The Bario, eh

Trip Start May 17, 2006
Trip End Jul 01, 2006

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

I flew from Miri into the Kelabit Highlands at about 4500 feet to the settlement of Bario, which has about 1000 people and can only be reached by Twin Otter plane or foot. So, I have now met the KKK of Borneo (Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit). My flight also contained about 9 Brits who were obsessed with bugs and spiders and were coming to Bario to find a new species of tarantula. The plane was tiny (look up these Twin Otters) and I was kind of nervous, but it went fine. We landed first at Marudi, then went on to Bario, which is almost to the border of Kalimantan (AKA Indonesian Borneo). From the plane you could see the logged areas and all of the new logging roads being plowed. When I got there Jaman, owner of Gem's Lodge, was there to meet me and the Brits, who also were staying at Gem's. The road to the lodge was the bumpiest one I have ever been on and I was surprised that the truck made it all the way there.

Gem's Lodge is awesome! Jaman and his wife, Sumi, take care of everything as you are too far from town for it to be otherwise. She cooks really good food with a lot of interesting jungle items. I ate jungle fern, pea-sized jungle eggplants, a kind of green bean I have never seen, fresh bamboo shoots, fresh hearts of palm, jungle mushrooms (whoah, trippy), edible orchids, wild boar, Bario pineapple curry (best pineapple ever), and famous Bario rice, which weirdo Japanese connoisseurs claim is the best there is. This was just dinner.

The rooms were basic but nice, with some in the house and others in a separate chalet. However, they only have screens for windows and 68 degrees is cold after you've been in the lower parts of Borneo for a few weeks! I needed extra blankets at night.

On the first morning I went to go hiking in flip flops, but Jaman and my guide, Sylvester, started laughing and let me borrow Sumi's mud boots. Lucky, too, because Bario is fucking muddy.

My guide was really cool. He lives in Bario with his wife and three kids and acts as the local police at night when not guiding tourists on treks. On the first day I drank water from an unopened pitcher plant, which is supposed to fix stomach problems, and ate some edible ferns and orchids off the plants near the trails. We saw a weird worm that had a hammerhead like the sharks on the way into the town of Bario, where we saw a tiny monkey swinging upside down and swatting at a local dog. After that we went through a Kelabit village and saw a longhouse and saw family photos of the tribesmen with earrings made out of tiger teeth. Everyone we saw asked : where are you going? Where are you from? Plus every person you walk past comes up and shakes your hand. We finally walked back to the lodge, 14 miles or so in mud boots. I take that shit about flip flops back.

Gas here costs about $10 a gallon, so stop complaining. They have to bring it by logging road as far as they can, then by boat and then 4WD. Jaman told me all about the logging situation nearby and the tourism board's efforts to make tourism a viable competitor to logging to try to slow it down. Still, I think that mass tourism would ruin Bario as it is cool specifically because it is out in the middle of nowhere and no one visits. I guess commercializaiton is better than the area being logged out, though.

The Brits had a debate over whether marmalade sucks at dinner. One guy claimed since we were no longer so poor we needed to eat orange peels, we ought to let marmalade go. I agree. I tried it for the first time and it tasted like cleaning spray. After that debate I had a nice cold bucket shower and had a look at some of the specimens the Brits had collected that day. Very weird bugs. Caterpillars, centipedes, spiders, beetles, etc., all bigger and more colorful than necessary.

The next day I went out hiking again with Sylvester and saw the villages of Pa'Ukat and Pa'Umor. Like the Bario settlements, there were churches in the vilalges as some missionaries have come through and gotten everyone in the Kelabit Highlands on board. Kind of weird, right? We walked around and saw some water buffaloes who came up close, thinking we were there to take them on a walk somewhere. Then we visited Sylvester's aunt's longhouse and met his cousin and her daughters, who thought my camera was the most entertaining shit ever invented. On the way back we passed through some really thick jungle. You know you are in some jungle shit when the guide needs a machete. I was really glad I had spent the $5 on my own mud boots the day before because I stepped in mud a foot deep in places. We had Spam and corn fried rice in banana leaves for lunch, sitting on benches Sylvester made out of sticks on the spot.

Last night the Brits had all gone camping except one who had twisted her knee. Her name was Sarah. We sat around and chatted (and had Coke, which Sylvester brought us from town and we were super happy about) and looked at bugs. Sylvester found a beetle that was about 4x2 inches and brought it to Sarah. It was crazy looking! We showed it to the minister of tourism, who was there with his kids and had all kinds of good advice on where to visit. I have never seen a bug so big. I was kind of spooked on the way back to my room in the dark because there was a local cobra who had been seen in the path that day, but I got there.

This morning I got up early and got to town at 10 for my 1 PM flight, which is ridiculous because there are only about 20 people at the airport at its busiest. I was walking back toward the town to use the Internet and a lady stopped to pick me up. Then on the way back Sylvester and the son of the minister of tourism brought me back to the airport. I was really sad to leave Bario. The people there were really nice and there was so much to do, so many bugs, plants, animals. I hope it doesn't get ruined, either by logging or by tourism.

The whole thing (all meals, two full-day guided walks, accommodation, transport to and from the airport) cost me about $85 for 3 nights and 4 days.
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Sarah on

Wow! Just been sent a link to this from one of the other 'crazy Brits' on the trip. Was great to read!

Sarah the Crazy Bug-huntin' Brit :D

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