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Location: Banjarmasin

Haha, Sun, we beat you again, 4:45 am, and our feet meet on dewdrop decks as we attempt a second try for the Venice of Asia. Bags packed and raingear ready for another floating tack down the Sumai Banto. By the time the sun struck our faces, we were already 15 minutes downriver surrounded by rusty tin can homes, speeding lawnmower banana boats, and bathing families. It’s good to be on the move after a day of class. Some tired faces fall as the excitement of others drops jaws. I drop my camera. These scenes are too special to capture. Besides, every blink could be a candid cover for National Geographic. An hour into the journey, we pass Banjarmasin and continue to see the edge of the industrial giant, but we stick to the river and its very modest shore dwellers. Here daily life means learning to walk on a slant and fin new ways of patching leaks. Rooflines matching waves lead our eyes downriver. One hour and a half, two hours and a half, then finally we slow, as the towns shrink and become more rural. We spot small canoes bobbing colored heads. Our boat dwarfs the single merchant ships, and our white skin commands attention. At first, we linger, and no one approaches.

Confused and feeling like intruders at a back ally block party. The market is smaller and more intimate than I imagined, with about 40 women in boats selling oranges, pineapples, prickly pears, coconut, banana, mangoes, papayas, ram butam, syrup saturated rice cakes, and much more alien to our eyes. Finally, we are approached, then swarmed as the merchants realize how much we are willing to give away. Really a win-win situation of charades. 50,000 rupiah for 50 oranges – even Safeway couldn’t beat the equivalent five boxes. The market is huge when we are surrounded. A boat of fruit and shuggery bellies later, it’s time to turn back. But here, it’s not about fancy jewelry, cell phones, expensive cars, or manicured front lawns. Human interaction is business, is pleasures, is life. Sure they may lack running water, but they gain a family who bathes together and neighbors who share a wall. A disturbing run-in with a floating advertisement crew, and we are back down the river. By now, it’s only 3 hours past the orange sun, and we are worlds away. Then the sugar-high peaks our excited prattle muffles, even the loud guttural engine. But the crash followed shortly with the flat bottom boat coating with exhausted bodies. A few remain in the back, munching away on Borneo’s mysteries. Back to Argo through the black mound barges and hurrying to move as another passage begins. Farewell, Banjarmasin, we’re off for the orangutan nation. We navigate the difficult and narrow river channel back out to sea. An excited 200 miles and the start of another nascent experience tucks us in while it rains on the way to Kumai.