On our first morning in Banjarmasin the Solo Kota Kita (SKK) team awoke for a 5:00 a.m. breakfast at the morning market. Our route, however, denied our land-locked sensibilities and instead took us on a waterborne journey through the city’s extensive river network, passing under low-hanging bridges in the dark hour before sunrise. On either side of the narrow waterways we passed people bathing and brushing their teeth, getting ready for their morning work.
Our boat emerged from a small channel onto a much larger body of water. As our eyes adjusted to the dim morning light, a congregation of small boats appeared. Buyers and sellers jockeyed for position on the water to trade their fruits, vegetables, and handcrafts. We set our sights on the breakfast special: sprinkled donuts! Grab a stick, poke a pastry, and collect a cup of joe (Is coffee still called Java if the beans hail from Borneo?).
The reality is that a breakfast of this sort would have been unreachable via the congested roads of Banjarmasin. The white line indicates a potential land route one would take to get to the river market, while yellow indicates our waterborne route.
The white line indicates a potential land route one would take to get to the river market, while yellow indicates our waterborne route. Click on the map to see it at full size.
Our river route brought us swiftly to the market using a means integral to the daily movement of people and goods throughout the city. Banjarmasin, the self-proclaimed “City of a Thousand Rivers,” sits just north of the Barito River’s mouth at the southern tip of Borneo, where the river empties into the Java Sea. Although the actual number of rivers running through the city falls quite short of the thousand declared, it quickly becomes apparent just how integral the river system is to the daily life of its citizens.
Around 500 km of rivers, canals, and tributaries course through the city and are used for transportation, cleaning, bathing, trade, recreation, production, fishing, and eating. Many of Banjarmasin’s urban poor have constructed their homes directly on the river’s edge, often extending well beyond to capitalize on direct access to water.
A snippet from our return journey, our first view in full light of the slum housing built up along the river.
Local planning officials are ambitiously reorienting the city towards its rivers, calling attention to pollution, bacteria, fires, and other vulnerabilities that plague the city’s most distinctive asset. In an effort to reestablish the riverbanks, some of the city’s measures to improve water quality and reinforce embankments also include slum clearing. While these measures reduce the physical vulnerability of the urban poor, we hope that the initiatives are sensitive to the economic and social repercussions of displacing people whose lives are so closely tied to the rivers. In many ways, it is their daily activities that impart the liveliness that gives Banjarmasin’s rivers its character.
Post by Stephen Kennedy. This post is part of Transit Secrets: The Unknown Paths from Point A to Point B, a current series on CoLab Radio.