Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ba Kalalan To Bario Trek - Christmas Adventures on the HoHoHo Trail

My artistic interpretation of our journey. The giant leech is supposed to show the terrain we had to cover and also its manifested in Langkau whom we would not have done it without him.

Updated with costs of trip at the bottom - 9th January 2011
Sam strums gently on a guitar that is at least 30 years old. A guitar that was brought to the mountains of Asia from Denmark. A guitar Tine (pronounced ti-na) owned since she was 12 years old. Sam sings an old Maori war song. Its a celebration of the English victory over the Germans in the second war. Stephen sings along too quietly. Its a moment of quiet reflection. The songs of the natives of Oceania sung in the heart of the Kelabit highlands in Malaysia. A song taught to locals by Australian soldiers ages in the past. And a song still thought to the young in New Zealand schools. Sam learnt it in school in Kiwiland and Stephen was thought the song by the soldiers in Bario.

We're sitting around the glowing embers of the central fireplace. Its cold outside but the 'cap ah pek' whisky with its 40% amber goodness is keeping us warm. Langkau is lying on his back, his bare feet propped on the edge of the fire place keeping his toes warm. The rest of us sit around the fire, our faces flickering in the warm light of the fire. Its my final night in Bario and one that recapped the whole trek in the Kelabit highlands, one of discovery, history, faith and that Langkau's watch is only for decoration.

MasWings Twin Otters at Miri Airport

The Christmas holidays hit the travel schedule hard. We can't get a flight to Ba Kalalan direct from Miri so we make our way to Lawas by the hardy MasWings Twin Otters 19 seaters, where we then travel by 4x4 over an old logging road to Ba Kalalan. Ironic that the controversial logging companies can now at least claim some credit for providing some artery of travel within the interiors of Sarawak between the villages even after they have left. My travel buddies on this trek are antropologist/serial boozer Langkau, his cousin Stephen Baya who is an artist/hunter/cook/rice farmer and his wife Tine Hjetting a Danish native. Stephen and Tine also run the Junglebluesdream Art Gallery and Homestay in Bario where I will be staying for two nights.

Stephen checking under the hood as he has a similar vehicle back in Bario

The road takes about 6 hours and the our heavily modified ride traverses the mud bath with somewhat ease especially towards the end of our journey where the roads are more sludge than anything else. We pass army personnel maintaining some bridges, a timber yard and construction sites of large gas pipes which will take natural gas from Sabah to the larger towns in Sarawak and possibly to West Malaysia. The muddy steep roads are tricky but our driver made it easy. Any other clowns would end up over turning or just getting stuck in the muddy gunk. His alertness also saved us from running over what looked like a dying water buffalo calf that was half buried in the mud in the middle of the road.

The little hamlet of Buduk Nur in the Ba Kalalan district.

We get into Buduk Nur at about 3pm. It's a picture perfect little village nestled beneath mountains of lush tropical jungles. The weather is cold and we're surrounded by a sea of rice fields. Snowy white egrets fly home to roost in the evening light, contrasting sharply against the rich green of the mountains and hills. We decide to spend an additional day here before we start on our trek to Bario.

Ba Kalalan is a staunch Christian area and the village of Buduk Nur is no different. Alcohol is not served here and is frowned upon. But trust Langkau to sniff out a local supplier. A Chinese provision store owner serves us some beers but insists that we can't drink too much and we can't stay there for long.

Another reason we are staying on longer is that Langkau has some work to do on behalf of the University of Malaysia Sarawak as they have donated some GPS equipment to the local community to map out some historic monoliths around the district. He has to pass them the equipment and train them on the operational procedures. The Budur Nur community is well organised. They have started up their own facebook pages and websites, are maximising their rice harvest and just seem overall a bit more vibrant that Bario (just my personal opinion). They get their electricity supply from a hydro program from rivers that flow nearby. For once the nights are not disturbed by the noisy buzzing of generators in the interior.

Night falls and we are invited to the church for a pre Christmas dinner. I get to try my first rice coffee, essentially rice husks boiled in water with sugar. Interesting and refreshing in the cold night. Food is served with glutinous rice wrapped in pandan leaves and meat. Loads of meat and fat in every form - wild boar and pork. I take my leave as its way too much for my palate and i want to take a walk outside to enjoy the cold.

Dawn in Ba Kalalan

I wake the next day to an enchanting morning. Mists lovingly envelope the mountains that embrace the little village. The morning sun peeks through the veil of mists as I take a walk around the football field that forms the central focus point of the village. An old man (the one in the picture) comes up to me and shakes my hand. He asks me where I am from and makes conversation. This was the first of many such genuine friendliness as its a standard greeting especially among the older generation in the highlands here.

