Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 5: Borneo Backroads

Why do we put so much trust our devices? I recently read a critique of this attitude aimed at millenials who put a lot of faith in what yelp, tripadvisor and google maps tell them about the world. Gone are the days, lamented the critic, of people asking each other questions, of people exploring without detailed reviews and online reservations, gone are the days of humanity's independence from the screens.

Whatever one might think of this critique, it seems pretty true to me. But have things really changed? 25 years ago, I was involved in the tourism industry in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, a place where hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists visited every year. More often than not, these travelers were reliant upon their Fodors' or their Lonely Planet. In fact, given that these were pretty much the only sources of information about SE Asia at the time, these guidebooks were even more influential then than their contemporary electronic equivalents.

I've seen it a 1000 times, but I still think it's odd to see
an 11 year-old riding a motorbike on a public road
What happens when you go to a place for which there is little to no information online? This is what I've been experiencing this last week here in Kalimantan Barat. Furthermore, the information that exists is often flawed. You saw in a previous episode where I tried to visit TripAdvisor's top-rated restaurant in Pontianak. It wasn't where it was supposed to be and the folks in that neighborhood had never heard of it. From my point of view, that was entirely okay. I just found somewhere else. My screen pointed me in a direction; I took it from there. When I got out into the countryside, there wasn't any information on the big travel sites at all. I did find some useful information though from a couple of fellow travel bloggers, Konni and Matt, a couple South African retirees who traveled a similar route to mine back in 2013. Things change in three years. The towns I visited in KalBar weren't as he had described them 3 years ago.

What? No street signs?
Point being, I couldn't find any information about whether or not you could get from Bengkayang to Merasap via these back roads I found on Google maps. I decide to try. When I got the point where I was to turn off, I stopped for some water and asked the lady at the roadside stall if I could get to Merasap down that road. She said no. I simply assumed she didn't have the benefit of Google maps.

The dotted yellow line was my adventure on the
backroads of Borneo.

See, it doesn't take much for google to put a line on a map and call it a road. This picture shows you one of the roads it told me to take. Now, had a dirtbike, a real motorcycle with knobby tires and meant to go off road, I certainly would have continued, but it was here I decided to give up on my original plan.

Google maps said go that way.

 By that point, I had already gone so far, I didn't want to go back the way I came, so I began to look for another way out. I knew that there was another major road some way off to the east; I also was seeing palm-oil-nut trucks and workers coming down the road towards me. They had to be coming from somewhere. If I just followed to most-worn paths, I would make it out of the palm-oil plantation and back to civilization.

The point of no return
If you remember back to when I was Naypyitaw, this I'll-make-it-eventually mindset when talking about Third World muddy roads has lead me into trouble in the past. Instead, I reached what I deemed a point of no return, and decided to return.

That's when I ran into trouble.

“I wonder what would happen if I went that way?”


See in the second half of Tour d'Borneo, Part Five.


  1. Oh my goodness! How wonderful it was that God provided someone to help you, especially since it seemed you were out in an area where there was no people! Praise God you were okay! Hopefully, you didn't have trouble starting up your motorcycle, and driving, again. Blessings, Lynn

  2. Yes, God heard your prayers.... Well, he heard the word Holy...repeatedly .. followed by another word that usually accompanies it, and might have mistaken it for prayer. Anyway, glad you got some help/good timing to get you out of that one. lol Crazy.


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