You haven’t really visited Kalimantan until you’ve visited its rainforests. But the question for most tourists is, how?
While the third-largest island in the world is filled with exuberant tropical rainforests, many of them are remote and not easily accessible from major cities. The ones that can be reached tend to be wildly overgrown with no guided paths. For the casual tourist, this makes seeing the island’s greatest treasures a logistical nightmare.
That’s where Loksado comes in. The tiny village, situated about 171 kilometers from South Kalimantan’s capital Banjarmasin, has become a meeting point for those wanting to explore the wilds of Kalimantan without getting lost in the wilderness.
Located at the foot of the Meratus mountain range, Loksado is home to the native Dayak Meratus tribe. Unfamiliar to many Indonesians, Loksado is gaining an international reputation as the best base for trekking into the lush rainforests of South Kalimantan.
I came to Loksado with a group of 20 people. Fueled by our desire to experience real jungle life, we squeezed ourselves into four minibuses and ventured off on a 17-hour ride on the bumpy highway from Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.
The road was full of holes and sharp turns, a far cry from the smooth toll roads of Jakarta. You’ll need a strong stomach not to get car sick on this roller coaster ride.
If your time is limited and you’d prefer to get right down to business, several airlines fly directly to Banjarmasin. From there, you can continue by car (Rp 30,000, or $3.25, for three hours) and then by angkot, or public minivan, for another hour for just Rp 10,000.
But the scenery makes up for the bumpy ride from Balikpapan. Passing industrious coal mines, blossoming green forests and local people going about their simple lives in their modest houses, I felt like I was witnessing the real Kalimantan. Best of all was when we passed the local market, filled with exotic fruits and plentiful other commodities for sale.
By the time we reached Loksado, the sun had almost set, my energy was low and my spirit was straddled someplace between East and South Kalimantan. But exiting the car, there was something in the sincere smile of the local people and the calming sound of the Amandit River running through Loksado that washed my fatigue away.
I rested in the humble Wisma Loksado guesthouse on the far bank of the Amandit River. If the space is available, small groups of tourists can also opt for a “homestay” in a balai (traditional communal longhouse), where around 32 Dayak families live.
Bamboo rafting on the Amandit River
The next day, we were fresh and ready for a new adventure in bamboo rafts along the Amandit River. Known to locals as balanting paring, bamboo rafting was originally a form of transportation rather than recreation. Local farmers used the handmade rafts to transport their commodities to bigger villages to be sold. But over the years, this activity has become a major tourist attraction in Loksado.
We asked our guide to organize a raft for us, and some local men gathered bamboo sticks to make a fresh one on the spot. They tied 12 to 16 bamboo sticks together with rope and piled smaller bamboo sticks in the middle of the raft to fashion seats. Each raft can accommodate three people, so I was torn between safety and friendship in picking company for my raft — afraid we would sink, I chose the less heavy of the bunch.
The Amandit is a fast-flowing river ruptured by giant rocks, which makes for some exciting rafting. The adrenaline was pumping as our captain steered with a bamboo pole, swinging the raft forcefully against the current. In one narrow canal, we had to duck to avoid tree branches hanging in the river. I was glad that we had brought our own life vests, as the captain took no other safety precautions. It was truly an adventure.
But the ride wasn’t fast and scary for the whole two and a half hours. In some places, the river was very calm. We passed several villages, such as Mandahin and Ntarlagi, where Dayak children waved to us with big, friendly smiles.
Nearing the neighboring village of Muara Tanuhi, I enjoyed looking out over the hilly scenery of the Meratus Mountain Range. Up in the hills, an impressive natural mosaic of fields caught my eye, where rubber, cinnamon, pecan and durian trees grew side-by-side, creating a harmonious arrangement in the meadow.
Arriving at Muara Tanuhi, the rafts were dismantled and the bamboo sticks carried back to Loksado by car — it’s impossible to raft back because of the strong current.
We ended the day with a soak at the Tanuhi hot springs, about one kilometer uphill from our final destination. From the chilly water of the Amandit River, we indulged with natural hot water — this is a spa at its best.
Jungle trekking to Haratai waterfall
The next day, we followed our urge to try exploring the jungle. With local guides Nizar and Capu, we rose early for a two and a half-hour trek uphill to the Haratai waterfall, located within the Meratus mountain range.
The trek was easy at first, and the path was paved for most of the way to the nearest village of Loksado. But once we passed the village, the bushy Meratus mountains welcomed us with a muddy path.
The Meratus mountains stretch from the district of Tanah Laut in South Kalimantan to the northern border between the east and central part of the island. The forests are essentially untouched, though in some parts locals have started to cultivate the land for plantations.
Crossing through the rainforest, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by several exotic plants I encountered. From the native Loksado orchid — a red, pineapple-shaped flower — to the white, netted mushrooms on the forest floor.
Several crops of rubber, cinnamon and mangosteen as well as local fruits such as rambai, langsat and cempedak also decorated the pathway uphill, and they made for light snacks while trekking.
After one and a half hours traversing the forest and passing three drawbridges, we came across the second inner village of Haratai. What is referred to as a village is actually only 15 homes inhabited by the Dayak Meratus people packed together in one area. The locals were very welcoming; their eager smiles greeted us with a sincere invitation to take shelter in their homes from the pouring rain.
There was also a Balai Haratai communal house in this village, though it’s now mainly used for upacara, or ceremonies, and not for daily living.
Our struggle to conquer the muddy trail rewarded us with a little Nirvana. Cascading down three stories of rock, the Haratai waterfall embraced us with its freezing water. Giant rocks were scattered around, parting the swimming area in two. The pool close to the waterfall was deep, with a strong current, while the one below had calmer waters. We swam in the serene atmosphere, surrounded by steep cliffs and lush forest. All of our exhaustions were washed away by the cold water.
To regain our energy, lunch was brought uphill by a skillful motorbike driver who fought against the steep, muddy cliff. Capu, our guide, boiled the river water to make some tea with his portable stove. Eating a simple meal with a view of the Haratai waterfall cascading down the Meratus mountains and sipping tea made from its waters is a lunch I won’t soon forget.