Rice grains, ready to be harvested.

Rice field in Ba Kalalan

The older folks here still work hard, carrying rice and provisions from
nearby towns or work in the fields.

Stephen, Tine and I get invited to Edwin (who runs the community website) to join his family's picnic by a stream just outside the village. Its great fun with good food. The rest of his clan is bathing in the stream just behind the bamboo tree.
Christmas Eve mass at Budur Nur Church in Ba Kalalan

Christmas eve, we are invited to the community church prayers in the large hall that can take almost 2,000 people. Its a breath taking event. Pretty girls and cute kids dressed in their best clothes sing hymns and prayers to the light of hundreds of candles. I can imagine the songs that reverberate around the little village echoed around the hills and mountains nearby. I am under dressed. Stephen and I are recruited by Sandra, who runs the local travel agency, Borneo Jungle Safari to take some pictures for them. I feel scruffy in my cargo shorts and jumper but i guess the warm lights of candles does dull the effect of a smelly hobo. I walk outside and the village is in darkness but for the flickering candle lit interior of the church. The Kelabit Highlands hosts a strong Christian faith among it's peoples since missionaries came into the interior during the early 1900s and after the second World War. Ba Kalalan is a shining beacon of how faith can unite a community.

The porch on the pond is where we were sitting with our whisky

We head back early to the Apple Lodge where we are staying. Langkau brings out the Label 5 whiskey bottle and we start up sipping on the warm liquid. Its midnight, Christmas day, 2010. The folks of Buduk Nur let off fireworks. The sky above explodes in technicolor as the cold air caresses those of us sitting outside.

Sandra gets back to us after church. She does not look pleased seeing the whisky bottle on the table. Her friendly demeanour takes a change to the negative as she quietly excuses herself and goes back into the lodge. We're caught a little off guard as we didn't know the frowning upon casual boozing was THAT bad. I head back to get some sleep and leave the rest to finish of the bottle. A little later I hear Langkau calling me from outside my window. It seemed that the owners had locked out the alcoholic lodgers! I went down the creaky wooden steps and let them in amid quiet chuckles. Whisky takes the edge of everything.

Starting the Kessel Run. Young smugglers loading up their bikes
for the quick trip over to Indonesia. Prices of commodities are very expensive in across the border so the Malaysians are trading petrol, flour, sugar, etc with their Indonesian counterparts.

Life along the border of Malaysia is a different world altogether. Before there were politicians, governments, boundaries and borders, there were people and families. Many of the folks have relatives across the borders and there is ample traffic between the villages on both sides of the borders. The Malaysian and Indonesian army have their own outposts on both sides of the border. Things are pretty relaxed on the Malaysian side. With the little outpost manned by 3 young soldiers from Kelantan. They've been stationed there for the past 6 years living and eating in the jungle in a camp in a valley nearby. I can't imagine anything tougher but the boys seem amiable enough. We exchange some pleasantries especially about how well the Kelantan football team is doing and then we are off.

Malaysia/Indonesia Border

Its a tough trek on the logging road as we go up and down steep hills. Langkau feels the fatigue and does not feel well but he soldiers on. We soon cross the official border into Indonesia without passports. Well just Langkau, our guide Lasong and myself. Stephen and Tine were kosher travellers but in a way it was pointless as these were army outposts and not immigration stations that we were passing through. We make for the Indonesian village of Pa Rupai in the hot trails through the old logging road. Some parts have now been refurbished by the Indonesian army closer to Pa Rupai and it seems they are building a new immigration center nearby.

Indonesia - road to Pa Rupai

We come upon the Indonesian army outpost and Lasong takes us around it to save time. Suddenly a shoted "OI!!!!" rings out in the hot afternoon air. Lasong comes to a sudden stop and peers sharply at the camouflaged army buildings. We can't see anyone in the lookout tower but obviously we've been spotted. There's this weird feeling and I think I'm not the only one who thought how easy it would be for some sniper to pick us out from 300 meters if we made a stupid break for it. Lasong grunts, and leads us back up the tarred road to the outpost.

We're quizzed on where we're going and asked for our passports. Stephen and Tine produce theirs but Langkau and I say we only have our Malaysian identity cards. Lasong has no identification on him. Its all pretty civil and in the mess hall behind the soliders there is some revelry as some other soldiers are singing and playing the guitar. We're charged RM5 each as an 'administration charge' for not having our identification and are cleared to move on.

Since we're already in the army base Lasong takes us through the base and straight through the village. The terrain is pretty much the same as Ba Kalalan, with ripe padi fields and acres of green green pastures well groomed by hungry buffallo.

