The Meratus Mountain range rises just north of Banjarmasin and runs in a north-south arc that almost bisects the South Kalimantan province. To the east the mountain range extends almost to the coast forming a vast tract of lush tropical forests interspersed with karst mountains, narrow valleys and meandering streams. To the west and south, the mountains drain into sweeping lowlands laced with big rivers, freshwater swamps and extensive coastal mangrove systems which combine to make South Kalimantan exceptionally fertile.
The mountains are home to the “Orang Gunung” or Mountain People, an ethnic group collectively referred to as the mountain Dayak. In times past the Dayaks lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle in small longhouse communities scattered throughout the ranges. They engaged in rotational farming, cultivating a wide range of crops including rice, candlenut, nutmeg and cinnamon and collected forest products such as honey, bamboo and rattan which they traded with lowland and river Dayaks.
As a result of government relocation programs, many Dayaks have moved into more permanent communities and abandoned longhouse living in favour of family housing but their reliance on farming, hunting and collecting remains largely unchanged. Many Meratus Dayak villages welcome visitors, a few offering longhouse homestays, and it’s a fascinating to watch the villagers harvesting and processing cinnamon, candlenuts and basket weaving.
Dayak villages are just one of Meratus Mountains innumerable attractions. There are still significant tracts of pristine, untouched jungle throughout the ranges and an abundance of clear mountain brooks, waterfalls, hot spas and more. So it’s not surprising the region provides plenty of scope for adventure based activities such as trekking, bamboo rafting, swimming, abseiling and caving. It’s even possible to hike to the top of Gunung Besar, the highest peak in the range, where a magnificent vista unfolds before you. The best part is you can get a taste of it in as little as a day or you can spend a week delving deeper into this hidden gem.
Loksado Village is the gateway to the Meratus Mountains and an excellent base for exploring the surrounding region. Nestled in a narrow valley among the trees alongside Amandit River, a delightful gurgling river swathed with hanging bridges, the village is picture postcard perfect. It is surrounded by twenty-odd Dayak villages connected by well-worn paths perfect for trekking. Bamboo rafting, a long tradition among the mountain Dayaks, is a favourite activity among visitors and can be combined with trekking through the jungle, Dayak villages and waterfalls. If you’re not sure your backside can handle bumping over rapids whilst sitting on a bamboo bench, try rubber rafting instead.
Located about 158km and 3.5 hours drive north of Banjarmasin, Loksado is easily accessible by private car or public transport. The village has clean but basic lodge or homestay accommodation. Evening meals are available from a couple of warungs and there is a little shop (toko) just across the hanging bridge opposite the lodge that sells snack type food and a very small range of basic supplies. If you’re planning on a homestay or doing any overnight trekking you’ll need to take a sleeping bag and you’re combining your trek with rafting, be sure to place everything in plastic bags to keep it dry, even inside your pack. If you have one, a waterproof camera is a good idea for your bamboo raft ride.
Due to the multitude of tracks crisscrossing the area, it’s very easy to get lost, so engaging a local guide is virtually essential, even if you’re only planning a short trek to one or two nearby villages. Although friendly, very few speak any English though so have your phrase book handy. Guiding fees are usually around 250.000-300.000Rp per day. Alternatively, there are a few independent guides and tour companies operating out of Banjarmasin who can plan the whole trip for you.