There is an 800m section of rapids on this river we had to get through. It used to be un-navigable and helped keep this part of Borneo undeveloped, but now with big engines and dynamiting the rocks it's easier to get through. Still, the boat would swerve back and forth across the river to avoid the worst of it and tip from side to side occasionally. We just hung on and enjoyed the ride!
What a beautiful landscape. The jungle is much different here. I am continually amazed at the
new species of trees and vines I'm seeing. How many varieties can there be? Vines smothering old trees, tall trees popping out the top of the canopy. The sun and clouds played tag and here and there the sun beams would cause parts of the forest to be illuminated a brilliant green in indescribable shades and hues. Clouds hang onto the tops of hills before the sun lifts them away forever – like lovers holding hands as they part for a long journey, afraid to let go.
I could have sat out there for hours watching the trees as we glided past, but the sun burns so very hot here. And with the wind from the boat's movement, we couldn't feel the burn. I escaped a few times to the shelter of the boat, but returned to the top again.
After 5 hours we reached Belega – the end of the line, at least for big boats. The Iban, Kayan and Kenyah people still have their long house communities up the river further and down various tributaries. We were greeted with many welcoming comments as we walked up from the jetty. A few people wanted to sell tour ideas. Everyone does everything in a town like this. All inns also have restaurants and serve as liquor stores. The few shops there are sell at huge assortment with least one of everything you could ever need. Our morning coffee shop is also a licensed
distributor of ammunition. The morning produce market has about 6 vendors. The town's electricity comes from a big diesel generator. One guy behind our hotel breeds and sells roosters – the important things in life. You know the kind of place...
There's no worry about getting a good night's sleep here (despite the roosters). Everything shuts down early. The restaurant we were sitting in kicked us out about 7pm and all the others followed suit. No late night karakoe here, just the sounds of the night. The prime activity in town is playing badminton at the central court or watching the moon from the boat jetty. That's IT!
We decided to book onto a tour while we were here (partly because there was nothing else to do
– the 2 blocks of 'town' could be done in 10 min. Not wanting to go with the weird guys who canvassed us, we called Mr Hamdani. He hooked us up with his cousin who boated us out to his long house. We went to the shop to buy some gifts before we went (some crayons and paper for the school, rice to share, and some 'medicine' for the old man). We were able to see his house and his mother who is quite old and shares the 'look' of the traditional style Kayan people. Then we took our 'medicine' over to the old man's house and drank it together without talking :)
Boating again, we went to a place to trek out to a waterfall. The water level was quite low, so we needed to start hiking before the trail. I couldn't believe how difficult this was! The ground was so soft and unsure with all the decaying matter. Strange plants were thick around us and we could feel skin agitation where we brushed some leaves. John out front with his machete and bare feet blazing a trail for us to follow. Once we were back on the path, it was no problem to walk and in no time we were at a beautiful waterfall. Deep cool water around was just what we needed after sitting out in the sun and hiking. While we played (and drank some more 'medicine' from the bamboo cup John made us), John got ready the fire and the fish for cooking. He did it in the traditional style of cooking inside a bamboo. When it was done, our communal dining table was a hold dug in the sand lined with leaves to hold the soup and the fish we ate with our hands. Very delicious!
After the return to town, we hadn't had enough. We bough some more Chinese Medicine and sat and talked until the restaurant kicked us out at 7pm. Then we went down to the jetty to sit on the steps and watch the moon. What a lovely place!
The only problem with spending several days going up river in interior Sarawak is getting out.
You can a) spend 1-2 days rushing back along the river you just travelled back to Sibu and go up the coast, or b) take a 4x4 bouncing down an old logging road for several hours. We, of course, chose the latter. Luckily for us, we got a Land Cruiser that had sound leaf springs. We thought we would have been holding onto bars outside in the back of an old pick up. So on the whole it was quite a comfortable ride. I mean, our bags didn't even fall off the roof once!
The road was pretty awful though. Thankfully, it hadn't rained for the last few days so there was no slippery mud to contend with. There were still the bumps and some really steep inclines. I'm amazed the vehicle held together!
We had to make a few changes along the way and were a bit worried about the whole: 'get off at the junction and flag down an E bound bus'. It turned out to be no problem at all and we've arrived at Niah caves. Out of the wilderness and into touristy areas again!
Farther up the Rejang river we ventured. Our aim, to get further into the jungle wilderness where roads don't go. The river is the only road and our boat acted as delivery van taking supplies to different long houses along the way. This particular river is the longest river in all of Malaysia, and we will have boated almost the entire length. Five hours on the boat today. This time, we were able to hoist ourselves up onto the roof for a better view and some fresh air. Much better than the dank interior of the boat with clouded windows and air conditioning set to -3C.