My backpack is about 9kg plus the 3 kg of camera equipment i have its more than i have carried over a sustained long run since my Nepal trek almost 18 years ago. Back then I was almost in the prime of my fitness. Now I was just a shell hiding years of alcohol abuse and late nights spent eating too much curries. Langkau however, thought i was fit. And coming from him, that was an ultimate complement. Even though he would be proven wrong in just a few short hours later.
One of the many bridges. This was actually the best bridge we crossed.
The rest were just logs/ rotting logs, logs with slippery moss or old bamboo across jungle streams.

We have a quick lunch in the fringes of the jungle before making our way up Gunung Irang Agung, the first of our challenging climbs.

NOW, this is where things get interesting. Langkau had sold me on the idea some 6 months before that it was a pleasant hike. PLEASANT this anthtopological drinker told me. Pleasant started with the trail becoming smaller and smaller and steeper and steeper. I was told the climb would take about 2 hours. I was also told by Langkau that that were not that many leeches (maybe one or two then they fall off and are replaced with one or two more).

A digression on leeches. I dont like them. I am not afriad of them BUT I don't like the idea of a couple of them climbing up my thigh to what is essentially the warmest part of my body and giving my balls some intimate french kissing OR crawling up my piss hole. So sue me, thats the phobia i have about leeches. THEY WILL NOT SUCK ON MY BALLS. They can suck on my ankles till the cows come home and I dont give a fuck.

Anyway, one hour up Irang Agung and i am breathing like a camel in labour. My pack is heavy and my legs are shaking. I am trying to keep a steady pace but the sheer stress on the steep mountain with my heavy pack on my back is taking a toll. I feel guilty for holding the rest back. We are behind schedule and I wanted to make it to Long Rebpun the hunting shelter before sunset or worse before the rains came. The already tricky terrain would be a nightmare to navigate in a pouring shower.

I ask Langkau how much longer and I get a casual "another 2 hours". I feel fucked. Now I have no reference points. I normally try to have reference points so I can pace myself. This is not working out. I am travelling with 3 super fit Sarawakians and a Viking princess who are used to the highlands of Borneo. THEIR reference points do not apply to me. What would be an hour to them was turning out to be 3 for a city slicker like me. My legs are now in pain from the cramps. This i am not worried about. I just know that in another 20 minutes my leg will just go dead from the cramp as it did on Kinabalu mountain. I am now panting. Langkau, who at that point i wanted to report to the police for Gross Misinterpretation of Word ' Pleasant', was looking at me worriedly. "what can i do? just tell me how to help you". I didnt know what to say. The pain was bad but it was more of not knowing how far to go up with my pack. My legs were now leaden. I think my body was in slight shock at the sudden intense exertions.

Langkau offered to take my pack but i said I would try a bit further. No such luck, a few steps and my cramps moved up to my arse. Now i had a butt that felt like a timber log. "sorry dude" I panted you gotta help me"

No prob man came the amiable reply as SUper Langkau picked my pack and started walking. My legs now were in pain as every stop made the muscles cold. I slowly picked up my pace and we started up Irang Agung. We finally make it up but then the descent is harder. We are crossing steep ravines, down crumbling soil with rotting leaves and bark and branches and through clear streams. We are refilling our water bottles in the streams and then we start again on our way. Langkau is held up slightly. Lasong hoots a call out. There is no reply back from Langkau. We wait awhile and Lasong and Stephen hoot out again (no calling names in the jungles remember?). Still no responding hoot from Langkau. We start getting a little anxious.
After what seems an eternity we see Langkau's orange shirt through the thick green of the forest. That feller took the time to bathe in the stream! Langkau catches up with us, now freshly scrubbed and humming Dolly Parton's Islands in the Stream.

I think at this point Lasong lost patience with the greenhorns and took my pack from Langkau and started to strap it to his already large pack (he was carrying our food and cooking utensils like pots and pans). Langkau asks him if its OK and not too heavy and Lasong simply says if he can carry a whole wild boar back home after a hunt, my little pack is nothing.

Respect to the little man yo.

Seeing Lasong take charge is a good sign. I can see he can bear my pack with no problem and then we set on a faster pace down hill. My legs are getting better on the descent and i try not to stop. We are loosing the light but we're making good time. At this point I dont care already for leeches. I had seen so many of them already on the trail, and was prepared for the worst of being covered in them when i reach the shelter. At this point my priority was to make the shelter before nightfall.

The speed picks up we are on the flat ground but still navigating muddy grounds, sharp torns and leaves and fronds that sometimes conceal the path. Some parts the trail is hidden but Lasong seems to instinctively pick then out in the diminishing light.

