Returning to Kuching for our last few days we arrived at Batik Boutique Hotel and were warmly welcomed with a chilled glass of tuak (a local rice wine) and some Kuching style cakes that were very tasty. The owner Jackie quickly made us feel at home and invited us to join her and her team on Sunday through to Monday on a trek to remote villages deep in the jungle mountains. They were delivering donations to a Bidayuh boarding
school and three other villages that are all soon to be displaced due to a dam near to completion that will flood their homes, farmed land and ancient burial grounds. She explained that around 1000 villagers had lived in the area since the 1800's and were obviously upset and scared to move to a government built site totally out of their comfort zone. The donations such as a computer, printer, stationery and t-shirts etc were to help the school provide a good education for the 30+ children that trek to the school each week from nearby villages. It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed and jumped at the offer.
After a short time in our room we came down for dinner at the Japanese restaurant within the hotel and then to the bar for a few beers. There was a football match on at 3 am in the morning and so
we stayed up to watch it chatting to the bar owner Dennis and other staff until the early hours. It was such a refreshing change to be made so welcome by everyone at the hotel after staying at our previous hotel nicknamed Stallag 17 by a few reviews on Tripadvisor (didn’t see them until it was too late but totally agree with the reports)!
After a very late night we decided to skip breakfast and have a lie in. Eventually, we got up and went for a stroll on the river promenade to check out the many Borneo antique shops...then we visited a large seafood food court for some excellent huge river prawns and thai style squid, all for just a few quid!
The day before our big trek we decided to venture off to Bako National Park and Jolynn at our hotel recommended a good guide to take us there and arranged for him to meet us off the bus early in the morning. The guide named Ismadi was there waiting for us and registered us at the HQ. We set off on a 30 minute boat ride to a beach cove to start our trek...we had to take our shoes off and wade to the beach and were surprised to be greeted by a bearded wild boar just wandering around the waters edge!
All the way through the jungle trek, Ismadi told us about all the different plants and their medical properties including such plants claiming to cure HIV and cancer which are still being researched for use on people. It turned out to be a very informative trek. We passed two kinds of snake and a
few macaque monkeys but Ismadi was prepared with a catapult to scare them away if they got too close! He knew we wanted to see the proboscis monkeys so he took us to the mangroves and we were not disappointed. We watched the shy and strange looking monkeys with big noses and huge bellies from a raised wooden viewpoint. I could not get any decent photographs as they were just a little too far but we could see them well enough between the baron trees.
We carried on into the jungle listening to his many stories and came across some more proboscis
monkeys high up in the trees above us...further on we climbed up and down small ravines and through a small gap in the rocks back into the mangroves where we walked back to the first beach finding all kinds of crabs and big mudskippers.
We had a drink at a newly opened cafe then he took us to see a flying lemur that another guide told him about and said we were very lucky to see one during the day. Jumping back on the boat passing some beautiful coastal rock formations and Ismadi’s village we arrived at the bus stop a little early so he took us to the fish market to see the variety of fish that are caught in the nets we saw along the way including some baby sharks and mantarays. Then we talked about village life until the bus arrived to take us back to Kuching.
When we got back to the hotel Jackie gave us some big Chinese pork dumplings to try that she had bought for our trek the next day which were very delicious. Another night chatting to the staff especially about what we had in let ourselves in for on the village trek...we were in for a gruelling two days!!
Sunday morning, the big day! We all set off with loads of water for our first days trek. Driving to Bengoh Dam to start a 4 – 7 hour jaunt. Jackie had hired some local porters to take the supplies who were no taller than 5’6 but very fit...the stuff they were carrying was bigger than they were but would reach the village in an amazing time so they set off ahead and we didn’t see them again until the end. We followed struggling in what turned out to be the 2 hottest days of the year (38 deg C and thick humidity) with our meagre small rucksacks. Accompanied by the Vice Principal and photographer, Redan (check out his web page for better pics of the villagers than I can take and we may be on there too - http://www.sarawaknetwork.com/apps/profile/45581796/
) and the Principal, Abot from the school
we were staying at for the night. Once we crossed a path through a field we reached the dense jungle. Slowly climbing higher over several hair-raising bamboo bridges some 36 metres long and 9 metres high swaying with every step, climbing up rugged steep paths and back down a bit, then up again even higher...a couple of exhausting hours later we reached our first village to stop for refreshments. This was our first encounter of true longhouse living not a tourist imitation. It was very quiet and relaxing with large mats of peppercorns drying in the sun and locals dressed in batik sarongs and some with brass rings on their arms and legs similar to the Karen tribes of Thailand. We felt very privileged to be there.
Half an hour or so later we set off for a bigger trek. The heat was almost unbearable but we soldiered on, there was no going back! Every now and then we would pass a gap in the trees and see the most breathtaking views over the Jungle that made the trip worthwhile. More bridges and more climbing for about 4 hours stealing a rest when we could finally reaching Kampong Rejoi hardly able to stand with exhaustion and trying not to think about tomorrow.
