Browsing Tag


Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Indonesia, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Travel

The Amazing Race to Pulau Derawan: Parts 1 and 2

After diving Sipadan, I had planned on having a leisurely morning and was in no rush to get to the border town of Tawau to cross into Indonesia, but I ran into Aaron, who had been off looking at wild orangutans, and he had organized a taxi to Tawau, so I quickly got everything ready, paid for my diving and jumped in the taxi. I then got out, went back to the dive shop and collected my passport that they were holding. (That could have been really ugly).


We made our way to the Indonesian Embassy in Tawau. I had already sorted a 60-day visa for Indonesia in advance, but Aron needed his. We then needed to get a boat to Tarakan. We arrived at the embassy around 10am and found the right people to talk to, including a helpful man who informed us that the only boat going to Tarakan was at 12:00. The visa process takes 2 hours minimum, so we knew we’d be lucky to make that day’s boat.


Miraculously, just over an hour later, they called out that the visa was ready- maybe our smiles and pleas had helped. We thanked them, immediately found a taxi and headed to the port, got 2 tickets for the 12:00 boat, managed to get some take-away noodles, cleared immigration, paid the port fees and boarded the boat at 11:50. It was pure luck that we had made it, and we shot each other a look like “how are we on this boat?”


We collapsed into our seats, and no more than 5 minutes later, a man walked up and told us that we were on the wrong boat! The boat to Tarakan was docked next to us, so we grabbed our bags, hopped over to the next boat and had a laugh. Oh how that story could have had such a different ending!


We had a 4 hour boat ride ahead of us, so we had time to read up on Tarakan. I had met a German couple in Niah who had given me some great information on Indonesia, specifically a 3-page set of notes on how to get to Pulau Derawan, which is where we were headed. This included how much each boat and taxi would cost, as well as places to stay if we got stuck. Bless them!


Once we got to Tarakan, we could go no further that night, so we booked into a very seedy hotel. The only good thing was it did have AC, but the smell permeating from the bathroom made me fear to use it! I was just glad to be traveling with someone so we could commiserate together. And so, we headed out on the town to try and send as little time in that room as possible.


The following day began early. We first had to get a boat from Tarakan to Tanjung Selor. This could be done by official boat for about $8 or speedboat for $7. We haggled with the speedboat drivers but they wanted four passengers, not 2, so we decided to go on the official boat. We were getting mixed information from everyone and after being told we could buy tickets on the official boat, we learned it was sold out. One of the speedboat drivers overheard all this, and took us back to his boat. He had found four other people, so the six of us set out for Tanjung Selor in the most ghetto speedboat ever.


Fortunately, the seas were calm, but as we left the jetty, it began to pour down with rain. Surprisingly, there was a tarp, which kept us somewhat dry and after about 15 minutes, the skies cleared.


We arrived in Tanjung Selor and were handed off to a driver who could take us to Tanjung Berau. We handed over $7 eachand one driver took us down the road, and handed us over to another driver, with a portion of the money we had given him. That’s transportation in Indonesia for you! We began the 2 1/2 hour drive through the windy roads of Kalimantan.


Once in Tanjung Berau, we needed to take one last local taxi to Tanjung Batu, where we could get the speedboat to Derawan. By this point in time, you’re probably thinking this must be a special place to make such a long trek. Trust me, I was too! Another 2 1/2 hours later, on what seemed to be like the never-ending car ride, I spotted the big, blue ocean. We jumped on a speedboat and made the 30-minute ride across to Pulau Derawan- a small island that you can walk around in 40 minutes.


Power runs from dusk til dawn and bungalows sit on top of piers that jut out into the ocean. Turtles come up to visit each morning, you can walk down the steps of the pier to snorkel with them, shoes are optional, meals cost $1.50 each…. you get the picture. It was gonna be well worth the 2-day journey it took to get there.


Luckily, we got the last room at Losman Danakan, and luckily they sold Bintang. A cold beer was in order after that trek. We walked through the sandy roads of their “town,” chatting with the locals and the kids playing in the street and I immediately remembered the friendliness of the Indonesian people. It was good to be back. I promised myself I wold make it back for a more in-depth tour of this beautiful country, and Derawan seemed to be the perfect place to start the Indonesia chapter.