Its now twilight. Throught the thick jungle canopy I can see the sky a shining pale blue. We move down a stream, I walk into a log and fall into some mud. I pick myself up, thanking myself that i had my good solid mountain boots with me.

We come upon a clearing and its a surreal moment, all the greenery is glowing a greenish blue, reflecting the dusk sky. No time to take it in. We dive into more scrubbery and move on faster. I see a silhoutte of a roof in the distance. Fantastic! we're here at Long Rebpun,the hunters shelter! I dont know how long we've been moving but we've gotten through the first part of our journey. Long Rebpun is marked on many old maps as a village but it has long been abandoned and the shelter is all that will offer any comfort to weary travellers. The locals say the journey from Ba Kalalan to Long Rebpun will take 6 hours. 8 hours max. I did it in 10. Dont believe the locals man.

The moment i stop the pain sets in. I guess the adrenaline kept it away. There is some hurried talk between the guys with wood craft. It looks like the previous tenants of the hunting shelter did not leave firewood as is the protocol. We have to find wood now in the what is now almost darkness. The guys with the parangs move quickly into the jungle, making quick work by the light of their torches.

The moment of truth. Time to remove my boots and change out of my sweat soaked clothes before i catch a cold as the chilly night approaches. I look down at my boots. There are about 4 leeches on the tip of my right boot. All waving about like some drunk punks at a rave party. I flick them off and carefully take off each boot. I gingerly remove my socks and Langkau apppears to also inspect if my toes have been leech attacked.

My feet are white from the cold. White like a virgin. A leech virgin that is! wahahaha! this is amazing! thorugh the hundreds of leeches that we passed not a single one got through. Then i see the first leech come out of my boot. Then another and another. I turn my boot upside down and start banging it about a bit. There's about 7 in my right boot and about 5 or 6 in my left boot! wtf....

Thats what you get when you buy cheap socks from the Factory Outlet Store folks. Now i know why my socks are so smelly after a day at the office. Being non breathable meant the fibres were too thick for the leeches to get through! As I had tucked by pants into my socks there was not no chance any of these little suckers would be getting up my pants through my socks.

Leech free on day one yo!

Christmas dinner at Long Rebpun which
means Mouth of the Smokey River

The guys go down to a stream nearby and bring up water for boiling and washing. A large rat startles us as it runs around the brush. Its so tame that it actually approached Lasong as he was boiling water. "big bugger" we hear Lason mumble before he kills it with a whack to it's head with a dry fired mood. The rat goes under the hut to die. "will taste good if barbequed", Lasong says casually.

Once Lasong gets the fire going he goes about his business first boiling water in the old kettle he brought. Then we cook rice and we break out the canned sardines and chicken curry. Lasong also has his concoction of salt mixed with chili padi that i use to spice up my rice. Its now cold and we welcome the hot food. I am now fleeced up and feeling comfy although moving around is no fun. Langkau brings out the bottle of whisky and we take turns sipping it from the tin cup that i brought. "Merry Christmas everyone", Langkau wishes all of us. We wish him back in unison. Everything's all good. Christmas night in one of the oldest forests in the world. In a hut with good people, a fire burning beside us and a single candle lighting up our 'dining room'. Its all good.

Sleeping was a bit of a chore as i had some bed bugs in my sleeping bag but managed to drift in and out of sleep. It was quieter than i imagined in the jungle. But it's so peaceful. The dark is a confortable blanket and I am warm in my sleeping bag.

Our guide Lasong

Quick Break in the primary forest.

A stream before Long Rebpun

The hunters shelter at Long Rebpun - about 1,250 meters above sea level. Tempreture gets to about 23 degrees Celsius in the wee hours of the morning.

Breakfast at Long Rebpun

We take a quick breakfast of maggi noodles and head of to Irang Lungun the supposed steeper of the mountains. I am nervous but with Lasong now carryng my pack I aim to make it up within the 'one hour' quoted to me by the locals. We collect water from the ice cold stream and head across flat terrain for about an hour. We cross another stream and a steep climb beckons. Sudah tiba Lasong announces. Oookaaay. I take a deep breath and start up the climb. This time around I take it at my pace. Its a pace that I call the Geriatric Doggy Crab Style. Meaning I dont care who's behind me and i literally am taking one step a second. One second is a long time between steps but it helps me to not push my weak muscles too hard. It gives me time to breath properly and also it helps me to vary my steps. I move up sideways, straight up and even at times i waddle up certain areas. I don't know if its psyholigical but i feel its doesn't put all the strain on one set of muscles.

Time to summit? 50 minutes yo! haaha but of course its without a pack. Superfit Langkau and Stephen take an hour with their heavy packs. Something I think i would probably accomplish in double that time if i had my pack on.

