The View from Balikpapan


East Kalimantan



March 10, 2015

When I called my Cousin Stanley in Florida and mentioned my upcoming trip to Borneo, he had one immediate response.  When I called my dear friend Bill in Connecticut and mentioned my upcoming trip to Borneo, he had the same immediate response. 

Stanley was born in 1932 and I believe Bill was born in 1931.  And so “Borneo” triggered their boyhood recollections of land and sea battles during the Second World War.  

Japan coveted the oil and other resources found on that huge island.  The fighting was fierce.  The colonization was cruel.        

When, from my window at the Swiss BelHotel in Balikpapan, I gaze out over the calm waters of the Strait of Makassar that separates Borneo from Sulawesi, I also have a recollection.  But my thoughts are something much more benign than military confrontations.  I remember reading about the “Wallace Line.” 

Alfred Russel Wallace was an irrepressible and superb British naturalist.  He spent many years in South America where he collected thousands of specimens of the flora and fauna of the Amazon Basin.  Then he traveled to the Malay Archipelago of Southeast Asia.

Wallace observed that many of the living organisms on Borneo and on the islands west of Borneo had similar characteristics.  But just east across the Strait of Makassar, on Sulawesi and the islands east of Sulawesi, the animals and plants had similar characteristics but quite different from Borneo. 

An imaginary line was drawn from north to south to differentiate between the species found west of the line towards the Asian landmass and the species found east of the line towards the Australian land mass.

Alfred Russel Wallace (1829-1913) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) were contemporaries.  Wallace corresponded with the senior Darwin and shared his discoveries and thoughts about the processes of nature. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  Darwin panicked and published.  Darwin is acclaimed. 

Wallace formulated similar conceptualizations of the origin of species.  But he is known and appreciated mostly by other scientists and readers like me who accidently find a book in a second hand book store. 

And occasionally, I even remember what I read.


My stay in Balikpapan was brief but I did manage to take some photos.

North of the city I visited a beach area.

From my room, I witnessed the dawn over the Makassar Strait.  Across the strait lies the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (on my To See list).   Makassar is the coastal city on Sulawesi.

To the north the strait joins the Celebes Sea.   To the south is the Java Sea.   The strait is a common route for ships too large to travel through the Strait of Malacca.

Adjacent to my hotel was a construction site.   One worker took a ride.  I’m sure he had his own special vantage point.

Beneath my hotel, and always a favorite, the traditional market was lively and welcoming.