The thing I didn’t mention about Kalimantan is that while we were still in Putussibau I got the dreaded traveler’s stomach woes. After eleven months of constant travel, it had to happen sometime. Dead-ended in Lanjak with no way to see if email responses had turned up any new leads, we decided to skip across the border in Badau and go back to the Malaysian side.
The Malaysian border guard told us he’d seen red-shelled durian in a town called Sri Aman. He wrote it down for me, so we wouldn’t get it confused with Serian, another well-known durian town.
We were eager to get our hands on some more Durio dulcis, and decided to make that our next destination. We didn’t know at the time that Sri Aman means “Town of Peace” in Malaysian, which was exactly what we needed.
Crossing the border was sweet and easy, once we decided not to bother with hiring a ride. We caught the bus in Lanjak and, since it hadn’t rained in a good 36-hours, arrived in Badau 2 hours later completely caked in dust from the unpaved road. At first glance Badau seemed to be a wild wild west town sheathed in a film of dust from the construction work being done in preparation for paving. We had hardly stepped down from the bus when we were set upon by ridiculously overpriced offers for rides to the border, including by an extremely drunk man who became quite a nuisance.
It became clear that we weren’t going to make it to the border that evening, so we checked into a hotel and decided to just walk to the border in the morning while it was cool. We made it to the border in about 45 minutes. It was a nice walk too, through some really lovely countryside. Getting stamped out of Indonesia took some time, as I don’t think white folks had ever passed through that way and the border guard was literally trembling with nerves as he stamped our passports.
The nearest town on the Malaysian side is Lubok Antu, which intriguingly means “ghost cave.” We didn’t stay to find out why, since the idea of more durio dulcis was just so alluring. Since we had just missed the one and only bus leaving Lubok Antu at 9 AM, we had plenty of time to look around and eat some durians. The prices were shocking – Rob bought 16 smallish durians for only 10 RM! The fruits had obviously been plucked early, so the quality was hit or miss, but mostly miss. We also bought some orange and yellow graveolens – those were good. Not finding anything else of interest, we hitch-hiked to Sri Aman.
Sri Aman is a small town located on the Lupar river, which is famous for the strange phenomenon called a “tidal bore”, which is when the incoming tide from the ocean forms a wave and travels up the river, reversing the flow of the river. This happens every evening, although the really big waves measuring as high as 2 meters only occur a few times a year (you can find out when in the Sarawak Almanac). Rob and I went down to watch the process anyway, and while unimpressive it was definitely interesting. More exciting was meeting David, an avid paddle-boarder who surfs the river every single day. He said he had extra boards, and invited us to join him the next evening!
We stayed an extra night just to experience surfing on a river. Rob is a competent surfer, but I have almost zero experience. I had never stood up on a board, and was struggling with my balance. Two other members of the local surfing club joined us, one of whom seemed very concerned about me. This made me nervous. As we sat on the river waiting for the rumbling of the wave I joked, “Well if I fall in, I’ll be fine. It’s not like there are any crocodiles, right?” David just looked at me. The lady warned, “Ssssh. We don’t say that word here.” This didn’t help my confidence.
Neither Rob or I caught the wave, which turned out to be about 2 feet high, but David caught it and rode it for a good 200 meters. He said that on a good wave, he can surf for 400 meters or more, longer than any wave on the ocean. As we exited the river, he pointed out a crocodile nest on the other shore, which sent shivers down my spine. No one has ever been bitten while surfing because the crocs tend to hide when the wave comes, but if I had known there were scary, snaggle-toothed man-eaters in the water I’m not sure I would have had the courage to climb aboard a surfboard. Sometimes ignorance is bliss! Paddling across the wide brown river in the evening wind was really pleasant.
Besides the river, there’s not a lot to actually do in Sri Aman if you don’t like durian. The temple and the dilapidated remains of Fort Alice can be viewed in about five minutes, and most tourists just pass through on their way to Batang Ai National Park or homestays in Iban longhouses along the tributaries.
We just wanted to rest, and we were lucky to have a few adventures in yet another durian town. There were durians all over with prices rivaling Lubok Antu, and while we didn’t find any dulcis here, there was a good showing of orange D. graveolens and neon red-orange kutejensis durians, which were very tasty. If you’re a durian tourist looking for a quiet, friendly town with good scenery, a comfortable hotel, and surfing (Durian Darrick I’m talking to you!), Sri Aman is a great destination. We didn’t notice at first, but our hotel was even located on Durian Street!
I’m happy to say that after two nights of mosquito-unmolested sleep, I felt 100% better. So much so, that when we got word of more durian stories in the Putussibau region, we decided to take the plunge and go all the way back.
It was an exhausting and exhilarating trip in which I really fell in love with Borneo, it’s wide snaking rivers and mountains crawling with foliage (and durians!). I think I’ve left a piece of my heart in the interior regions. I do have to say that we had a really nice, restful time in Sri Aman, the City of Peace. Thank you Sri Aman!