Lunch on the 26th. Rice, pork fat, salt with chilis.

We have a quick lunch after the peak of Irang Lungun and we then take the somewhat flat trails to the village of Pa Lungan. I can now recognize the bumps in my boot. Not earth or bark but the leeches are back. "fuk you" i have no time for them. At this point I dont really care anymore if the leeches crawl up my ass and buy a condo in there I just want to get to Pa Lungan as quick as possible. I just had this fear not to waste time just in case of rains. I was somewhat enjoying the hike now (hard to believe eh Langkau?) but i knew rains would spoil the moment. Langkau of course found the time to take a shit in the jungle where he was observed by an eagle who obviously disapproved a naked Kelabit ass taking a dump in it's lush paradise home :P. The trek through the forests gives us visual views of horn bills, eagles and some monkeys. We hear from afar barking deer and another type of 'rusa'.

We come out of the forest about 5 hours after we left Long Rebpun to the edge of Pa Lungan. Just when we think we're cleared all the way to Pa Lungan we have to cross a swampy section. The old bamboo bridged has been submerged. I try to follow Lasong but his wake pushes up mud and i miss my stepping and fall balls deep into the stinking swamp water straddling the bamboo. My balls protest weakly but I am too embarrased to hear. Lasong and I arrive first and wait for the rest. Lasong will leave us here and head back to Long Repung to spend the night alone before he heads back to Ba Kalalan the next day.

Leeches are hardy motherfuckers. Stephen tried to burn one with his lighter with no effect. BUT i can tell you now, a combination of cheap smelly socks and even smellier swamp water will do the trick. As we sat on the dry grass by the pasture at the end of the village leeches started crawling out of my boot. I could see they had enough. I also think it being a water proof boot, not much of the swamp water was getting out and the little suckers had enough. No one wants to drown in swampy smelly water. not even a leech.

The rest catch up, we bid Lasong farewell and head off to Pa Lungan. Time from Long Rebpun to Pa Lungan, roughly 6 hours.

Pa Lungan

Pa Lungan is a quaint little village with the only access to other villages is the jungle path to Ba Kalalan that we just covered or by buffallo trail. It's chief source of revenue is from rice planting and only about 17 families live in this village. We end up staying with Philip in a homestay program at the end of the town. I will expand a bit more on Pa Lungan in a seperate post.

We are met in Pa Lungan by Langkau's sister Sam and her husband Chris who had hiked up from Bario. They would also follow us back the next day to Bario. Langkau as most Kelabits or Lun Bawang seem to have relatives everywhere and he goes about visiting them in another long house in Pa Lungan. The water supply here is not working so we skip a shower but i towel myself down with the balance of my stream water in my bottle.

Pa Lungan church

I take a walk around the little village. There is a church mass in motion and i try to be discreet as I take a picture of this cute church. Today the village has more life to it as many of the families have returned for Christmas. The laughter of children ring around the village, happy conversations abound around as the day comes to an end. A large family who are based in Kuching and Singapore start up a volleyball game on the grass field nearby. Its also great to see city kids just simply enjoying themselves in the old padi fields that are now small ponds. One local commented that it was nice now but after Christmas the village would be quiet again.

Philip and his wife prepare a hearty dinner for us. Lot of vegetables and some wild vegetables that Stephen had picked. Also we were served wild boar meat and venison. Lovely. The beers are brought out and so is additional whisky. I have a few drinks and retire for the night. My legs are now stiff as boards and it hurts everytime i move. I need rest.

I think I've been asleep for about two hours when in the distance i hear a chainsaw start up. Its about 1am. I wonder who the fuck is cutting wood at this hour. The chainsaw screams, whines and buzzes like a maniacal animal. Its not the cutting sounds of a discplined weilder. After about 20 minutes it dies down. I hear it again further somewhere between dreams but i then drift off to sleep again.

Suddenly I am jolted awake from sleep! The chainsaw is by the side of our building. Its loud and the powerful machine is so close I can feel the vibrations. Suddenly our wooden longhouse shudders. The machine is now attacking our lodge. I am now wide awake but my brain is refusing to accept that there is now a chainsaw being put to use against the very building i am sleeping in. The chainsaw moves closer and its now just below my window. The long house's wooden stilt just below me shudders hard. Now i hear little drums. Little drums played by little hands in a child's marching tune. Now i hear the voices of children. Young small voices demanding to be heard and asking for doors to be opened. Its now 4.30am plus.

I look out my window and see little lights under the long house. Now I'm a little grumpy. My body hurts and I can't sleep. I walk out of my room and almost bump into Langkau in the dark. I just remember asking him if this is some weird tradition in the interior. Now there are voices at the door. Old Philip has woken up and is talking to someone.

