Up the river without a paddle in Kapit

Trip Start Jun 19, 2009
Trip End Sep 17, 2009

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

We’d arrived in Kapit without any accommodation booked and headed for one that looked OK in our guidebook but it was full and so was the second and the third one we went to…strange but the fourth one had rooms so that was OK. The room was a bit scruffy so we were really surprised when reception rang to say they’d given us a deluxe room by mistake and would we move to the standard room!! We dutifully moved room to find that the only difference was that there was no fridge and it had tiled floor instead of scruffy carpet – so no problems there then!

My questions about the next stage of our journey hadn’t resulted in any clear answers (communication here is often like that) so I decided to call up a tour operator in the next town up river that we wanted to get to. He was quite clear and it wasn’t good news, no boats were running further up stream due to low water levels! So, that meant we’d have to backtrack to Sibu. Ah well, we’d enjoyed the trip up here and so thought we’d better make the best of it and see if we could arrange a Longhouse visit.

It boiled down to a local tout called Joshua or a minivan driver called William. William was cheaper and so after some deliberation we decided to go with him. (Joshua was a local Iban guy and had tried to put us off using the Chinese, local politics, and when it came down to it Joshua just priced himself out of the game)

Anyway William was really nice, had Iban connections and agreed to take us to a traditional longhouse called Ulu Yong. It was a short drive away and William bought some packets of biscuits to take along as a gift.

We arrived and walked across the bridge to the all wood structure on stilts. William introduced us to Raymond who spoke really good English and was nominated by the Chief to deal with visiting tourists. Raymond gave us a history of the Longhouse. It was over 100 years old and had smoked skulls “from historic times” hanging from the rafters. He said the structure couldn’t be extended further as it now occupied all the available space and new couples had to moved out into detached huts. He lives with his wife in their dwelling space, his daughters work away and he was proud that the Longhouse “had many graduates”.  He introduced us to the Chief who smiled and shook our hands and then others started to gather round and joined us for a drink of orange juice and bickies. No one else spoke much English so it was smiles and waves to the children. We were encouraged to walk round and take pictures and Martyn asked if they minded having tourists visit? The reply was “no, all tourists should see this traditional longhouse!”

There were lots of dogs that crept up whilst we were eating but they were shoo’d away till we’d finished and when we moved away the dogs came back and found their favourite space for a sleep.

There were three ladies stringing beads, an older man whittling rattan, another was weaving rattan for his knife holder. I don’t know how much of this was “staged” but it seemed very natural. They didn’t know we were coming and life just seemed to carry on…

The building reminded Martyn of terraced houses back in Warrington with communal front veranda instead of “backs” (the jungle version of Coronation St!).

It all felt like a visit to a very primitive community but then Raymond told us that he’d been in the police for 32 years and was retired now. He put his T-shirt on as we were leaving and got onto his motor bike to collect his wife from town. So, modern life does coexist with the traditions (as could also be seem from the satellite dishes on the side of the building!)

It was a short but very interesting visit, some people go and stay overnight. We felt a bit strange about the intrusion on their lives but they were genuinely welcoming and I think tourists provide a welcome addition to their communal incomes.

Not much else to say about Kapit. Really quiet at night but a busy town feel during the day with quite a big covered market.  Oh, and those booked up hotels when we arrived – it was due to a teachers convention at the school, they all left the next day and so we had the pick of hotels and moved to our original choice.



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Where I stayed
New Rejang Inn

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