Main Street flies flat and straight through the heart of Malinau, lined with food stalls, snack shops, drugstores, and more places selling handbags than it seems like the town could possibly support. The main form of mass transit is public minivans, which run up and down all day long.

I disproved my own theory about the handbag stores by stopping to get a bag for my recording kit. This little kid kept staring hypnotically at me. Then he tried to take my camera. That’s his mom laughing hysterically in the background.

Most of the side streets are narrow alleys that lead down to the river. For some reason the market is stuffed into one of these alleys. It’s a constant people-jam in there. I was interviewing a dried-fish seller when she startled me by grabbing my arm and yelling “cart! cart!” That was my cue to jump up on a little curb that runs the length of the alley, so a boy pushing a cart of coconuts could squeeze through.


Window shopping

To get to Malinau, which was our base of operations in East Kalimantan, you fly to Tarakan and then catch a ferry up the Malinau River for three hours.

Window stickers to the contrary, the Malinau Express is not air-conditioned. Once it’s zipping along, though, a breeze comes through and makes the cabin relatively comfortable.

There’s only one quick stop along the way. There’s no time to get out of the boat, but young guys line the dock to sell nasi bungkus (packaged meals complete with rice, vegetables and meat/seafood), or fruit or chips, through the windows.

We bought a big bag of snakefruit. It was mighty tasty.

Along came a spider … and a lizard

We’re back from Kalimantan with a heap of toxic-smelling laundry and a heap of tape to translate!

This lovely creature was hanging out at the hut where we stayed in the Tane Olen forest in Setulang, four to six hours upstream from Tarakan (depending on how well the river is flowing). Tane Olen is a really beautiful piece of rainforest that’s been protected by the village that owns it. They’ve built one hut and plan to build three more, with the hope of becoming an adventure destination. We want to go back and do the complete circuit when it’s ready.

This little spotted guy decided to trek across my unused water glass.

Volcano videos

Here’s lava flying out of the crater just before dawn. You have to photograph lava while the sky is still somewhat dark — you can’t see it in full light. The video is kinda shaky because we were on a boat.

During the day, you get nice billows of smoke. You can hear the boom of the explosion here. We could feel the vibrations and hear rocks and debris showering down on the mountain. At one point we got hit with some volcanic ash, which was a little nasty.

It was the coolest natural phenomenon I’ve ever seen. I’m still kind of giddy.


The aquarium in Singapore has one of those cool walk-through tanks where you can get friendly with sharks.

But the best part was Gracie, the dugong. Dugongs are big underwater mammals like manatees. Supposedly they’re the inspiration for the mermaid myth, but they don’t look like a cross between a beautiful woman and a fish to me — they look more like the front end of a pig welded to the back end of a whale. Here’s a picture I swiped from the Australian Humane Society.

We kept getting on and off the moving sidewalk so we could ride by the dugong again. There was something captivating about her face, with its squashed nose, and the way her big bulbous body moved so gracefully through the water. Finally one of the keepers put a mat of seagrass in the tank. The dugong raced over and, before devouring it, did this funny cat-like thing of rubbing her face in it ecstatically. You could see the cartoon bubble over her head: Food! I love you, food!

Dugongs are endangered, of course. Sigh. We’re going snorkeling this weekend, and it would be really cool to see one.