I walk into the hall and think I am walking into a dream. Little kids are now streaming into the house. The kettle is now boiling and Philip and his wife look a little embarrased and sheepish. The TV is on and country music is playing in the back ground. It looks like we have guests. Its a Pa Lungan Christmas tradition meets the Texas Chainsaw Trick or Treat Party. Local kids go from house to house with a bladeless chainsaw and buzz the wooden houses until they are let in and fed with food and hot drinks!

The youngest is about 5 or 6 and the oldest is about 16. Philip and Stephen are now talking to an older gentleman who was escorting them. The kids are watching an indonesian channel on the sattelite TV. Everyones awake now and we settle in the dining hall with hot coffee and just chat a while. I peek out and the kids are actually sleeping! Its kinda cute. Now we cant chase them out so we have more coffee. After a while the kids leave and we hear the chainsaw start up again. Its now about 6am. I head out with my torch to find the little vandals to see them in action. Chris follows me a little later in the pitch darkness and nearly walks into a water buffalo's ass. I see the kids bugging a nearby lodge. I take a few shots and head back to Philip's. Its been a loooong day and I need some sleep.

City kids having fun in an old rice field/pool

Dinner is prepared in Pa Lungan

Christmas Chainsaw attack minus the blade...

Pa Lungan monolith called Batu Ritong - A monument/tomb to honor a local nobleman Ritong. Estimated to be about 100 years old.

The new additions to our little group
from L-R, Sam, Chris, Stephen, Tine and Langkau

Road from Pa Lungan to Pa Ukat and then to Bario

We start up early the next day for Bario. It's now the 27th and we have been walking since Christmas morning through mountains, streams, hills, valleys, swamps and padi fields. The road from Pa Lungan to Bario is a buffalo trail meaning its wide but muddy as fuck in some areas. Its not covered by trees and the heat is searing. We make good time and are on schedule to reach Bario in 5 hours.

Luckily I listen to Sam and Chris who advised to bring a walking stick as we still have to cross muddy puddles and water logged fields and some swampy bits along the way.

It starts to drizzle in Pa Ukat but we start up anyway. We all can't wait to get to Bario. The last bit on the logging road is nuts. The rain now make the wide road slippery and trecherous. I am sliding all over the place or getting stuck in mud. Langkau almost twists his ankle and Sam has a burst blister the size of Australia on her heel.

Jungle Blues Dream Dining area over looking padi fields.

We finally arrive at the Jungle Blues Dream Home Stay and Art Gallery owned by Stephen and Tine at about 5pm. It had actually taken us almost another hour from the edge of Bario to walk here because of the muddy road. I am now weary, sweaty, soaked in rain and smelling like a pig's armpit.

I quickly have shower and it's the best shower I've ever had. The dirt and grime of the past 3 days washes away in the cold cold waters. The tempreture outside is dropping already as I dry up and get fleeced and make my way to the balcony. The sun is already setting behind us and the cold night is coming in from the east. I am hungry and I also want to take a couple shots of Panadol. Stephen is already cooking dinner but I ask timidly if he can make me a bowl of Maggi noodles. He nods genially and within minutes there is a steaming bowl in my hands. Chicken flavour with eggs. In the cold Bario air it smells like heaven. Or a heaven with chicken flavoured air. It is the best Maggi EVER that I have ever tasted! Thick hot soup on a cold cold evening is the best balm for the soul! I dont realize it but Stephen has put in 2 packets in the bowl. I polish it off quickly followed by hot coffee. I sit back overlooking padi fields and am happy. I dont even need sex to say that was one Ultimate Moment of Simple Pleasures.

Langkau turns up with a local whisky called Cap Apek. Well its what the locals call it as its all written in Chinese with a picture of some Chinese trader on it so the locals just stuck to that nickname. Dinner is a simple dish of vegetables and rice fresh and gorgeous. A guitar is brought out and we gather around the large central fireplace and Langkau and Stephen break out into song. I think they do a modified version of Hotel California but replace it with lyrics about our trek from Ba Kalalan to Bario. I head up early to sleep. My legs still hurt and my back is now starting to protest. Plus I want to hike up the Prayer Mountain in Bario. Langkau and Tine said its about 45 minutes but you can't trust these Sarawakian people when it comes to timing. Their idea of a mountain varies from normal human beings.

View of Bario from the Prayer Mountain, 1,350 meters.

