Feature | Central Kalimantan, Version 2.0

Regret is not a sentiment I typically feel after a trip comes to an end.

It is more a sensation of gratitude and satisfaction, as I am sure others feel as well.

But there is one place where regret has sunk in.

Kalimantan*. Specifically, Central Kalimantan.

Over a year ago, I traveled to Central Kalimantan to visit Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting, the home of Camp Leakey, the famous research center and sanctuary for endangered Bornean orangutans.

It was a short trip into the jungle — 2 nights and 3 days — spent mostly on a boat. And while I was content with my multiple sightings of orangutans and other wild creatures, the food I ate was a letdown.

Of course, it was of my own doing. Because all of the tour operators in this park welcome a majority of foreign visitors, the food served was a mash-up of Chinese and Western flavors in order to placate a variety of tastebuds. The result was lackluster.

But in a matter of time, I quickly speculated the produce and food from Kalimantan was more distinctive than what I was led to believe, especially while traveling by boat for hours at a time. As we cruised along, I began to notice the trees lining the edge of the water were bearing fruit I did not recognize. When I asked my guide, a young lady from a village along the sungai, if it was edible, she said yes.

It contained a sweet flesh resembling the fruits of the Sapindaceae family (rambutan, lychee). I later learned that this fruit produces a sugar that is considered one of the original sugars of Indonesia, along with palm and coconut. However, due to lack of incentive and labor, its processing and use is dwindling.

When I left Central Kalimantan, I was disappointed. My trip was a missed opportunity to experience this region of Indonesia’s cuisine, and that sentiment has lingered.

Until now.

Repeating my strategy from Sulawesi, I will fly into Palangka Raya, the capital of Central Kalimantan, on Tuesday and let fate shape my experience. Because the tribal Dayaks, formerly known for their head-hunting practices, are the dominant ethnic group in Kalimantan, much of the ingredients and flavors I will encounter will be heavily influenced by them. Dayaks are intimately familiar with the surrounding rainforest — estimated to be around 140 million years old, thus making it one of the oldest in the world — because it served as their source of food and housing for centuries. A number of dishes continue to include plants from the jungle, such as rotan and pakis.

I am sure I will also see consequences of the main industries here, ones that cause havoc on the natural biodiversity — palm oil, logging and mining — which often make headlines for both generating economic prosperity for the island, as well as the repercussions they inflict on the environment. It is an important topic to discuss and I hope to meet enterprising locals who are engineering mutually beneficial solutions to address these issues.

So here we go! Make sure you follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to receive real-time updates and track my progress while I am exploring Central Kalimantan.

I will not be leaving with any regrets this time.

Selamat jalan!

– C


Photo: Sunset on Sungai Sekonyer in Taman Nasional Tanjung Puting.

*Also known as Borneo on the Malaysian side of the island.

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