join in the celebrations. How many weddings where you are from would invite funny-looking random foreigners wearing inappropriate clothes to come and join in? This friendly crowd plied us with (non-alcoholic) drink and whatever small food they had left. We were even cajoled into posing for photos with family and friends. This affable lot haven’t learnt the cynicism that developed tourist areas so often bring with them.

This unforgettable day represents all the reasons why we sail and cruise around this unpredictable world. Good times!

Peace and fair winds, friends!
Liz, Jamie and Millie xxx

Siantan: 3°09’11.1″N 106°14’11.1″E

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2 Comments on “Stepping back into a Medieval world”

  1. Great post about Borneo! We love the pictures, it does show what you mean about the island seeming like a time warp. It’s amazing that these places always seem to have the happiest, friendliest people.

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