The next morning I am greeted by the strong gorgeous smell of fresh passion fruit, porridge and coffee. Best breakfast ever! I just chill at the lodge and after lunch i make my way alone to the Prayer Mountain. Langkau and Tine are not feeling well. Stephen was running errands. It's a mountain that has a small church about 80% to the top and is a celebration of the Revival movement in Bario that happened in 1973 (more on that when i do a post on Bario). Tine said is not bad and only tough at the last part. Tine has been nice to me so I trust her. I go past the school, past the original Bario long house and make my way to the Millenium Gap before I split off to the right to make my way up the mountain. Turning left would take me to the Gap and the temperory Penan settlement there.

I come to the foot of the hill and I realized that Tine, a Danish native she might have been but she's full on Sarawakian when it comes to estimating climbing times or terrain. The darn hill is so steep even at the begining that the locals had tied a rope! If a local needs a rope well a grumpy arse from the city like me is going to need a jet pack to get to the top!

I grab a gulp of water and keep it in my mouth. I just swallow bits everytime the fatigue sets in. I assume the Geriatric Doggy Crab position and slowly (and painfully) start up the mountain. I pace myself and just count the one second step dance. 55 minutes later I reach the top! The view is breath taking! All of Bario stretches below me. The hot afternoon sun is behind me and in the mountains to the East a thin sheet of rain moves towards central Bario. I am now panting hard and the heat has no reprieve. I take shelter under the internet relay station's solar panels. The Revival Cross is just next to it. An irony of symbols - a religious reminder of Bario's faith and beliefs from its past and a valiant attempt to introduce a new world of the World Wide Web into the mountains of the Kelabit Highlands. The veil of rain moves closer to me and i decide to call it a day. No point being caught up on a steep mountain in pouring rain. I make my way back to Jungle Blues Dream for a cold shower and a hot wholesome dinner with good company.

Bario Dawn - View from balcony of Jungle Blues Dream Homestay

There is lost history here in the heart of the Kelabit highlands. The history of mass migration ofr settlers to Bario, brought together during the Malaysian Confrontation with Indonesia in the 60's, its about how a tiny single longhouse with a family of about 20 grew almost overnight to hundreds when the government decided to band the the families from the surrounding villages in one controlled area. It's about the early band of English commandos who came in the dead of the night to unite the tribes of head hunters against Japanese invaders, It's about ancient folklore of mythical heroes like Tukad Rini, the greatest of all in the universe based here on Earth, its about ancient stone monoliths some still lying hidden in deep jungles testifing to a greater age of worship and reverence to chieftains and noblemen. These stories are all here and I will flesh out a little in the next few posts on the areas. I still have to comb thru my notes and will add when i can.

Simple wholesome breakfast at Junglebluesdream.

Bario rice fields

Difference in footwear

In the foreground is what the locals wear on their treks in the jungle. Cost RM8 bucks. My boot in the background cost me rm200 after a 70% discount. The good and bad. The local 'adidas paya', adidas kampung or Bario Reebok as its called has great grip and traction and mud doesn't stick to it. It does however sink easily into mud and swamp but the gunk washes off easily. My boots on the other hand is more stable over the mud patches but the grip was not as good on the mossy logs, and stones and the mud just stuck to my soles making the darn boot so much more heavier. Although it kept me dry in small puddles, the moment my feet sank into the swamp water, it was a bitch to dry out. I needed a whole day of sun to get it back to normal. Would I use an Adidas Paya. Probably not. My ankles are weak and the extra support going down steep trails and ravines helped a lot and I guess I'm just used to padding around my foot when moving on unknown terrain.
Stephen Baya in front of a painting called Blossoms (i think)

The Jungle Blues Dream is a cosy little homestay that I would recommend to anyone. Stephen is a painter by profession and hunts as a hobby and Tine is lovely and makes everyone feel at home in their cosy little corner of the universe. I will expand more on this in another post.

My travel buddies (l-r) - Tine, Stephen and Langkau

Journeys always teach. You learn about people, worlds and just simply exposed to experiences outside our comfort zone. From the picture postcard villages nestled between mountains, and the history of 4 English soldiers parachuting in the dead of the night to work with the natives to fight the Japanese army, of a revival movement that started with 4 school children that spread through the mountains in weeks, to cultures where a chainsaw is a child's trick or treat we learn that there are things that sometimes showcase how much for granted we take our lives, how shallow some of our yearnings can be and how in the big picture it's not so bad waking up to a mist covered morning, as a shy sun peeks through a misty mountain top to the smells of hot coffee and fresh fruit and carefully prepared meal from the jungle.