We were separated in to boys and girls (felt like we were back at school) and guided to our home stays to drop off our bags then escorted by two young boys down to the river for a dip...the water was so cool and refreshing. While we cooled off we watched the local boys playing on a bamboo raft pushing each other into the river and having a whale of a time...not a care in the world! After that we took a shower and went to the village canteen for a good meal then some beers. The Principal asked us if we wanted a room together which we said yes so I started to walk across the paths in my flip flops to get my things when I accidentally disturbed an army of fire ants who started to bite my bare feet...It was dark so I could not see them and was jumping around like a crazed idiot trying to shake them off! After such an eventful day we retired to our room at an early 9 o’clock...
6 o’clock the next morning we were awoken by the sound of cockerels outside our window. We had to get up early anyway as we were attending the Monday morning school assembly to see the kids receive the goodies that were brought along.
The assembly took place in the cool misty outdoors where the kids all lined up according to age in front of the Principal. He talked to them, I guess about the donations then the kids started to sing. A few of them were trying not to yawn and fidget but a couple at the back found it too long to stand still and teased the kids in front of them! Kids are the same all over the world...they looked
really cute in their uniforms and their name badges. Jackie then got up and did her speech, which she later told us was a bit of a talk about how they should make full use of the stuff and do well at school. Then they were shown some of the stuff they had been given, they looked really excited by it all. After assembly there was a bit of a photo session (haven’t been on a school photo for years) then we had breakfast and said our goodbyes (Redan kept calling Waffle John Rambo and big man!).
We all headed back off into the jungle again. This trek was going to be harder than the day before...What was supposed to be a 1 ½ hour trek all uphill ending up going through a tight ravine, turned out to be three hours (too many breaks but it was a killer for us, the heat and relentless climb was too much for us unfit Westerners) but we arrived at another village where lunch was served. Waffle was too exhausted to eat so we took a packed lunch just in case, he just crashed out on the floor of the porch with his head leaning up against a shoe rack. I watched a young boy peep from a bush, he even stuck a couple of flowers in his ears but he wouldn’t let me take his picture that time...I think we were strange to him and was curious but a bit shy albeit cheeky.
The good news (or so we thought) was that it was all downhill back to the dam and should only take a couple of hours if we skipped going to the waterfall...being cowards we took that option. The group split up and the weaker ones headed off on the 'shortcut’. One of the guys that was with us fell on a small bamboo crossing, breaking the handrail clean off which made it difficult for the rest to cross (and reminded us how dangerous trekking here could be). He hurt his leg and found it difficult to walk for long without stopping for extended breaks he also had a heart condition making it worse. This, the fact that we were very
unfit and being guided by someone who did not take us on the short route meant that time was running out! 4 ½ hours later and arriving at the first village we visited we split up from the injured guy to make up some time and with two of our newly acquired hotel friends, Peter and Archie (lifesavers and a good laugh which helped) and our guide (one of the old timers of Kuching!) we set off for another exhausting 1 ½ hour trek more back to the dam hopefully making back before 7 o’clock and sunset. So much for a couple of hours down!!
This meant we could not stop even though Waffle had developed severe cramp in his thighs and every step was painful and shaky. Fearing the snakes and scorpions that come out at night I had a surprising burst of energy and had to keep Waffle going. Archie carried Waffles bag and we reached the last large bamboo bridge as the sun was disappearing. I crossed after our guide and he then had to shine a torch on the very narrow bridge so that Waffle, Peter and Archie could see where they were putting their feet...this was so scary, I was worried that someone would slip and drop 9 metres down into the river but all got across OK. Five minutes resting, the sun had gone down completely and we had to complete the last 30 minutes by torchlight, slowly and carefully taking one aching step at a time. This was turning out to be an experience we would never ever forget.
The last 100 metres or so we heard familiar voices ahead...it was Jackie and Jolynn walking back into the jungle worried that not everyone had got back yet. That was our last boost to make it to the end, we knew an air-conditioned car was close by waiting to take us back to the hotel. Then from behind we heard the other group that we had left behind...we all made it back safe, sound and very, very relieved. Everyone was cheering when we got to the car park.
Needless to say we quickly headed back off to the hotel for a good shower and a cosy bed! We enjoyed it immensely even though it was undoubtedly the toughest thing we have ever done...it was one of those adventures that will stay in our hearts forever. As for the people we were with...well we now have some good friends in Borneo that we will keep in touch with and will always have this to remember...
1st day – total trekking time 6 hours
2nd day – total trekking time 10 hours (give or take!)
Can’t believe we did it but we did and have seen amazing vistas, beautiful villages in the clouds, super friendly people and walked some very wobbly scary bridges!
Amazingly we got up for breakfast at 10 o’clock aching and could hardly walk. We thought it would be a good idea to have a day of rest – well earned we thought! So we chatted to Dennis in the bar and the rest of hotel staff swapping tales and exchanging emails. Batik Boutique is definitely the best hotel of our trip – like a family unit. We won’t rush to do a big trek like that again but we don’t regret it, not one second. Thanks BB for letting us be a part of this trip!
To top off our Borneo (and Batik Boutique’s super friendly service), we had previously booked another hotel in Kuching for our last night which we could not cancel without losing too much cash so Jolynn called them up and got us a super upgrade from a standard room to a one bedroom suite...
Tomorrow we are heading off to Johor on mainland Malaysia so we won’t say goodbye Borneo more like farewell good friends...Jackie, Jolynn, Dennis, Peter, Archie, Jack and Raj.http://batikboutiquehotel.com/b-with-a-heart/
(Hotels page on the village school and the struggle against the dam)