Back in Islamic Indonesia, Ramadan was in full swing. It had officially started the day we landed in Balikpapan, but we had so far stayed in predominantly Christian areas. Muslim Indonesians should not eat or drink during the day, unless they are traveling, performing hard work or pregnant. Here in Banjarmasin it was considered rude to eat or drink in public. For the first time people called out if they saw us eating, asking us why we were not fasting. Did they really believe that everyone, even obvious non-Muslims like us, practiced “puasa” (fasting) during Ramadan? Or were they just giving us a hard time?
In South Kalimantan it was clear that the Islamic influence was strong. We saw large, impressive mosques everywhere. Women seemed serious about wearing headscarves. But here we started noticing houses with adjoining graves, like in eastern Flores, something we had not seen elsewhere in Muslim Indonesia. Perhaps this was a subtle form of ancestor-worship compatible with contemporary religion
Banjarmasin, built on marshy flatland, is crisscrossed by waterways and canals. We chartered a boat for an early-morning canal tour of the town. As we cruised through the narrow waterways we could see people bathing, washing clothes, chatting with neighbors from their waterfront landings or just watching the world go by. An old woman paddled along in a skiff, selling vegetables from house to house. A woman dressed in a tightly-wrapped sarong scooped water over herself, bathing. We passed through the narrow canals and out into the main river. Sawmills, many of them abandoned, lined the banks. Riverboats were being constructed on blocks by the water's edge. Further up the river was a floating market. Boats loaded with fruits and vegetables bumped together, trading. We approached a floating coffee shop, tied up and had a drink, spearing some pastries that were on sale using a long stick with a nail in the end.
Diamonds are mined in Martapura, near Banjarmasin. We decided to visit the mines. We took a bemo to the mine entrance and walked in. There didn't seem to be any security and nobody minded us walking in to watch the operations and chat with the miners. The workers sit all day in muddy water searching for the raw diamonds by swirling sand in conical wooden pans. We took handfuls of sand and tried ourselves, hoping for a diamond, but all we found were small grains of translucent sand. One of the miners, smiling, took a small piece of paper from his hatband and unwrapped a small uncut diamond. Would we like to buy it? It was about the size of a pinhead, but only cost a dollar, so we decided to get it as a souvenir.
Because it was Ramadan flights to Java were completely booked. We decided to try the ferry, an 18-hour ride. Over 2000 passengers crammed themselves into a boat made for 1500. The decks were awash with people sleeping on mats. The safety officer invited us, the only tourists on board, to visit the bridge and speak with the captain.