  • AirAsia to Miri - Rm300 (return)
  • Hotel room single in Miri - RM110
  • MasWings Rural Air Service Miri to Lawas - Rm90
  • One room in Lawas - Rm80
  • 4W Drive Lawas to Ba Kalalan - RM100 per person
  • Apple Lodge homestay one night - Rm60 (incls all meals and free flow coffe and tea)
  • Guide from Ba Kalalan to Pa Lungan - RM300 per person
  • Pa Lungan Homestay - Rm60 per night (incls all meals and free flow coffe and tea)
  • Junglebluesdream homestay and Art Gallery in Bario - Rm70 per night (incls all meals and free flow coffe and tea) - I spent 2 nights
  • Flight from Bario to Miri on Maswings - Rm90


C. Andres Alderete said...

Well done, sir. I really enjoyed this post. Quite the adventure. I would have never boarded the plane with leeches involved.

langkau said...

wow! great write-up, man! er...were you really in that so much pain? i thought i saw you flash the occasional Smeagol-like grin when i carried your bag? :)

oh, by the way, Tine's from Denmark lah. she'd strangle you and force you to go up Irang Agung once again if you write she's from Norway.

our jungle hut was in Long Rebpun - lit. Mouth of the Smokey River - and not Long Rupang or Repung or Long Rupai.

and Lasong hit the monster rat on its head with an unburned firewood. it went under the shelter to die slowly (he said it would taste nice if we babiQed it). :-))

great man! no need for me to write about our trip anymore. just link it to yours. :-)

Chindiana said...

Heya Carlos, Happy New Year dude! Thanks man, glad you enjoyed it. To be honest I did tell Langkau when I fould out that the entire trail would be a leech fest that I was going to take the first flight out if i could!

Heya Langkau, thanks for the corrections! i was actually writing from memory so now i know that wont work in the future!

re the pain,well you know la,all the pain from my old battered body, untreated torn ligaments on both knees, old fractured ankle, badly twisted back, grumpy demenour.....

I dunno about the smile but why do you think I was pushing Lasong to move fast? I wanted to see how fast you can go with my pack! wahahahahaha! Revenge of Chindiana. Now i will never used the word 'pleasant' in the normal context anymore! But good trip, man, worth the pain.

Nex said...

Wow I want to do this trip even more now that I've read your post. Call me a glutton for punishment but I only go on trips where real pain and injury (and possibly death) is a possibility.

However I may want to cheat a bit and take a bit longer for the first leg to not only reduce fatigue but also allow more time to take things in. You know how I like to linger when I see/find something interesting.

I'm already assembling a team for this so send me those details asap man!

Langkau, I hope you can aid me on my trip like you did Chindi. I promise you some really nice local brew & cuisine from Sabah if you do :D

J said...

Wow. What an adventure, leeches and all! :)

Chindiana said...

Nex will get you the contact details. Stephen may be able to help you out and also you might want to do Bario to Ba Kalalan as the guides in Bario are cheaper. We were charged rm100 per day by Lasong. I'll get you the details from Langkau and pass to you and your pack of masochist. If you wanna take your time you may either wanna leave very early on day one OR bring hammocks and live in the open jungle if you think you're really going to take your time. But to be honest unless you're a hard core wild life photographer or into fauna you might not need to linger too long in the pribary jungle on day one. you can take slightly longer on day two, the terrain is the same.

Glad you liked it J! You can follow Nex on his trip if you're up for it!

Anonymous said...

and im like, wow. its Lun Bawang, not Lungbawang. people of the place, yo.


Chindiana said...

heyo Kanid, thanks for the correcting the oversight! You're like wow because I'm such a sissy lady boy going up the mountain? haha, welcome to C'trails dude.

ah lim said...

Sounds like a trek that will kill me. Hahaha. But great read!

Chindiana said...

Thanks Mr Lim! but after you build your empire you can buy up the whole mountain la!

Kazza said...

Great read and bravo for doing it! Would have joined you guys this year but my aged/abused physique isn't fit enough to go through the abuse:)

Karen's Pace

Chindiana said...

Hey its the Pace of Karen! it speaks!

Haha! glad you enjoyed it Ms Pace! if you're aged and abused what does that leave me? you go next time i'll come along too just for fun!

Wak This Way said...

Nice post mate. That was some adventure. I felt exhausted just reading it. What made it more interesting was you hiked to Bario, that's my home village. Well, strictly speaking my dad's as all of us were born in Kuching. I've not visited Bario for 18 years. Having said that, I'm over the other side of the world so that makes it a little hard. Good post mate. Keep it up

Chindiana said...

Sam Wak in da House! Its been a while mate, hope you're doing well. Never would have thought that you had Kelabit blood man. Thanks for the nice words!

langkau said...

Sam Wak's dad is from the same longhouse that we stayed in. Our original settlement was in Pa Main. His dad and my mom are fourth cousins.

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