Onto Belaga

Trip Start May 17, 2009
Trip End Apr 15, 2010

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sarawak,
Monday, October 26, 2009

We got up early the next day as a local guy had told us last night that we needed at get a tourist permit to head further upriver to Belaga. Apparently you get this for free from the Kapit Resident Office.  There is no road and air access to or from Kapit. The town is accessible only by the express boats.  We asked at our hostel but the guy couldn't speak any English so we just went on a walk around the town hoping that someone would be able to help us.  This was the one time that we were missing all the touts!  The town had really come alive and all the wet markets were beginning to open up and the boats arriving bringing the trade.  We spoke to a mini-van driver who said that it was 5km out of town (of course!) and that it would cost 60RM for the two of us there and back..a little expensive! We were starting to get a little worried as we thought that we would miss the boat and started to think that we would just risk it and go permit-less. Then at last, standing around looking a little gormless and stressed with backpacks finally paid off and a guy with a car stopped and took us there for 10RM.  He was trying to sell us a longhouse tour but he didn’t try that hard and was a really nice guy who gave us a talk on Sarawak and the Kapit area and asked the usual questions to Steve...’How old are you?’...’Is this your wife’...’Do you have a son yet?’

The Resident Office is a little way out of town. I guess you could walk there if you have more time and know where you are going.  It only took 5 minutes to get the permit and then the guy took us back and dropped us off at the pier.  There were still lots and boats coming and going and all the sellers around the pier selling amazing rice and some-sort-of-meat combo. A good breakfast.  We had a little trouble working out which boat to get onto but the swarms of people that legged it towards the Belaga bound express boat when it arrived gave it away! Again trying to walk along wet sidings with a backpack with all the locals trying to push past is difficult! We wanted to sit on the roof but were ushered inside this time, the reason which became clear very quickly!  Unfortunately they started to play a film in Chinese at about 100db. It felt like being back on the buses in Vietnam. 

We then arrived at the Pelagus Rapids.  I hadn’t really heard or read that much about them other than the express boats can only make the journey from Kapit to Belaga in the wet season as the boat can’t always get past them.  They had only just started up again as the rivers were still so low. I seriously couldn’t believe what these boats can go through.  The driver has to do some impressive navigating skills moving quickly from one side of the river to the other to get round the enormous rocks, still very much exposed.  And then he seems to pick his angle and then floor it up the rapids to the next lull and onto the next set of rapids.  I know the guy probably does it every day and knows the stats but it was amazing if not a little scary because of the amount and power of the water and number of rocks! I didn’t know boats could go uphill! All the locals seemed to enjoy it!  The scenery along this stretch of river is better than from Sibu to Kapit as the forest is thicker, there was more wildlife and some more traditional looking longhouses. 

We arrived in Belaga on time, amazing.  The town wasn’t what I expected and is much smaller and quite sweet! All the locals and kids in particular just to say hello without selling you anything.  We found an ok guesthouse, only 20RM for the room with a fan with a serious number of mice droppings thrown in for free.  We dumped our bags and went for a walk around the town.  Its banked on each side by wooded hills and just had a good relaxed feel to it.  We grabbed some food and chatted to a guy in pigeon English who lived in a longhouse up in the forest. He asked us to come and stay for awhile and he would take us on a 'jungle-trek’. He seemed like a nice guy and my permanent paranoia that had developed in the last 6 months was finally starting to ease.  As we only had the one night we didn’t really have the time but we just had a drink with him instead. We then went and chilled out on the steps of the pier and another local guy came and chatted to us.  He was a guide for the area and his English was perfect.  He didn’t give us any hard sell but I was really tempted to stay another night and go on a night jungle trek with him.  He was an interesting guy to talk to as he was born and brought up in Belaga and told us of the changes that he had see in the past 44 years.  He earns extra money as a guide but he job is to collect environmental data on the river and surrounding land.  He said that over 75% of the rainforest is still intact in the area but the logging has had a massive effect not only due to the deforestation but also the amount of silt that gets washed into the river. Apparently there are hardly any fish left. He remembers as a kid, crocodiles being around as well as other big mammals in the forest.  Although the logging industry has a massive detrimental effect on the environment, he said that the majority of the locals are employed by the logging companies, especially know the fishing is so poor.  Ironic really.  Anyway, we spoke to him till sunset and again it was great to learn so much about the local area and way of life and the wildlife. He ended up talking himself out of a job when he said that to see pristine rainforest and longhouse it was best to go to Bario, which is where we are heading in a few days time.  I wish I had got his name and number to put on here for people but as Belaga is such a small place I’m sure he’ll find you!  It was great sat there watching the sun setting over the river. A number of small boats arrived bring in rice and fruits.  One of the guys stopped and gave us a massive handful of fruit...very kind.

As it was such a quite place – most things shut at 6pm – we went back to our mouse hole to play cards. Annoyingly we had cleared the droppings off the beds and pillows earlier but there were now more on there...nice!
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