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Tarakan and the Bahau River

The huge district of Bulungan lies north of Kutai and Berau and is bordered by Sarawak and Sabah in the north. The southern part of the district is formed by the streaming area of the Kayan River, which springs in the hard to reach region of Apokayan and flows in the Sulawesi Sea just a while later, near the capital of Tanjung Selor. In the inlands north of Apokayan is the subdistrict Long Punjungan along the Bahau River, a side river o the Kayan River, and in the far northeast is the isolated village of Long Bawan. In the northeastern corner, there are some islands, among them Tarakan and - almost on the border with Sabah - Nunukan.


The city of Tarakan (no more than 100,000 inhabitants) on the island with the same name is the centre of connections and trade in Northern Kaltim. Economically the city is important in the oil. The production of oil is important to Kaltim, but woodchop is also getting more important.
Like a real oil-city, in Tarakan are many money changers, bars, dancings, cinemas, restaurants, modern hotels and cheap losmen. Interesting for visitors is the fish market near Pasar Lingkas, which stretches along the pier.
Because of the oil fields, Tarakan was occupied by the Japanese in the Second World War. MacArthur tried to force them out; he needed the airport to re-occupy the Philippines. After a heavy bombardment of the allies an Australian army entered. The strong 2500 men Japanese garrison offered fierce resistance, and both sides lost many lifes, which were useless afterwards; the airstrip had suffered heavy damage and was unusable.

Tanjung Selor

Tarakan is the most important city of the district, but Tanjung Selor, along the downstream of the Kayan River, is the capital. Here once was the palace of the Sultan of Bulungan, across the one of his rival, the Sultan of Tanjung Palas. Both the mighty sultan of Sulu in the Southern Philippines as the Sultan of Banjarmasin claimed the area, but here also, the colonial rule won. The palaces of Tanjung Selor and Tanjung Palas were respectively destroyed over the period of time and by fire.

The Bahau

A river taxi has a daily connection between Tanjung Selor and Long Bia, six hours upstream along the Kayan River. Along the river, exploitation of the forest still continues, with big problems soon following. In the coastal regions, people pay high prices for a log of unprepared wood. After it has been prepared a little, you get three times as much on the other side of the ocean. Along the route are three villages with decorated rice sheds and communal houses and modern woodcarvings in traditional style: Long Belua, Mara Satu and Antutan.
The traffic upstream follows the Kayan River for another four hours, and then turns onto the Bahau River; the Kayan, which is full of dangerous rapids, is left behind from there. The travel time from the turn to the village of Long Punjungan depends on the water level. When the waterlevel is high, nine rapids dissappear and it's only five to seven hours. When the river is low, the boat has to be taken out of the water near every rapid, and then the journey takes upto two days.

Picture: Bahau longbot

Pak Samuel Moming, owner of a hotel in Tanjung Selor and shops in Long Bia and Long Punjungan, has a regular service by longbot (river boat) with Long Punjungan. When the river is high enough, his boats will go as far as Long Lango, five hours upstream. Moming buys ratten from the Dayak inland an knows all river villages upstream. Every week one longbot departs for the inland. The 12-meter-long river boats have three 40 horsepower motors. The view is splendid: green fields and densely forested hills change.
It's exciting to see shipper Pak Ling in fight with the fierce rapids. With full speed he moves, between rocks and vortexes, looking for the deeper parts of water. But most of the time he won't succeed, so the travellers have to carry the boat over the rocks. Some rapids have divers as well as right names: 'Don't try this one', 'The Deceased', 'Stranded'.
Between the rapids, the Bahau River is very flat. The surface mirrors the very hot tropical sun, which burns oncovered body parts right away. Along this part of the river, there are no villages. Along the shores, you can see muntjak, wild pigs, big dragons and fruit eating bats (flying dogs). A piece of meat will also be a nice change on the simple rice and fish meals during a jungle journey.

Long Punjungan

Long Pujungan, the main place of the district with the same name, is a village with only a few hundred residents. The houses are on pillars and there are very much dogs, which are sometimes used for diner or lunch when they are not good enough for hunting. The subdistrict counts only a handfull of villages with a few thousand people, mainly Kenyah Dayak.
At the end of the 1990's, a few hundred Punan settled in the area. (It was government policy to replace Punan from the forest, to place them in normal houses). They have great adaptional problems. The teachers in the Punan villages have difficulty to keep their children at school; they rather travel through the jungle with their parents so they can look for kampher, gaharu and other forest products. Periodical, epidemical disease strike the Punan as well.
Pak Moming has a shop in Long Punjungan and can offer travellers bed and breakfast. Pak Ifung, a Dayak from Data Dian in Apokayan, runs the shop and also works as civil cervant. He doesn't speak English, but he can certainly arrange a boat upstream, whenever the water level is high enough. The journey to the village of Long Alongo takes, when the longbot doesn't make it, with a small boat about two or three days.
Starting point for a visit to Long Lamei, with 140 inhabitants the biggest Punan village, is the downstream Long Apan Baru. From here, the journey is continued on foot; take about ten hours, or two days for it. It's usefull to rent a guide and take food. In Long Lamei you can stay at the village teacher for the night, which is probably very delighted with your company.

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